Where’s the Beef?

Written by Mark Van Steenwyk : September 15, 2004

I just read a posting on Backyard Missionaries about the difference between milk and meat. Often it is assumed that milk is basic doctrine and meat is dealing with issues like predestination (is everthing fore-ordained or do we really have effectual will?) or eschatology (will we be raptured before the shite hits the fan or not?) orepistemology (are you a foundationalist or a postfoundationalist?) A quick reading of Hebrews 5 or 1 Corinthians 3 will show that this isn’t exactly the way to look at milk versus meat.

Hebrews 5 indicates that “meat” is for those who are morally developed enough to distinguish right from wrong. Teaching in this passage seems more about wisdom than about information–wisdom being defined as the way of living rightly in the world.

1 Corinthians 3 also refers to the way of wisdom. Here, the babies are milk dependent because they are quarrelsome and undiscerning. It seems to me that “meat” in this context may involve deeper complexities of faith, but the aim doesn’t seem to be purely doctrinal.

All this comes into play for us at Missio Dei because we aren’t seeker sensitive in our gatherings. Nor do we wish to be erudite; we want our meetings to be accessible enough to the newcomer while being meaty enough for someone older in faith. How do we do that? I don’t think the answer is to have an hour of theological inquirey each week. Scholarly people can be babies too. Meat has more to do with discernment, obedience to Christ, and wisdom than merely theological knowledge. It seems foolish to keep dolling out theologial treatises to a relatively unmobilized, inactive group of people. “Meat” should be reserved for those who are ready to help feed babies–to help them mature in their thinking, feeling, andactions. Those who desire to be more like Jesus.

So, in my mind, “meat” is deeper training–helping people who were babies to become “mommies” through Scriptural training, through deeper responsibilities, through skills training, etc. And the first steps towards meatiness is to begin to serve those who are newbies in Christ or those outside of Christ. That provides the required learning environment for learing the meaty things. Meat should be reserved for student teachers. It is sustenance for on-the-job training.

Mark Van Steenwyk is the general editor of Jesus Manifesto. He is a Mennonite pastor (Missio Dei in Minneapolis), writer, speaker, and grassroots educator. He lives in South Minneapolis with his wife (Amy), son (Jonas) and some of their friends.

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