What Food Is For

Soul. Body. Soul


Blind Tasting Truth and Spiritual Sommeliers

Late last year, Kevin DeYoung continued his cheerful one-pastor crusade against foodie-ism by linking to a video of a couple of Dutch pranksters crashing a European food industry event with a tray of samples from that bastion of epicurean excellence, McDonalds. The premise was straightforward – when presented in the right way, garnished with the right verbiage, even an experienced foodie can’t tell the difference between nutritious, well-crafted cuisine, and food from the original purveyor of cheap and fast over good. Sure enough, the films depicts people murmuring words of affirmation as the unwittingly chow down on McNugget and muffin morsels. Digitally sliced and diced with more precision than Thomas Keller’s mise en place, the video is a cute conceit, but the central argument still holds true. As I’ve noted before, our food preferences are shaped by all kinds of influences. And not all of those influences serve us well.

Professionals in the wine business understand this challenge particularly well. An aspiring sommelier’s (a fancy French word for wine steward) entire education is focused on learning how to make objective assessments of wine while under the pressure of subjective influence from the information on a label. For weeks, students learn to recognize all the sensory attributes – flavor profile, color, and aroma, even texture – that identify a wine’s essential characteristics through repetitive rounds of observation and tasting (and then spitting, for the benefits of my Baptist readers). Then, an aspiring sommelier’s abilities are tested through a process known as “blind tasting.” Wine from an unlabeled bottle is poured into a glass, and the candidate must correctly identify the wine’s varietal, year of bottling and even producer, using just their senses and memory.

Sommeliers who pass these tests put their skills to work selecting and serving wines at fine restaurants. They pair different wines with different dishes to bring out the characteristics of each. They keep a lookout for “cork taint” – wine that’s turned into moldy, damp tasting awfulness because of the presence of a compound called TCA. Sommeliers also serve as judges at wine festivals, putting their blind tasting skills to work in judging the quality of new offerings from both famous and not so famous wine producers. These events offer a level tasting field where small, unknown wineries can be recognized, and a big brand name winery to be taken down a peg or two if what’s on the inside of their bottle isn’t on par with the reputation and prestige of the label.

I’ve been thinking about the concept of blind tasting in relation to how Christians think about what and whom we read, or listening and what we think about what other people read, and how we talk about it all on the Internet. To put it bluntly, we are becoming increasingly bad at letting the exterior labels of name and platform influence how we receive or reject what’s being offered. Whether the issue is racial reconciliation or young earth creation, a book or a blog post, what seems to matter most to a lot of people is who is doing the speaking, and from what platform, instead of what’s actually being said and how connected it actually is to the gospel. Depending on one’s loyalties (or self-identified discernment in assessing all things Biblical) if it comes from the mouth or pen of TeamPyro/TeamTGC/the SBC/GCC/John Piper/John MacArthur/Russell Moore/Beth Moore /Doug Wilson/ Jared Wilson/Thabiti Anyabwile or Ann Voskamp, we shouldn’t go near it, or we shouldn’t go anywhere else. We’re becoming a culture of undiscerning spiritual wine snobs, refusing to recognize our favorite’s failures and flaws when they’re exposed, and equally uninterested in receiving genuine, beneficial truth when it comes from a source we don’t immediately recognize, or we’ve already decided deserves rejection out of hand.

This tendency to prejudge a message based on its source isn’t exactly new. Scripture is replete with stories of God speaking through timid and unskilled, marginalized or unexpected people, and people finding excuses not to listen. Sometimes, a listener overcame his biases and discovered nothing less than eternal life. But other times, they didn’t, to their eternal shame. The Apostle Paul took a particularly dim view of tendencies to identifying too closely with any human leader other than Jesus. He was so committed to exalting Jesus’ name over his own that even when unscrupulous men tried to take advantage of his imprisonment to get in on the ministry action, Paul cared only about Who they preached. He’d leave the “why” of it with Him.

Last week, I decided to take Paul’s exhortation to heart and do some blind tasting of my own, by listening to a sermon Voddie Baucham preached at The Gospel Coalition national conference last month. Brother Voddie has said some things publicly in the past that have, well, not exactly blessed my soul. Some of the labels he wears are ones I reject categorically. That’s precisely why I wanted to hear him preach on the significance of the resurrection from 1 Corinthians 15. It’s a profound portion of Scripture, one that I’d been meditating on as I fought off a severe strain of bronchitis, and as I had learned that a teenage girl in our church had recently been diagnosed with a fatal in human terms brain tumor. Voddie’s expounding of this text, with all of its implications for every day life and ministry, filled my soul with spiritual wine of such depth and clarity that I’m still meditating on it. When I set aside the labels I didn’t love, and took the time to listen, I was blessed.

Before the curmudgeons do that thing they do, let me say categorically that I’m not arguing that we separate man or woman from message all the time. There’s wine and there’s vinegar and sometimes reading the label is necessary to avoid dinner time disaster when your guests sit down and you pour them a glass. But what I am saying is that we’d do well to be better spiritual sommeliers – willing to speak out when a beloved and trusted purveyor of truth says something that’s tainted with error, and especially, able to recognize, receive and recommend spiritual nourishment wherever it can be found, no matter the label.