May 6, 2009
Is a Beer just a Beer?
I spent a semester abroad in Edinburgh, Scotland, during college and attended a great church there. On my first visit to the head deacon's house for dinner, he asked me what I'd like to drink. I asked him what my options were. "Well," he said, "we have beer, lager, ale, stout, scotch, sherry, wine - whatever you like."
"I'll have water, please."
It became more obvious the longer I was in Edinburgh that abstinence from alcohol was not a Christian distinctive. Christians decried drunkenness. But the pubs were where they had spiritual conversation and met for small group.
I chalked up the differences between my teetotalling background and Scottish license to cultural differences. A lot changes when you cross the Big Pond. But now a growing number of American pastors are passing the bottle in the name of Christian liberty. As Eric Reed reports, the changes may be leading to a new battle over prohibition.
The excerpt below is from Eric's article, "Trouble Brewing." Follow the link below for the full text.
It's not just Baptists who are wrestling anew with the issue of alcohol. Pastors in a variety of traditions - some teetotaling, some not - are dealing with new issues raised by the drinking debate.
For some, it's whether to go against their denominations when the written policy differs from Christian positions held before Prohibition. For others, it's the conflict felt by pastoring people who officially espouse abstinence but still lift a glass to personal freedom now and again (46 percent of Southern Baptists imbide, according to a survey in the 1990s). For still others, it's reaching a position on alcohol that is biblical, moral, and defensible.
And for everyone there is this question: How do we take a stance on alcohol that does not distance us from the very people we are trying to reach with the gospel, and without compromising the gospel or our personal witness?
These issues may be grouped in a few categories:
Text and context
Mark Driscoll is a lightning rod for controversy, so it's not surprising that his stance on drinking clergy has become central in the renewed debate. His better contribution to the argument is on the larger issue of contextualization of the gospel in a society of drinkers.
Driscoll agrees that the Scripture opposes drunkenness. He says drinking itself is not a sin, as prohibitionists would contend. He argues that it is unreasonable to be captive to others because of the possibility of their weakness, as abstentionists would advocate. Driscoll says moderationists "rightly teach that drinking is not a sin and that each person must let Christian conscience guide them without judging others."
Driscoll's position has been commended, even by some who disagree with his conclusion, as being biblically reasoned and unhindered by his personal baggage: "Driscoll did not come to his conclusions lightly," reports one mission-focused blog. "Sadly many of us proclaim and hold to legalistic positions regarding alcohol use. (Is anybody else tired of the 'My daddy was a drunkard, so every use of alcoholic beverage will lead to people becoming like my daddy.' If so, note that Driscoll came from an entire family of abusive alcoholics, and he does not have the same conclusion.)"
Driscoll outlines three categories of faulty contextualization:
1. Pharasaic separation from culture: creation of laws that keep people from getting too close to sin;
2. Sadducaic syncretism: adopting compromising behaviors for the sake of speaking to the culture;
3. Zealous domination: enforcing moral laws through political means that may inoculate people against the gospel.
In Reformission, Driscoll concludes that these faulty forms of contextualization will lead to either sectarianism or syncretism. "Sectarians love God but fail to love their neighbor. Syncretists love their neighbor but fail to love God. Jesus expects us to love him and our neighbor (including our enemies) and says that if we fail to do so, we are no better than the godless pagans who love their drinking and strip-poker playing buddies (Matt. 5:43-57). To love our neighbors, we must meet them in their culture. To love our neighbors, we must call them to repent of sin and be transformed by Jesus."
But critics may respond, Can we really call people to repentance while nursing a rum and Coke?
Read the full text of "Trouble Brewing" here.