Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Alcohol

It is one of those subjects that seems to come up on a regular basis: the tenuous relationship between Christians and alcohol. For years as a young person I was given the impression, if not told outright, that the Bible forbids consumption of alcohol. This worked out fine for me, I had no taste for the stuff, and my total abstinence made a positive impression on my non-believing High School friends. I was invited to all the parties, and while I was there the alcohol wasn't. I'd like to think that I may have saved a few lives just by showing up at parties. I'll never know.

The problem is, the Bible does not forbid alcohol; so as I grew into adulthood and began my career as a student and teacher of the Bible, I was forced to come to terms with this fact. There were a few years of struggle - the "badness" of alcohol was firmly entrenched. Then, for a couple of months I had a job as a waiter, and I found that when I worked late I would have trouble unwinding from the stress. During those days I found that a little alcohol helped me to fall asleep more quickly. I never developed a taste for strong stuff, and to this day I prefer a wine that tastes like KoolAid. But I will drink when in a group, and even occasionally on my own. If anyone is still reading my blog, this probably shocks you.

It shouldn't, at least not because I am a Christian. There are plenty of reasons not to consume alcohol, and I have seen many studies linking alcohol to a wide range of negative results. Just today, I came across another: in her book Unhooked, Laura Sessions Stepp takes a look at the "hook-up" culture of casual sex that is prevalent among those in their late teens and early twenties. She covers a lot of ground, and backs her work with a lot of interviews. One of her conclusions is that alcohol is used by young people as a means of greasing the skids towards casual sex. Now, I do not know enough to take issue with this relationship; certainly it looks plausible on the surface. However, I came across an article by a Rev. Mark Creech in which he takes this relationship and draws an equivalence between casual sex and alcohol.

To begin with, there is a logical fallacy here - just because alcohol is used to facilitate casual sexual behavior does not mean that alcohol is the cause of that behavior. In fact, the work by Ms. Sessions indicates rather that the intent to have sex clearly predates the use of alcohol, the alcohol is simply an available tool. One assumes that were it not available, the young people would find another aid to suppressing their consciences. To argue from this relationship that Christians should totally abstain from alcohol is to draw too broad a conclusion. Nearly every activity in life contains some element of risk; wisdom comes not from eliminating risk, but rather in managing it. The Reverend Creech contends that there are no redeeming qualities in either drinking or sex outside of marriage; this is patently untrue. To be fair, he actually states that there are no redeeming qualities that are not countered by risks - but to say this is just to say that there are risks. I think Rev. Creech means that he wants these acts to have no benefits. But even sin has benefits, otherwise it wouldn't appeal to us. As in all areas, we must be clearheaded in our thinking if we are to make wise choices and decisions.

But all of this comes to a head when Rev. Creech states that, while the Bible does not explicitly condemn consumption of alcohol, it
treats alcohol somewhat like it does slavery: it doesn't universally condemn the practice, but it clearly undermines and ultimately dooms the custom by the lofty moral standards set forth throughout its many pages.
The only way to see this analogy is to bring it into Scripture with you. The Bible, as always, has an exceedingly practical approach to alcohol. It warns about and condemns excessive use; but recognizes and encourages careful partaking. There is no similar perspective on slavery, which is redeemed in the law by raising the status of slaves, and is ennobled in the New Testament by being adopted by Paul as the image of the Christian life. The situation with alcohol is totally different. There is nowhere where the Bible encourages the offering of slaves as part of the sacrificial system (Exodus 29:40 and Leviticus 23:13). Jesus did not turn water into a slave (John 2), nor did Paul recommend that Timothy take along a slave to further his ministry (1 Timothy 5:23). But mostly, I am fairly certain that we do not celebrate the Lord's Supper with bread and a slave.

Does consumption of alcohol bring along certain risks? Absolutely. Should young people abstain until they are adults? Without a doubt. Are there people who should avoid consumption of alcohol at all costs. Indeed (some are my friends). But let's not have any of this adjusting what the Bible says in order to "protect" us from the evils of the vine. God was apparently not afraid of His people enjoying alcohol. We shouldn't be either.

1 comment:

Andy said...

Don, I most certainly agree with you here. Alcohol is like fire. It can be used for good or bad but it is neither itself.

Next time meet up, we're having a beer. (Assuming you like beer.)