Alcohol and Being "Biblical"

I want to follow up with another more general point regarding my article for Relevant Magazine on alcohol in the Bible. Over all, it’s been well received. I’ve had numerous comments, messages, emails, and texts from people saying that they found the article helpful. Still, as expected, there has been quite a bit of pushback as well. I love pushback. Iron sharpens iron, and there’s nothing better to improve your thinking than to see your thoughts challenged. As a Christian, I love to have my thoughts challenged, especially when the challenge is a biblical one. But when you make a biblical case for something and receive pushback that doesn’t deal with your biblical case, well…I guess this is where I waver between disappointment and cynicism when it comes to the topic of alcohol in the Bible. In my original article, I gave a biblical overview of what the Bible says and doesn’t say about alcohol. Nothing I said was all that radical. The Bible condemns drunkenness and being enslaved to alcohol. Undisciplined people shouldn’t drink, since it’ll likely lead to destruction. Nevertheless, the Bible oftentimes considers alcohol to be a blessing and lack of wine and beer to be a curse. Jesus created 150 gallons of the good stuff in his first miracle—the opening day of His Messiahship. All in all, I cited dozens of passages in an effort to summarize what the Bible says and I wasn’t making a novel case for some view of alcohol that’s different from the view of most Christians in the history of the church.

Still, some people critiqued the article and tried to do so on biblical grounds, citing passages that condemn drunkenness—I never advocated for drunkenness—or other misuses of alcohol. It’s almost as if all of the dozens of passages I cited carried no relevance, no power, no authority. The Bible says many times over that wine (and sometimes beer) is a blessing given by the Creator. This isn’t an argument; it’s an observation. An observation about the infallible word breathed out by our Creator. The same God that commands us not to sin, to pursue holiness, to flee immorality and lust, also commanded his people to buy beer with their tithe money (Deut 14) and promised rivers of wine in the new creation (Amos 9). That’s just what is says.

The topic of alcohol is not really the issue, though. The greater issue is a fear to be truly biblical among so-called “biblical” Christians. We confess with our lips that the Bible is authoritative but deny its power by the way we use it when thinking through the tough issues—issues which we often have an opinion about before we open up the text. I’ve been in theological discussions and doctrinal debates that are hashed out with a closed Bible. And when one side opens the text, the other side doesn’t bat an eye. I remember having a theological debate about the doctrine of justification with a few guys, and when I went to explain my view from Romans 4:4-6 and the surrounding context of 4:1-25, which is one of Paul’s most important discussions about the doctrine, my dialogue partners were like deer caught in headlights. Blank stares. Crickets. Why are you opening the Bible? Yet I was the one who was on the stand for not being biblical.

Brothers and sisters, the Bible is a beautiful and powerful book! Read it, study it, meditate on it, and let it breath authoritative life into your heart. Yes, it’ll confront you and correct your presuppositions. Embrace it. Don’t fear it. Don’t think you already know all the right answers. You don’t. I don’t. But it does. We simply can’t claim to be biblical without deriving our views from the actual text of Scripture.

When I was teaching New Testament at Nottingham University, I’ll never forget what the head of the theology department said about Evangelicals. Keep in mind he wasn’t an Evangelical, but loved the Bible and theology. He said: “I wouldn’t mind hiring an Evangelical as long as he just stuck to the text.” His perception was that Evangelicals are all about doctrine, all about their cherished views on alcohol, movies, homosexuality, and parenting. But they’re not all about the text of Scripture.

I wish I could say that his perception was jaded. Unfortunately, in my experience, his perception is more true than not.

Evangelicals: Let’s be different. Let’s be biblical.