Why I Drink as Much as I Want

American Christians’ attitudes toward drinking are changing. You can see it at schools such as Wheaton and Moody, where bans against alcohol consumption by faculty have been recently lifted. You can see it in the increasing numbers of Christian young adults want to loosen up and maybe “have a beer with Jesus,” à la Thomas Rhett Akins. They find the argument that the Bible forbids drinking to be unconvincing.

So do I. But I also think that it is not enough to say that Christians have the liberty to drink. D.L. Mayfield, in a thought provoking article in Christianity Today, shows why.

A fresh perspective

Like many young adult Christians, Mayfield discarded her fundamentalist upbringing by drinking moderately, enjoying her new freedom. Then a few years ago, she and her husband joined a Christian order working among the poor and moved into a low-income apartment in the Midwest. She was shocked by the daily drunkenness. She came face to face with the degrading and enslaving effects of alcohol in those she was trying to help.

Surrounded by the misery and destruction, Mayfield found that drinking was “no longer fun.” She finally stopped. “In my neighborhood,” she writes, “it was becoming clear: ‘righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit’ were tied to breaking the chains of my neighbors’ addictions. Since so many were caught in the cycle of stumbling and picking themselves up again, it became good for me to not drink, as a way to stand with the brothers and sisters I was learning to love.”

Mayfield also noticed how common it is for her peers to use social media to keep each other posted on their need for wine after a long day with the toddler or their parties at hipster whiskey bars. Dismayed, she asks, “Isn’t anyone friends with alcoholics?” Her question exposes a huge hole in most discussions of Christian liberty.

Where are our neighbors whom we should be loving?

Mayfield puts her finger on what she suggests is “the real sin” of many American Christians, drinkers or not. Typically in our churches and other social circles, we surround ourselves with others like ourselves: middle to upper-middle class, comfortable, and with plenty of social and spiritual safety nets. We assume that our churches are diverse because of different opinions about matters such as drinking.

But that is not what the apostle Paul meant in his comments on Christian liberty. He assumes that his readers had truly diverse backgrounds: former idol worshipers, former coveters, former adulterers, former swindlers, former homosexuals, former drunkards, and so forth (I Corinthians 6:9-10).

We pay a heavy price for managing true diversity out of our churches and lives. In our narrow subcultures of sameness, the rich Biblical teaching of Christian liberty makes little sense. Many of us would be hard pressed to identify a single person in our churches or close acquaintances whose background might cause her or him to stumble because of our drinking. It is often said that Christians who drink are being progressive by leaving their isolated fundamentalism and “engaging the culture.” But in this context they are really engaging the part of culture that invites self-indulgence while disengaging from the part in greatest need. How is that progressive?

Is it that the culture is engaging us?

And what of that culture? Gabrielle Glaser, in her book, Her Best Kept Secret: Why Women Drink–and How They Can Regain Control, notes a cultural shift that encourages drinking to celebrate drinking. Whether relieving stress or seeking a bigger thrill, the highest value of Americans is feeling good, and we are increasingly dependent on drugs to make that happen.

For most, alcohol is the drug of choice for that purpose. One has only to look at the marriage of sports and alcohol to see the ever-present and incessant pressure not only to drink, but to drink excessively. Major corporate sponsorships are integral to major league baseball, NASCAR, and America’s largest religious denomination, the NFL. The implicit message, that you can’t be truly happy unless you’re drinking, is not lost on devoted fans, who in businesses across the land anticipate the end of the workday at “beer-thirty” and “fifth o’clock.”

Can we honestly say that this pressure does not affect us? Is a glass of wine with dinner or beer with friends purely an independent choice, motivated only by a desire to enjoy God’s creation. Or is it chosen because it’s hip? Is drinking an example of engaging the culture, or swimming in it?

Thinking Scripturally

There is a deeper question that helps put these thoughts into perspective. In Scripture, wine is used in celebration and mentioned as a sign of God’s blessing (e.g., Isaiah 25:6). The Bible also warns of the deceptiveness and destructive power of intoxicating drink (e.g., Proverbs 20:1). How should we think about that paradox? In his discussion of Christian liberty Paul says, “All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify” (I Corinthians 10:23).  To my thinking, the important question is, “What is most profitable?”

Godly Christians will not all arrive at the same answer. But we should be asking better questions. In the drug/drinking culture where we live, even the Biblical condemnation of drunkenness is challenged. Where is the line between sober and drunk? More than half drunk? Almost, but not quite drunk? Are we taking seriously the ease with which alcohol can be abused, a reality shown by Scripture and experience? One commentator observed, “There might be a long way between drunkenness and abstinence, but there is little distance between a healthful intake and a hazardous one.”

Youth and young adults are likely to be caught in the vortex between healthful and hazardous. The New York Times reports that about 80 percent of college-age adults drink, and half of them binge drink regularly. It’s axiomatic that they are more susceptible to social pressure, and also tend to overestimate their strength and underestimate risk. “Only weak people get drunk,” as they say. Odd, though. The ones that I’ve heard say that repeatedly get drunk. 

Many Christian young adults have grown up in settings where alcohol was forbidden. They don’t see any danger that they will “jump off the deep end” because they are living off of a borrowed experience, perhaps also someone else’s character and beliefs. So I ask young Christians who want to drink to reflect on this: What leads you to believe that you are ready for this freedom?

Where I end up

All this considered, I drink as much as I want, which is none. Here are some reasons.

1) I have “neighbors” whom I am seeking to love who are enslaved by alcohol. Their freedom from drink is more important than my freedom to drink.

2) Alcohol is easy to abuse.

3) The health problems from drinking outweigh the benefits. Here is one example: both the American Cancer Society and the Cancer Council report that drinking even small amounts of alcohol increases the risk of cancer in nearly the entire digestive tract. The risk rises with increased intake. This is too much for me to swallow.

4) I have an over-abundance of healthy and enjoyable alternatives. I can walk into most grocery stores and see a greater variety of non-alcoholic drinks in a few seconds than most people in the world see in an entire lifetime. Throw in some chocolate chip ice cream and I’m set.

5) “It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles . . . . Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength, and not to please ourselves. Each of us is to please his neighbor for his good, to his edification. For even Christ did not please Himself . . . . ” (Romans 14:21; 15:1-3)

6) Best reason: “You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound.” (Psalm 4:7)

Advertisements
This entry was posted in Christianity and culture and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Why I Drink as Much as I Want

  1. bradymancrush10 says:

    I see more pietism in this article more than anything else. It is very clear in Scripture that God has given man alcohol as a blessing and was ok with man having it.(Duet 14:26). Jesus made wine for a wedding(John 2) Jesus drank it(Luke 7:33-34). The issue with our neighbors is that what they need to hear from us the Gospel. The Gospel will change them, not through our moralistic behavior. Once they believe and have an understanding of true Biblical teaching of God’s gift.

    Like

    • bradymancrush10,

      As I noted in my post, Scripture presents wine both as a sign of God’s blessing and as something that can be easily and dangerously abused. Our response ought to reflect both Scriptural realities. In my observation, that is not what is happening. It’s not clear what you mean by “pietism”, or “moralistic behavior.” Is it wrong, in your view, to warn, as Scripture does, against abuse of alcohol and Christian liberty?

      I was also disappointed that you did not engage the questions I raised. How about a conversation about why we and our churches have so little diversity of the kind Paul envisioned? Why are we satisfied with our current practice of Christian liberty when we have such a narrow context for understanding it Biblically? Are our youth and young adults being well discipled on this? Are we preparing them to exercise liberty with due regard for their brothers and sisters, their neighbors, and their own experience of the Jesus life?

      Let’s be careful not to accept easy answers.

      Like

  2. ronnieb2012 says:

    I have been trying to write on this before, even starting an article entitled, “Why you can drink but shouldn’t.” Great job. Excellent writing. Good word from the Lord. Very good. Thank you.

    Like

  3. Gaile says:

    Food and sex can be destructive. Diabetics (one of many dietary restrictions for some people) should be careful of what they eat or if they don’t eat. If they don’t, glucose levels can get too high or too low, which can ruin kidneys, the heart, eye sight, numbness in feet and hands and many more unpleasant side effects, including coma and death. Sex within marriage is most likely not destructive. But outside of marriage, adultery, fornication, etc. it can spread chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis , HIV, hepatitis, broken marriages, loss of trust, etc.

    Like

  4. CT says:

    I have never been criticized for avoiding alcohol by a non-christian. I have been told that they respect me for setting it aside. This is increasingly not the case with christians.cdawley

    Like

  5. Bike Bubba says:

    It’s worth noting that I can make the exact same argument regarding the soft drinks and ice cream you mention in point #4. Are friends enslaved by it? I work in my church’s youth group–the amount of Mountain Dew they eat must be seen to be believed. Yes. It is easy to be abused. About ten times more people die each year from the American diet and lack of exercise than from alcohol. There are great alternatives in every grocery store.

    But, just as God’s Word tells us about how wine makes the heart merry, and commands its use in Temple drink offerings, it also tells us to “eat honey, my son, for it is good….but not too much, or you will vomit”.

    And it seems to me that the same principle is the real way we can point those susceptible to alcoholism to be free.

    Like

    • Lakepoets33 says:

      The Bible clearly speaks of certain substances specifically and others vaguely. However, we are all challenged to avoid excess. There’s the rub. My personal conviction is that moderation should drive our food and beverage choices. Overindulgence is a sin which can manifest itself in seemingly benign places and there is where the real harm lies.

      Like

  6. Michelle Shuman says:

    My father-in-law won’t even go in a restaurant that serves alcohol. Why? Because for many years he was a drunk. He received Christ and gave up his sin of drinking. What a terrible testimony it would be for us to drink.

    Like

  7. Rob says:

    This is a thoughtful post on a difficult topic. Thank you for that. I agree that the stumbling block issue is often overlooked today.

    To be frank, I drink alcohol. However, I’ve always give this matter serious consideration, and your thoughts brought to mind a few questions.

    First, regarding your final six conclusions, each of those issues- with the exception of modern drink variety- clearly existed in Jesus day, and yet He drank and even supplied wine to others. How should one address Jesus’s participation?

    Second, you focus significantly on the stumbling block issue. However, why is alcohol treated so differently than other stumbling blocks like money, food, and sex? These cause at least as many to stumble as alcohol, but Christians don’t avoid public eating to help the glutton or take a fast from marital relations to encourage a sex addict . Instead, we teach responsibility, recognizing that these are good things in moderation and in their proper place. Many Christians, however, treat alcohol differently, often discouraging it entirely. Yet, the Bible praises alcohol, (E.g Psalm 104:14-15 – wine gladdens the heart; also Amos 9:14), and Jesus drank and made it. Of course, warnings about drunkenness abound. But the same is true of the food, sex, and money. Why treat alcohol differently?

    Thank you for your thoughts.

    Like

    • Rob,

      You asked good questions and I agree with your points. I hesitated to address those ideas because the post already seemed too long, but I try to do it here briefly.

      I don’t have an answer that completely satisfies me on how we respond to Jesus’ participation. What I would say pertains to both your questions. First, Jesus’ participation, and other Biblical statements such as the ones you (and I) cited, are reasons why this matter should be left to individuals, guided by points such as those I suggested. Second, as Mayfield pointed out, alcohol is perhaps unique in its capacity to cause some to stumble but others not. Also, alcohol has a quality and power that when abused, causes destructiveness unlike the abuse of food and sex.

      Finally, the concern that prompted this post is that in the current trend to alcohol use among Christians, I have observed an imbalance, a lack of responsible warnings about the dangers of abuse. That does not reflect the way Scripture treats the subject, and can lead to a lot of sorrow.

      Thank you for your thoughtful participation in this conversation!

      Like

      • Rob says:

        Thanks for your response, Stephen. It’s refreshing to have such a detailed and thoughtful discussion on this topic. Something you said in your response caught my attention: there is an imbalance in how many Christians approach alcohol in our changing culture. Many today emphasize their personal freedom to drink (and this attitude extends to other areas too – modesty, for example) and disregard the scriptures teachings that we are to care for our brothers and sisters. I am sad to see that change.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Rob,

      One other thought occurred to me as to why alcohol seems unique and why it is easy to abuse. Alcohol has the capacity to disable a person’s mental defenses against abuse of the alcohol itself. Of course, it still affects different people in different ways. But alcohol has a powerful potential to steal a person’s ability to recognize when she or he is losing the strength to resist its abuse.

      Thank you for your kind words and your willingness to discuss this topic with grace and discernment. I commend you.

      Like

  8. Johnna says:

    While it is not forbidden in a “thou shalt not…” manner, it is also “not for princes” – are we not children of the King? “Wise men avoid it” -are we not commanded to be wise, avoiding the “roaring lion” who wants nothing mor thsn to devour us?

    Like

  9. Gene says:

    In my experience I have found that if you indicate to someone that you do not drink because you grew up in a home with those who abused alcohol, or you had someone you loved killed because of alcohol you will be praised, BUT the minute you say that you do not drink because you are a Christian and you want to be an example to your family, and others around you…..in that you will be vilified. Interesting, very interesting…………

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s