Certain issues arise in our times that are of certain importance. Unfortunately, how we address such significance or importance is usually dependent upon a social context that is put together by social mores and social norms that guide us as a people. As well, some issues are more provocative and polarizing than others, too. Indeed, if you evaluate the realms of historical trends, history reveals that our theology is affected by our history and our history is affected by our theology. They are one in the same when it comes to having a practical theology that drives one’s life.
Admittedly, I regret the feeling of conviction that is causing the need to write this, for I have nothing but respect and goodwill toward Dr. Taylor. Rather, I write this response because I feel the need to address the issue of alcohol, as humbly as possible; in a manner I see fitting, both theologically and biblically. As. C.S. Lewis once remarked “good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered.”
Consequently, when we, as institution, garner such a policy as abstinence around an issue such as alcohol, it only creates reactionary attitudes and tendencies, which in turn drives people’s obsession with it. For many students, alcohol is only an issue because it’s forbidden. Perhaps our own stigma is causing the abuse of alcohol. Or we could go further in saying that one of the precipitating sins surrounding alcohol is the stigma we attach to it, eventually leading to our inability to discuss the issue fairly or in open dialogue.
Pursuing this further, I resent that Dr. Taylor chose to regard the consumption of alcohol as an indication of one’s spiritual life. John Calvin’s annual salary package included 250 gallons of wine to be enjoyed by himself and dinner guests. Additionally, the great reformer, Martin Luther, who we find inaugurating the idea of the sufficiency of scripture, married a former nun named Catherine who was herself a skilled brewer. Luther, in letters to his wife while traveling, would lament that he could not drink her beer. When the Puritans landed at Plymouth Rock, the first building erected was not a church, but a brewery. As you can see, levying the idea that alcohol gives indication of one’s spiritual condition is wrong and honestly insulting when compared to the voice of Christian tradition and the likes of such powerful reformers whose beliefs we hold so dearly to present day.
Moreover, if we claim the sufficiency in scripture that we do, then let scripture speak freely of proof texts and isolated biblical passages. Or more, where the Bible is silent, let us be silent as well when it comes to developing theologies and paradigms that can and will perhaps divide us as a body of the living Christ. For when the Bible does not ban, let us be silent. Most alcohol-abstaining Christian will themselves admit that the Bible speaks of no absolute mandate restricting the consumption of alcohol. Let that admission be sufficient.
To this end, don’t let the legalism of the Southern Baptist Convention continue to affect our lives. Other evangelical Christians of different denominations have no problem with drinking. Why is it that our denomination has chosen to place an unwarranted stigma on alcohol?
To illustrate, when the Apostle Paul writes of the “Weak” in 1 Corinthians 9.22, he is referring to those whose consciousness’s were not granting them the pleasure of Christian freedom to consume meat that had been sacrificed to idols, though Paul knew it to be a permissive issue. As theologian and biblical scholar David Stern puts it, Paul is referring to “those with overactive but misguided consciences”. To parallel this to our present situation, the weak in today’s society are not those who chose to openly abstain from alcohol from conviction, but rather those who believe that drinking alcohol provides us a measure to gauge our spirituality, or to use the common Christian lingo, legalism.
Instead, the job of the Christian is redemption, not participation in a worldly kingdom that only sees in terms of black and white and right and wrong. Biblically speaking, there are many issues throughout scripture that when taken only at first glance, usually resort to a misinterpretation in the name of hermeneutical ease. Rather than being indicted, let us be co-creators in bringing about the redemption that Romans 8 long about.
Let me be first to admit that the consumption of alcohol can lead to terrible and tragic circumstances in life. And let me also say that my own liberty as a Christian does not result in licensing myself to do or say whatever I want in the comfort of grace. But, I believe we have been lead astray to believe that alcohol necessitates the presence of drunkenness. If that were the case, shallow logic is in place here. When Dr. Taylor chose to isolate and proof text Proverbs 20:1 “Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise” he blatantly ignored the underlying assumption. From first reading, it is apparent that this scripture is not restricting the consumption of alcohol, but being lead astray by over consumption. We can all agree that over-indulgence in alcohol (or anything for that matter) leads to gluttony, over dependency, and other negative ramifications.
In contrast, the presence of alcohol denotes the presence of a blessing in scripture (Psalm 104.14-15). Festivals and dinners were weighed and measured by the presence and quality of alcohol (John 2). Additionally, the absence of wine reflects an absence of joy in scripture (Isaiah 16.10; Joel 1.5,12). And the case has to be made; Jesus drank during his ministry. Many have argued that the alcohol Jesus consumed had a much lower level alcohol content than today’s normal content. From research, this claim is clearly wrong (Isaiah 1:22). Diluted wine was frowned upon. Thus, the case that the Bible presents no mandate on consumption is clear.
Here is my resolution; thoughtful consideration by the administration on the level of biblical faithfulness on this issue should be evaluated. Secondly, students should check their motives incongruence with their convictions. And last, pursuing alternative paths that lead us all beyond cynicism and apathy would be greatly appreciated. If we all agreed to be biblical, mature, understanding, and loving on this issue, our polarization of alcohol could turn a hot-button issue into a non-issue.
In the mean time, I fear that SBU and the Southern Baptist Convention at large is only continuing the trend that portrays us being known more for what we are against than for what we love. And perhaps worse for SBU, I fear that this issue only attacks and diminishes our pursuit of what we are constantly seeking to grasp and refine: an identity based not on outward conformity to a manmade regulation, but rather to the imputed righteousness that Christ gives us to build his kingdom (Ephesians 2.9-10).
In the end, we need to be trusted rather coddled, respected rather than guided, and taught rather than conform. For surely, the more we withdraw and seclude ourselves in the pious ranks of self-righteousness in the name of appearance, we must then crucify our Lord one more time in hopes of completing the necessary redemption and glorification that He missed the first time around.