It has been about three months since I last posted on Mark Driscoll’s outstanding introduction to contextualization in America, the RADICAL reformission. Since, then I finished reading his Confessions of a Reformission Rev., I heard him in person at the Convergent Conference, and have listened to a number of Driscoll’s sermons on-line. Also, I have discussed the topic of chapter six in conversations having nothing to do with Driscoll.
It is Chapter Six of this book that has caused the most controversy between Driscoll and the leadership of my denomination–Alcohol. Driscoll’s conclusions are not unique–just ask any Presbyterian or Catholic. However, his reasoning is biblical. (I have professors who disagree with him, but still find it profitable to cooperate with Driscoll; the president of my institution holds the total opposite position of Driscoll, yet respects him enough to publicly invite him to return to teach.)
First of all, please note, I have signed an agreement with the institution that I attend stating I will not partake of any alcoholic beverage, either on or off campus, as long as I am a student. Furthermore, if I go overseas as an employee of my denomination, I will not be allowed to drink. However, on a personal level, I do not find grounds for prohibition of alcohol anywhere in the Bible.
The Bible on Alcohol
As I read the Old Testament, or Hebrew Tanak, Melchizedek served bread and wine as he blessed Abraham (Gen 14:18); Jacob served his father Isaac wine before being blessed by him (Gen 27:25); the promised Messiah will wash his garments in wine (Gen 49:9-11, I leave this passage to be interpreted by an OT scholar, such as my friend, Dougald); part of the sacrifice on the day of atonement was wine (Exo 29:40); (there are numerous commandments in the Torah, or law, concerning the use of wine in sacrifice); part of the blessing of the promised land would be “new wine” (Deut 11:14, see also a beautiful promise in Deut 33:26-29); Hannah sent wine to the Eli in the year she weened Samuel (1 Sam 1:24) and Jesse sent wine via David to Saul (1 Sam 16:20); wine was a regular provision for the priests (too many references to give); wine is an image of wisdom in the Proverbs (3:10; 9:1-18); wine is an image of love in the Canticles (see all of Song of Solomon); with the Prophets it is conversely an image of wrath or blessing.
In the New Testament, I find Jesus turning water into wine (John 2:1-11), Jesus accused of being a glutton and a drunkard (Luke 7:31-35), Jesus pouring wine at the last supper, claiming that he will not taste the fruit of the vine until he “drinks it new with you in My Father’s kingdom” (Matt 26:21-30); even Paul instructing believers “take a little wine for the stomach” (1 Tim 5:23). Wine is employed as an image of God’s wrath in the Revelation; wine is a symbol of the gospel in the parable of the wine skins.
Nonetheless, do not fail to see that many of these passages are descriptive, not prescriptive. This means that there is a difference between saying this is what was done, or what was said, or this is such and such an image and saying this is what must be done. Furthermore, there are equally as many warnings in the Bible about wine as there are positive sayings.
Genesis 9–the first time wine is mentioned in the Bible, it is when Noah gets drunk and exposes his shame, his nakedness, on which Ham gazed resulting in his descendants being cursed.
Genesis 19–Lot’s daughters get their own Father drunk to propagate their cursed lineage.
Leviticus 10:9 (and many other places in the Torah)–the priests are forbidden to drink wine or strong drink when entering the tabernacle/temple lest they die.
Numbers 6–the Nazarite, one dedicating themselves to God by a vow, or the vow of their parents, is forbidden from drinking the fruit of the vine or wine.
Interestingly, in Deuteronomy 29, God says that he did not let the Israelites eat bread or drink wine so that they would “know that I am the LORD your God.” That implies that if they did eat or drink, they may not have known. In other words, as with many of God’s provisions, we are distracted from the greatest pleasure by delighting in lesser pleasures such as food or drink.
In Deuteronomy 32, God tells us that Israel did just that, they filled themselves with food and drink and forsook their God. They partook of the wine of folly and rebellion. READ IT AND BE WARNED!
Lest you think the New Testament is silent on the issue:
Romans 14warns us of allowing meaningless and debatable issues such as food or drink lead to another’s ruin or to breaking of fellowship.
Several NT passages warn against drunkenness and repeatedly state that those addicted to wine are unworthy of leadership in the church. See 1 Tim 3:3; 8; Titus 1:7; 2:3. Wine is also an image of immorality in the Revelation.
So, I think it is easy enough to say that the issue is not cut-and-dry, black-and-white. On one side, there is danger of licentiousness and immorality. On the other side, there is danger of legalism. But even in the middle, there is room for disagreement. However, Driscoll has some remarks that should be heard.
Mark Driscoll on Alcohol
First, get a hold of his book and read this chapter (after reading the previous 5, of course). Then note his use of scripture. Driscoll did not come to his conclusions lightly, and neither should you. 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’s came from an entire family of abusive alcoholics and he does not have the same conclusion.)
However, before getting any deeper on the arguments, Driscoll gives three categories of faulty contextualization that may misguide Christians in their search for holiness and gospel effectiveness:
- Pharisaic separation from culture–By this he means creating laws that keep people from getting too close to sin. What’s the problem with this? First, as Driscoll adeptly identifies, the judgemental moralism confuses morality with the life-giving gospel. Second, which I wish he would have said, it doesn’t account for internal sin. Even if Christians didn’t drink or do anything outwardly immoral, their hearts would still be as rebellious against God. Remember, “the heart is deceitfully wicked.”
- Sadducaic Syncretism–By this he means compromising externals for the sake of speaking to the culture. Driscoll rightly states, “this well-worn rut eventually leads to a universalism in which every religion leads to salvation and in which there is little, if any distinction between true and false gospels.”
- Zealous domination–by this he means confusing political clout with the gospel. Enforcing moralistic laws does not bring anyone closer to Jesus, it may inoculate them against the gospel.
He concludes that each of these paths lead to man-centered righteousness, which is no righteousness at all. The results of man-centered efforts he puts into two categories–sectarians and syncretists. Sectarians separate themselves from outward worldliness and end up hiding their lights under a bushel, while Syncretists makes the gospel message like every other message thus rendering it irrelevant. Driscoll concludes:
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 buddies (Matt. 5:43-47). 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.
Such is the context for Driscoll’s discussion of alcohol. It really is no different from his discussion of culture throughout his book. What is his point?
His point is that contextualization is not about getting as close to culture as possible as an end of itself. He is not about redeeming the entertaining value of pagan influence in culture. Rather, his cultural/contextual decisions are for the sake of the gospel.
Here’s my question to you:
Have you formed your views on alcohol, or any other cultural matter, out of your concern for the everlasting gospel?
Or, are you guilty of creating moralisms out of a selfish concern for looking more status quo as a Christian?
(Note: answering this question does not mean you have to agree with Driscoll’s view. I have met many people who may disagree with Driscoll’s conclusions who have a sincere desire for God’s glory the the life-changing gospel of Jesus Christ crucified, buried and resurrected.)
Here is Driscoll’s view on Alcohol summarized:
The Bible is unilaterally opposed to drunkenness. However, contra prohibitionists, drinking, nor alcohol, are sins in and of themselves without qualification. Contra abstentionists, it is unreasonable to be captive to others because of the possibility of weakness. Moderationists, however, “rightly teach that drinking is not a sin and that each person must let Christian conscience guide them without judging others.”
Here’s what Driscoll states that he wants his readers to remember from reading his chapter:
Reformission is not about abstention; it is about redemption.
Question for you, and Driscoll if he ever reads my blog:
Is everything redeemable?
Is redemption regarding salvation, or regarding differing cultural forms?
However, in conclusion, let us not fall into legalism. Pastor Mark rightly identifies that political involvement for the betterment of society, if an end of itself, is a terrible legalism that taints the pure gospel. It is one thing to say that “I won’t drink, for such and such a conscientious reason.” It is quite another thing to say “You shouldn’t drink either.” At least, Mark Driscoll’s chapter should make you think about why you would limit someone else’s freedom. Overall, the glory of Jesus Christ and his life-giving gospel should reign over every cultural/contextual decision.