the RADICAL reformission–Chapter 6: Driscoll on Alcohol

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:

  1. 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.”
  2. 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.”
  3. 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.

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10 Comments

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  1. “Radical Reformission”… that’s a great quip!

  2. We can have long discussions about the topic and quote verses for and against the use of alcohol, but if I look at this issue from a personal point of view, there really is just two questions: 1. What will be the greatest testimony to the unsaved alcoholic and 2. what will glorify God most in someone who testifies of God’s saving power from alcoholism or drug addiction?

    • Joseph,

      I appreciate your concern for the alcoholic, we should always keep from tempting someone who has struggled with addiction with substances. Very dangerous indeed, but here is another question or two:

      What of your testimony to the unsaved temperate drinker of alcohol? Should he/she have to give up drinking to be saved? If so, is that the gospel or legalism? Is it impossible for an owner of a convenience store, restaurant, orchard, etc, to be saved unless they change their occupation?

      I’ll refrain from giving my answers for now.

    • 1. So let me get this right, the person who is completely celebate offers a greater testimony to the unsaved womaniser/maniser than someone who saved themselves for marriage and honours God with their marriage?
      Is there anything in our society that someone hasn’t abused that we as Christians can responsibly enjoy? Everyday people abuse cars (reckless endagerment), money, food, children etc. Should we too abstain from all those things in order to offer what you perceive to be the “greatest testimony” to the unsaved?

  3. Sorry to comment on such an old past. I wanted to email you but could not seem to find your email.

    Moderationists, however, “rightly teach that drinking is not a sin and that each person must let Christian conscience guide them without judging others.”

    Doesn’t Paul teach the very opposite in 1 Corinthians, Ephsians and Romans 14? That is, we are to consider the conscience of those who will stumble and out of love and concern for them abstain from consumption.

  4. Wine in biblical times is equal to about in alcohol content to our apple juice today. Sixteen glasses to equal a single beer today. (Yale University study 1994) How do we have such high alcohol content today? Distillation, which came about in the dark ages. So our wine and Jesus’ wine quiet different. Our wine would equal the bibles strong drink (Yale ’94). Lastly Pentecost, they asked are these men drunk? Their defense, no its like 9a.m.. Why is that important? To get drunk on their wine one must drink all day to achieve being drunk. You can achieve that today under an hour with our wine or strong drink. I agree this is not a hill to die on but many are so uneducated on this issue.

    • Well put! Sadly by FAR most disagreements on biblical issues are due to historical and Biblical ignorance/illiteracy of which some are strangely actually proud, exemplified in the current political scene where neophyte useful idiot lawless, fascist commie sodomy lover ool 0bama is glorified versus the sober defenders and lovers of our land like Justices Thomas & Scalia are despised & abhorred and spells doom for our land if God doesn’t grant us the repentance He requires. This is a profound and GRAVELY DEADLY mistake those arguing against teetotalism make, comparing our/today’s apples with Jesus’s oranges when they’re effectively suggesting giving folk with a propensity to drunkenness such a “loaded gun” (6-chambered justice, each of them with a bullet in it) that could confirm them in drunkenness for life in just a few minutes, probably oblivious to how they’re doing so! It’s so true that this issue utterly fails to address the inner life of lust/coveting, but a Biblical life demands all of life’s aspects be deeply under Christ versus the inherent superficiality of the antiChrist flesh. Soli Deo gloria!

    • Where is the integrity in your post Tom? Why would you post something scientific with out the title of the research you are using to prove your point? Should we just take your word for it. NO NO NO
      I won’t because you are speaking of distillation. You think wine is distilled? …..you are saying back then it took 16 glasses to equate to a single beer in modern times let’s do the math here. In a glass of beer today there is about 17 ml of alcohol (typical serving of wine also). Let’s multiply 16 by the standard drink amount and we reach 5680 ML or 5.6L. Now lets divide 17ml by 5.6L and see what we get….Tom is saying that back then the typical serving of alcohol contained only 0.0029% of alcohol, which is actually less alcohol then the typical can of soda contains (from natural fermentation). Are you kidding me? We are to think people can get drunk off soda pop? I don’t because as a kid there were multiple occasions I drank well over 12 pops in probably under 5 hours and at the weight of around 100lbs I never once suffered any effects of drunkenness. This type of crap makes God, his word, and his people look bad and it is no wonder why people hate all of these. Wise up and repent!
      -nic

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