Alcohol and Temperance

Beer

I am excited to begin my graduate studies at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary here in a couple weeks. With a world-class faculty (Tom Schreiner, Gregg Allison, Stephen Wellum, and Peter Gentry, to name a few), a beautiful campus, and a huge number of students, there is much to be excited about.

One thing is not so enthralling, though: their no-alcohol policy. Students and faculty must abstain from all alcohol consumption in any place and at any time. (Excepting the Lord’s Supper—you know, for all those Southern Baptist churches that have wine in communion…) This means that it will be three-to-four years before my next Bell’s Oberon, Deschutes Black Butte Porter, or Hoegaarden Witbier. No more pub talks—nights where me and a few friends would go out and grab a beer and talk theology. No more wine with my wife over dinner.

Don’t worry, I didn’t come here just to grovel. I am sincerely glad to be attending Southern—my gladness exceeds the sadness of having to give up beer. But that doesn’t mean I won’t miss it. And it doesn’t mean I agree with their policy. But don’t worry about that either—I’m not writing to give a manifesto against Southern’s alcohol policy. (But I will say that this chapel message from my alma mater presents what I think is a healthier approach for schools and churches to follow.)

So why am I writing, exactly? Well, for two reasons: first, to introduce the subject of alcohol into my blog. I suspect that over the next three or four years, I’ll have something to say about it every now and then. Believe it or not, the Bible has lots to say on alcohol, and there are many aspects to the subject that it would be fruitful to explore. So I wanted to break the ice, pave the way, so to speak.

Second, I’m currently reading through C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity for the first time, and I came upon a really helpful passage today that I think gives an insightful primer on the subject of alcohol and the virtue of temperance. I’ll let Lewis set the stage for any future thoughts I might share.

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Temperance is, unfortunately, one of those words that has changed its meaning. It now usually means teetotalism. But in the days when the second Cardinal virtue was christened ‘Temperance’, it meant nothing of the sort. Temperance referred not specially to drink, but to all pleasures; and it meant not abstaining, but going the right length and no further. It is a mistake to think that Christians ought all to be teetotallers; Mohammedanism, not Christianity, is the teetotal religion. Of course it may be the duty of a particular Christian, or of any Christian, at a particular time, to abstain from strong drink, either because he is the sort of man who cannot drink at all without drinking too much, or because he is with people who are inclined to drunkenness and must not encourage them by drinking himself. But the whole point is that he is abstaining, for a good reason, from something which he does not condemn and which he likes to see other people enjoying. One of the marks of a certain type of bad man is that he cannot give up a thing himself without wanting every one else to give it up. That is not the Christian way. An individual Christian may see fit to give up all sorts of things for special reasons—marriage, or meat, or beer, or the cinema; but the moment he starts saying the things are bad in themselves, or looking down his nose at other people who do use them, he has taken the wrong turning.

One great piece of mischief has been done by the modern restriction of the word Temperance to the question of drink. It helps people to forget that you can be just as intemperate about lots of other things. A man who makes his golf or his motor-bicycle the centre of his life, or a woman who devotes all her thoughts to clothes or bridge or her dog, is being just as ‘intemperate’ as someone who gets drunk every evening. Of course, it does not show on the outside so easily: bridge-mania or golf-mania do not make you fall down in the middle of the road. But God is not deceived by externals.

– C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: HarperOne, 2000), 78–79.

Image source: Quinn Dombrowski via Flickr

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