Thursday, March 7, 2013

God gave wine

by Kenneth L. Gentry Jr.
148 pages, 2000

"Do not suppose that abuses are eliminated by destroying the object which is abused. Men can go wrong with wine and women. Should we then prohibit and abolish women?" - Martin Luther (from the back cover)

Ken Gentry dismantles the notion, common in some Christians denominations, that alcohol use is a sin. He also tackles a second, more compelling, anti-alcohol stance that says partaking isn’t sinful, just unwise. Since the Bible condemns drunkenness, it’s argued it would be best for Christians to abstain entirely - this is the abstention position.

But does this logic hold? As Gentry notes, the Bible also condemns gluttony; should Christians then abstain from food? And God condemns prostitution; should we respond by taking vows of celibacy? Clearly we go too far when we discourage proper use just because something can be abused. God has placed boundaries within which all these things can be enjoyed to His glory; God has not called us to abstinence, but instead to self-control and moderation.

Gentry works through the New Testament and Old to methodically rebut every anti-alcohol argument - his book is the best on this topic, and the one to buy if you, or someone you know, frowns at the idea of Christians drinking.

But interestingly, Gentry's point can be applied more broadly. For example, a similarly argued book might be titled God Gave Dance. Our young people are taking up dancing, and the gyrating they do gives God no glory. However, the Bible is clear that dancing can be godly (Eccl 3:4). So, rather than take an “anti-dancing” stance (and, in doing so, going further than God does!) shouldn’t we respond to this abuse by teaching our young people dancing’s proper godly use?

Abstention undermines moderation

Now this is important. If we get this wrong – if we treat alcohol consumption as shameful – then we are running right up against the true biblical position of moderation. And running up against the Bible is never a good idea. In this case the unhappy result may well be that we’ll contribute to the very drunkenness we are trying to curtail because abstention undermines the teaching of moderation.

How so?

Well consider this example. I know of a church that wanted to address the very muted way its young men were singing. So the pastor invited the young men down to the church for a psalm-singing kegger – everyone would be given some singing instruction and a tall glass of amber brew.
How would you react if such a proposal came your way? I know how I reacted – that is not the sort of thing that ought be done in a church!

But why did I think that? Clearly I wasn’t objecting to the psalm-singing. And I knew that a glass of frothy goodness would be an excellent aid in helping young men learn to sing with vigor. So on what basis could I object?

It was my closet “absentionism” coming out. I know God speaks of moderate drinking as a good thing, and yet deep down I feel I know better, so when an opportunity comes up for young men to see how a drink can be enjoyed responsibly – when an opportunity comes for them share a cold one with their minister – I want to pass up that opportunity. But could there be a more God-glorifying way to enjoy a glass?

Now we all know bush parties happen. We know many of our young people gather at homes or apartments where this is no parental supervision so that they can drink to excess. In that context it might seem reasonable to sound a general warning against all alcohol consumption.

But blanket condemnations don’t foster maturity. What our young people really need is instruction in moderate use. They need to learn how to drink to God’s glory. So long as we parents lean in any sort of “just don’t drink” abstention direction are we properly motivated to teach our children how to drink? If we think that it’s more pious to abstain than partake, are we going to teach our children about moderation? When we forbid what God allows, then our children will still learn how to drink, but from peers who don’t care a whit about moderation.


Of course, Christians don’t have to drink. In God Gave Wine, Gentry rebuts both prohibition and abstention, but he himself has always been a teetotaler, drinking no more than a half dozen glasses of wine a year (and now a medical condition precludes even that). No one needs to drink…and some most definitely should not.

But we need to accept what God says and acknowledge that moderate use is not only not shameful but a blessing from God. When we sit around the campfire with a s’more in one hand and a glass of red in the other, and friends all around, it is a wonderful thing. We can drink to God’s glory! Let’s teach our children how.

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