Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Coming Out of the Closet Without Falling off the Wagon

Ok, so I've been out of the blogosphere for more than a week, so come back with a bang right? Maybe not, but I've been toying with posting on this for sometime now and the time just seemed right. The majority of people who read this blog know I'm not a teetotaler (did I spell that right Logan?); never have been in fact, not even in my hyperfundy days. Of course, by saying I'm not a teetotaler, I'm not implying that I just think it's ok for people to drink alcohol, but rather that I am an active participant in one of God's good gifts.

I thought it would be fun to give 24 hours notice to other bloggers who read this blog and share my convictions to come clean before I posted a list of their names....but decided I'd be kind. Instead, I'd like to pose a question: Is anyone aware of a biblically faithful, logically coherent argument for a teetotalistic position? By biblically faithful, I have in mind both the passages that commend alcohol and passages that indirectly condone it (stuff like John saying that the first display of Jesus' glory was accomplished by turning water into wine...and the good stuff at that). There's a lot of data that just seems hard to get around to me. By logically coherent, I mean it does need to be consistent, but more importantly that arguments like "grape juice" and anything based on word studies alone are dismissed ipso fact as being logically fallacious. I'm not trying to open up a rant in the comments section, I'm just curious if there are any good arguments out there that I've overlooked. Sure, there are circumstances that might arise when abstinence might be appropriate (history of drunkenness, ministering to someone with a history of drunkenness), but I'm referring to a valid teetotaler position. Anybody?

12 comments:

Russell W. White said...

Nate,

I ran a quick Google search on the subject, and my research could be divided into two champs: 1) those who prohibit alcohol on the basis of an inherently fallacious word study, specious Scriptural exegesis, ignorant proof-texting,phariseetical (sp)moralizing, sapiential musings, non-sequitur contextulization, or an amalgamation of any of the preceding; 2)those who see the usage of alcohol as one of the good gifts of God given to mankind to enjoy in general and to the people of God to exemplify the moderate enjoyment thereof to the lost of the world. And to my critics out there, yes, I did state the first positions slightly pejoratively , sorry for the caustic rhetoric.

Anyway, those who imbibe in the good gifts of God, stop on by my place sometime for a classic porch -party. People tell me I'm kinda a natural at mixology. . . . no wonder I got the pseudonym "The Vice Master."

Mike Osborne said...

There is a certain risk I take in joining this discussion because I don't find it terribly edifying to the body as a whole. Yet, I think I will run the risk b/c (contrary to what seems to be implied by the way in which the question was framed) I do think that in certain contexts abstaining from alcohol is the gospel thing to do, and it has nothing to do with the substance itself or exegesis. Jesus plainly said it is not what enters a man that defiles him, but what comes out of him that defiles him. (For example, things like pride defile. And pride is particularly a problem for the strong who despise the weak for their refraining.) And we all know that Paul said that nothing is unclean in-and-of-itself (in regards to eating/drinking). The issue is not the substance itself nor exegesis. The issues are humility and love.

As far as a coherent defense for abstinence, I think we all know that it depends on context a brother finds himself in, as you noted briefly in your post. (Though, I don’t think your brief statement gave enough credence to one’s context.) I will not paint a hypothetical context for everyone to examine to the nth degree and try to find holes in my hypothetical argument. But I think without too much imaginative power we could think of a scenario where it is necessary for the sake of the gospel and the unity of the saints for a brother to abstain from alcohol (to the weak I became weak- anyone out there practicing this kind of freedom in Christ?). And amazingly to some, this brother will still experience the joy of the kingdom b/c the kingdom of God is not in eating or drinking, but in righteousness, joy, and peace by the Holy Spirit. And such a scenario may be for a lifetime, which may require that brother to refrain for a lifetime.

So, please let's endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace with all our brothers, including the weak. Let's follow Paul's admonition that if we have a conviction keep it to ourselves for the sake of unity and be happy about it.

Nate Mihelis said...

Mike,
I'm glad you commented, because either I didn't make the disticntion clear, or you misunderstood my question. By teetotaling, I'm referring to those who argue on "biblical" grounds that it is never appropriate for a christian to drink - that is it is always sin. The reason I dinstinguished this from abstinance in certain situations is: 1) the latter is context specific and 2) the former amounts (as far as I can tell and thus the reason I ask) to building fences around Torah. I entirely agree to conscience and circumstantially specific abstinance - ie forgoing my "liberty." As you pointed out this is Pauline. However, if we're talking about fences around Torah, Jesus and Paul both had some pretty firm condemnations for such practitioners. Enjoying God's good gifts and even being open about it is entirely different for being pejorative to those who cannot do that in good conscience. Yet, I think it is entirely biblical to be pejorative to those who forbid the enjoyment of God's good gifts by adding to the scriptures. Hope this clarification helps. Thanks for identifying the need for it.

Mike Osborne said...

Let me respond one more time in two directions: first, in regard to the intent of your original post and then in regard to a statement you made in the comments.

First, it seemed to me (and I may be wrong) that your question was kind of "putting the bait" out there. I think you (and most of your readers) know that a complete teetotalist position is not coherently defensible from the Scripture. The goal of my comment was to sober (pun intended) the conversation. You were not unclear, and I did not misunderstand your question. I assumed we all know the answer. I went the direction I did b/c I wanted to challenge us to be more careful in our language/attitude toward genuine brothers who differ on this issue.

Secondly, you said in your comment, "Yet, I think it is entirely biblical to be pejorative to those who forbid the enjoyment of God's good gifts by adding to the scriptures."

Be careful with such a statement. I know Christ's work in you, and give you the benefit of the doubt, but that could be taken the wrong way by some.

True, Paul did have harsh (pejorative) words for those who built fences around Torah in Galatia and Philippi, but I would make two contrasts. One, the situations that called for harsh language in Philippi and Galatia seem a bit more intense than ours. The "teetotalers" in Galatia and Philippi were afraid to suffer persecution, and they were enforcing persecution on the true brothers. Two, Paul's harsh language is absent in Rome where he welcomed wholeheartedly teetotalers who were building similar fences around Torah on "biblical grounds" (to quote you). So, even our response to different "teetotalers" is context specific. Your statement could be taken to indict all teetotalers. There are some who forbid others to partake whom we should receive and earnestly pray for profound unity to occur by the Spirit, and they should not receive pejorative comments from us.

My call is for a more diligent pursuit of one another (weak and strong) for the unity of the Spirit. I offer a humble, earnest encouragement to be careful with our words. "Death and life are in the power of the tongue (of blog!)." And we will give an account of every post to Jesus whose eyes are like fire into our hearts. Nate, I appreciate your desire to live faithfully to the Scripture/Spirit. As always, the dialogue is constructive. God's blessings in Christ to you, Dawn, and Noah.

smlogan said...

rusell,
while i respect your right to self-identify, you might want to ease up on the moniker. i know it was initially 'assigned' to you, but in the years that have past, you seem to have welcomed it in a way that is, at times, disconcerting. just a thought; you know i've got your back...

nate,
i appreciate your courage to live out loud, and understand your continued quest to pursue textual evidence for what seems to be the majority position (at least in fundamentalism).

i would only give 3 suggestions:
1)go back to the drawingboard, employ your m.div. a little, and probe the glories of "yayin". ohh!
2)i don't know about everyone else, but the only reason i hate to have this discussion is because of the excessive use of the word: teetotaler. i'm on the verge of tracking down the person who coined the term so i can hang his picture next to curtis lee laws on the wall of 'under-appreciation'.
3)my only reticence toward the position being abandoned is the fact that i'm pretty sure piper holds it. i was surprised (and somewhat troubled) by that, but i respect the guy too much not to give him a hearing on it (though at this point, i haven't had the chance).

mike,
i'm really struggling with what you've said - or perhaps, rather - how you've said it.

i appreciate the body dynamic, and the responsibility we have to speak truth into each others lives, but i'm troubled by your tone in the discussion.

i think the unity you are hoping to engender runs the risk of being undone by what seems to be a rather 'motivated' position.
earlier this semester i had a good laugh when vanhoozer shared his golden rule of hermeneutical ethics with us in class: "do unto authors, as you would have them do unto you."

it doesn't seem that you've given a gracious reading; at the very least, you've assumed several things that were not stated. despite previous knowledge or consdierations, asking a question again and again is not baiting or begging the question if you're still genuinely looking for an answer. while i respect the reader's right to make value judgments, it seemed that some of your were extreme.

though you said you were giving the benefit of the doubt, it doesn't seem that you have. it's disingenous to accurately read someone but to comment in a way that betrays that trust; in some ways, i felt that you hijacked the discussion.

though i understand what you mean about the risk involved in joining such a discussion, i actually find it quite edifying, and certainly think that the average abstainer needs to have it. my understanding was that the people in question are not the rare few who love their brothers and respect their right to partake, but continue to abstain personally. certainly that is not the majority view.

apparently we are all in agreement that abstaining in this way is (at best) exegetically untenable. but i'm not sure you realize that some of us who do not always abstain in this area are still looking to live our lives in distinctly Christian ways. surely, we should always be considering and reconsidering our positions in light of scripture. it is what mature, responsible Christians do.

your desire to 'sober' the discussion was both amusing and ironic, because i thought the initial question itself was sober. that is, while those who partake are often accused of exploiting the grace of God in the name of freedom, i would argue that many who partake are actually growing in grace and becoming accutely aware of the necessity to live biblically - perhaps even more so than when they abstained completely(since they now actually have to consider how they will drink in a distincly Christian way before a watching world).

in trying to read you the way i would want to be read, i thought about the way leading a church plant would inform my thinking - as i imagine that you are rightly concerned in setting a biblical direction that will hold its course for years to come. so i'm sympathetic to your context, and continue to pray (as i have before) that God would use you and dan in the development of his kingdom.

Nate Mihelis said...

I do appreciate all the interactions that have been offered and Mike particularly yours. I love sharpening ideas with you 1) for your knowledge of the scriptures 2) for you love for the body 3) I think you have a keen mine and above all 4) I know you care about me. And none of that is to preface or cushion my response.

My intent was genuinely not to bait, and one of the reasons I've put the topic off so long was for that precise reason. My preface of not wanting the comment section to foster rants was also in that same direction. Ultimately I tried to be as benign as possible while still being honest in the phrasing of the question. Having said all that, I still completely understand how and why it could come across as "baiting" and that was just a calculated risk I wasn't sure how to avoid altogether.

Your distinction between the issues at Galatia etc, and this issue, particularly when compared to Romans was good and clarifying; While I'm not sure it's black and white, I was definately shading more gray than perhaps justified. I think most of the application of Romans 14-15 these days comes from the weak who shout stop looking down on me and by the way stop sinning. It is difficult to tell the weak to stop judging the strong without sounding condescending. A firm "stop it!" has definately been lacking for too many years. My ultimate goal of such a post is just to get the topic on the table. Partakers whisper behind closed doors and attempted veiled language (that typically isn't as veiled as they may pretend) about their partaking while teetotalers see known partakers as "projects" and assume there are less than there often are. I say lets just get it on the table, repent as necessary and learn how to receive one another.

Yet my concern remains for teetotalers. I think there are more out there than you give credit for (that is those who think it is biblically defensible to say that all partakers are in sin). Because of this, I still think the issue of how to handle this stands. While poor hermeneutical practices may not be on par with saying circumcision justifies, preaching the commandments of men, as on par with scripture is surely dangerous ground.

As always, I am encouraged by the dialogue. I have been praying for you particularly on Friday nights and was glad to here you didn't send out a text last night - at first I thought you might not want me praying for you anymore :-)

chris bruno said...

Logan,
Which position are you saying Piper holds?
If it is the absolute teetotaler view, then he does not (cf. "Fighting Flesh Tanks with Peashooters" in Brothers We are Not Professionals).
If it is a personal decision not to partake (for a number of reasons), then I think that is right.
crb

smlogan said...

bruno,
my bad...sorry to confuse.
i unintentionally shifted from nate's definition to my own.
definitely meant the 2nd view;
thanks for the clarification.

saw Moo up here the other day.
my buddy was in a d.min. course he was doing on applying Romans.
didn't realize he was such a giant.

Nate Mihelis said...

Well, Logan, maybe if you read some of his books, you might realize just what a giant he really is.

Luther's Stein said...

That was a gay play on words Mihelis . . . even for you.

smlogan said...

chill, mihelis...
i read his romans commentary,
but there were no pictures -
which of course explains two things: 1)why i didn't know how tall he was; and 2)why you've never bothered to pick it up.

smlogan said...

yo nater,

i forgot to tell you that i saw fayez ayoub up here - taking that class from Moo (the theological literary giant). he's a children's pastor getting his d.min. isn't that crazy cool?