By Brett Berger
Faculty, College of Theology
Why are Christians against drinking, smoking and partying?
Dear Theophilus, we are just coming off the holiday season where many partook of festivities that may or may not have included libations and other behaviors typically considered unsavory by Christians. For that reason, this post may be a couple of weeks too late! However, I am not naïve to the opportunities and temptations college students face each week. So, I may not be too late after all!
The way one typically answers this question is to go to a series of Bible verses about drunkenness or our bodies being “temples of the Holy Spirit” to outline some boundaries for the Christian life. I would like to take a slightly different track.
First, I would like to emphasize the goods we are to pursue as opposed to trying to outline the evils we should avoid. That is, I would like to focus on the “Thou shall’s” to make sense of any “Thou shall not’s.”
If we focus only on the prohibitions of certain behaviors without understanding their relationship to the good, then they often feel arbitrary and unpersuasive and God feels more like the cosmic killjoy keeping us from all the pleasures of life.
The fact is that the Bible does not prohibit celebration. Neither does it make a wholesale prohibition of wine or other strong drink (see as examples Deut. 14:26 and John 4). If Jesus’ first miracle is to turn water into wine, it is very difficult to call for complete abstinence from alcoholic drink. In my mind, the key to understanding these do’s and don’ts is through the lens of the Apostle Paul’s advice, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).
What are the goods to pursue? The Bible does present drunkenness as something to avoid and resist. Why? Because drunkenness opposes the goods of sober-mindedness, alertness, and freedom. The Proverbs equates addiction to strong drinks with folly that destroys lives as opposed to the wisdom that gives life. Alcohol can become a master demanding obedience. The Christian is to have a new mind not mastered by appetites and passions. Rather, there is a freedom from our appetites and passions to walk in a new manner governed by wisdom, truth and the pursuit of God’s glory.
Some illustrations may help. C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and the Inklings gathered at the local pub with a beer, laughing while they share the ideas they are thinking, the stories they are writing and genuinely enjoying their Christian friendship is a very different picture than students binge drinking until they are passed out on a bathroom floor. A celebratory drink for a friend’s new job is very different than the man losing his job because he cannot keep sober. Having a drink as a joyful celebration of God’s gifts is very different than a drink to numb the pain or medicate our anxieties.
Theophilus, this is brief, but I wanted to present what Christians are for to understand some of the things they may be against. Temptation is much easier to overcome when you are convinced of a good to pursue as opposed to merely told of pleasures to avoid. Christians are for joy. They are for a clear mind. They are for a free will. They are for the enjoyment of life as gift of God’s grace in a way that enhances life and does not diminish it. I hope this helps!
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