The Bible makes a very radical idea inescapable: not only is the gospel the interpretive norm for the whole Bible, but there is an important sense in which Jesus Christ is the mediator of the meaning of everything that exists. In other words, the gospel is the hermeneutical norm for the whole of reality.
- Graeme Goldsworthy
Granted, alcoholism is a problem. Drunk-driving is a problem. Under-age drinking is a problem. Selling beer to minors is a problem. There are a lot of problems surrounding the existence of alcohol. But beer is not the problem.
Now, this is not the opinion of everyone. The nation’s largest Evangelical denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution recently on alcohol which expresses their "total opposition to the . . . consuming of alcoholic beverages." In other words…beer is the problem.
I do not bring this up merely to criticize the SBC. I have a profound respect for the denomination I grew up in. Also, they are joined by the vast majority of evangelicals in their belief that it is wrong for anyone to drink alcohol. Having given this caveat, let me say, I am convinced that institutional prohibition of alcohol and the blaming of alcohol itself are wrong postitions. They are devoid of logic, biblical and otherwise.
So if beer is not the problem…what is? If we can’t blame alcohol for the social ills of alcoholism, drunk-driving, promiscuity and illegal activity, what can we blame?
In a word…ourselves.
John Calvin, the 17th century Genevan Reformer made the memorable point, “Our hearts are ‘idol factories’, and our words and actions are shaped by the pursuit of things our heart craves.” Our hearts, the symbol for our affections, churn out things to satisfy us. Our hearts long to be satisfied and they will be satisfied by something. And so we make idols out of the things our hearts long for: family, sex, cars, houses, and possibly even alcohol. However, we know because of the biblical testimony that all these “possible idols” are good in and of themselves…except for maybe alcohol.
And yet the Bible never condemns alcohol. Indeed, Jesus makes water out of wine and uses wine as a metaphor when teaching. Jesus was obviously no teetotaler as he was accused of being a drunk. Paul tells Timothy to drink wine for his stomach. David credits God with wine to gladden the heart of man.
However, there are prohibitions against getting drunk. But that should tell us something. There are no condemnations of sex but there are condemnations of sexual activity outside of marriage, there is also no condemnation of alcohol, only condemnation of the abuse of alcohol. Sex is not the problem and beer is not the problem. The problem is we struggle to love the Giver more than the gifts. Our hearts are truly idol factories.
Consider the words of Martin Luther, “We must not...reject [or] condemn anything because it is abused. This would result in utter confusion. God has commanded us in Deut. 4 not to lift up our eyes to the sun (and the moon and the stars), etc., that we may not worship them, for they are created to serve all nations. But there are many people who worship the sun and the stars. Therefore we propose to rush in and pull the sun and stars from the skies. No, we had better let it be. Again, wine and women bring many a man to misery and make a fool of him (Ecclus. 19:2; 31:30); so we kill all the women and pour out all the wine…Indeed, if we want to drive away our worst enemy, the one who does us the most harm, we shall have to kill ourselves, for we have no greater enemy than our own heart, as the prophet, Jer. 17, says, "The heart of man is crooked…".
“But Matt, you work with teenagers…and they will think it is ok to drink now!” Actually, no. They already do it and if you think drinking beer is their problem, you are tragically naïve.