SBTS: Alcohol and Ministry Audio

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary has online audio from a forum on Alcohol and Ministry (right click and 'save as') or visit the resource section of the site (it's near the bottom).  SBTS president Al Mohler and theology school dean Russ Moore are in dialogue on the issue.  It's interesting to listen to, and it's more thoughtful than Jack Graham's article, but I think a very poor view of alcohol and ministry.  Listen for yourself.

I will quote at times and explain in my own words at other times.  I have taken care to be precise with quotes, but I can't claim inerrancy. :)

And let me start with this: if you want to discuss this in any detail or disagree with me, please listen to it start to finish.  Reading my quotes doesn't give a feel to the whole thing, but I can't do everything. 

Also, I like Al Mohler and Russ Moore.  They have a heart for the Church, the SBC, their families, seminary students, and even bozos like me.  So my responses are meant to be a response to the issues they raise and not directed at them personally. 

It's obvious the issue of drinking alcohol is coming under question by students at Southern.  At least 2-3 references are made to websites, weblogs, and bloggers.  I know some of those guys read my blog or have one of their interns do so (wish I could tell you a little email story).  I don't know if they mean me or not, but it doesn't matter.  The truth is, where there is open discussion you can often find growing error that should be corrected as well as the rediscovery of truth that should be embraced.  I think the discussion on alcohol on the web is freeing new generations to think biblically rather than traditionally or legalistically.  But it seems pretty clear that bloggers like me are being responded to in this forum.  So I think it's good to respond as well.

Okay, first, Mohler points out that the view that the Bible teaches total abstinence from alcohol is not biblically provable.  Good to hear that.  But then the rest of the talk is about showing how total abstinence from alcohol is best.

A bit into the forum, Mohler said...

We've all seen some of the websites and the weblogs and the kind of conversation that has been had about this, among people that we know, that have been, that are close friends.  Let me tell you that I find a great deal of immaturity reflected there.  It's all the sudden like we have a young generation trying to say, 'Hey we are so much smarter than our parents, uh, we are so much more mature and more liberated, we can enjoy these things, and now I'm going to recommend my favorite beer and my favorite wine to all of my friends.'  And frankly I think it's sad, immature, and it's showy.  It's the exact opposite of Paul's concern for unity in the church.  This kind of ostentatious display of liberty is an adolescent display.  And it's exactly what mature Christians should avoid.

Why is recommending a wine or beer showy and immature?  That smacks of arrogance and condescension.  I don't think he proved this point at all, and to call people immature without showing it is unhelpful ad hom.  Stick to the issues.

Moore and Mohler try to tackle the issue of whether or not their view is encouraging Pharisaism (about 3/4 through the audio).  Not very compelling.   Notice how they actually try to claim fundamentalism for those who don't abstain!  Mohler says...

And this is where sometimes fundamentalism, with its very restrictive list, forms a warped understanding of the gospel.  And I'll tell you, this is one of my main concerns, and I'll just speak from the heart, and it's one of my main concerns for this generation of students.  And so let me just speak paternally here for a moment.  My concern is that you have fundamentalism with a restrictive list of "don'ts" and what we are seeing is a new kind of fundamentalism, a fundamentalism disguised as liberty, which has a new list of "do's."  And it's nothing more than a reflexive, unthoughtful and I think unmotivated by love kind of response here, and I'm afraid it will wreck ministries in embryonic form.

I can assure you of this: if you are associated with the use of beverage alcohol, I think I dare exaggerate not to say that 99% of all doors of ministry in the Southern Baptist Convention will be closed to you.  And I do not believe that is an exaggeration.  And let me tell you may think, 'That just shows high-bound and unthinking the Southern Baptist Convention is.'  Why should the Southern Baptist Convention or a local church take a risk?  Why should it be in the position of deciding whether this is a problem or not.  I mean, you have to understand, why would the church take that on?  So, I am very concerned about this generation, and that's one of the reasons why our integrity with the denomination, with our churches, requires that we not only have this policy, but that we talk about it, we teach it and we enforce it.

Where is someone demanding that people drink?  That would be fundamentalism of "do's," but I haven't read anyone with this position.  I think it just doesn't make sense, and is an attempt to get the harsh idea of fundamentalism off their back and put it on someone else.

Mohler is right about drinking and not getting jobs, but that doesn't mean the SBC position is right.  It just means they are very effective at getting local church and parachurch adherence to their extra-biblical legalisms. 

Russ Moore then continues in the same vein...

Dr. Mohler mentioned the weblogs that you often see (and so often I think this fundamentalism is exactly right) so often the message that is communicated is, 'Thank you Lord that I am not like my fundamentalist home church.'  And you can hear in this 'jabbing of the eye' the prayer of the Pharisee and it is very, very destructive.

True enough, that we all struggle to be the Pharisee.  Or maybe we should say, we all ARE the Pharisee.  Guilty as charged, and running to the Cross. 

But a wrong heart doesn't mean a wrongness on the issue of alcohol.  It just means they have taken it too far.  The Pharisees weren't always wrong in what they did, but in claiming their rightness in doing it.  This is just a non-issue on alcohol and distracting.  I can claim Mohler and Moore are Pharisees all day long (or liars, or whatever), but that doesn't mean they are right or wrong on alcohol consumption.

Closer to the end, Mohler told the story of going to lunch for a meeting with a group of evangelical leaders across denominational lines.  If anywhere, this is the place for a Christian to show generosity to those who aren't compelled as he is about the issue of alcohol.  But as a couple of leaders ordered beer with lunch, Mohler actually spoke up and asked a Lutheran pastor (friend of his) to not get a beer "so that sitting here in this Southern town where anyone can walk in and see this table, people do not then barrage me with phone calls associating me with drinking, which I'm not doing."  He finished the story, "I could not allow my own personal integrity to be questioned, I would of had to have left the lunch."

But Jesus didn't have this take on alcohol or His reputation, and accordingly had His personal integrity dragged repeatedly through the mud because of who he associated with.  Mohler seems to miss the point that alcohol isn't the point, people are.  His reputation and SBTS' reputation isn't the point, people are.  And when someone else's beer becomes an issue, there is something dramatically wrong.

Let me make this last point, because some (many?) will think this is such a secondary issue, and it isn't.  This isn't about alcohol, it's about legalism.  Alcohol is not an issue I will die on, but legalism of any kind is.  It's not freedom for alcohol I'm calling for, but freedom from legalism which is deadly.

Honestly, I don't claim to be free of extra-biblical legalisms.  I don't think I'm better than Mohler or Moore.  But I do think they are wrong on this issue.