Let me begin with a disclaimer: I despise beer, and for a number of reasons, beginning with the fact that our daughter Bethany was killed by a beer-swilling drunken driver. Other innocent people die every day from the same cause. As a boy, I saw what havoc my great uncle’s alcohol abuse wrought on my great aunt’s face, and I know that millions of spouses and children continue to suffer abuse from people who love alcohol but can’t handle it. Some people tell me that nothing tastes better than a cold beer, but its cloying smell and urine-like appearance have no appeal to my senses. In short, my personal view is that I can find no redeeming qualities in beer or any good reason to drink it.
Given that disclaimer, I’m aware that beer has been around since Sumerian times (3rd millennium B.C.), and isn’t going away anytime soon. The powerful beer industry is virtually immune from lawsuits, and will continue to recruit new drinkers (and imperil new victims) until Jesus comes.
The question is, when Jesus comes, will he be drinking a beer?
I confess to having a hard time getting comfortable with the whole idea of “theology on tap” — the movement among many emerging churches to host discussion groups in bars where participants (including the church leaders) have a beer while engaging in conversation about God.
I have no problem with the idea of going where the people are or with hosting a discussion group in a bar or even (to a lesser degree) with participants imbibing a bit in their natural habitat.
What I can’t get used to is the image of the pastor downing a Budweiser while discussing baptism.
While many emergent congregations tend to be moderate-to-liberal in theology, I find it surprising that some extremely conservative folk have endorsed the concept of beer-based evangelism, at least when so-said evangelists hold to a fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible in other areas.
For example a recent news article about a non-denominational Raleigh church called Vintage 21 revealed that at least one professor from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary is a great fan. Though he says the inclusion of beer drinking might not be the wisest choice, given widespread alcohol abuse, theology professor John Hammett told the News & Observer “Overall, I applaud what’s going on at Vintage21,” and described it as “a healthy church.”
The church is acceptable, apparently, because it practices a very conservative approach to biblical interpretation on matters such as the place of women, and won’t allow women to serve in the highest leadership positions.
Lucky for them the Bible doesn’t mention beer by name, though it has a lot to say about the dangers of drunkenness.
The thing I cannot fathom is the approach that a church can be so culture-friendly that its leaders will sit down with a beer to discuss theology, but won’t allow women to sit at the table of church leadership.
There’s something theologically cock-eyed about an approach that blithely ignores clear scriptural warnings against becoming a stumbling block to the weak, but holds fast to a few ambiguous texts that appear to limit leadership to men only.
If I could force down a few beers, maybe the conundrum would become clear. In the meantime, to this sober mind, it makes no sense at all.
(Image courtesy of PD Photo.com)
Professor of Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, North Carolina, and the Contributing Editor and Curriculum Writer at Good Faith Media.