Alethes (Truthful) Baptist

All Things Southern Baptist Considered

Danny Akin’s Take on Alcohol

Posted by Alethes (Truthful) Baptist on July 1, 2006

In a recent First Person article on BPNews, Danny Akin weighed in again with his views on alcohol and abstinence. I want to give a short synopsis of the article and then provide my thoughts. His opening paragraphs are an emotionally charged story about the role alcohol has played in the destruction of his wife’s family. He moves on to provide a brief history of Southern Baptists and their rejection (as a Convention) against alcohol, and then a summary of selected biblical passages against alcohol. He concludes with some practical considerations concerning this issue.

First, I am grateful for Akin’s tone in the article. He sticks to one of his opening statements that his desire is to be gracious to those who disagree with him and to honor the Lord Jesus Christ in his response. I think he succeeds at this point. Unlike some who are prone to alternate methods, Akin does not lob any character bombs on the other side. Second, I appreciate his affirmation that those who argue for abstinence should not look down upon, with pride, those who reject the position of abstinence. “A smug, prideful abstainer without Jesus is just as lost as the poor drunkard who is always in search of another drink” (which is an incorrect characterization of those who reject abstinence, as if some justify “a drunkard who is always in search of another drink”) Third, Akin does note that Southern Baptists, as a convention, have consistently opposed alcohol since the 1880s. By implication, though he did not mention this, our convention did not publicly prefer abstinence for the first 45 years of its existence. Hence, the statement made from the stage at this year’s convention that “Southern Baptists have always argued for abstinence” (a close paraphrase of the statement) is historically inaccurate, and Akin does not disagree.

At the following points, I disagree with Akin. First, I don’t find convincing his application of certain Bible verses to this issue. He lists 1 Cor. 6.12 as containing two reasons for abstinence: alcohol is not edifying and it can enslave someone. He argues that 1 Cor. 8.13, 9.19-22, 10.32-33 are all examples of Paul’s instructions for believers to act in a loving way towards fellow believers and non-believers. I find it interesting that Akin’s dependence upon these verses for biblical precedence for abstinence is found in the very same letter where Paul chastises the Corinthian believers for their behavior at the Lord’s Table. In 1 Cor. 11.20-22, Paul’s argument is that some who come to the Lord’s Table are hungry and some are drunk. This is not commendable, not because some are drunk, but because some come hungry and some come full, meaning that the ‘haves’ were not sharing with the ‘have-nots’ in Corinth. Paul’s chastisement was not against drunkenness, but against being stingy.

He posits 1 Cor. 10.32-33 teaches the principle that we should act in a way that Christians should not seek their own pleasure (in eating and drinking, and in all behavior), but defer to non-believers so they will know Christ. However, there are two reasons to reject the application of these verses with alcoholic abstinence. First, the immediate preceding context teaches that one person’s freedom is not restricted by the conscience of another and that all things one wishes to eat/drink, if done with thankfulness, is acceptable to God. Specifically, chapter 10 deals with meat sacrificed to idols. Should a follower of Jesus eat meat sacrificed to false gods? The answer is two-fold. On one hand, the answer is no. If others see you eating idol meat, you are implicitly endorsing the worship of that particular idol. Therefore, if you know that it was sacrificed, you should abstain so others know you will not eat such meat. On the other hand, if only believers are around, the principle stands that ‘meat is meat’. Eat whatever you want. Christians know there is no such thing as ‘other gods’ so the meat sacrificed to idols is just like any other meat. So long as they are grateful for the food, they can eat it in good conscience. An even greater reason to reject the application of this passage to abstinence is that Paul clearly writes in 1 Cor. 10.27 that one should eat/drink what is set before a Christian (in the context that an unbeliever is providing the meal) without asking questions. With Akin’s position, if wine is offered to a believer, he must reject it. This goes against Akin’s use of 1 Cor. 10.32-33 (the verses he cites for his position) that a Christian should not cause offense to believers, non-believers, or to the Church in one’s actions. To reject the food/drink offered by an unbeliever is the precise context in which such an offense would be most egregious.

Akin’s use of Philips translation of Eph. 5.18 takes quite a liberty with the actual meaning of the verse. The word methuskomai means to ‘get drunk’. Paul’s admonition in this verse is to not be drunk with wine but be drunk with the Spirit. Akin’s usage of the Philips translation (Don’t get your stimulus from wine . . .) misses the point of methuskomai. The admonition is not “Do not drink” but “Do not be drunk”. No one who is anti-abstinence is arguing that Christians should ‘get your stimulus from wine.’ That is clearly not the biblical position. However, to swing the pendulum all the way to the other side to argue for abstinence seems too much for the Biblical witness to sustain.

One wonders why such careful rejection of other societal ills does not rank equally as high among our convention. Studies show that the average American household watches almost 7 hours of television per day. A child will witness 8000 murders on television by the time she finishes elementary school. Should we abstain from watching television because it might be offensive to some is potentially addictive? I am grateful for Akin’s strong convictions for his position on abstinence. However, I see no substantially historical or (more importantly) Biblical justification for abstinence in the matter of alcohol.

Akin concludes his article by asking what is wise concerning the drinking, in moderation, of alcohol. Why should one not wish to abstain? Simply speaking, it is never wise to encourage the total restriction of something the Bible could have rejected also, but chose not to do. God could have restricted absolutely the drinking of alcohol. Instead, God rejects drunkenness. It is never wise to accuse people of having no self-control. One of the major planks of the abstinance argument is that you will never become addicted to alcohol if you never take the first drink. While logically that is true, it strips Christians of their opportunity to demostrate what Akin believes Christians are unable to do (when he cites 1 Cor. 6.12) by not becoming slaves.

I am grateful that such a discussion is taking place within our convention. I believe debate is healthy and, if done with humility and kindness, will only strengthen our love for one another and our dependence upon the Scriptures for the sole authority for our doctrine. May God be glorified as we work towards unity and clarity.

Charis humin,

Alethes (Truthful) Baptist

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9 Responses to “Danny Akin’s Take on Alcohol”

  1. […] Exactly one week ago, I sat at my laptop and composed my response to Danny Akin’s rejection of drinking alcohol. Who would know (except God) that one week later I would be composing my response to Dr. Paige Patterson’s BP article rejecting alcohol? There are many similarities between Akin and Patterson’s arguments, but a few differences. I am grateful that Dr. Patterson, President of one of our SBC entities, has chosen to speak to this issue. However, again I am disappointed with the argumentation. Let me briefly summarize his argument and then provide my response. […]

  2. CKS said

    “Why should one not wish to abstain? Simply speaking, it is never wise to encourage the total restriction of something the Bible could have rejected also, but chose not to do.”

    Your answer is a non sequitur with regard to your question here, Alethes.

    You ask: “Why should one not wish to abstain?” In other words, what reason might one give for not abstaining? Your question assumes that the hypoethetical “one’s” desire is to refrain from abstaining. What reasons might this hypothetical one give for such a position?

    Your apparent answer is that “it is never wise to encourage the total restriction of something the Bible could have rejected also, but chose not to do.” Besides the anthropomorphism of the Bible here, I see a more significant problem.

    The reason one might give, per your answer here, for refraining from abstaining is that the bible does not command abstinence. Thinking it through then, you’re suggesting that Person X’s reason for imbibing alcohol is that the bible does not forbid the imbibing of alcohol.

    I don’t think you meant that, but that’s what you’ve apparently argued here.

    So, I ask, why would one choose to abstain? The reason you’ve presented here doesn’t resonate with me, nor do I think it will resonate with you as I’ve presented the apparent meaning of your answer here. So, why then, indeed, abstain from alcohol?

    I take that you, yourself, do abstain. Why?

    Best to you.

    CKS

  3. cherigrace said

    Alcohol is something I can comment on with some knowledge; and no, not from personal or family experience- I was blessed with parents who did not drink. As an ICU nurse for 19 years, however, I have seen the ravages of alcohol on the human body, psyche, and families. We struggle and fight with the alcoholic coming off the DT’s who is hallucinating, spitting, kicking, etc…and this is usually a friendly, nice guy that sits next to you in church! He doesn’t realize his “few beers a day” have enslaved him; and when he comes in for surgery, a couple days later he’ll be acting worse than a two-year-old and embarassing his wife and children. My father wrote a book entitled “Why Drink?” It was an old-fashioned book of the type popular in the 60s, and of course promoted abstinence; at the end of the book there was even a pledge you could sign. He was a SB pastor in New Orleans in the 50s and saw firsthand the devestation among families, marriages, jobs, lives that alcohol had caused. I guess his salient point was that if alcohol is harmful to the body; and the Lord has given us our body as a gift and temple of the Holy Spirit; how can we in good conscience put something in it that is harmful? I will not expound on the physical effects of alcohol on the body, I think most laypeople know them- and there are no beneficial effects. In that regard, I heartily label drinking alcohol as something one should not do. HOWEVER- I also believe we must judge the sin and NOT the sinner. Who are we to judge our brother? If someone has a problem with alcohol, I pray for them. That’s it. I don’t lecture them, judge them, or talk about them. So they have a problem in that area- I have problems in other areas. If I become self righteous, or feel I am better than this poor soul, I am now guilty of pride and self-righteousness. We have to love each other. Some people have sins that are right out front and easy to see- the drug addict, the belligerent alcoholic, the loudmouth swearing in the grocery store. But many of us who look great singing in the church choir hold a heart full of bitterness, anger, and unforgiveness. We need to realize we’re all in the same boat as far as being sinners. What I tell people if they are drinking and offer me a drink is, I actually don’t drink- and if they appear suprised or sk if I have a problem with THEM drinking- I reply, neither do I judge the person who drinks. I don’t think it’s a good idea, but I don’t judge them. I have had pretty good success in counselling alcohlics with this type of approach. I wonder why it is so hard for us to label sin a sin but not become judgemental and proud. I am the same way myself- it just kind of rises up: Well, look at that behavior! I would certainly never act that way. He ought to be ashamed! Etc…. and maybe it’s me who should be ashamed.

  4. CKS said

    cherigrace–

    As a recovering alcoholic myself, I appreciate your words here. I think sometimes, in their pursuit and defense of Christian liberty, some Christians forget about their “weaker brothers.”

    Best to you.

    CKS

  5. CKS,

    If I have correctly understood your first comment, I think I can answer your question by re-phrasing the statement under consideration: “What reasons might one have for not abstaining? One reason is because it does not seem logical to encourage/command the the total restriction of something the Bible could have rejected also, but chose not to do.”

    In this re-wording, what I am emphasizing is that the person (stronger brother, to use a label) need not be encouraged/commanded to abstain if the Bible has not made such a command. I do not mean to infer (as you concluded from your reading) that this person in question wants to abstain. In fact, those with a clear conscience on this matter should be allowed, IMO, to drink alcohol because they: a)are not breaking any biblical commands against drinking, and b)are not sinning by participating in an action that violates their own conscience.

    In addition, the Bible gives (positive) information (at times) concerning the consumption of alcohol. Therefore, no command to abstain, coupled with verses that advocate a positive view of alcohol, leads me to argue that those who can handle alcohol should not be encouraged/commanded to abstain.

    I hope that answers your question by providing clarification on my thoughts regarding this matter.

    Charis humin,
    Alethes (Truthful) Baptist

  6. Cherigrace,

    Thanks for reading my blog, as well as taking the time to share your thoughts.

    CKS,

    I understand your comment about remembering the weaker brother, but in remembering the weaker brother/sister, one is not restricted in toto from alcohol. I think there is an obtainable balance between one practicing responsible freedom in drinking on some occassions and refraining from drinking on other occasions. Would you agree with this?Charis humin,

    Alethes (Truthful) Baptist

  7. CKS,

    I overlooked answering one of your questions. Sorry for the oversight. You asked if I abstained and, if so, why?

    The answer is yes, I do abstain from alcohol. The reasons for my abstanance are many, of which I will provide a few (but not all) in no particular order.

    First, alcohol is pricy, to say the least. At the present time, I cannot personally justify paying $3 for a bottle of beer or $5-8 for a glass of wine if I were to drink while out eating dinner. I choose to spend my money on other things. Second, I’ve never had an overwhelming desire to drink. It’s something that I’ve gotten along without just fine for oh these many years and I don’t particularly feel the urge to drink. Third, becuase of my current relationship with the SBC, I am not allowed to drink.

    Those reasons being given, I am not convinced that abstinance is a Biblical mandate. I choose to abstain for personal (and other) reasons, not because I think Scripture has instructed me towards this course of action. Therefore, I can say with a clear conscience that when/if I am not longer obligated by the SBC to abstain (either if the SBC changes their policy or I remove myself from my current position), then I would feel every freedom to drink. Whether I followed up on such freedom is, at this point, only a hypothetical.

    Charis humin,
    Alethes (Truthful) Baptist

  8. CKS said

    ==>I do not mean to infer (as you concluded from your reading) that this person in question wants to abstain.

    But, of course, I didn’t write that at all. I wrote the exact opposite: “Your question assumes that the hypothetical ‘one’s’ desire is to refrain from abstaining.” In other words, your hypothetical person wishes not to abstain, if that is clearer. Or, bluntly, he wants to drink.

    ==>I hope that answers your question by providing clarification on my thoughts regarding this matter.

    Not really. My original point was, contra your suggestion, the lack of a biblical command against imbibing alcohol cannot be used as a motivation for imbibing alcohol. I suppose it could provide passive permission. But not the motivation itself.

    Why should I not abstain from alcohol–i.e., why should I drink alcohol? Your answer in the OP was that the Bible does not forbid it (condensed from your “It is never wise…” sentence). But, of course, your reasoning here confuses permission with cause.

    A less confusing question would have been: “Why should one feel free to drink?” rather than “Why should one not wish to abstain?”

    ==>Would you agree with this?
    To a certain extent. Perhaps you could canvass those with whom you find yourself dining in a restaurant setting: “Hey, anyone here an alcoholic? Anyone? Daniel, what about you? Kevin? Sarah? No? Okay, then I’m gonna get us a bottle of wine.”

    The impracticalities of public drinking among Christian brothers and sisters, when bearing in mind Paul’s advice, far outweigh the perceived benefits, to my mind.

    Best.

    CKS

  9. CKS,

    I apologize. On re-reading your question, I must have inadvertently scanned over “refrain”. Let me address the question you originally asked (sans my reader-response and redactional tendencies).

    The question is what constrains a person from drinking? Akin seeks to provide a biblical and practical case for abstinance. My position is that Akin’s biblical evidence is lacking and the practical case (“Is it wise?”) should flow from the biblical answer. Since I find no biblical mandate to refrain from drinking (but instead, the opposite), then why must i still be constrained from drinking?

    Regarding the scenerio of social drinking, your point is received. However, those are not the only situations. If i dine alone, such precautions are unnecessary. If i dine with my wife or my pastor, I would already know the answer to your question. In addition, I see in Jesus the propensity to do the outlandish in the presence of those who would be most offended for (at least) the purpose of correcting their misperceptions. I do not think we have always the wisdom to know when such an action is appropriate, but neither do i think that absolves us from never being (implicitely) confrontational.

    And even if public drinking is too difficult or potentially offensive, this does not absolve one from drinking in private.

    Finally, and this is something I’ve only been kicking around for awhile (so do not mistake it for a thought-out position), I think there is a difference between a ‘weaker brother’ who is caused to sin by my actions (i.e., an alcoholic that sees me drink) and a Christian who is offended with my behavior (i.e., they think drinking is sinful and therefore consider me sinning when/if I drink). I think Paul has the first group in mind when he writes of erring on the side of caution with the weaker brother. I think Jesus most often emulates the second scenerio, where his actions are never sinful (healing on the Sabbath, Mark 3.1-6). Simply because the Pharisees believed it was sinful to heal on the Sabboth did not make it so, and did not constrain Jesus from performing a miracle. [Note: I am not equating those who mandate abstinance as Pharisees, but am making a comparison between those who believe something is wrong even when it is not (if, in fact, my position of moderation is correct)]. Then, it might be offensive for me to drink in public but not sinful.

    Charis humin,
    Alethes (Truthful) Baptist

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