May 9, 2008

Jesus + A.A. = BFF, howbout u?

Posted in Christian culture, Theology at 1:25 pm by Matt Porter

This post was written just over a week ago, but I’ve been mulling it over ever since, trying to decide how much to say. Originally, it had two sections; but I’ve removed the second half in order to keep this focused on my current theme—how to (or not to) present the gospel. I’ll post what was the second part of this post at some point in the future, never fear.

I recently was introduced to a new tool for evangelism, in the form of a lengthy green tract entitled “WORLD’S DEADLIEST DRUG.” (The bold/italics/all-caps format seems to be important, judging by its frequent use throughout the pamphlet. Easily half the text is in bold, italics, all caps, or some combination of the three.) This tract is not speaking about some metaphorical drug, as in how we’re addicted to sin before we’re saved, or something like that. It is an attack on alcohol—or, as it is referred to throughout the tract, “killer alcohol.”

What is the biblical approach to alcohol? Apparently, from what I read in this tract, to quote statistics without citations, make broad generalizations about social ills, repeat anecdotes about bartenders who died in car wrecks, and oversimplify the body’s reaction to alcohol. At least, that’s what the first three columns (out of six) consist of, along with three fourths of the fourth column and half the fifth column. Apparently the biblical case is so strong that we don’t even need to refer to it until we’re nearly out of space.

And what of the Bible? Well, the obligatory reference to Proverbs 23 (“Who hath woe? Who hath sorrow? Who hath contentions? Who hath babbling?…They that tarry long at the wine…”) makes its appearance in columns four and five, apparently to show the Bible predicted all these social woes we’ve spent so much space discussing. A bit later, we spend two whole paragraphs on how the Bible talks about both new wine and fermented wine. This leads us to the best part of the entire tract, which is…

…the discussion of whether or not Jesus drank wine. First, we ruthlessly disembowel the argument that Jesus drank wine at the Last Supper. After all, the Bible doesn’t say “wine”; it says he drank “the fruit of the vine.” (Actually, it says he wouldn’t drink the fruit of the vine any more until he drinks it with us in heaven, but whatever.) As everyone knows, the fruit of the vine is grapes! Jesus drank grapes, not wine! It’s obvious! Well, at least as obvious as how one would drink grapes. It seems to elude us that a word picture like drinking “fruit of the vine” could apply to any potable grape product, not just the one we want it to. Add to that our ignorance that wine was the normal drink with the passover meal (and still is today)—or don’t add it, if we don’t want to. Because Jesus was God, and he couldn’t serve fermented wine, because it would be SIN! AND JESUS COULDN’T SIN!

That’s right, boys and girls! It’s time for our case that all drinking—not just drunkenness—is sin! This is the real reason that Jesus turned water into grape juice, no matter what it looks like from the reaction of the wedding celebrants—Jesus would never sin by giving people wine! (That’s completely different from using sermon illustrations about putting new wine into old wineskins, by the way. He wasn’t endorsing drinking there, just using an example that the Jews would understand, drunken sots that they were.) So, let’s turn to everybody’s favorite half of a verse, Habakkuk 2:15! Yes, Johnny, can you quote it? “Woe unto him that giveth his neighbour drink, that puttest thy bottle to him, and makest him drunken also…” (The ellipsis is there in the tract; I quoted it just as it’s given, except for the annoying italics.) This is followed by “And, if Jesus disobeyed Habakkuk — HE WAS A SINNER!” So let’s look at just what sin Jesus would have committed, starting by quoting the entire verse:

Woe unto him that giveth his neighbor drink, that puttest thy bottle to him, and makest him drunken also, that thou mayest look on their nakedness!

(italics added) Hmm…that seems to change the thrust of the verse just a bit. It doesn’t appear that we’re dealing with a simple case of bartending here. Rather, apparently if Jesus handed out wine at weddings and Passovers, he’d be guilty of what today we’d call date rape. One seriously has to wonder how we can misuse scripture so badly and keep a clear conscience. One also wonders which degree mill handed the author of this tract his Th. D. Yep, apparently one has to go to seminary for a Doctor of Theology degree to learn how to selectively quote portions of verses in order to make them say what we want. (Ironically, the same author has several tracts attacking non-KJV Bibles for removing parts of the Bible. Pot, meet kettle.) Why would we warp the Bible like this? Obviously we know the rest of the verse exists, since we put the ellipsis in. Do we think it’s justified, because it helps make a good point? Do we assume that, since we’re supposed to hand these to the lost, that they won’t know enough to look up the verse themselves? Or do we genuinely think that taking a portion of a verse, completely ignoring the context, is a legitimate hermeneutic for interpreting the Bible? I can’t decide which option is scariest.

We follow up this gem of Bible interpretation with, what else, a salvation plea. Because, after all, once someone has read about how Jesus didn’t do drugs, they’ll definitely want to be saved! I mean, that was instrumental in my conversion, so I’m sure everyone who reads this will want to be gloriously SAVED! JUST LIKE I WAS! Just pray this prayer and write us and tell us how much better Jesus is than your booze, and we’ll send you a free packet of information on how to grow, with topics like “Why Will Calvinists Burn Hotter than Catholics?” and “Street Preaching 101: Getting in Their Space.” (Not really, but almost…you should see some of the things this place prints.)

That brings me to my first real point (although it’s deliciously fun to tear into things like this)—why do we think the best way, or even a good way, to bring people to God is by screaming at them about all the sins they do? Last time I checked, which was pretty recently, the gospel wasn’t about our sins, but about Jesus. Maybe we should, I don’t know, tell them about Jesus? Sorry, I’ll shut up and just sit here quietly so I don’t interfere the great work of convincing our culture that Christians are holier-than-thou hypocrites who spend all their time pointing out everyone else’s sins and pretending that they don’t have any of their own. Because that’s the logical outcome of this approach. And, yeah, if I sound rather ticked off about it, I am.

Sure, the occasional person here or there may be saved in spite of our arrogance, but common sense would dictate that more people will listen to a nice person than a rude one. But we fightin’ fundamentalists can’t be nice because we’re scared we’d sound too much like Joel Osteen. And if we seriously think being nice = preaching the Joel Osteen gospel, then we need to go back to kindergarten and learn how to be nice to people all over again. As I think I’ve said before (or maybe I’ve just been ranting at my wife), the only people Jesus seems to have been angry with was the religious crowd who thought they had God down cold. He treated those who knew their own sins with kindness. And guess which crowd we fit in with?

So what do the lost need? They need us to talk about Jesus, not about all the sins they’re committing. After all, they’re lost; what do we expect them to do, live godly, holy, separated lives? Maybe we do. Maybe we expect that so we can pat ourselves on the back because we’re so much better than they are. And maybe that explains why the Church is so pitiful today—we have too much interest in telling the world to act like Jesus and none in acting like him ourselves.

They also need to see Christians being honest with what the Bible actually says. If the Bible is flat out against any use of alcohol, use those verses that say so. We can’t take verses and warp bits and pieces of them to match our message without losing our credibility.

I’ll have more to say on this topic later, after I’ve finished this series. Whenever that is. If anyone’s still alive to read it.

1 Comment »

  1. Lisa said,

    This has historically been a hot topic with V and me. I’ll be interested to hear the rest, even if you have to send a private little email blog. Or you could just – eek! answer my emails! 🙂

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