In my lifetime, I cannot remember a debate about the prohibition of alcohol among people in churches with Bible as sole authority. What has happened? I believe it has started with the acceptance of alcohol in evangelical, non-separatist churches. One important way that these churches have become popular is through their compromise. They reduce this matter of drinking alcohol to a non-essential issue, so that membership in their churches are comfortable drinking. The men that pastor these churches are the ones being published by the very weak Christian publishing companies and then offered by the very weak Christian book distributors. The people that write books against these positions must publish and distribute them on their own. This makes these books look out of the main stream and less scholarly. After all, you can't get published unless you write some thing really good. And that's why the anti-alcohol books don't get published by mainstream publishers. People want to read a book that says it's OK to drink and the Bible gives them permission to do so.
Another reason for the popularity, I believe, is a modern day revival of reformed theology. I choose to call it reformed theology rather than Calvinism, because obviously alcohol is not related to Calvinism. Reformed theology isn't even necessarily a pro-alcohol position, but a lot of reformed are drinkers. They would look to the the drinking of the reformers as a basis for acceptance of their practice. Those who would defend a pro-alcohol position would attach themselves to the history that is found in the Protestant Reformation. Luther was a drinker, for instance.
A third part of this is where we're at today. Professing fundamentalists are being influenced by the writings of mainstream evangelicals. Young, disenchanted fundamentalists were fed a lot of cultural separation type of sermons when they were kids. They believe that they missed some of the deep, glorious truths of theology and the gospel in the teaching they grew up hearing. They are reacting to that. They are reading especially the conservative evangelicals, and the ones writing are both reformed to some degree and do not separate based upon cultural issues. They don't mind rock music, a lack of gender distinction in dress, and movies, and they are tolerant of the drinking. And you have some, like a Douglas Wilson and Mark Driscoll, who promote the drinking. They say that God doesn't just permit alcohol, but that God wants us to enjoy it.
So even professing fundamentalists are trying booze and attempting to become educated in the various types and brands. It does fit with modern academia to be a connoisseur of adult beverages, much like Solomon was in his search for satisfaction in Ecclesiastes. They like the idea of being deep and having answers, these young fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals. And there has become an overlap on who is fundamentalist and conservative evangelical. The line is blurred now. You can see that in online forums like SharperIron where on their blogroll they have men from many various stripes all treated the same. The message is that the delineation between these, fundamentalist and evangelical, really doesn't matter. And so there is more acceptance than ever among fundamentalists of those who don't mind tipping back a few.
And last, the scholarship of evangelicalism has eroded the fundamentalist institutions. Recently Bob Jones University Press published a small book that advocated prohibition of alcohol, but it did not use the conventional arguments that fundamentalists have used in doing so. The book, written by one of its seminary professors, Randy Jaeggli, took the one-wine position, saying that all "wine" in scripture is alcoholic, so anyone in the Bible who is drinking "wine" must be drinking alcoholic wine of some kind. His argument would say that much of the "wine" was so weak in is fermentation that it would be almost impossible for someone to be inebriated or that water was added in those days so that someone could not become drunk from partaking. This is new for most fundamentalists.
The young fundamentalists and the conservative evangelicals have latched on to this book by Jaeggli. He has corroborated their positions. In a foundational way, he agrees with those who believe scripture permits drinking alcohol. Actually Jaeggli argues against it, but he uses other arguments than that there was a non-alcoholic wine in scripture. He tries to use cultural argumentation, a position that would allow Bob Jones to continue taking their traditional prohibitionist view.
The result of Jaeggli's book was that for the most part, prohibitionists were against it and moderationists were for it. Prohibitionists wrote many reviews against it. They weren't happy. Older BJU graduates in many cases weren't happy with few exceptions. It was not the kind of anti-alcohol presentation that they would have expected from their alma mater. For that reason, BJU pulled the book and is revising it. This saddened some of the younger fundamentalists especially. It brought some jeers from the young conservative evangelicals, pointing to, in their opinion, the politics of fundamentalism that they so long have disliked. A lot of younger fundamentalists were really, really happy with the Jaeggli book. It did allow them good standing with conservative evangelicals for one, that they often emulate. All of this created a controversy that still exists. And we await the revision to see what it will say.
What is my position? I'm going to give a simple lay-out of a scriptural prohibitionist's view as a follow-up to this. I do see the moderationists position to be very weak, actually unbelievable. I don't believe that Jaeggli's position is true. I don't believe he proved his position. I can understand the furor that his book caused. Stay tuned in coming days as I expose the scriptural teaching on drinking alcoholic beverages.