In less than five minutes, I can finish looking at the websites I view almost daily. From there, I might read what I find therein. In today's case, I went to SharperIron, to its blogroll, and saw the headline for Andy Naselli, so I clicked on it. A colleague where he teaches, Joe Rigney, wrote a book, The Things of Earth: Treasuring God by Enjoying His Gifts
. The theme sounded interesting, because I too wonder often about the purpose of various of these good things on earth besides the potential of idolatry. At what point have we moved from enjoyment to idolatry? When do we know? The book is available to the point of exploration according to the supposition of Joe Rigney.
Rigney points to his greatest influences: Jonathan Edwards, C. S. Lewis, John Piper, and Douglas Wilson. It's too bad that Edwards is lumped with the other three, but I get it. Piper has hijacked Edwards some to mean what he says and Wilson takes that thought even further. And we get to booze. Alcohol consumption takes the stage of the discussion like the clown at a rodeo. At the bottom of Naselli's post, he links to a two part presentation by Rigney on "Should Christians Drink Alcohol?"
I do hesitate in linking to his talk, because there are vulnerable people out there begging to justify their imbibing. I go ahead and link for the sake of fairness. I decided to start listening as I supped and swallowed some soup for lunch.
Joe Rigney offered four possible positions on alcohol from right to left: prohibition, abstention, moderation, and abuse. He explained each of those, parking for awhile to offer the reasons why Christians abstain (the second position). From defining the four, he lopped off the two outside positions as unchristian, saying that prohibition is demonic, taking 1 Timothy 4:1-5 as proof, and that abuse is damning, referring to a few texts that anathematize drunkards.
For sake of consistency and symmetry, I didn't like "abuse" as a position. I'm going to help Rigney out here with dissipation for a fourth category. Plus, abuse doesn't sound like a position. You may as well leave it off completely, because no one takes it as a "position." And then he lumps prohibition and abuse together like strange bedfellows.
When you hear Rigney talk, he speaks with severe articulation at prohibition and with sympathy toward abuse. He gets very stern in his denunciation of prohibition, leaving behind measured tones. I think these types of evangelicals are more angry at prohibition than they are drunkenness. What does that say for them? He excoriates prohibition as demonic with a feathery brush stroke of 1 Timothy 4:1-5. He doesn't establish by any means that what Paul is writing there should apply to alcohol. This is what might be termed, "preaching to the choir."
I'm thinking, "Woe, woe, woe, woe, woe. Wait uh minute. That doesn't prove anything." And Rigney is done with 1 Timothy 4:1-5 and moving on. Prohibition is demonic, point said, point proved. You've got to ask, "Did God create alcohol?" Like one might ask, "Did God create the ebola virus?" I know God has allowed these things, which is different than creating them. Even further, did God create distilled beverages? That makes me start to laugh over Rigney's stunning ease at flicking away prohibition as unchristian.
When you call a position on alcohol, "prohibition," you need to know that you are associating it with the constitutional ban on the sale, production, importation, and transportation of alcoholic beverages in the United States from 1920 to 1933. It isn't easy to amend the Constitution. We've done it only seventeen times since 1791. There was widespread support for prohibition in 1920 in the American population, what Rigney would call "demonic." More laughter ensues.
I wasn't motivated to write this post until I heard Rigney call prohibition "demonic." Until then, I could have remained somewhat ambivalent to what he was saying, even curious. I think believers do need to learn the right approach to God's good creation in relation to Christian service.
This post answers a very specific question prompted by Joe Rigney, "Is prohibition of alcohol demonic?" He uses 1 Timothy 4:1-5 as a proof text.
1 Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; 2 Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; 3 Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth. 4 For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: 5 For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.
The demons are in v. 1, "doctrines of devils." Apostates are seduced by doctrines of devils, prohibition being that doctrine (so says Rigney), so prohibition lies on the road to apostasy. Apparently, Satan wants to use prohibition of alcohol to damn men's souls. In contrast, promotion of alcohol ostensibly leads toward eternal life.
The error Paul addresses in the proposed text rejects good things God Himself created for beneficial reasons. God created marriage and created meat for men to enjoy. How controversial are marriage and meat in evangelicalism? Those are at the root of the argument against the false doctrine Paul exposes. Paul is rejecting the asceticism that was part of the philosophical dualism in Ephesus and other Greek cities. They thought they could achieve some elevated kind of spiritual existence by denying themselves material things. You still see this in modern religions, and this can seep into and influence Christians, as in the examples of celibacy and monasticism. The apostasy comes with the denial of true spirituality found through the work of Jesus Christ and in favor of our own work of self-denial.
Is denying alcohol a form of asceticism? Is this an example Paul would have in mind? To help yourself understand better, replace prohibition of alcohol with prohibition of crack or crack pipes or heroin or crystal meth. Is denying crystal meth a form of asceticism that could drag someone into a denial of Christ's finished work? Is meth just another element God created for all men to enjoy? From what I've read, meth is a stress reliever, helps someone get through boring jobs more easily, and boosts creativity, so perhaps Rigney could have kept rolling right into other "created" substances.
Are there physical things on earth that should be denied, based upon bad inherent qualities? God created everything, but does that mean that sin has had no impact on creation since then? Is everything innocent since the fall? I believe that what Naselli calls a 'skillful answer' to the question, "Should Christians drink alcohol?" is actually a horrible answer. The biblical position is "prohibition," and yet Rigney labels that demonic. When you call the right answer demonic, you haven't done a very skillful job of answering. Rigney said he was very serious about "demonic," something that men often say when they're afraid of not being taken seriously -- this time for good reason.
Ephesians 5:18 starts, "And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess." The phrase "wherein is excess" translates four Greek words (en ho estin asotia
) that could be translated literally, "in which is dissipation." Ho
("which," "where") is a relative pronoun that requires an antecedent. "Wine" (oinos
) is masculine and singular and ho
, the relative pronoun,
is masculine and singular. The antecedent agrees in gender and number. "In" the wine itself is the dissipation, the profligacy, the debauchery, the meaning of "excess" (asotia
). How could that be? Didn't God create everything
for man to enjoy?
There are no other possible referents for ho
than "wine." If in contradiction to Greek grammar, ho
referred to "drunk," inferred in the infinitive "to be drunk" (not a noun), Paul (and God) would be saying be not drunk with wine, wherein is drunkenness, making Paul (and God) redundant. In drunkenness is drunkenness. Yes, I see. Good point, Paul. Incisive. In drunkenness is drunkenness. That's not what Paul was writing.
Yes, God created everything for man to enjoy. But not everything exists for man to enjoy. Everything has been spoiled or corrupted by sin to some degree. Rigney's view is a simplistic and superficial view of prohibition that deserved more than his condescending brush-off -- actually worse, because he calls it demonic during his brief dismissal. The Corinthians argument for fornication was meats for the belly and belly for meats (1 Cor 6:13). This seems to be closer to the Rigney argument against prohibition.
In the wine itself is excess, not just in the abuse of it. "Abuse" doesn't work as a category if the excess is in the substance itself. Anyone knows that there are things we shouldn't eat or drink. They are dangerous or deadly. If you know what oinos
is, you know that Jesus could turn water into an acceptable form of it. The kind that causes drunkenness is prohibited by scripture. When wine is alcoholic, it is prohibited (Prov 23:31). It no longer exists to be enjoyed.
By calling prohibition demonic, Joe Rigney will encourage alcohol and reap drunkenness. It isn't a skillful argument from scripture, but a perversion. May everyone see it for what it is.