Response to Big Mac on Beer and Tee-Totaling

This post is a response to John MacArthur's blog post.

In no way was I ever contacted or asked about anything regarding the post prior to its posting. I have not asked for this controversy, I was singled out along with a few others, through hyperlinks in Dr. MacArthur's post. I do not represent anyone but myself.  I don't feel the need to respond directly to the author, nor to every point in the post.  I simply want my friends and those who associate with me and the ministries I'm involved with to know that I'm encouraged and grateful even as I disagree with a dear brother.  We can disagree and remain faithful to the Gospel, I can disagree and still love Big Mac. The common criticism from those disillusioned with Christianity is often, “they can't stop fighting with each other”.  I'm mindful of that criticism and would prefer to have not been singled out by MacArthur on this issue, my hope is that my response communicates a deep respect for a fellow Christian even in disagreement. 

First, I love John MacArthur without really knowing him personally, he is a hero to me in the Christian faith. When I first became a believer at age 20, his course material, Fundamentals of the Faith, was solid gold in my life. As a young Christian I read many of his books, I traveled the country to conferences in large part to hear him preach.  He has been used by God in my life and his heritage is not short or lean.  I pray the best for Dr. MacArthur and his continued ministry in the Gospel. 

Second, I agree with what I believe is MacArthur's largest point in the post. I believe his primary point is the danger of elevating any freedom over the primacy of the Gospel itself.  While I think MacArthur overstates his case against alcohol, the warning should be heard and I am hearing it.  Anything elevated over the Gospel is simply wrong and should be destroyed and repented of.  The fact is, we can take anything, even restrictions, and elevate them above the Gospel. John Calvin wrote that the human heart is an idol factory. Beer can indeed be an idol, but then so, too, can tee-totaling when it becomes your source of righteousness.

I understand the temptation to use a common existential experience we've all had, loved ones affected or tragically killed by the abuse of alcohol, and then to draw the line from there to an abstinence-only position. But trying to do exegetical gymnastics with biblical texts to prove that point is frankly disappointing. If you abstain because of pain and your association with the substance to the pain, I completely understand and respect, but don't play fiddle with a grand piano. My wife and I have both painfully experienced how the abuse of alcohol destroys, and I agree that the larger culture of alcohol that we see mass marketed is deplorable and tasteless; it needs to be changed. But their exists more than one biblical and historical option in changing that reality. 

Without getting in a tit for tat, respectable and historical scholars understand that Jesus changed water into something much more potent than beer. Furthermore, beer and Christianity have risen hand in hand throughout history. It wasn't to make anyone hip or worldly or whatever else, it was simply a gift to be enjoyed.  The last century isn't total beer history, in fact it is the worst in terms of American beer, and why is that? It could be argued the abuses we see today are in large part from a misguided prohibition movement that essentially laid the path for mega corporations to take over the American beer culture and turn it into the sleaze it is today.  Perhaps if the church taught and lived a more healthy respect for food, alcohol and other gifts of God, we would change history. We can reform it to a more biblical balance. 

MacArthur's argument goes deep south from his primary point, as he appears to me to be arguing that liberty is imprudent at best and sinful at worst given the real dangers of alcohol and addiction. While I agree that alcohol does have intrinsic temptation towards addiction and idolatry, I would simply ask what doesn't? As a pastor I assure you I see all kinds of temptations wreck a believer's life.  I have witnessed and ministered to those desiring children, and have seen that desire wreck their faith. Do we avoid children simply because there is intrinsic temptation towards desiring them above the Gospel?  Maybe something even more relevant in my context, what about food and sex? We all know the dangers and havoc pornography has played, should we abstain from sex too? Should we abstain and not talk about the good things regarding food and sex enjoyed under the right boundaries that God has given?  I mean no offense, but I meet a lot more people on the street and in the church who are struggling to push away french fries than they are Fat Tires. The Centers for Disease control reports that obesity is actually killing more Americans than alcoholism, drugs and car accidents combined, it's not even close.  Who is railing against the golden arches?

I have witnessed Dr. MacArthur's increasing stream of criticisms toward so many who respect him, it has saddened me personally and now I am in that stream.  I'm in no position to offer rebukes to John MacArthur, I don't really know him or his heart. I know some of his writings and some of his sermons, they have blessed me. But perhaps Martin Luther could speak to MacArthur, he is after all a father to us all, Luther rebuked those who retreated from everything that might tempt them, “do not suppose that abuses are eliminated by destroying the object which is abused, men can go wrong with wine and women. Shall we prohibit women?”  Or maybe John Calvin. He writes in the Golden Booklet section, that God “made the earthly blessings for our benefit, and not for our harm.” Later in the Institutes he writes, “we are nowhere forbidden to laugh or to be satisfied with food… or to be delighted with music, or to drink wine.” He also wrote, “it is permissible to use wine not only for necessity, but also to make us merry.” 

And finally this from C.S. Lewis:

It is a mistake to think that Christians ought all to be teetotalers; [Islam] not Christianity, is the teetotal religion. Of course it may be the duty of a particular Christian, or of any Christian, at a particular time, to abstain from strong drink, either because he is the sort of man who cannot drink at all without drinking too much, or because he is with people who are inclined to drunkenness and must not encourage them by drinking himself. But the whole point is that he is abstaining, for a good reason, from something which he does not condemn and which he likes to see other people enjoying. One of the marks of a certain type of bad man is that he cannot give up a thing himself without wanting every one else to give it up. That is not the Christian way. An individual Christian may see fit to give up all sorts of things for special reasons - marriage, or meat, or beer, or the cinema; but the moment he starts saying the things are bad in themselves, or looking down his nose at other people who do use them, he has taken the wrong turning.

There is a difference in being merry and being drunk, I'm grieved and frightened by those who don't see it. Heroes are not immune to wrong turns, grace is sufficient, the Gospel is prime.

Grace be with you,

Spencer Nix

What would it look like if Satan took control of a city? Bars would close, pornography banished, tidy, smiling pedestrians filling pristine streets. No swearing. Children would say "yes sir" and "no ma'am". And churches would be filled every Sunday...where Christ is not preached. -Donald Grey Barnhouse