This entry is part [part not set] of 5 in the series Alcohol

I arrived at Aberdeen University on a frigid January afternoon in 2004 and headed straight to the secretary’s desk to receive the keys to my new office. This is where I’d spend the next three years, hammering out my PhD dissertation and seeking to keep warm on the Scottish coast—both seemed impossible at the time. “Here are your keys, sir,” muttered the secretary. Not knowing the campus, I asked where exactly my office was located. “Let’s see. Down the street, on the right hand side. It looks like you’re in The Old Brewery.”

Aberdeen University's "Old Brewery." My office window is just above the bush to the right.

I immediately couldn’t wait to tell my friends back home that I would be spending the next three years studying the Bible in a building called “The Old Brewery.” So much for the old seminary library back home.

I later found out that the name reflected the building’s original function. Aberdeen University used to be a school that trained monks for ministry. Up the cobblestone street stood the old hospital, where the students would heal the sick and feed the poor. A hundred yards south was the chapel, and at the end of the street stood the brewery, where the monks would brew vast quantities of Scottish Ale. Monks were the conservative fundamentalists of the day, and yet bread and beer were rationed out at mealtime. And here I am, studying the New Testament between the walls of the malted sanctuary, where Bible College students of medieval Britain once clapped mugs together in an act of worship.

Showing up every day (and many evenings) to the “Old Brewery” connected me with my roots. Throughout Church history, alcohol was rarely a taboo as it is in some circles today. The most legendary leaders drank freely, though I want to assume they didn’t get drunk. Calvin had a stipend of 250 gallons of wine per year written into his ecclesial contract. Luther’s wife was a famed brewer of beer—one of the character traits that won Martin’s heart instantly—and she liberally supplied the reformer with his favorite ales. Luther himself is well known for heralding the absurdity of abstaining from alcohol. Centuries later, the legendary Guiness family, prominent for their Irish stout, began brewing beer as an act of faith. “My family started their brewery as a statement of moderation,” says Os Guiness, the great evangelical theologian and descendent of the original Guiness brewer. “The water was contaminated,” says Os, “and hard-alcohol was consumed by drunkards. So my forefather started to brew his malty Stout out of reverence for Jesus.” You may have heard (though it’s debated) that on route to religious freedom, the pilgrims aboard the Mayflower halted at Plymouth Rock because they ran out of beer. “We could not now take time for further search,” wrote one pilgrim in his diary, “our victuals [= provisions] being much spent, especially our beer.” Once landed, the pilgrims tapped into the vast supply of maize and built a brewery.

From Bordeux to Berlin, wine and beer have always been part of church tradition. But the Bible goes further than admitting that it’s simply allowed. Saying that it’s okay to drink in moderation is true, but it’s theologically flat. The production and consumption of beer and wine are organically tethered to the covenant drama of the Old and New Testaments.

From the plains of Moab, Deuteronomy announces the blessings and curses of the covenant, and wine is often cataloged as a premier blessing (Deut 7:13; 11:14), while the absence of wine is a curse (28:39, 51). As history unfolds, Israel becomes progressively wicked and ends up breaking the covenant (Jeremiah 11) and finds themselves in exile. Yet God, in His love and grace, promises to restore them and flood them with the blessings that they couldn’t receive under their own strength, and frequenting the list is the blessing of wine. Amos envisions wine flowing from the mountaintops (Amos 9:14; cf. Joel 3:18). Joel looks ahead to vats brimming with fresh wine (Joel 2:19, 24). And Isaiah imagines a great messianic banquet, where God will lay a spread of rich foods and “well-aged wine” (Isaiah 25:6). Throughout the Old Testament, wine was intended to “gladden the heart of man” as a blessing from God (Psalm 104:14-15), and Old Testament saints lived with the hope that one day, salvation would burst forth from the heavens and wine would be harvested in abundance from the hills.

And that harvest was inaugurated on Calvary. In the upper room, when Jesus sanctified a cup of wine as “the new covenant in my blood,” He not only infused a common drink with theological meaning, but tapped into the Old Testament narrative, rich with connotation (Luke 22:14-23). Jesus was claiming that through His death, He would deliver the covenant blessings anticipated by Moses and promised by the prophets. He wasn’t just drinking fermented grape juice; Jesus was boldly claiming that “all the promises of God find their yes in Him” (2 Cor 1:20). Three years before, Jesus anticipated this cruciform blessing when he miraculously produced an over-abundance of wine from water (John 2:1-10). And if we merely wrestle with the ethical implications—is it okay that Jesus made 150 gallons of wine?—we miss the point. Theologically, the wedding at Cana was a foreshadowing of the ridiculously abundant goodness that God unilaterally showers upon us through the cross of Christ. This is why John says that the miraculous wine “manifested His glory” (John 2:11)—the glory that would be showcased on Calvary (John 12:28).

The full consummation, of course, will come when Christ comes back and prepares the “marriage supper of the Lamb” (Rev 19:6-8), satisfying the curious vision of Isaiah (Isa 25:6-8). If Amos, Joel, and Isaiah are correct, then this banquet will be served with well-aged wine—the stuff I only notice on the top shelf but can never afford—and for theological reasons it will be served, as at Cana, in abundance. Its full-bodied presence, enjoyed by resurrected martyrs, persecuted pastors, cannibalized missionaries, and callused knee prayer warriors, will not be served merely to quench our thirst or give us a buzz. It will be, as it was always intended to be, an experienced symbol of God’s overabundant goodness, purchased by the saving blood of Jesus.

Drinking wine and beer, therefore, serve as persuasive reminders of where we stand in the eschatological age. On the one hand, we look back upon the blood of Christ that has inaugurated the kingdom. We also look forward to the second coming of Christ, when that kingdom will be fully realized and the prophetic word, including the covenant blessing of wine, will be consummated.

Practically, then, abstaining from alcohol has its place if done for the right theological reason. If trumpeted as the wiser, more spiritual path, then you’ve missed the point. Yet partaking alcohol without celebrating the cross and kingdom is theologically anemic. Abuse of alcohol leading to drunkenness or enslavement mocks the blood of Christ and is an affront on God’s holiness. But moderate, intentional, celebratory, and reflective drinking of wine and beer—especially the Belgium Trippel Ale, the queen of all drink—which contemplates the cross and anticipates our future glory, is theologically rooted in the counter intuitive grace rained down from Calvary.

Cheers—and Amen!

Series Navigation


  1. First time reader of the blog – Leala directed me to this post noting that I would probably enjoy it. While I can say that I have enjoyed Belgium Trippel Ale in the past as well as 1554 – another monk-related brew – I will certainly enjoy it all the more after reading this blog post. How wonderful that we can now enjoy/partake (within limits) with stark reminders of our God and King. I will remember this with my next sip. Thanks Preston.

  2. Preston:

    Thank you for presenting drinking in a logical, theologically systematized way! I grew up in the Lutheran church and learned as a kid that Luther was no stranger to barley and hops! When I later visited Europe in my college days, I found that people in that culture love to drink a strong shot of expresso for breakfast (this was before Starbucks), and then drink wine for the rest of their meals (even wine is served on the menu at Mickey D’s in France)! This “nectar of the gods” really was safer to drink than the water in many areas.
    Unfortunately, for me this became a rationale to drink more than I should and ignorantly express my post-modern, self-actualized individualism. I really admired the European culture, mostly because of what I studied in cultural anthropology and psychology. The issue I wanted to discuss is about “social drinking.” Which was for me was far more than just an occasional celebratory ritual, (weddings and birthdays) but a way to relax at the end of a long week. Granted, I never drove home drunk, guzzled moonshine, or fractured countless skulls with pool cue sticks, but I realized an important fact: any suburban bar that serves alcohol is really a counterfeit for church fellowship! When you are relaxing that cozy corner bar everybody wants to be your friend. However, when you experience pain and suffering those same “friends” disappear faster than Kim Kardashian’s wedding vows! Sadly, those people don’t have any answers. All conversations are really contrived and superficial. Also, drinking desensitized my heart toward the poor and disenfranchised and clouded my conscience toward spiritual truths (i.e. I was too lazy to study my Bible). I learned through reading the Bible that God gave us a New Creation, the church, to restore those who are broken in a spirit of gentleness (Gal.6:1,2,15).
    Over the past sixteen years however, God has totally redeemed my consumption of alcohol and my conscience, by showing me that as a Christian, whatever I do should be to the glory of God (Rom. 14:16) and that one day I will have to stand before the Creator of the Universe and explain my motives, time and money spent, for doing everything I do
    (2 Cor. 5:10)! I have a great wife and kids that I am proud of! All believers should be disciplined and know their limits, and be moderate in every activity we participate in (i.e.“I don’t drink, but I play Halo 3 eight hours a day”). We have to ask ourselves if our drinking is a substitute for being in koinōnia with other believers and also an excuse for not being filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18).
    Lastly, Preston, thanks for pointing out the eschatological hope of the new creation (Rev.21,22) and the fact that we will definitely be toasting throughout eternity!! After all, wine is a symbol of joy (John 2:1-11).
    My question would be: Can sin be contextualized within a culture? For example, are the Christians in North America more shame based in their moderate drinking than Europeans? And,is the attitude toward drinking in Europe an implausibility structure against Evangelical Christianity in America, proving to them that Christianity is just another list of religious rules and regulations? Did studying in a brewery lead many other students to rationalize consuming alcohol to excess just because they were in a culture that had more freedom to consume alcohol? Let me know what you think…..

    By the way, Happy Birthday!
    Dave Denney

    • Dave,

      Wow, that’s an entire post and an quite good one at that! So much I want to comment on, but let me just pick out a few things.

      Yes, sin (some, at least) is contextualized. Take modesty, for instance. How should women obey Paul’s exhortation in 1 Tim 2? Well, if they live in Saudi Arabia, it’ll look much different than if they live in Southern California. If living in the latter, then modesty may mean wearing a one piece and shorts at the beach. If in Saudi, this may mean making sure your chin isn’t showing. Even the most conservative churches in northeastern Minn look like brothels to middle easterners.

      The same is true of alcohol, I think. If I was planting a church in a highly conservative area of South Dakota (something I don’t plan on doing any time soon), my approach to alcohol would probably be different in light of 1 Cor 8/Rom 14.

      Yes, some Christians, who discover their liberty in Christ take it too far; hence my fourth post (“O’Doul’s”). My experience in Scotland (and France, where my wife is from) is that alcohol is talked about and consumed much more maturely by Christians. As I said in a previous comment, I went to a church (in Scotland) where women didn’t speak during the service and many wore head coverings, and yet it was typical to find buckets of Scottish Ale on ice at informal church events; communion wine–the real stuff–was served in a single goblet every Sunday morning. (Sometimes you’d get your bread and wine in the same gulp, if you know what I mean. Pretty creepy.) The French believers that I met rarely, if ever, had goofy conversations about having too much wine, nor would they stoop so low to boast about drinking on Facebook or Tweeter, like many of our immature evangelicals. “Hey look at me, I’m free in Christ and drank 3 beers last night. Ooops, got a little buzzed, we’ll so did Luther…” Alcohol has been part of the Church culture in Europe for such a long time, so Christians there tend to drink more maturely.

      You’ve got a lot of wise words about hanging out in bars, but let me spin it around. Why do people go to bars? Wait! It’s not to drink. That’s not the main reason why people go to bars. Alcohol is expensive in bars; if you just want to drink, you can do that much cheaper at home. People go to bars because they are lonely, broken, and longing for community. My goodness, let’s pull our Evangelists from the street corners where no one is listening and send them into the pubs! I once heard a pastor say that this is a perfect place to bring to these thirsty people–thirsting for community–the solution they are longing for. And depending on the bar, many are not that hammered if you go there early enough. One visit probably won’t do much, but a faithful presence in a local pub could open up tons of creative avenues.

      Lastly, I can’t say that I’ve had the same negative affects from moderate drinking. I don’t feel lazier or less efficient. But each person has to know how their body/mind handles it.

      Great dialogue! Thanks for stopping in.


      p.s. thanks for the B-day wishes!

  3. January 6, 2012

    Dear friends,
    For the last 20 years, I have been honored to serve as the pastor of a small and loving family church in Simi Valley. I praise God for lifting up the influential voices of EBC and Cornerstone in the work of the gospel! I hope I will never write or publish a word that risks our relationship of love and unity. I do not desire to cause disunity or division in the Body of Christ in Simi Valley and I fully respect the autonomy of each local church and the men called by God to lead EBC.

    My 18 year old daughter has had a growing interest in EBC and deepening friendships with the EBC students who serve in our church. Because of this, she sat on our living room couch with me this week and read Preston’s blog pages in which he endorses alcohol. A discussion ensued concerning alcohol consumption among church elders and Pastors. This was a great time of discipleship with my girl! I told her that, in my humble opinion, alcohol may be seen as a blessing, but an even greater blessing flows from the lives of leaders willing to limit their freedom in support of all the vulnerable young people rising up in this generation.

    I do not make this appeal in defense of traditional religion, but on the behalf of all the young people in our churches who are working through the consequences of D.U.I’s, struggling for sobriety after a history of alcohol abuse, and those who may carry the seed of genetic and family predispositions toward alcoholism. And, for all the young people in our churches who have become convinced that the only satisfying recreation is found in weekend parties and alcohol binges.

    I have tremendous respect for Preston, and am so grateful for his work in the Kingdom. Erasing Hell has become required reading in my arsenal of mentoring materials. Thank you, my brother, for your faithful labor in equipping the next generation of Kingdom leaders. I hope our friendship will grow in coming years.

    I have spent my 20 years in Simi cultivating deep and loving friendships with pastors in our city from diverse theological perspectives. I know that my opinions on elder-Pastor alcohol consumption are a minority opinion at this stage in the life of our church and nation. Still, I see tremendous value flowing from elders who voluntarily limit their freedom in deference to the younger and weaker brothers all around us.

    Alcohol abuse is clearly on the rise in our nation, especially among high school students. I want them to know that an alcohol-free life can be filled with the peace and joy of the Lord. The risk of being mastered by alcohol can negate the benefits, and one young man lost to alcohol abuse is far too high a price to pay for personal blessings.

    Please know that I understand that this is not an issue of law, but of wisdom and sensitivity to a growing cultural bondage. I also want to clearly state that, while my bias discourages alcohol consumption, I also do my best to keep my heart clear of the spirit of judgment. In Romans 14:13, Paul clearly commands that I should avoid judging my brother while at the same time taking care to never allow my life-style choices to become a “stumbling block” in the path of a weaker brother.

    I once again declare my love and support of EBC and their mission. I don’t write this in hopes of convincing EBC’s bible scholars to change their convictions, but instead to offer another perspective to the young students aspiring to lead the Body of Christ. The young men who are serving in our church must be the gleanings of the cream of the spiritual crop in our nation. They are a great blessing to me and to our church! Thank you for your labor in the harvest fields!

    Praying for growing levels of love, partnership, and understanding in the churches of our city,
    Steve Pope

    • Steve,

      Thanks so much for your response and very gracious attitude. You raise several good points, and having been in ministry as long as you have, you surely have gained a ton of wisdom and I certainly respect that. I really do hope your daughter ends up at EBC and I can guarantee that she will be encouraged to vigorously search the Scriptures during her time here. And I hope we can get together sometime and foster a friendship! I would love to get to know you more.

      Before I respond to your points, let me share my heart. Immediately after I got saved, I was challenged, through mentors, pastors, and my schooling, to be “exegetically driven” at all cost. “Let the Bible dictate your beliefs,” I was told, “and let no other word compete with God’s word.” I was 19 then, and I’m 36 now (as of 3 days ago!). And I can say that my desire to think biblically, live biblically, reason bibliically, make ethical decisions biblically, argue biblically, worship biblically, has been my utmost desire for the last 17 years of my Christian life. I’ve sought to weed out my presuppositions, my preferences, my human intuition, in order to make the Bible be the lens through which I view life, approach issues, make decisions, and–most of all–approach my glorious Savior, Jesus Christ. It’s all about Him, and the way to make my life all about Him is to drink deeply from the text and let the text dictate my views on everything. “Go where the Scriptures take you, even if it’s unpopular,” has been my motto–echoing the great reformer, Martin Luther, who proclaimed that he simply cannot go against the text of Scripture–“here I stand, I can do no other.”

      So when it comes to issues like alcohol–something the Bible says quite a bit about–I cannot sacrifice my convictions about being “exegetically driven” for the sake of my own intuition, experience, or manufactured wisdom. I must reveal what the Bible says about alcohol; otherwise, I’m not worthy to be called a teacher of God’s word and must find something else to do. This is where, Steve, I want to genuinely ask you if there is anything in my posts that you find to be unbiblical. I respect you as a pastor and fellow teacher of God’s word, and given your long walk with Christ in his word, I’m sure you know the text well. I don’t desire to promote drinking, alcohol consumption, or anything else if it goes against God’s infallible word. So please, help me to think harder through the text, from the text, and submit my views to the text. Again, if there is anything I said that goes against God’s word, please let me know. I genuinely want to change if so.

      Regarding your response, here’s a few thoughts:

      First, you said you read “Preston’s blog pages in which he endorses alcohol.” I think this is a slight misrepresentation of my posts as a whole. I’m not sure if you read them all, but I would encourage you to read the fourth post titled “O’Doul’s.” Saying that I simply “endorse alcohol” is a bit misleading, or a least a thin description of what I said. Would it be wrong to summarize my posts by saying that “Preston’s blogs reveal what the Bible says about alcohol?” Again, I never ever want to simply “endorse” something, unless the Bible does.

      Second, you believe that alcohol is potentially destructive and therefore it’s wiser to abstain, especially by church leaders. Out of respect for you and your faithfulness to Christ, I would only want to know: Is this wisdom driven by the text of Scripture? I can totally see much human wisdom in abstaining from alcohol to avoid the negative affects of its abuse. My only problem is that I don’t see this line of thinking promoted by the text.

      Third, consistency. You’ve seen people wrecked by alcohol and I have as well. I’ve also seen TONS of lives wrecked by materialism, greed, and the misuse of wealth. And I mean wrecked. Destroyed. Shattered. Ruined. Their faith obliterated. Their apathy magnified. Their love for Jesus suffocated by piles and piles of stuff they don’t need. The Bible says that “The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil,” but it doesn’t say the same thing about alcohol. In fact, as I stated in my first post, the Bible aggressively condemns the misuse of wealth much more than the misuse of alcohol (though this DOESN’T mean that God doesn’t care about the latter; see my “O’Doul’s” post). So my only question is are you consistent in abstaining from, and encouraging abstinence from, six-figure salaries, bulging wardrobes, iPads, electronic gadgets we don’t need, gun collections, card collections, watching sports, playing sports, or anything else that could lead to idolatry and foster greed and therefore–biblically–wreck our faith?

      Fourth, please re-read point three again. I don’t know what it is–perhaps we are so blinded by materialism–but the alcohol/materialism analogy seems to fall on deaf ears, but I can’t emphasize it enough. Biblically, materialism can wreck you, but the Bible doesn’t forbid moderate consumption of things. Biblically, alcholoism can wreck you, but the Bible doesn’t forbid moderate consumption of wine. All I ask–for the sake of being biblical–that we are consistent. (This isn’t directed at you, but for anyone else listening in: I just can’t take seriously overfed and overpaid preachers who forbid alcohol and use, or abuse, the term “biblical.”)

      Fifth, and finally, I think we very much agree that alcohol abuse is serious. Again, I addressed this in the “O’Doul’s” post. I think we only disagree that the best way to avoid abuse is to avoid moderation consumption. I really think that training our kids early on that biblical, moderate consumption is ok and even a blessing and that abuse is wrong, would perhaps lead to less, not more, alcohol problems. I don’t know. Ever since the prohibition of the 1920’s, alcholol has been seen as sinful by Americans (not so in Europe), so we don’t talk about it. Kind of like sex. So many Christian marriages have an unhealthy sex life, probably because sex is a taboo topic that we don’t talk about–even with marrieds (that’s another post!). And the same thing with alcohol. I really think–please, please correct me if I’m wrong–that we do our young people a disservice by not teaching them exactly what the Bible says about alcohol, rather than not talking about it and then letting the world teach them. In short, I think that discipline, not abstinence, is the best way to avoid alcohol abuse.

      Thanks again for taking the time to raise these very important issue. God bless you and your ministry, Steve!

  4. Hi Preston,
    Thank you for hosting my first-ever foray into the land of internet blog posts! I did all my college and seminary work on a typewriter, listening to vinyl albums, and my internet learning curve has been long and slow.

    In your response to my comment, you raise some excellent points. You are a younger, smarter, and stronger version of myself; a man who loves Jesus Christ with your whole heart and honors the word of God as your only objective source for issues of faith and practice. We are brothers indeed.

    My life message to the church in Simi Valley is simple; there is only “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is over all and through all and in all”. Whether I like it or not, all the born-again believers in Simi are my brothers and sisters. Now I’m “making every effort” to live out that difficult truth. I have spent my years in Simi cultivating deep spiritual friendships with pastors and leaders of other Christian congregations, avoiding “disputable matters” and aligning with all who proclaim Jesus Christ as the only way to salvation and relationship with God . Most of my clergy-friends in Simi drink alcohol occasionally and responsibly. In fact, I am one of the few in the church I serve who has chosen abstinence. Still, I stand with them in deep fellowship and love.

    If any of my word choices offended you, I am truly sorry. I ask you to forgive me specifically for misrepresenting your position by using the phrase “endorses alcohol”. I already know your heart well enough to know that this is inaccurate – forgive me. I pray that, one day, you and I will meet with friends in a local pub to share the gospel of Jesus Christ. I’ll order a soft drink and you can order according to your convictions. I won’t have a problem with this, as there will only be One in the room who is truly and eternally important. We will tell this world of Him. The only hope I nurture is that we will go together.

    I appreciate your desire to have convictions driven by biblical exegesis alone. I hope you know that I respect your heart and convictions. I am sure that you respect my personal convictions, and trust that you understand that my convictions depend upon Scripture, too.

    My highest prayer for Jesus’ church in Simi Valley is that we will all “be one” in response to His high, priestly prayer found in John 17, in order that the whole world will know that He was sent by the Father. Won’t it be great when our city knows that we are Christians “by our love”. I chose the wrong issue to take into a public forum. Let me know when the blog posts on the necessary unity of the Body of Christ appear and I will shout and cheer!

    I am so very grateful for God’s placement of EBC in our city. Our youth intern performed his first baptism Sunday morning to the great joy of the Body. The young men who have committed to attend our church this year have brought great joy and encouragement to us. I know these students are in good hands.

  5. I wanted to mention that alcohol abuse amongst high schoolers is actually at it’s lowest point since the NIDA began polling students in 1975. There has been a a five-year decrease in binge drinking amongst 8th, 10th, and 12th graders (the groups that are polled), and alcohol use across grades and at any level has decreased from its peak in the mid 90’s.

    I believe responsible behavior needs to be modeled by adults to the younger generation in order for them to see what wise and holy living looks like. I would rather my children observe and then learn to enjoy the blessing of a nice cab or a rich ale at dinner in my own home, then to send them out and hope they make good decisions outside of my presence. It is both legal and biblical for me to train my kids in this way, and I believe there is a proverbial benefit for their future as Christ followers. (And before you get any strange ideas, I am not popping brewskis for my high school kids; there’s a lot of growing between 18 and 21.)

  6. Love the post Cuz! I just couldn’t resist mentioning about the last time I home brewed beer a couple months ago. (An India Pale Ale by the way, which I know I am wondering off topic for a second, but didn’t Columbus try to find a quicker route to India primarily for a better opportunity to evangelize India for Christ?)

    Anyway, it takes about 2 hours to brew a batch of home made beer, and most of the time it is spent sitting by the pot so it does not boil over. I spent that time reading Philippians 4 and the Psalms that relate to that passage. And praying – as I often do when studying God’s word (It’s like a two way conversation with God then).

    So anyway, just a note of appreciation of your post, and to wonder aloud about its content (and some great replies) relating to brewing beer while studying His Word and conversing with Him.

    1 Cor 10:31, Col 2:16

    • Kevin,

      Great to hear from you! And I love your response and zeal for God’s word and His creation. I just mentioned you to a friend I just met at church, who also brews his own beer. He was very impressed when I told him that my cousin not only brews his own beer but grows his own hops! Not sure if we can do that down here in SoCal.