Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Alcohol Today - Book Review

I ordered my copy of Peter Lumpkins' book Alcohol Today: Abstinence In An Age Of Indulgence almost two weeks ago. When it arrived, I started reading it right away. I had been anticipating this book for some time and I was not disappointed. I finished it quickly and without equivocation highly recommend this book. It is well worth the $14.95 I paid for it. This is a great example of stellar research by an author. I was impressed with several aspects of the book which I will share with you below. For a relatively short book, it will become a definitive modern treatise advocating the Biblical and historical position of alcoholic abstinence for the believer. With an impressive thirteen endorsements inside the cover, plus the forward by Dr. Jerry Vines, one cannot escape the intellectual clout and the logical and Biblical persuasiveness that this book has garnered.

However, I also want to do something different with this article. This is a very important issue for Christians in general and Southern Baptists in particular (more on this later). I will highlight pertinent aspects of the book for the purposes of this review. I will then advance what I believe will be the the anemic criticisms and unfortunately, some of the forthcoming calumny attacks of this book and it's author.


The Review

The book is organized in a well thought out manner in that Lumpkins has divided the book's twelve chapters into three sections. The first section concerns the obvious discussion on why this book is needed today. There has been a decided shift of attitude on intoxicating alcohol within Christendom. Lumpins notes that “Even though a century ago the church was certain imbibing was a carnal evil, it remains certain no longer.” p.19. The need for this book is clear as proponents of abstinence of intoxicating alcoholic drink are routinely dismissed with accusations of following tradition or advancing personal opinion as Biblical truth. But one can clearly see that rather than church influencing culture, culture has now influenced the church in the debate today. For history junkies like me, his chapter on Prohibition is fascinating as he closes section one. In the second section, Lumpkins moves from history to disseminating the five distinct positions, attitudes, and arguments regarding the pleasurable use of intoxicating drink. The reader will be presented with logical argument and reasoning as well as fallacies or shortcomings of any position but abstinence. This is an intellectual exercise that many fail to make when asserting opinions about any issue. The author has not failed here in using sound logic and reason when discussing these five positions on this subject. When addressing the usual chorus defending intoxicating drink, he rightly notes that "Such simplistic, inadequate, and unstudied conclusions boldly pronounced by preachers of the Book without one shred of argument pertaining to imbibing intoxicating substances for pleasurable use remains frightening for the church, not to mention culture." p. 52. Finally, the author then goes to the authoritative source in section three: Scripture. This is not the first usage of the Word that Lumpkins uses, quite the contrary. But this is where he deals exclusively with what the Bible says about the subject. He does not disappoint the reader in that he addresses the “difficult” passages and words that opponents of abstinence like to use as proof texts. His research into the etymological linguistics of various words for wine in Scripture and their contemporary sources in antiquity is impressive and will be difficult for the moderationist to answer, if not impossible. Lumpkins does his research in that he even demonstrates that the English word for wine has changed. The etymological arguments are very compelling. He rightly asserts that “Given the impressive evidence to the contrary, how we manage to possibly assume wine in Scripture necessarily and always refers to intoxicating beverages remains inexplicable. Indeed this may be the grandest hermeneutical hoax of the ages.” p.120.

I have to be upfront with you, I like footnotes. The reader will not be disappointed in the fact that the author has three appendices that total fourteen pages plus an additional six pages of a bibliography of cited works. My only disappointment is that I prefer numbered footnotes in the text to follow along with the bibliography (I know, I am a geek). However, this is not a problem per se, in that all the works cited are there for the reader to further research if one desires.

Alcohol Today: Abstinence In An Age Of Indulgence is a must read for anyone who wants to seriously examine the issue of a Biblical view regarding intoxicating alcoholic drink. You can order directly from the publisher at Hannibal Books or from Amazon as well as other online book sites.

The Coming Denunciations

As promised earlier, I now turn to the opponents of a Biblical view of abstinence. In this age of indulgence, how will this book be received? Moderationists will lament this work. Actually, I think they will try to ignore it and denigrate it and/or the author, because they will not be able to answer many of the arguments that Lumpkins raises. These attacks will especially occur within the SBC. Hence the importance of this within our own Convention. I believe that you will see a number of strategies used by opponents of Biblical abstinence to try and justify their position. Most, though not all, will involve sophistry and other types of fallacious reasoning. In fact, throughout the Baptist blog world, there have already been preemptive strikes made. My tease at the end of my last post was made precisely to highlight this point. So what are the slings and arrows that will be launched?

  • Argumentum ad hominem
There will be blistering personal attacks upon the author. We have seen this all too often in the blog world. Argumentum ad hominem will most likely be the favorite weapon of some (and two or three in particular). This will involve (as has been the case very recently) mis-truth and nefarious claims about one thing or another about the author. There will be other fallacies as well, but making the messenger the issue has always been an effective means to distract and move the debate away from the issues. Red Herrings, like the author's personal and familial experiences with alcohol will be exploited to “prove” his bias. It will be important in the blog discussions of this, to keep moving the target back to the issues and arguments that Lumpkins has postulated, as they are not the basis of his factual assertions and reasonings. Every personal attack will be nothing less than confirmation that they do not have an answer for his arguments.

  • Argumenum ad nauseam
I think that we will also see repetitious ideas put forth until it is proclaimed fact. This is the major weapon of the moderationist. They have incessantly expressed the idea that intoxicating drink is the only (or main) wine in both the Old and New Testaments for quite some time. It will continue. I do not expect the moderationists to carry out as thorough an etymological study of yayin (Hebrew) and oinos (Greek) as well as the other words in the Bible that are translated into English as wine as was done by the author. Looking to the LXX, other writings of antiquity, exegetical contexts of these words, and other scholarly works was well researched by the author. Answering these will be most difficult. They may cite modern works and cherry pick others, but in light of historical usages of these words that have been presented, I think we may mostly hear silence on this. Well, except for the loud and frequent proclamations that do not actually address the etymological evidence in a credible manner.

  • Anecdotal Evidence
This type of argument will be offered to counter points made by the author. But this is yet another fallacy in that just because God uses something untoward, it may not have been how He would have preferred it. Ask Sampson when we get to Heaven about that. God did deliver Israel from the Philistines by the hand of Sampson as He promised. But I can assure you it was not as God had intended Sampson to accomplish this task. Anecdotal evidence on this issue is no different. God may use an imbiber to lead a person to Christ, even while drinking. But that is not evidence of a Biblical permissiveness with regards to partaking of intoxicating drink for pleasure.

  • Strawman and Specious Arguments
One must expect that the forthcoming rhetoric will also include several age old Strawmen. Charges of legalism, Pharisaicalism, fundamentalism, traditionalism, cultural influence, arrogance, self righteousness, and other similar allegations will be numerous. While some of these will be part of the ad hominem attacks, some will just be stated to try and incite FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) in the abstinence position itself. You will also see “arguments” made that the belief in Biblical abstinence is an infringement upon Christian liberty and our individual ability to be led by the Holy Spirit in this matter. Being led by the Spirit is important and not a strawman . But when they fail to address the points the author brings up and use that as their “Maginot Line”, it then becomes a Strawman. These are tactically similar to the ad hominem assaults in that the point is solely to distract from the subject and topic of a technical discussion. This will of course be tied to Baptist Identity (and derisively called Baptist Identity Fundamentalism) with the implication that adherents to Biblical abstinence want to decide what Christians are to believe and how they are to live. Included in this will be guilt by association, especially if some unseemly statement or person can be lumped into the abstinence camp. For example, one Baptist blogger has already done this and in another post, noted the endorsements and proponents of this book and derisively attempted to pigeonhole them into a group he frequently bashes. But these are strawmen set up solely for the purpose of not engaging in the carefully reasoned arguments that have been brought before us by the author. Such specious arguments clearly demonstrates a lack of intellectual acumen and integrity.

  • Presumption and Haughtiness
There will be some people whose mind is made up and will not seriously nor prayerfully examine the evidence at all. They may even actually read the book, but they want to drink and they are going to. For them, the matter is settled because the Bible does not explicitly state “Thou shall not drink” as the 11th Commandment. I am concerned for such people, as it demonstrates a shallow understanding of Scripture and the life of holiness expected of the Spirit indwelled believer. In several discussions that I have had with opponents and proponents of abstinence, my experience has been that arrogance and presumption is actually more prevalent in the moderationist camp. I do not want to over generalize, but my experience has been that a a great number of moderationists tend to get very angry when discussing this issue. Why? Another person I spoke with stated that he could refute everything in the book. This is without having been aware of its existence (and obviously it's content) prior to our discussion. Dogmatic statements that condemn an abstinence view are nothing more than presumptuous assertions of "I am right you are wrong". Is this not doing the very same thing that they accuse those of us who do not agree with them? Actually, it would be akin to post modernism, in that the moderationists assert "what's wrong for you is not necessarily wrong for me".

I would encourage the moderationist reading this to carefully consider the compelling evidence that Peter Lumpkins has proffered. Are you truly seeking to glorify God or are you seeking after your personal liberty and right to indulge for personal pleasure? If you want to continue holding to a moderationist position, at least do it without casting aspersions or using fallacious and specious arguments that are attempts to poison the well of this debate. But most importantly, form an intellectually honest opinion based on the evidence of Scripture asking the Holy Spirit to reveal the Word of God. If you try to see this issue through the lens of modernity and not seek to understand the Biblical record and the linguistic and etymological evidence of antiquity, you may be guilty of deceiving yourself. Worse, you may end up deceiving others.

Blessings,

Ron P.

4 comments:

peter lumpkins said...

Ron,

My brother, you are ever so kind to post a review. May our Lord use Alcohol Today, including reviews of it such as yours, in some small way to glorify Himself.

Also, thank you for noting how those who may be bent on denial will attempt to avoid biblical truth concerning abstinence. A very thoughtful section.

Grace. With that, I am...
Peter

Ron Phillips, Sr. said...

Peter,

It truly was a joy to read. I find it ironic that on the thread I have been on today at SBC Impact, no one wants to actually discuss the issues and evidence you raise. Why am I not surprised?

Blessings,

Ron P.

selahV said...

Ron, this is a great review and indeed I have experienced some of these very attacks and tactics as I tried to converse with moderationists in a legalism discussion on another blog.

Some people have their minds made up to drink and only offer their positions because they want to continue drinking. It has nothing at all to do with what is the best for the public or how their actions can influence others. I have yet to hear a preacher preach that drinking is a good, God-honoring habit...but I suppose that is coming. selahV

Ron Phillips, Sr. said...

SelahV,

Thank you. It is sad to see people straining so hard to justify their behavior.

Blessings,

Ron P.