Recently, the radio program Walk In The Word repeated a couple of programs featuring a message James MacDonald gave at Harvest Bible Chapel on the subject of Christians and alcoholic drinks. MacDonald believes in total abstinence. In other words, zero consumption of alcohol. If there was a way to even further that position by inserting a negative number, that would be his position. Don’t touch that bottle. Don’t even look.
James MacDonald is the kind of person you would probably listen to and decide you’d like to meet. His radio show has a cool theme song. He takes himself seriously but not 100% seriously. There is a fair amount of honesty and transparency. There is a request for money at the end of each broadcast but it’s tempered with some empathy for the pitch-weary listener.
But it would probably be a short meeting in which he would dominate the conversation. James is a strong personality. He understands brokenness, but projects having it all together. Frankly, if there were 30 kids in a classroom, I think James would be the bully; and I’ve said that to a few people lately who agreed the analogy fits.
So if James says stay away from alcohol, you know you’d better do what he says because if you don’t it’s SIN. That’s capital-letters SIN.
Of course, James believes Christian women should be homemakers, and it is a requirement of his male staff that their spouses not work, something he shares in common with Mark Driscoll. I’m not sure if this means to do otherwise would be capital-letters SIN, but disobeying him certainly would. I’m also not sure how he accounts for the various female staff members who work at Walk in the World and Harvest Bible Chapel. But it shows that he has strong opinions on many issues that are non-issues elsewhere.
Sometimes, James MacDonald appears to get it wrong. Occasionally everything from scientific statistics to Bible texts seem to get misquoted or misapplied. Sometimes, this is due to the fact he’s broadcasting older sermons; one trusts that with today’s wisdom he might say some things differently.
He has six points for abstinence:
1. Because drunkenness is a sin and not a disease.
2. Because alcohol impairs wisdom.
3. Because alcohol is an unnecessary drug.
4. Because alcohol is destructive.
5. Because alcohol is addictive.
6. Because wisdom calls me to set it aside.
Some of them are given to subjective interpretation. Let me explain.
I love Christian rock music. For many years, I earned an income selling contemporary Christian music. But every so often, I ran into people who were on that part of their journey that involved leaving the secular rock music scene. And for them, Christian rock was not acceptable. For most of my friends and customers however, Christian rock — the music, the concerts, the means of learning scripture and doctrine — was totally acceptable.
So I think that yes, alcohol is wrong for some people, especially if there is a family history of alcoholism or any addictive behavior for that matter.
But some people, like Zach Nielsen, don’t think you can make blanket statements on this subject.
At his blog, Take Your Vitamin Z — a blog where eight different posts in one day is not unusual — Zach devotes six posts to engaging MacDonald’s six points. You can read those posts here:
- Part One
- Part Two
- Part Three (which engages point four)
- Part Four (which engages point five)
- Part Five (general clarifications)
- Part Six (point six; conclusions)
Ultimately, Neilsen concludes:
…Churches should not be divided on these types of issues. When it comes to this message, I fear that Pastor MacDonald has contributed to an ethos at his church that is unhelpful and unbiblical. We should be communicating freedom on extra-biblical matters and not give such a strong word on one side or another. Most Christians are spring loaded towards legalism and we should not add fuel to that fire.
I’ve deliberately avoided engaging the actual issue here. (Personally, as I indicated in the footnotes of a blog post a few days ago, I generally don’t drink, but I also don’t “not drink;” if you get the distinction.) I think you should save opinions on the actual issue for Zach’s blog, if comments are still open.
As I commented there, I “find myself returning to Walk in the Word, as I think there is a need for people to confront their sin, as James so often reminds us. But then I find myself getting frustrated with his style, and needing to take a week or two off.” and like Zach, find myself “living in the tension of a similar ambivalence” when it comes to Walk In The Word.
On one level, great admiration for the man and what he has accomplished, and on another level a recognition that as Christians, we simply can’t depict everything in black and white.
A viewpoint and personal stand that James MacDonald has constructed on this issue is fine for sharing over coffee with someone who asks, but it should never have been presented dogmatically as either a Sunday sermon, or a prescription for all Christ-followers in all places, all situations, at all times.
HT: Though I have Take Your Vitamin Z bookmarked, I was alerted to this series there by Darryl Dash.