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Book Review: Alchohol Today: Abstinence in an Age of Indulgence (Part I)

February 18, 2010

Back in July, (I’m ashamed!), I was asked to review a book about alcohol and abstinence, based on the series of blogs I wrote a while back that can be found here, here, and here.  My three part series on alcohol continues to be my post popular blogs to date.  Go figure.  In any case, I would like to sincerely thank Jennifer Nelson for giving me the opportunity to do this, and her publishing company Hannibal Books for having such a diligent PR specialist working for them!   Jennifer was very brave to ask me to review the book, considering that my views concerning alcohol are antithetical to those of the author.

I would also ask any readers who stop by to check out Peter Lumpkin’s website.  As someone who would like to possibly publish some day, I have a great deal of respect for anyone who actually does so.  Thank you Peter for being willing to put your thoughts up for examination.

The nature of this review will be as follows:  In part I, I will attempt to summarize the author’s main points, hopefully representing accurately his view.  Then, in a separate post, I will offer my own observations concerning his thesis.

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In his book, Alcohol Today:  Abstinence in the Age of Indulgence, Peter Lumpkins argues, unashamedly, that the “biblically-driven ethics” concerning alcohol is, as the title indicates—abstinence (21).  This is a strong claim considering that recent trends among Christians in the United States are toward moderation.  And as we shall see, this is precisely why Lumpkins has undertaken such a work.

The book itself is laid out into three parts.  In Part I, Lumpkins discusses the reason for his writing the book—mainly that the Church has moved away from its “historic” stance on abstinence (Chapter 2), even arguing that Prohibition was more successful than has been admitted (Chapter 3).

In the second part, Lumpkins examines five different views on alcohol ranging from the Christian who drinks unreservedly to the point of drunkenness (Chapter 5), to the more moderate view of drinking but avoiding drunkenness (Chapter 7), to his own view of complete abstinence (Chapter 9).  The other two views that he discusses are inconsequential to the real issue, so we will skip over them.

Finally, in Part III, Lumpkin explores the biblical usage of the English word “wine” and how it functions throughout the Bible.  He concludes by looking at what is traditionally the strongest passage in support of moderation—the miracle at Cana where Jesus turns the water into the “best” wine.  He proposes that the “best” wine that Jesus creates is not at all alcoholic, but pure, refreshing grape juice.  But we are moving ahead of ourselves.

Perhaps here would be the time to mention some of Lumpkins’ more notable claims.

  • The church has conceded its ‘historic role’ as the moral conscience of culture by giving up its ‘once-strong’ commitment to abstinence (20).

One of the ideas that Lumpkins implies, if not states out rightly, is that the moderation view that the church currently holds is out of step with Christian tradition.  At one point he writes, “A strong thread of abstinence from intoxicants beginning in the first-century church can easily be traced” (50).  While he does not clearly show this thread, he does show that the 19th century American movement of Prohibition was driven by Evangelical minds who were committed to abstinence.  And these were not just your “backwards Christian Billy-bobs” (41), but had the scholarly support of a number of intelligent Christian thinkers (42-47).  He even includes Charles Spurgeon on the list of those who supported abstinence, although I’m under the impression that Spurgeon was a moderationist.

  • “The bible reveals little about virtually every intoxicating substance available today, whether legal or illegal, including distilled liquors, beers, and wines” (67).

This is obviously a direct quote from the book that firmly establishes Lumpkins’ argument.  Basically he takes the approach (as do most who oppose the consumption of alcohol), that when the bible speaks of alcohol affirmatively, it is describing a very diluted substance—mainly grape juice—and that, therefore, it would not condone the use of our modern “strong” drinks.  For instance, he argues that the highest alcohol content in ancient times would have been around 14 percent, but that most wine would not have been anywhere near this high, because it would produce an unpleasant taste (110).  Therefore, wines “primarily were for food and not for fun” (110).  Although, he does admit that there were intoxicating wines, he continues to promote that there are basically two kinds:  an unfermented (that God approves) and a “strong” drink (that God disapproves) [see pp. 118-119]

  • Abstinence is God’s principle drawn from scripture for most moral issues (106).

This may seem obvious from the title of the book, but it is a notable claim nonetheless.  Lumpkins spends a great deal of time arguing that God’s outlook on alcohol is abstinence.  Unfortunately, there are no passages in the Bible that strictly prohibit the consumption of alcohol (more on this later), so Lumpkins must approach it from another angle.  He argues that the idea of ‘moderation’ cannot be found in scripture.  For example, he writes,

God does not tell Adam and Eve to be moderate in their consumption of the fruit in question; God does not reveal through Moses for the people to worship Him exclusively but only moderately; God does not tell them to use moderation in their construction of idols…Instead the moral principle we inevitably perceive—the yardstick by which moral behavior is always measured—appears to us in the absolute, not the relative; that is, in abstinence, not moderation, holiness not hedonism (102).

This is truly his most outstanding claim—moderation is equated to relativism.  From this point of the book on, Lumpkins attempts to deal with the specific passages in the Bible related to alcohol, arguing, as I noted earlier, that God condemns the use of ‘intoxicating’ beverages while the wine that is acceptable is of a very low alcoholic content.

There is a great deal more that could be said about Lumpkins’ thesis, but these are the three points I thought most noteworthy.  And it is these three points that I will address in Part II.  Stay tuned.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Matt Bohlman permalink
    February 20, 2010 1:10

    Oooo…this is gunna be interesting to read! I have not read Lumkins book, but I think your initial summary of his thesis is a charitable, straightforward and unbiased account of where his premise lies. I look forward to reading part 2.

  2. Matt Bohlman permalink
    February 20, 2010 1:32

    Your earlier 3 part series only has links to 2 parts even it lists 3 “here’s”…I think you linked part 1 twice. Just a heads up…

  3. jonathangroover permalink*
    February 20, 2010 1:57

    Thanks Matt, I just fixed it!!

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  1. Book Review: Alcohol Today: Abstinence in an Age of Indulgence (Part II) « You can take everything I have..

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