Hide the beer, the pastor’s here

Hide the beer, the pastor’s here September 24, 2003

"It is a mistake to think that Christians ought all to be teetotallers; [Islam], not Christianity, is the teetotal religion." — C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity

In this intriguing article in New York magazine, Craig Horowitz explores the strange alliance between pro-Israel Jewish groups and conservative American evangelicals.

Without realizing it, Horowitz relates one howling faux pas from Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, founder of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews:

"More and more Jews see the Evangelical community as a strategic ally for Israel. … In fact, the Evangelicals may now be seen as even more important allies than the American Jewish community itself. But are Jews willing to have a beer with them? I'm not so sure."

A beer!?! Eckstein has spent more than 20 years working with evangelical Christians in America and he still doesn't realize that evangelicals don't drink beer?

This is a religious subculture that — despite its claims of a strictly "literal" hermeneutic — believes that Jesus and his disciples drank non-alcoholic grape juice at the Last Supper. They believe Christ's first miracle was turning water into Welch's at the wedding in Cana.

Drinking beer will get you kicked out of Biola, Bethel, Westmont, Calvin, Liberty and just about any other evangelical institution.

It Horowitz had asked Jerry Falwell, Richard Land, Tim LaHaye or any of the other right-wing evangelicals about sitting down to "have a beer" they would have explained that they can't do that because the Bible teaches them it's a sin.

Horowitz would, one hopes, treat such a claim with a responsible journalist's skepticism, something like: "The reverend explained that he did not drink beer because his interpretation of the Bible teaches it is a sin."

It would be a problem if Horowitz just accepted this teetotalling claim credulously, repeating it without qualification, as in: "The reverend does not drink beer, which is forbidden by the Christian Bible."

I bring this up because Horowitz, like far too many journalists, is just this naive and credulous when relating these evangelicals' bizarre theories about the End of the World. For example:

Many Jews believed that what the Christians really wanted was to convert them. Or to persuade all of them to move to Israel as part of some devious plan to hasten the coming of the end of days as laid out in the New Testament.

Or, even worse:

Evangelicals believe in the end of days as much as they believe in everything else in the Bible. Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins have written a collection of novels called the “Left Behind” series that use the Bible’s apocalyptic events as their core.

At one point Horowitz even uses the word "biblical" as a synonym for "Manichaen":

George W. Bush … is a born-again, Scripture-loving Christian who sees the world in stark, almost biblical, terms (“You’re either with us or you’re with the terrorists”).

On what basis is Horowitz deciding that this "stark," dualistic view is "almost biblical"?

The problem with all of this is that Jerry Falwell spouts his theories of "the end of days as laid out in the New Testament" and Horowitz simply passes this on, uncritically, as the literal gospel truth. He accepts — without a hint of skepticism — that LaHaye's sensational brand of 19th-century Darbyism is "in the Bible" just because LaHaye claims it is.

Really? Ironsides' charts and Hal Lindsey's apocryphal checklists are in the Bible? Where? To put it in good evangelical language — show me chapter and verse. (Perhaps it's in the same chapter as the verse that says "Thou shalt not drink Yuengling Lager, for verily it is a frothy and refreshing abomination unto the Lord.")

The only Bible where you'll find LaHaye's weird apocalyptic fantasies is a Scofield Reference — and that's only in the convoluted and arbitrary footnotes below the text. Nowhere is this vision "laid out in the New Testament." It is the bastard child of "premillennial dispensationalism" — a tortured and torturous hermeneutic that carves up Scripture like a veg-o-matic and functions as a kind of American evangelical cabala.

"Secrets of Bible prophecy revealed" read the advertisements for the thousands of "prophecy seminars" promoting this nonsense every week across the country. "Secrets … revealed" — can you get any more gnostic than that?

We often refer to evangelical Christians as "conservative" — which accurately reflects their cultural and political views. But there is nothing "conservative" about the obsession with prophecy theories that has twisted so much of the American church.

It would be nice if journalists stopped pretending these people speak for all Christians everywhere.

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  • Adam Kotsko

    As a former evangelical (converted to Catholicism), I am very familiar with the crackpot theories that you decry, and I am determined to let people know that these jackasses do not speak for all Christians or for Jesus. As you point out, our shamefully lazy national press makes that an uphill battle.
    As a sidenote, for a radical interpretation of Christianity that attempts to cut away all the fundamentalism and get at the core, you might check out the recent work of Slavoj Zizek, particularly The Fragile Absolute, On Belief, and The Puppet and the Dwarf.

  • Adam Rice

    “his interpretation of the Bible teaches it is a sin”
    Ahh, but don’t fundamentalists say that the Bible is not open to interpretation? That every word be taken literally? Obviously that’s not really possible, but that’s the line they use.

  • Yehudit

    “Many Jews believed that what the Christians really wanted was to convert them. Or to persuade all of them to move to Israel as part of some devious plan to hasten the coming of the end of days as laid out in the New Testament.”
    Well, this is what many Jews believe. Here he is just reporting a common Jewish perception. And in fact, many Christian do still want to convert us and say so with enthusiasm.
    So not sure what your problem is with this statement.

  • Yehudit

    “On what basis is Horowitz deciding that this “stark,” dualistic view is “almost biblical”?”
    I agree with your criticism of this statement, and that simplistic view of the Bible and its teachings offends many of us Jews as well.

  • Fred Clark

    Yehudit —
    My problem with that first statement was only with the last seven words, “as laid out in the New Testament.” These people have an idea of the “end of days,” but I cannot find anywhere in the New Testament where this is “laid out.”
    I just wish Horowitz had added a qualifying phrase, like “as they claim/believe is described in the New Testament.”

  • Camassia

    My friend Telford, who teaches at Westmont, once told me that I drink like Martin Luther.
    “Did Luther like to drink?” I asked.
    “Are you kidding?” he said. “He was a German! He used to say he knew the Holy Spirit was behind his movement because it was winning souls even while he was knocking back the brews with his friends at the tavern.”
    So I guess not all evangelicals disdain booze…

  • Donald Johnson

    I’ve known many evangelicals–some drink and some don’t.
    I think you mean the fundamentalists.

  • Murph

    I was going to mention the German Pentecostals, who apparently brew their own beer (which also apparently makes it OK). And dammit, I didn’t realize I was breaking that commandment when I drank the Yuengling. Already I can feel the hops having their way with me…

  • “Left Behind” And The Loss Of Social Justice

    Isn’t it weird how once you start thinking about a topic it starts cropping up everywhere? Or, at least, in two places? The estimable Slacktivist is running a sort of real-time book review of the Left Behind series. I assume…

  • Word for the Day: Manichæism

    Isn’t that an impressive word? Say it with me: Man-ih-KEE-izzum. Use it at parties and win the favors of sexy grad students. I’ve been looking for a word like this for a long time. Seriously. Manichæism started as a Persian…

  • Stefanie

    Please don’t make the same mistake you’re complaining about and confuse all evangelicals with the Jerry Falwell type! Some of us have a modicum of sanity, and notice that the Bible never forbids alcohol, only drunkenness.

  • Willard Lavonne

    I’m curious to know if anyone has read a recent novel called The Last Disciple, by Hank Hanegraaff. One foundational premise of the novel is that Revelation was written before the fall of the temple in A.D. 70, a viewpoint with historical credibility than many theologians chose to reject because it doesn’t fit their theology. This premise sheds an entirely new light on interpreting Revelation, and directly challenges the theology of the Left Behind series. Read the book’s afterward or go to decipherthecode.com to read how faulty and literal interpretation of John’s vision can lead to dualism, and negates the resurrection claim of Christianity, as was implicitly done in Left Behind’s book The Indwelling.

  • Kathy

    Isn’t the Scofield Bible the one that, in its commentary, identified the antichrist as the pope?

  • Tim G

    Wayyyy late on this thread, but I *really* doubt that Calvin College, being a Reformed institution, bans drinking.

  • Pinkoski explains the Trinity

    It's been a little while since I last brought up Pinkoski, so maybe you can handle another dollop. When I got his creationism comic book, I also picked up another, titled "Christian SF", which promised to be the first in a series of comi…

  • Sean

    hey. I go to Hope, Calvin’s rival. Both Hope and Calvin are dry campuses. Strict alcohol rules are in effect. One could drink on campus relatively safely at Hope, but they do patrol cottages and all campus housing fairly strictly. Calvin is even more strictly enforced. Either way, drinking is greatly discouraged by the colleges, not just by their rules. This doesn’t stop people of course :) Calvin is affiliated with the CRC (more conservative reformed church) and Hope is with the RCA (more liberal reformed church).
    As for me, I’m Lutheran-Missouri Synod. Fill ‘er up again, while the Word does all the work!

  • Rick

    I don’t know what makes people think Bush is a born-again Christian. He’s “toeing the company line” (so to speak), espousing conservative moral values, etc. yada yada, in order to get votes in the “Bible Belt”.
    I haven’t seen him follow Jesus’ teachings (“Love your enemies”, “Do unto others” “Turn the other cheek” “Go the extra mile”, etc.)
    He’s no more a good Christian than Saddam Hussein is a good Muslim or Woody Allen is a good Jew.

  • Ken

    But there is nothing “conservative” about the obsession with prophecy theories that has twisted so much of the American church.
    Didn’t the prophets refer to the end as “The GREAT and TERRIBLE Day of the LORD”? I see nothing of the GREAT and TERRIBLE that caused Job (and his mouthy friends) to fall silent with their hands over their mouths.
    Instead, I’ve seen the fruit of this End Time Prophecy obsession: Smug fatalism, hopeless passivity, grinning apocalyptism, spiritual one-upmanship, and utter terror. A God and Christ whose only purpose is to destroy the cosmos. The Ultimate Escape Fantasy followed by The Ultimate Revenge Fantasy.
    Thank you, John Nelson Darby.

  • scyllacat

    My bf just turned me on to this commentary, and, having read a few of the LB books myself, I’m looking forward to it. If only because your writing and style do not, unlike LB, make my soul and literary spirit quail.
    My sister gave me those books for Christmas one year, and ever since then I’ve been worried about her and the rest of my family who are still Christians. Thank you for providing not only commentary, but research and links.

  • Ferreira

    Have you heard about a man named Steve DeLong? He has a Seminar about the end of the world and it is all out of the Bible. Everything that he says is scriptual. He is with Sure Word ministry and I hope you get to attend a seminar by him. He is currently in Amarillo, TX and I hope you go to see him.

  • Jesurgislac

    Hello. My name is Drive-by Christian. I spammed your comment thread. Prepare to cluck.

  • Ecks

    Dear ms. drive by,
    Thank you for taking the time to promote a local business on our board. Might I suggest that a suitable follow up would be to locate a libertarian message board on which you can spread the good word of Trotsky.
    BTW, look at the dates on this thread. People have been coming back to it regularly for years. Who woulda thought alcohol would be so popular.

  • mdhpiper

    I’ve been reading Slacktivist for about a year now and have been slowly but surely going through the old posts. Anyone who can reference Daniel Amos/Swirling Eddies is automatically awesome. Terry Scott Taylor is a phenomenal songwriter.