Mark Driscoll gives his testimony that before and right after his conversion to Christ, he was a teetotaler (a total abstainer of alcohol). But after he entered the ministry he was “studying the Scriptures for a sermon about Jesus’ first miracle of turning water into wine, as reported in John’s gospel, a miracle that Jesus performed when he was about my age. My Bible study convicted me of my sin of abstinence from alcohol. So in repentance I drank a hard cider over lunch with our worship pastor.” When I read his testimony, I have to admit, that was a first for me. Usually the testimony is the opposite, that, having come to Christ, the drinker surrenders his drinking habits or addictions. While Driscoll accomplishes much for the work of the Lord, his promotion of drinking is dangerous and unbiblical.
We commend the impact he is having on the young men in Seattle and the training he provides, with one exception. Driscoll trains “them in what it means to be a godly man. So far our training is on everything from how to study the Bible, get a job, invest money, buy a home, court a woman, brew beer, have good sex, and be a pastor-dad to their children has been very successful for hundreds of young men.”
Driscoll would say some things in culture are wrong such as homosexuality and extra marital sex, and we would agree completely; but drinking is not only not wrong, it is Christian: “I personally long to return to the glory days of Christian pubs, where God’s men gather to drink beer and talk theology.” According to Driscoll, it is not a sin to drink but it is a sin to drink light beer. The title of chapter six in Driscoll’s The Radical Reformission is “The Sin of Light Beer.”
Three Views on Social Drinking
There are three views on social drinking which Driscoll explains. I will give Driscoll’s discussion of the three views, and then my response to Driscoll’s preference. The first view is prohibitionism which holds all alcoholic consumption in the Bible is sin. Therefore, Jesus created and drank grape juice. Driscoll argues that since Jesus created and drank real wine so should believers today drink distilled wine.
The second view on social drinking is absentionism which advocates drinking alcohol is not prohibited in Scripture but the believer should still abstain. One reason to abstain is to avoid leading a weak believer into sin. Driscoll states that Jesus drank (Mt. 11:19) undoubtedly in the presence of alcoholics. If that did not stop Jesus why should it stop believers today.
Moderationism is the third view and Driscoll’s: “Alcohol itself is neutral and can be used in both good and bad ways. When used in a right and redeemed way [moderately and carefully], alcohol is a gift from God to be drunk with gladness.”
After discussing the wine issue in the Bible, Norman Geisler came to a much different conclusion: “Therefore Christians ought not drink wine, beer, or other alcoholic beverages for they are actually ‘strong drink ’ and are forbidden in Scripture. Even ancient pagans did not drink what some Christians drink today.”
Modern Distilled Wine is Different From Wine in the Bible
One of the reasons for coming to this conclusion that believers should not drink wine today is because modern distilled wine is not the same as the wine in the Bible. Wine in the Bible was more like purified water because the wine was diluted with water. On average for every one part of wine there were three or four parts of water mixed with the wine to purify the unsafe water. Jesus was not a teetotaler but we should be because the alcoholic content was different in the wine he drank and the wine society drinks today.
Drunkenness is clearly and repeatedly condemned in Scripture (Dt. 21:20-21; Eph. 5:18; Gal. 5:19-21). Yet, pastors and deacons were not forbidden from drinking some wine (1 Tim. 3:3, 8) and the reason was because with water being unsafe, wine was used as a medicine as Paul reminds Timothy in the same Pastoral Epistle: “Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for your stomach’s sake and your often infirmities” (1 Tim. 5:23).
The same truth is found in the Old Testament that repeatedly condemned drunkenness (Hab. 2:15). Wine could, however, be used to relieve suffering. After the writer condemns leaders drinking wine and strong drink in Proverbs 31:4-5, he advices to “give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts” in verse six. We accomplish the same result today when doctors give suffering patients morphine to lessen great pain.
The Gamble of Moderation
One of the reasons believers should not drink wine today is because it may lead a weaker brother into sin. This truth is found in Romans 14:21: “It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby your brother stumbles, or is offended, or is made weak.” Geisler made this observation: “A believer should ask himself, ‘Will my drinking cause anyone else to sin? Even if it would not be a problem to me, is it possible that it would cause someone else to stumble?’ The writer knows of former alcoholics who have attended church communion services in which fermented wine has been served, and just the taste of a little bit of it drove them back into alcoholism.” For this reason it is best not to use wine in communion services today.
The proper elements used in the communion service should be unleavened bread and “the fruit of the vine” as Christ stated in Matthew 26:29; Mark 14:25; Luke 22:18. While the Bible refers to “the cup” being used at the first Lord’s Supper (Matthew 26:27; Mark 14:23; Luke 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25-27), the Bible never uses the Greek word oinos for the communion service. “Of course it was juice from the grape, but whether fermented or not is not stated. Unfermented wine was used more in the time of Christ than most suppose. Nevertheless, if this was fermented some it was apparently diluted with water. For the sake of converted alcoholics or even to forestall anyone beginning to drink, unfermented juice is preferable in the light of today’s worldwide problem with alcohol” (Ryrie, Basic Theology, page 425).
Another justification for abstinence is because social drinking can lead to alcoholism. Geisler stated that one out of ten social drinkers will become alcoholics. Why gamble or cause someone else to gamble with alcoholism with those odds?
John Piper has an excellent sermon entitled Total Abstinence and Church Membership. Here part of his argumentation:
“Some people rank alcoholism as our second greatest health problem in America….There are about 10 million alcoholics and 20 million persons who consume an immoderate amount of alcohol. About 70% use alcohol as a beverage. As a result, alcohol contributes to 205,000 deaths each year. Life expectancy of the alcoholic is reduced by at least a decade. One-half of all traffic fatalities are the direct result of the abuse of alcohol. It is directly connected to one-half of the homicides and one-third of the suicides. It costs business alone 19 billion dollars a year. And now one out of every twelve marriages comes apart over drinking.”
I have heard men justify their drinking by saying, “I am not hurting anyone but myself.” Ask the wife and children of the alcoholic if he is only hurting himself. Even if he were only harming himself, he is dishonoring God with his body and life and that is reason enough to quit. But the drinker is not just hurting himself, he is destroying his marriage and family. If Jesus lived today, I believe he would be a teetotaler, and so should we.
 Mark Driscoll. The Radical Reformission (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), 146.
 Ibid., 184.
 Ibid., 147.
 Ibid., 149
 Ibid., 150
 Norman Geisler. “A Christian Perspective on Wine-Drinking” Bibliotheca Sacra 139: 553 (1982): page 51.
 Ibid., 53.
 Norman Geisler. Criswell Theological Review-Volume 5, Issue 2, 2008.