An Abstinence Statement I Can Respect

Well, Dr. Albert Mohler didn’t make it. Dr. Mohler’s comments on alcohol consumption, which he made last Wednesday on his radio show were a disappointment, but no surprise. I don’t want to be guilty of playing favorites, so I better say what needs to be said. I do like Dr. Mohler. I share his nuanced view of the doctrines of Grace. I listen to his week-day radio show via podcast regularly. He’s right on the money on most everything, every thing that is important, at least. The topics he covers on his program are usually current and relevant issues facing our culture, and he always has a solid Christ-centered approach to his commentary. On Wednesdays he has a format called “Ask Anything Wednesday”, where the callers are free to ask virtually any kind of question. This last Wednesday (August 9) A lady simply asked him what his views on alcohol were. This segment occurs 22 minutes, 45 seconds into the program. Pastor Ben Cole very kindly has made available a written transcript of Dr. Mohler’s statement.
Dr. Mohler’s position wasn’t news to me. Several weeks back, I stumbled across an audio file of a student forum on the alcohol consumption policy at SBTS, that Dr. Mohler and Dr. Russell Moore conducted at SBTS sometime earlier this year. It was a very interesting forum, lasting about 57 minutes. Dr. Mohler’s opening statement was especially informative, starting off with a history of the SBC’s position on alcohol consumption, beginning with the SBC’s roots in protestant revivalism of the mid 19th century, to the women’s temperance movement, and through prohibition, which he describes as “a failed cultural experiment.” He explains those movements’ views on the “evils of alcohol”, but you clearly get the flavor that Dr. Mohler also embraces these views as his own. Within the framework of a history lesson, as only he can do, Dr. Mohler articulately and smoothly makes a compelling argument in favor of total abstinence, based, not on Scriptural evidence, but based solely upon a social arguments.

What can I say. He’s just plain wrong. In much the same way as the other big wigs of the SBC have done before him, he has effectively denied the sufficiency of scripture, by going outside of scripture to mandate something that God’s word does not mandate. We all have areas of inconsistency in our theology. This just happens to be one of those areas for Dr. Mohler. On the whole, I haven’t wrung my hands over the situation this time. This simply is not as big of a deal as the others who have weighed in before him, for one simple reason: Dr. Mohler didn’t go running to the press to let everybody know what his views on alcohol were. A lady called in to his program and asked him what his views were, and he told her (and us). Dr. Mohler isn’t attempting to discredit pastors Burleson or Cole, or anybody else. He simply answered a direct question, honestly and candidly. Dr. Mohler is one of the most transparent, guileless men in the Southern Baptist Convention. He is the best spokesman and representative the SBC has. I am surprised, however, that his close friends Ligon Duncan, and C.J. Mahaney haven’t had a greater influence on him with regard to the alcohol issue. Maybe they will now.

Personally, I think an abstinence policy at our seminaries is a good idea, just as long as it is for the right reasons. What would I like to hear in an abstinence statement from a seminary president? It would look something like this:

In light of the intense focus we have here at Southern in preparing these young men and women for service in Christian ministry at home and abroad, and in light of their relative youth and inexperience in judgment, in regard to the consumption of beverage alcohol, we feel it is best to have a total abstinence policy in place. In order to show our student body that we would not require of them something that we would not hold ourselves to, the faculty and staff have also committed themselves to this higher standard during our time here at Southern seminary.

The only real statement I have heard on total abstinence that does not deny the sufficiency of Scripture has come from my pastor, Rod Harris. It is short and to the point: “Knowing my propensity to excess in other areas, I just figure I very well might have trouble with alcohol. It has never interested me, and I think it would be best if I abstained.” Now, there is an abstinence statement that I can respect.

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