Book Review – The Pursuit of God (A W Tozer)

I suspect that many readers of this blog will at least have come across the name A W Tozer, even if they have not read any of his books. I have encountered a lot of quotes by him, but this is the first book of his I have read. Several of his books are still in print, and recently republished as a series of “classics”.

The Pursuit of God consists of 10 short chapters, making it very accessible even to those who are not big readers. The key idea is to challenge believers to ask whether we really hunger after God. He asks us how serious we are about wanting God, and whether we, like Abraham are willing to give up everything.

“The world is perishing for lack of the knowledge of God and the church is famished for want of his presence.”

He warns that it is possible to believe in God without knowing him in personal experience, and insists that we are able to experience his presence. God is of course present everywhere, but our problem is a lack of receptivity toward him.

There are chapters on what faith is, the importance of determining to exalt God, and how we can avoid a sacred-secular divide by honouring God in all things. Each chapter closes with an earnest prayer asking God to change us and meet with us.

There is much wise and insightful material in this short book, but its chief strength lies in its challenge to take seriously the pursuit of God. You might not need a lot of time to read it, but there is no point if you are not also willing to devote some time to self-examination and time alone with God in prayer.

The Resurrection and the Ending of Mark’s Gospel

At this time of year, we occasionally see documentaries on TV about the resurrection. This usually includes brief snippets of interviews with various scholars, often with a cross-section of those who believe and disbelieve the gospel accounts of the ressurection of Jesus.

And one point that is often made by the skeptics is usually presented along the following lines: “Mark’s gospel, which is the earliest, doesn’t actually report the resurrection. The church added that bit on much later.” The implication is that honest Mark tells it like it is – Jesus died and that was that, but Luke and Matthew wanted a happy ending for their story, so they fabricated the story of the resurrection, and someone much later “fixed” Mark by adding a resurrection to that too.

To someone not familiar with the gospels this sounds like a major embarrassment for Christians – a coverup of epic proportions. But in fact, this accusation is at best a half-truth. Here are a few brief points in response, should you encounter this line of argument this Easter.

1. Gospel of Mark is not the earliest resurrection account anyway

Mark may indeed be the earliest gospel. It commonly gets dated by scholars around AD60-70, although there is no logical reason why it could not have been written much earlier. If however that date is correct, then 1 Cor 15:3-6 is in fact the earliest recorded account of the resurrection, dated in the mid 50s. And it is quite clear from reading the chapter that Paul is recounting an already well established tradition concerning Jesus’ resurrection appearances. If someone made up the resurrection stories, they must have done so long before Mark’s gospel was written.

2. Gospel of Mark is climaxing towards resurrection

Any suggestion that Mark didn’t know about the resurrection is quite frankly preposterous. The structure of the gospel is in fact built around a series of predictions Jesus makes about his impending death and resurrection:

And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. (Mark 8:31 ESV)

and then…

They went on from there and passed through Galilee. And he did not want anyone to know, for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” (Mark 9:30-31 ESV)

and in the next chapter:

saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.” (Mark 10:33-34)

From these verses alone it should be obvious that Mark intends us to expect a resurrection at the end of his gospel. In the very first verse, Mark 1:1, he makes it clear that he thinks that Jesus is not merely a great man, but the “Christ” (Messiah) and the “son of God”. He calls his story a “gospel” – a message of good news, not a tragedy. So he is not going to end it with a defeated, discredited hero. Also, Mark has clearly not planned for a surprise ending. He lets us know up front to expect a resurrection. And in fact, that is precisely what we get…

3. The Gospel of Mark does report the resurrection

Even though the original ending (presuming there was one) does not report the resurrection appearances of Jesus to his disciples, it is not missing the resurrection itself. In fact, by the time the early manuscripts abruptly end at Mark 16:8, we have seen that the stone has been rolled away from the tomb (v4), the body is gone (v6), an angel announces that Jesus has risen from the dead (v6), and predicts that he will appear to his disciples in Galilee (v7).

And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back–it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” (Mark 16:4-7 ESV)

So I find the suggestion that Mark’s gospel does not report the resurrection to be extremely disingenous when it comes from scholars who know full well that this section was part of the original gospel.

4. The original ending of Mark almost certainly included resurrection appearances

I recognise that there is scholarly debate as to whether Mark’s original gospel did in fact end so abruptly at 16:8. It may be that there was some reason it couldn’t be finished. I do not find that idea that it was a deliberate “cliff-hanger” ending to be convincing (there is some good material on this in James Edward’s Pillar Commentary on Mark, and R T France takes a similar stance in his New International Greek Testament commentary).

So if there was an original lost ending, possibly due to the final page coming loose from a codex, it almost certainly included the resurrection appearances in Galilee, as prophesied by the angel.


Whether or not you are a believer in the resurrection, you have to accept that Mark was, and that he wanted to bear witness to it in his gospel account. I may post another time on what we are to make of the ending of the gospel of Mark that we do have, as it raises other interesting questions, but I will leave it there as this post is long enough already. Have a happy Easter.

Andrew Wilson on Perseverance

I posted a bit about perseverance a couple of years back, when I was running a course on the doctrine of salvation. One of the papers I read at the time as part of my preparation was a masters thesis by Andrew Wilson, who argued for a “loss of reward” interpretation of the warning passages in Hebrews, a position I find unconvincing (although I firmly agree with the first of his concluding points – that the warnings address Christians).

So I was interested to notice that he has a new paper out in the Tyndale bulletin, which focuses in on the interpretation of Hebrews 3:6b and 3:14, and seems to reflect a shift in his understanding of Hebrews. The verses in question are important because of their “if X then Y” grammatical structure:

And we are his house, if indeed we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope in which we glory. Heb 3:6b (NIV 2011)

We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end. Heb 3:14 (NIV 2011)

Whilst the paper contains some fairly complex technical discussion, the basic issue boils down to whether these are “cause-to-effect” or “evidence-to-inference” conditionals. In other words, does holding firmly to the end cause us to be sharers in Christ (an Arminian approach), or is it evidence that we are already sharers in Christ (a Calvinist approach)?

Both options quickly run into problems – the first seems to make a present reality dependent on future event, while the second seems to undermine the warning passages later in the book.

I won’t attempt to summarise the whole argument, but the conclusion is that the evidence-to-inference interpretation is preferable, and that the objections to it can be answered by the possibility that the warnings are in fact a means to our perseverance. At this point he is in agreement with Schreiner, whose book I found very helpful. Anyway, it’s well worth a read if you get the chance, and you can join the discussion on the what you think matters blog.

2011 in Review

I realise that my posting here has tailed off significantly towards the end of this year, but I did want to do one brief post summarising what I have been up to this year.


The big event for our family this year was the birth of our fifth child Annie in March. She is the reason why my blogging output dried up as I have barely had a full night’s sleep since she was born which means I no longer have my usual mental alertness in the mornings for ploughing through commentaries. Still, her incredibly cute smile more than makes up for the sleep depravation. This year I have also greatly enjoyed the fact that Ben is finally old enough to come to football matches with me, and we had a fun visit to the Emirates today to finish off the year.


As I have already admitted, I haven’t read anywhere near as many books as normal this year due to sleep depravation. The most substantial book I completed this year was Christopher Wright’s magnificent Mission of God, which I still need to get round to reviewing. Another book not reviewed on the blog as I was only proof-reading a draft is a forthcoming book from Simon Ponsonby on Justice, which is well worth looking out for when it arrives. Probably my favourite book of the year was Paul Miller’s A Praying Life.

Bible Versions

Recently I have been reading a lot more of the Bible. Every morning I use to read around four chapters of the new 2011 edition of the NIV as I would like to read the whole way through this new version. I find it perplexing why so many evangelicals (including some within newfrontiers) seem so critical towards this excellent translation. The committee of translators behind it includes several of my favourite Biblical scholars and I can’t see why the NIV doesn’t deserve to be treated just as seriously as the ESV as a translation for evangelicals.

Also, my son Ben reads one or two chapters from the Good News Bible to me every night, and Lily and Joel also read shorter portions from the Good News Bible. It’s not a translation I would choose to use myself, but they have done a very good job in presenting Scripture using vocabulary that my 5, 9 and 10 year olds are able to read and (mostly) understand.


Some of you will know that my job is a computer programmer, but it is also something of a hobby of mine (yes I know that makes me a geek). I am the author of a number of open source audio related projects, and some of them have gained quite a lot of popularity in recent years (including one application that now has over 1 million downloads). It has resulted in me spending quite a lot of my free time answering support requests and working on various audio related projects, some of which I have even been able to earn some money from. I’ve been doing quite a bit of reading about digital signal processing, but I expect most of you will be glad I haven’t been reviewing those books here. (You can follow my software blog here if you are interested in that kind of thing).

Also in my day job I have been studying and reading a lot about how to write better software and have been running lunchtime training courses at my work every fortnight. It is perhaps one small way in which I feel I may be able to make my daily work an act of worship. Programming (probably like most jobs) can sometimes feel quite “unspiritual” and detached from the Christian faith, but if God is a creative God who delights in making things good, then I want that to be the way I write software too.


This year I have again been involved in theology training at my church. Along with my good friends Mark Mould and Tom Scrivens, we taught an eight session series on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. I found it hugely beneficial studying and researching in preparation for them and I regret that I never got round to blogging the notes from these talks. We have more training courses in the pipeline, and I will try to do better at blogging about what we are doing next year.

I have also very much enjoyed seeing the newfrontiers theology blog really take off this year, with a nice broad range of contributors and I’m looking forward to seeing what appears on there next year.


Regular followers of my blog know that I occasionally like to write and record my own songs, sadly without ever achieving particularly great results. However, it is something I greatly enjoy doing and have been working away on a few ideas recently, which perhaps will see their way onto this website some time next year.

Anyway, that sums up a lot of what I have been up to this year. Thanks to everyone who has taken time to read and comment here. Have a happy new year, and may 2012 be a year of knowing God more and seeing his kingdom advancing.

John Hosier on Hebrews

A few months ago, John Hosier gave a series of four lectures on Hebrews at Gateway Church, Poole. I was unfortunately unable to attend due to them being shortly after the birth of our fifth child. But I was pleased to notice recently that they are available for download. Unfortunately the final recording is incomplete, and the accompanying notes are not available, but it is still well worth hearing. I always find John Hosier to be an excellent communicator, with a real gift for clarifying some of the more perplexing parts of Scripture (he is also an expert in Revelation).

The second talks is of particular interest since it covers both the warning passages, and the meaning of “rest”. I found the discussion of rest to be helpful, because despite having read three commentaries on Hebrews (France, Wright, and Brown), I have never felt I’ve really grasped what it is about. I recently bought Peter O’Brien’s new commentary on Hebrews from the Pillar series, but have only read the introduction so far.

As for the warning passages, half a talk isn’t enough to do it justice or fully nail down your position, but I found his material helpful, and there seems to be some agreement with my own position on perseverance which I have blogged about and given a talk on before (although I felt he left open the loss of reward interpretation as an option, which I am not persuaded by).

John Hosier’s talks are available here:

Part 1[audio:]

Part 2[audio:]

Part 3[audio:]

Part 4 (incomplete)[audio:]

Psalm 119 Wrapup

I want to write one final post in my Psalm 119 series, highlighting some others who are thinking about it, and asking whether there is a reference to God’s word in every single verse or not.

Psalm 119 in blogs and songs

During the last month, I noticed a couple of other bloggers tackling this Psalm. First, is Chris Wright, with an article entitled “Experiencing God” on the theology network. As always, he makes several insightful and perceptive points. Also, on the Scripture Zealot blog, which I have been following for some time has a post on Ps 119:120 and another on Ps 119 in general, which includes a link to a free PDF exposition of the Psalm from Charles Bridges.

Also, while at New Wine, I noticed that one of the new songs we sung borrowed many of its lyrics from Ps 119. The song is called “Like Incense”. I would have liked the chorus to more obviously pick up a theme from the Psalm too, but it is nice to see it being used in modern worship songs.

If you’ve blogged, preached or written a song about Ps 119, do please put a link in the comments below.

God’s Word in Every Verse?

As you are probably aware, Psalm 119 is a meticulously crafted Psalm, with 22 sections, one for each of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Each section has 8 verses, each of which starts with the same letter of the alphabet. And almost every verse contains a synonym for the word of God. Here’s a list of the terms I noticed as I worked through the Psalm (in the ESV version):

  • Law
  • Testimonies
  • Precepts
  • Commandments
  • Rules
  • Statutes
  • Your Word(s)
  • Word of Truth
  • His / Your Ways
  • Your promise
  • Your judgments
  • A pledge of good

This left me with 6 verses that don’t have an obvious reference to God’s word. Now, it may be that the Psalmist felt at liberty to break from his pattern in a few places, but for such a carefully crafted work (did he have OCD?), it seems plausible to me that he thought himself to have referred to God’s word in every verse, even if obliquely in some cases.

The six verses are:

Ps 119:84 How long must your servant endure? When will you judge those who persecute me?
At first glance, there appears to be no reference to God’s word here, but elsewhere (e.g. Ps 119:120) the Psalmist uses God’s “judgments”, and here, in the more literal translations the phrase is “execute judgment”.

Ps 119:90 Your faithfulness endures to all generations; you have established the earth, and it stands fast.
Possibly God’s Word is depicted here as a manifestation of his “faithfulness” – God’s faithfulness, like his Word, endures forever. Alternatively, the Psalmist may have God’s creative word that spoke the earth into being in this verse.

Ps 119:91 By your appointment they stand this day, for all things are your servants
This one is only an issue in the ESV, since other translations replace “appointment” with “laws”, “regulations”, or “ordinances”. Following on as it does from verse 90, God’s word of creation may be in view still.

Ps 119:121 I have done what is just and right; do not leave me to my oppressors.
Here, doing justice and righteousness is the same as doing what God’s word says. “What is just and right” serves as a summary of the law.

Ps 119:132 Turn to me and be gracious to me, as is your way with those who love your name.
Here the most promising candidate is “your way”, which the NIV translates “as you always do”, and another translation “as you have pledged to do”. In other words, the gracious character of God is testified to in the word of God. The Psalmist is praying for God to act in consistency with his self-revelation.

Ps 119:149 Hear my voice according to your steadfast love; O LORD, according to your justice give me life
Both “steadfast love” and “justice” could be replaced with “word”, but “justice” seems more likely to function as a synonym for God’s word in this verse. And in fact, that is the direction many other translations take, going for words such as “judgments” or “ordinances”. The NIV has “laws”.

Taw–Overflowing with Praise

Now that I’m back from Together at Westpoint (TAW), it seems appropriate that I finish off my Psalm 119 series with something about the appropriately named final section, “Taw” – Ps 119:169-176

What is the purpose of reading the Bible? Some people take a very practical view. They view the Scriptures as an instruction book for life and read it to find out how they should behave, what they should be doing, and what they need to stop doing. Others take a more intellectual view. They view the Scriptures as the definitive doctrinal handbook and read it to find out what they should believe, to nail down the correct theological framework and to gather ammunition for combating heresy.

Both uses of Scripture are valid, but if that is all we take from the Word of God, something has gone badly wrong. Surely the main purpose of coming to God’s Word is to encounter God himself. To get a glimpse of his glory that drives us to worship. Proper study of the Word always leads to praise and adoration. True theology leads to doxology. If we are left unmoved by our study of the Scriptures, we have missed the point entirely.

This is something that the author of Psalm 119 understood well. Not only did he write a very substantial song all about the glory of God as revealed in his Word, but he also shares his intention to go on singing about what he sees and discovers as he meditates on the Scriptures. For him, time spent in the Word is anything but a dry, academic exercise. The goal of reading the Bible is not to fill our notebooks with interesting observations, but to fill our hearts with such a love for God that we cannot help but overflow with songs of praise.

May my lips overflow with praise,
   for you teach me your decrees. 
May my tongue sing of your word,
   for all your commands are righteous. (Ps 119:171-172)

Together at Westpoint 2011

I got back yesterday from Together at Westpoint, which is a four day Bible week for the churches in the south & south west region of newfrontiers. (It’s the fourth time we’ve been – here’s my reports from 2008, 2009, 2010). After surviving the treacherous driving conditions on the way due to the flash flooding in Bournemouth, we enjoyed surprisingly good weather while we were there. The journeys there and back did allow me to listen to several of the talks from this year’s newday conference, which despite being aimed at teenagers will benefit listeners of any age.

A disappointment this year was not being able to persuade anyone from our church to come with us, so we joined up with The Family Church, Christchurch, who had been so welcoming of us last year when we camped next to them. One benefit was that I got to play in their church football team. We somehow or other made it to the final before being comprehensively beaten by Grace Church, Chichester. My eldest son, Ben, also was in the winning team in the children’s football tournament and hasn’t taken his medal off since.

I got to hear three of the main talks, first from John Groves, who drew out some lessons from Ex 23:20-30 about the way God is leading his people through conquest and conflict. Next I heard Terry Virgo speak from Ezra 1:1-7 and Isaiah 1:7-9 on our identity as “Survivors” whose judgment is past, “Seers” with a vision for the future and “Supporters” whose commitment is in the present. Finally I heard Jeremy Simpkins unpacking Gen 49:22 about a fruitful vine, near a spring, whose branches climb over a wall – a prophetic promise fulfilled in Christ, but with relevance for us also as those who are in Christ. All three talks reminded us of the greatness of God and inspired fresh faith for mission.

The remaining three sessions I spent helping out in the kids work. An amazing amount of planning, prayer, and hard work was put in by the superb team that led the work and it was a privilege to be a small part of it and see God at work in the lives of the children. In some ways that was the highlight of the week for me, and I was moved by the dedication and love shown by the team. The theme of the kids work was “mission is possible”, and featured stories of various missionaries past and present.

The Saturday night saw us take up an offering, and Guy Miller declared that he felt we should go for the rather audacious target of £100,000 to fund various projects planned next year. I missed the announcement of the total, so was delighted to read on Matt Hosier’s blog that we managed to raise £101,000, not bad for just under 2000 people, many of whom are children. More exciting than knowing that we hit our target is seeing the progress of church plants we heard about last year, and hearing about new ones in their early stages. My good friend Mark Mould was there who will soon be joining up with the new Junction 13 church plant in Eastleigh. I also got to hear from some friends at Life Church Southampton about the exciting developments in their plans to plant an Southampton “eastside” congregation.

Whilst the scale and scope of the “Together at” Bible weeks is more modest than events such as New Wine or Stoneleigh, I love the church planting and mission focus of these events, and think it is vitally important for whole churches to catch a wider vision of what God is doing in our nation and around the world. Hopefully next year I’ll manage to persuade some people from KCC to come along.

New Wine 2011

I got back this week from New Wine, our 9th time there I think, and by my reckoning I have now spent more than a year of my life under canvas). It was our first time camping with five children, so things were hectic, and the number of seminars we could get to was limited. Still, thanks to the onsite radio, I was able to catch the main talk most evenings, and a few seminars, in addition to the ones I got to in person. Here’s just a brief flavour of what I got to hear.

As usual, the morning Bible teaching was excellent, this year it was from Kenny Borthwick, who worked through John 17. I got to hear a couple of talks by Baroness Caroline Cox, an extraordinary woman of courage and compassion, and heard about the work that is being done by HART. I attended two seminars by authors of interesting books – Michael Ward on Planet Narnia, and William Donaldson on Word and Spirit in Leadership, a book I hope to read soon as part of some writing of my own I am doing on the subject of Word and Spirit. It was also nice to see Tope Koleoso from Jubilee Church, Enfield speaking at one of the sessions. His talk on demonstrations of the Spirit’s power from the Brighton Together on a Mission conference is well worth hearing.

I also got a chance to briefly meet up with Simon Ponsonby, who somehow managed to do nine talks during the week, mostly from his Romans series he is preaching through at St Aldates (well worth listening to if you get a chance). We had an interesting discussion on Romans 7. Simon is convinced that it refers to Paul’s experience as a believer. My take is that it represents the battle we experience trying to fight sin without relying on the power of the indwelling Spirit, which Paul seems to deliberately leave out of the picture, before introducing it in Romans 8.

Simon also takes a view on the law very similar to the “New Covenant Theology” position, in which it is argued that the OT law is completely abrogated for the Christian, and replaced with the law of Christ. This obviously rejects the common threefold distinction of “moral, civil and ceremonial” or other similar schemes for dividing the law up into the temporary and the perpetually binding, as well as dispensing (I think) of two of Calvin’s three uses of the law. It is a view I have some sympathy for (and still have the Wells and Zaspel book on my wishlist), without being 100% convinced yet. However, I still believe that there is “paradigmatic value” in all of the OT laws, since all Scripture is God-breathed and profitable for us. To say that the law’s only function is to show our sin and need of a saviour, seems a little too weak to me. Maybe that is a topic for a separate blog post another day.

As usual, it was a privilege to mingle with a like-minded, but slightly different stream to newfrontiers and see what God is doing in and through them. Next up for us is the Together at Westpoint regional camping event, at which Terry Virgo is the guest speaker, which should also be good.

Some thoughts on alcohol

My Story

I am, and have been my entire life, teetotal. I do participate in communion when I visit churches where the wine is alcoholic, but with that one exception, I never drink alcohol. That makes me very unusual in the church circles I inhabit, and in the minds of some, a de facto legalist.

The reasons for my abstinence are mostly due to my upbringing. The pastor of my church strongly advocated abstinence, and as a result, my parents, who joined the church when I was a baby, also became teetotal. Other Christian organizations I had contact with, such as UBM, took a similar stance.

It was a position I had no problem with, and had no real incentive to question until I went to sixth form college, where I first met other Christians who drank. It was during my time there that I saw the destructive influence of alcohol in a number of my friends, both Christian and non-Christian. One friend fell off the roof of a multi-storey car park after a drunken night out and a run-in with a police. He died a few weeks later. A Christian friend ended up pregnant after a night partying with too much to drink. To her credit, she courageously rejected the recommendations of her friends to abort the baby, whose father was a convicted criminal, but the trajectory of her life was irrevocably changed. Another friend, who I regarded as a particularly sensible and conscientious student, foolishly drove home after one too many to drink. He killed a girl and ended up in jail. It scared me. If someone like him could do something like that, what could I be capable of?

At the same time, many of my peers from my own church were beginning to revel in the freedom they had now they were legally old enough to drink. Whilst some found the balance of drink in moderation, sadly it seemed for others to be a first step in a journey away from God.

Another factor was my knowledge of own lack of self-control. I knew from experience how easily I could become addicted to things, whether following the football results or listening to 60’s music. If I bought a multi-pack of extra-strong mints I seemed incapable of not eating the whole lot in one sitting. What would I be like if I drank? Would I really have the self-control to avoid doing something I bitterly regretted?

The Biblical Case

So I chose to remain teetotal due to my own weakness and to seeing the effects of alcohol on my friends lives (doubtless there were other factors, such as my preference for nonconformism). But I haven’t mentioned the Bible yet. And that is simply because I don’t believe the Bible teaches or requires believers to abstain. It does forbid getting drunk, it does repeatedly warn of the dangers of alcohol, and there are several examples of people dedicated to the Lord who are asked to abstain (for example Old Testament priests, Nazarites and John the Baptist). But abstinence is simply not commanded for believers.

My reason for writing about this now is that my former pastor Stanley Jebb has blogged on his reasons for abstinence. Also John MacArthur recently took the “young, restless and reformed” crowd to task for their attitude towards drink. My wife, though not teetotal herself, was saved into an Assemblies of God (Pentecostal) church. The AOG have a position paper which vigorously argues for a total abstinence position.

On the subject of alcohol, I have seen both sides often severely distort the biblical evidence, throwing exegetical principles out of the window in order to defend their position. One side attempts to turn all the wine in the Bible back into water, while the other has the disciples drinking vodka at the last supper. One well-known visiting speaker at Southampton University Christian Union shocked me by declaring that “Jesus turned the water into wine so that the disciples could get smashed out of their faces.” And then there is Mark Driscoll who says he “repented” of the “sin of abstinence”.

I think I can honestly say that I have never heard a sermon warning against the folly of drinking too much in a church that doesn’t teach abstinence. Those Bible passages are effectively ignored, presumably for fear of sounding legalistic. Of all the biblical virtues, there can’t be many less well loved (at least in charismatic circles) than sobriety. The result is a generation of Christian young people who regard getting drunk as a joke.

Having said that, it is hard to escape the conclusion that the Bible often uses wine as a symbol for joy. Even as a child in the church I grew up in, it always struck me as deeply ironic that we would sing “I will extol your love more than wine”, knowing full well that no one would dare speak a good word about wine. In those days we would often say about spiritual gifts – “the solution to abuse is not disuse, but proper use”. And yet it is this very principle that Martin Luther uses to dismiss the case for abstinence with typical biting sarcasm:

Do not suppose that abuses are eliminated by destroying the object which is abused. Men can go wrong with wine and women. Shall we then prohibit and abolish women? The sun, the moon, and the stars have been worshiped. Shall we then pluck them out of the sky?

And I think he is right. Yet at the same time I believe that a failure to prophetically speak out against social evils of alcohol amounts to cowardice. And failure to warn our children (whether as parents or youth leaders) of the dangers is abnegation of our God-given responsibility. When the time comes for discussing this with my children, I will not require them to be teetotal, but I think I will recommend it. Maybe they will be much more wise, mature and self-controlled than me, and will be able to honour God while enjoying alcohol in moderation. But I have no intention to do anything that will lead them into temptation, or cause one of these little ones to stumble (Rom 14:21).

Finally, whatever your view on this topic, whether you drink or abstain, do it to the glory of God (Rom 14:6, 1 Cor 10:31).