Alcohol Today: Abstinence in an Age of Indulgence. By Peter Lumpkins. Garland, Texas: Hannibal Books, 2009. 176 pages. Softcover, $14.95.
Alcohol Today is the first book by Peter Lumpkins of sbctomorrow.com. He argues that Christians should abstain from consuming beverage alcohol. The book is comprised of three sections and includes a forward by Jerry Vines, four pages of endorsements, a glossary of terms, and an appendix of historical references.
In the first chapter, Lumpkins outlines his reasons for writing the book. Primarily, he is concerned that American churches have abandoned their historic opposition to beverage alcohol (19–22) and that young people are “caught in the jaws of the death trap known as alcohol” (25). Lumpkins’ own testimony includes alcohol abuse (22–25).
Lumpkins elaborates on the trend of churches abandoning their abstentionist position in chapter two, and in chapter three, argues that prohibition was not a grand, colossal failure (48). His point is that religious groups and the academy supported prohibition. It is unclear, however, how this strengthens his case, since religious groups and the academy have supported any number of causes with which one might have reason to disagree.
The second section of the book is comprised of chapters five through nine and contains what Lumpkins considers to be the positions a person might take in regard to alcohol. In section three (chapters ten through twelve) he makes a case for abstinence based upon Scripture. Methodologically he could have made the biblical case before asking the reader to consider the positions.
The first position he considers is that of hedonism, or drinking based on pleasure, with no regard for moral restraint (54–62). It is unclear why Lumpkins chooses to argue against a position without offering any example of an evangelical who takes this position. The second position (63–71) is “think before you drink” and is equated with utilitarianism (68–69). Lumpkins pronounces this position a “dead ethic”: “Thus, suggesting one think before popping open a beer can is like suggesting one think before attending a rock concert, a football game, a pizza party, or any other event, the purpose of which is to offer the participants a certain amount of pleasure.”
The third position Lumpkins addresses is called “Drink but don’t get drunk” and is the moderationist position (72–89). Lumpkins argues that this position has no biblical support and violates common sense. The treatment of the moderationist position is distracted by Lumpkins’ foray into a discussion of deontology, in which he makes the statement that “a decidedly Christian ethic is deontological in nature.” This would not hold true for the Christian who takes a virtue or utilitarian approach to ethics. More troubling, however, is that his insistence on deontology undermines his case for abstinence. Since Lumpkins argues the Bible “knows nothing” of modern alcoholic beverages, it cannot speak (directly or indirectly) to the issue addressed by the book. He is left with prohibitions against drunkenness at which point moderationists agree (125–40).
The fourth position is “Don’t wine up, wise up,” in which Lumpkins argues against the view that one should abstain from alcohol, not because it is prohibited in Scripture, but because it is wise to abstain (90–97). I think this is the strongest argument for abstinence, and is the position taken by Richard Land and Barrett Duke. Lumpkins says their position is “morally naked” (96) but appears to mean it is insufficient.
The fifth position is the abstinence position; “Drinking? No way!” (98–107). His argument is that God does not communicate in the language of moderation but in the language of abstinence. To make this point Lumpkins lists many places where God says “do not” (100–05). Unfortunately for his argument, he never can provide a passage where God says it is wrong to drink. This is not a problem for Land or Duke, who take the wisdom position, but it is for Lumpkins, who is trying to mount a deontological argument for abstinence. Moreover, self-control is a fruit of the Spirit, so moderation is clearly not a concept foreign to Scripture. Lumpkins is so wary of the concept of moderation that he doubts whether teenagers have the ability to “practice moderation in anything” (22, see also 70–71). However, if teenagers have the Spirit, and if the fruit of the Spirit includes self-control, then they are capable of moderation.
This reviewer believes Land and Duke produce better arguments. Lumpkins takes the right position, but he perhaps could have followed John Dagg in arguing that drunkenness is a vague concept and so one is wise to abstain.
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary