Dealing with the “Gray Matters”

I was first introduced to Brett McCracken during my time at Taylor University when he came to speak about his first book “Hipster Christianity.” My time in college was right in the middle of the emergence of the “cool Christianity” taking off where many my age were dealing with the issues raise by the Emergent Church and doing our best to reconcile these new issues with our generally conservative Evangelical upbringing. I quickly found myself spending time with those of the more reformed persuasion popularized by Collin Hansen’s “Young, Restless and Reformed.” Along with our questions of faith came the questions of the legalistic upbringing we experienced including, but not limited to: no drinking, no dancing, no smoking, no R rated movies (unless it’s about Jesus), no swearing and no cards. (Ok, the no cards rule was my grandma’s when my dad and I took them out to play some Rook). As my friends and I grew during college we were also expected to sign an agreement saying we would continue to uphold these things during our time in college (Taylor recently lifted their ban on dancing, but I was already gone). 4 years after I heard Brett speak, I finally got around to reading his newer book “Grey Matters.” In it, Brett wrestles with 4 areas that have been divisive among Christians for many years: food, movies, music and alcohol, the latter being the most divisive in recent years (see John McArthur’s letter to the Young, Restless and Reformed).

Throughout the book Brett doesn’t shy away from recognizing that these areas can be divisive for people and does a fantastic job of acknowledging problems on both sides of these issues. The most surprising one for me was the section on food. How many of spend any time thinking about what we’re eating and why? Or why some foods taste so good and others don’t (those that don’t seem to always be the healthy ones. What’s the deal with that!?). Yet through all 4 of these areas discussed, they offer opportunities for us to worship God as we’re commanded to do in 1 Corinthians 10:31.

One of the keys that emerged from the book for me was how community changes all these areas. I really enjoy cooking-thinking through the spices and different ingredients can be combined together to form something that doesn’t taste anything like the separate ingredients on their own. And even better: pairing said meal with a good wine or beer. Yet when I cook a big meal and sit down to eat by myself, it’s never as enjoyable. I generally try to invite someone or someone’s over to enjoy it with me. There’s something even better about eating within the context of a community. And this is true of the other areas discussed as well.

All of us have a favorite band that we could listen to on repeat all day (or bands). How many people have you told about your favorite bands by giving them a CD or having them listen with you? And the same thing is said about movies. They’re so much more enjoyable when you can discuss the movie with someone later. And finally, the four letter word in some Christian circles: alcohol. Being able to discuss the different flavors accented by a beer or wine is a very enjoyable community experience that allows us to learn from each other (as long as everyone is legally able to partake, if you’re in the US and under the age of 21, this shouldn’t take place).

So I’m grateful that I finally took the time to read this book, it’s very helpful in thinking through a number of the ramifications that come from dealing with these gray areas in life, and all of them can either help or hinder our worship of God. How do you think you can use gray areas as an opportunity to worship God within the context of community?

Drinking Beer to the Glory of God

Can beer be reconciled to the Bible? And can beer be consumed to the glory of God? I would argue that it can and should be enjoyed by those who are able to be responsibly with alcohol, as would David Valentine, who wrote a piece titled ‘Beer & the Pulpit‘ for Relevant magazine. In it, David argues against two extremes when it comes to alcohol: first, we should not over consume to the point of being drunk. Scripture clearly says that’s a sin (Ephesians 5:18). And the second extreme is to simply ignore it. I agree with David that the church should be a place where we can talk about something like alcohol, but how should we do that?

I know some people who abstain from drinking because it causes them to take it too far. If you are one of those people, do so to the glory of God, but don’t hold the same expectations for everyone around you. If you are one who can drink, do so to the glory of God, but do so in a way that doesn’t harm your witness to the world or become a stumbling block to those around you. I try to be very careful about who I will consume alcohol around, not because I’m worried about what people will think, but because I don’t want to harm my witness to others.

I’m grateful for a group of guys right out of college who taught me to appreciate a good drink. We would find different local beers we could try and pair it with a great meal. I’ve gone a much different direction than my parents with it as well, as neither one of them drink. They don’t think it’s a sin, but have chosen to abstain because they have both seen how it affects people.

What does your church say, if anything, about alcohol? How have you been raised in your treatment of alcohol, and has it changed as you’ve gotten older?