Sunday, October 4, 2009

the gospel according to beer

Recently heard in a sermon: You might be surprised if you knew some of the sinful things I had in my past. I was mean. I closed many a bar down.

I have not recently heard this in a sermon: Beer is good.

There, I said it. I can hear my Southern Baptist heritage crying out with pain at that statement. But, long before prohibition, long before "thou shalt abstain from strong drink" became the eleventh commandment, long before secular became known as the opposite of sacred, Christians liked drinking beer. Billy Sunday and Adrian Rogers probably believed with all their hearts they were preaching the right thing, but they're up against some pretty big names in this department.

Don't take it from me. Take it from a guy named Martin Luther, who once said, "We old folks have to find our cushions and pillows in our tankards. Strong beer is the milk of the old." Of course, that is politely rendered from the original German quote, which may actually be closer to, "I like beer/it makes me a jolly, good fellow/I like beer/it helps me unwind and sometimes it makes me feel mellow."

Baptists don't like beer. I'll take that back. Actually, Baptists in the south don't admit to liking beer. Even though I have long begun to distance myself from the Baptisty position on a lot of things, I was still surprised when I received my copy of The Search for God and Guinness: A Biography of the Beer that Changed the World by Stephen Mansfield from Thomas Nelson Publishing. It's just not everyday us Texans see Guinness and God in the same sentence, unless it's regarding Sodom and Gomorrah. They were big Guinness drinkers, you know.

This is the same guy that wrote The Faith of George W. Bush and The Faith of Barack Obama. Because of his reputation for writing fair, engaging analysis of cultural snapshots, I was anxious to read his book.

But beer?

I have to say that, excepting Baptists in the south, of course, Guinness is well-known as the preferred beer of theologians, at least the English-speaking theologians. My guess is that if Luther were here, he might have something to say about Heineken, but that's hard to tell. Therefore, I learned to drink it on occasion during deep theological discussion with others. There's nothing quite like having Bible study and beer.

Trust me, folks, they fit together perfectly.

Mansfield realizes this. He also realizes that because of a good beer's ability to bring people together, along with the unique business model of Arthur Guinness's company, make the Guinness story an especially interesting one.

In a day when the bottom line is all that matters and when institutions and corporations have robbed, cheated and lied people out of their livelihood and future, the story of the old Irish brewers is a breath of fresh air. It also begs the question, "Can we see anything like this here in our culture?

I was especially struck with Mansfield's account of a corporation that functioned like community. In a culture when churches continue to run themselves according to a business model, especially an American business model, we have some things to learn. What people are hungering for is Christian community, not good preaching, not entertaining music, not ministries specific to demographics, but genuine community.

Maybe our churches should run more like an - GASP - Irish brewery.

Please don't throw stones. Not yet, at least.

Mansfield's retelling of this story is an inspired and fresh account, a sober analysis, and a motivating conclusion. It is worth the read.

It's also better with Guinness.

12 comments:

Dan Martin said...

I gotta read this one, Jonathan...thanks for the pointer!

But I can't stand Guinness. Too bitter for me. I'll join you for a Heineken though, or even better a Newcastle Brown Ale. Is it wrong to read about an Irish brewery while drinking English ale?

jaigner said...

I'll do either of those. I myself only enjoy Guinness on occasion. And it has to be really, really cold.

Chuck King said...

I've heard it from several sources, all southern, so I have to take it seriously: "Dont take just 1 Baptist fishing with you; he'll drink all the beer." Subtle, and hilarious!

jaigner said...

But Chuck, if you invite two, neither will drink a drop.

That pretty much has Southern Baptists nailed.

E. A. Harvey said...

My brother's church has what they call "Theology on Tap." They meet at a local tavern or brewery and discuss different theological topics. Personally, I think drinking beer is the taste equivalent of licking the inside of a grain bin, but I enjoy a glass of wine now and then.

jaigner said...

I gotta visit that church. That's completely awesome.

Dan Martin said...

Personally, I think drinking beer is the taste equivalent of licking the inside of a grain bin

That's because you haven't tasted a really good beer. . .Budweiser isn't beer. . .try something like Newcastle Brown Ale. . .

But I certainly agree with a good glass of wine; been enjoying a Zinfandel while I read this.

I would love to join a "theology on tap" group though!

E. A. Harvey said...

Oh no, Dan, I've only tasted the "good" stuff. My very first beer was in Germany at the famous Hofbrauhaus. Blech! Everyone told me it was an acquired taste. I've since tried consuming different varieties of the "good" stuff here, including local micro-breweries. I can handle maybe a few sips, but that's it. No beer with the word "light" or served out of a can or that markets itself with Super Bowl commercials has ever touched these lips.

I think I was warped by having to clean out wheat bins as a kid... ;-)

jaigner said...

That "light" stuff might actually taste a little better to you.

Dan Martin said...

OK, Leesha, I won't try to convert you ;{) at least you haven't been wooed by the pseudo-beer! Funny thing is, that reminds me a lot of what passes for gospel, in that people are often lured to the church by a watered-down, flavorless version of the real thing that packs far less punch, and may also be less offensive. . .or on the other hand a version that is unnecessarily offensive. . .both things can be said of some beers I've tasted; they can definitely be said of some gospels I've tasted. . .hmmm...

But Jonathan, I'd never go recommending the light stuff to anybody. Of course, the only joke I can think of in that light is not fit to print. . .

Blessed weekend, folks! And Leesha, just enjoy a glass of good wine with my compliments!

Dan

E. A. Harvey said...

Way to get a spiritual application out of beer, Dan! That takes skill! ;-) I would love to hear that used as a sermon illustration...

Dan Martin said...

Way to get a spiritual application out of beer, Dan! That takes skill! ;-) I would love to hear that used as a sermon illustration...

Yeah, the day you hear of a church that'd take me for a preacher, you'll know that some small corner of Christianity really HAS changed. . . ;{)