The Gospel and the Pub

Two weeks ago I was in the west suburbs of Chicago for a Doctor of Ministry seminar at Northern Seminary.  On Thursday, after class, a few students including myself, all of whom are ministers, went out to Giordano’s Pizzeria for some pie (that’s real pizza for those unfamiliar with Chicago style pizza).  To go along with our pie, we ordered a pitcher of Goose Island 312, a locally brewed beer.  This meant we each had a glass of beer to drink, so don’t think we were sitting there getting drunk.

Any ways, as our server was pouring our beer into our glasses, she asked what the occasion was that had brought a group of men out to dinner.  One of us explained that we were all ministers attending a class at a local seminary.  It was her response that has me thinking.  Our server said something to the effect of, “I didn’t think ministers could drink.”

At the risk of over-analyzation, I wonder what made her think that it was morally wrong for ministers to drink.  Of course, in some places where I have lived the assumption is not just ministers but Christians as a whole…not one drink, beer or wine.  Teetotalism.

My point here is not to address the issue of teetotalism.  I obviously don’t believe in it but I will say that scripture only speaks of drunkenness as sin.  My concern here is how this story might illustrate the gap that exists between the gospel and culture.  In fact I wonder: Do we even have a gospel for the person sitting in the local pub?

By asking this question, I’m not talking about the gospel story.  Yes, we have the gospel story but the gospel of Jesus Christ is so much more than a story.  The gospel, when understood right, is lived and proclaimed not just in a Christian worship assembly but also among the people wherever they are found…even in our local pubs.  But in the past, churches never had to worry about going to the pub.  Rather, churches could bank on seekers showing up to a revival meeting or showing up to a marriage seminar or financial seminar (felt needs were an attractional way of getting people to eventually hear the gospel).  In some places that still works but in most places it does not.  So I ask, do we have a gospel for the person sitting in the local pub?

How can we when there’s such a gap between us and the pub?  I surely don’t want to encourage Christians who battle addiction to alcohol and I don’t want to encourage drunkenness (which I believe is a sin!) but part of the reason why this gap exists seems to be because too many Christians have avoided the pub and/or made it appear that one must completely stop drinking.  That’s a problem.  Frankly, most people who enjoy a beer after work or enjoy a glass of wine with their dinner are not so inclined to give that pleasure up and they should not be expected too since it is not a sin.  Further more, if we want the people in the pub to hear the gospel (and let’s face it, the pub is a a great place for conversation) then we need to learn how to be Christians inside a pub.

I’m doing a lot of out-loud thinking here, so I’ll end this post with one more out-loud thought.  I just ordered a new book for my kindle called Pub Theology: Beer, Conversation, and God (seen in the picture above).  I haven’t read the book yet so I have no idea whether it’s worth the read or not but after scanning through the chapters, maybe it’s a push in the right direction.

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24 responses to “The Gospel and the Pub

  1. I’ve sat in churches where it was preached that drinking the first drop of alcohol was a sin. I disagreed with those sermons, but found myself not being able to openly have that occasional beer.

    But to your larger point. As Christians, this earth certainly isn’t our home. But at the same time, our bodies were made to live here, and many things of the earth are here for us. It’s an opportunity rather than a curse. I think it invites us to live lives among everyone and hopefully be the light that is irresistibly attractive to others.

  2. This is one of the best conversations I’ve seen on the issue. I think you pose an interesting perspective that this generation of church leaders is facing. I’ve always argued that the Church has failed over the last 60-70 years when it came to addressing the issues of sexuality and alcohol from a Biblical stand point. I believe that had there been a trend of proper teaching then our culture wouldn’t look as addicted and sexual.
    -Of course the greater issue here is a lack of knowing who your neighbor is and that the Gospel is meant to be taken EVERYWHERE!
    (as you go!!)

    Thanks for a great post!

  3. Back in the early seventies, a friend and I were bummed out, and went to a local place to have a beer. We were both recreations of the “Jesus Movement”, and we were depressed. As we sat there drinking our beers, we were talking about the Lord, and suddenly, both of us were drawn into a mini-vision. We both saw into heaven and it was pastoral like and saw Jesus at a distance, and we were flooded with a sense of Divine Life- like what we experience in this world is hardly life at all. We were transformed from depression to joy and exultation. Jesus had shown up at the publ

  4. In the 1940’s and 50’s, American evangelicals were torn about C. S. Lewis: How could such a Godly proclaimer of Christ be a smoker and drinker?

  5. It’s a slippery slope.

    A favorite story from a 1972 lecture about culture and drinking in a Religious Studies class at a secular university was the prof’s report on speaking at an Evangelical conference in France.

    He said at the conference:

    1. The French complained about the delegation from North Caroline who required smoking breaks and ash trays. (As French Evangelicals they would not smoke but drinking was permitted.)

    2. The US delegation complained about the French having wine at dinner. (As US Evangelicals smoking was permitted but not a drop of drink would touch their lips.)

    3. He want on to say one of the US delegation said Paul’s advice to Timothy to take a little wine for digestion was not properly translated. Paul was telling Timothy to “rub the wine on the outside.” (Love proof texting/translation.)

    Working across cultures — both church cultures and people group cultures — this is an interesting journey.

    I was just training pastors in West Africa. One group offered me wine with dinner (influence of the French) and in the country next doorI just came from that would have been frowned upon.

    My father was ordained “fundamental non-denominational” in the ’50s so you can guess his view when I was a kid. Later in his life after my mom passed he married a Presbyterian and was then also ordained PCUSA. His views on drinking shifted.

    My practice — go with the flow (which I learned when one of my mentors /professors poured me a beer at a meeting in a bar when I was still underage.) But not start the flow in this situation. And never to excess if the flow is moving that way around me.

    Cheers!

  6. Really, Steve? I never heard that …interesting. The churches I attended crowded out their porches before, between, and after services with the smokers and chewers! Smokers and drinkers can relax. Now the world hates fat people. And also those involved in out-of-wedlock heterosexual relationships…because now the homosexuals have everyone’s attention. Maybe we should all stop trying to decide who is the worst of sinners … take care of our own problems … and love people in spite of their faults and failures! 🙂 Good thoughts Rex!

  7. You’ll have to let me know what you think of that book.

    Even though I lead a recovery ministry (and as such, have spent more than my fair share of time in bars/clubs/pubs) I do think there’s value in meeting people where they are. Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman at a well when he knew she’d be there. He didn’t jump straight to preaching about the Kingdom or repentance, but instead related to her through casual conversation. We can’t limit ourselves to believing the only way the Gospel can be preached is from behind a pulpit, up on a stage, in front of stained glass, in a building made by human hands.

  8. Thanks for the great comments everyone! This is an issue that is always going to draw criticism from some within the wide spectrum of Christianity. Yet I always remember how Jesus was accused of being a glutton and drunkard because of the way he pursued the mission of God (cf. Lk 7:34). Some things are worth the criticism.

    Grace and Peace,

    Rex

  9. Google e91. East 91st Street Christain Church. Search for Pub Theology. Google pub theology .

  10. Kevin Copeland

    This blog article reminded me of an experience that I had over a year ago. One Thursday night I drove my son down to Houston for his gymnastic training and I had a four hour wait. I sat in the gym for about an hour on my ipad and then I got bored. It had been a long day, a long drive down there and I decided to go around the corner to this place called The Concert Pub for a beer. It was a nice night, so I sat outside at the little patio bar. There was only one other couple out there and myself. The bartender, a very young girl with tattoos and piercing galore, asked me what I was having and I asked for my favorite beer, Shiner Bock. She brought my beer and proceeded to start up a conversation with the people next to me whom she obviously knew outside of the bar. As it turned out, she had two rows of piercings down both sides of her back with heavy gage rings in each piercing and she participated in exhibitions where she would be suspended up in the air by these rings. She was talking to this couple about the previous weekends exhibition and showing them pictures from the event. She also showed me the pictures as to not make me feel like I was excluded. So I engaged her in conversation about tattoos and piercings. Things that she was obviously passionate about.

    In the mean time another young girl walked up and sat down right next to me and I noticed that she had a pentagram necklace on as she was walking up. After a while I asked her if she was a Wiccan or if she was just into Heavy Metal. She looked at me oddly and said, “Excuse Me?” So I pointed at her necklace. At which point she rubbed the necklace nervously and put it inside her shirt. Then she said, “How do you know about Wicca.” So I told her that I had known a white witch when I was in high school, playing drums in Heavy Metal bands. So we got into a conversation about Wicca, witches, warlocks and Heavy Metal music. Come to find out, her brother had given her the necklace and had introduced her to Wicca.
    I sensed that God was doing something here in these conversations, but I wasn’t sure what. I kept wanting to put my evangelist hat on and talk about Jesus, but it seemed like the Holy Spirit was telling me to just hold on. After over an hour of talking about tattoos, piercings, witches and music, the Wiccan turned to me and asked me, “So, what do you believe in.” I smiled and politely said, “I’m a disciple of Jesus Christ and somewhat of a preacher.” The bartender said, “Oh Great! I guess you’re here to convert us then?” To which I replied, “Nope, I’m here to drink a beer, please bring me one more.” The Wiccan turned to me and said, “Please, tell me what you believe about Christ. I would really like to know. So I began talking to them about Christ and how he displayed the grace and mercy of a loving heavenly Father and tried to answer all of their questions about, God, the Bible and Jesus Christ.
    When I noticed the time, I payed the check, told the girls that I had to go pick up my son and get him home, and got up to leave. When I stood up from the bar stool the bartender reached over the bar and gave me the biggest hug. Then the Wiccan turned to me and hugged me for the longest time and didn’t want to let go. When she finally pulled away I must have had a very shocked look on my face, because she apologized and said, “I’m sorry, I’ve just never met a Christian, much less a preacher, like you before. Most Christians judge us because of the tattoos, piercings, witchcraft, drinking and working at a bar. I never would have imagined that anyone like you would sit here in a pub with people like us, drink a beer with us and tell us about Jesus. This was just so weird and cool, and I”m very overwhelmed right now.” I told her, “You are probably overwhelmed right now by the light of Christ’s love for you. God really does love you, you know?”
    As I got in my car to drive back to the gym this is what came to me: “That’s what the woman at the well looks like today!” A few weeks later I saw these girls again and I told them about a church down in Houston that was open and welcomed people with tattoos and piercings. Heck, even the pastor has ink. They also wouldn’t freak out over the Wicca stuff. Last I heard they were attending there and God was transforming their lives. Anyway, this blog made me smile, because it reminded me of this story.

    • That is a great story and example of why I wrote this post. There are a many of Christians who could never witness to such people because they would never place join such people in such an incarnational way. Thanks for sharing!

    • Kevin, I would love to share this on my FB page, if you wouldn’t mind. It’s beautiful. Thank you.

      • Kevin Copeland

        I don’t mind at all. You are welcome to share it anywhere that you would like. I’m glad that it connected with you.

      • kevinmcopeland

        I don’t mind at all. Share it anywhere that you would like. I’m glad you connected with it.

    • Me, too — I got a pastor “with ink.”

    • KEVIN!!! BROTHER!!!
      This pub experience is exactly what I look. I praise God for your godly discipline and attentiveness to wait on the Holy Spirit. You did exactly what too many brothers and sisters in Christ lack the confidence to do because it’s been pounded into them that in the first place they ought never enter a pub, much less have a beer and stand ready to rapid fire book, chapter and verse.
      The insight the Spirit bless you with afterwards is awesome: That’s what woman at the well looks like today!

      The Lord bless you always, brother.

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  12. Relevant Magazine has an article today about “Beer & The Pulpit”: http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/church/beer-pulpit

  13. I commend you for your awareness of the opportunity and your willingness to meet it at the pub, Rex.

    A couple of years ago you could have heard a pin drop in our Sunday morning Bible study. The discussion was on the area of opportunities and the practice of co-workers to meet for Happy Hour came up. Of course, the expected, default, for-the-record clarification was made clear: The appearance of evil is to be avoided.

    My comment was that while I have never received an invitation from co-workers to Happy Hour I would readily accept it when offered. Furthermore, I was clear to state I would drink a beer and not isolate myself in a shroud of piousness. I can do so with the confidence I am not going there to get smashed out of my mind, but I’m also not there try to wedge the gospel into every other word and sprinkle my speech with righteous sounding kingdom speak. I am there to enjoy a beer and fellowship with co-workers and that as human interaction and conversation goes the door of opportunity will open.

    I am confident your question is rhetorical: Do we even have a gospel for the person sitting in the local pub?

    Yes, we do.

    First, the disciple who is not of the faith about how he or she can engage in conversation over one or two beers, _ need not have the beer.

    Second, he/She can still whether with a stranger or familiar individual can make it quite clear they do not drink whether as a matter of dislike for alcohol or personal conviction, _ not as a matter of judgment on themselves or anyone else.

  14. Pingback: The Pub and the Disciple of Jesus | Kingdom Seeking

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  16. Pub Theology is a call to all of us, not just Christians, to put down our biases and have an honest, respectful discussion over beer. And lest you think the book is one long polemic against dogmatism, it’s really more of an account of Bryan’s own experiences with facilitating pub theology gatherings (I hate that word, facilitating, but “running” doesn’t seem right), why he got started with it in the first place, and what worked and didn’t work. It’s an encouraging story and I’ll be surprised if, when you finish it, you aren’t tempted to get together for beer and discussion with some local heretics, weirdos and Bible-thumpers at your own local tavern.

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