June 17, 2014

Drinking with Calvin and Luther! by Jim West - Book Review

I am almost done with the book Drinking With Calvin and Luther!: A History of Alcohol in the Church by Jim West. Even though I am not quite finished with this book, and still have a few pages remaining, I wanted to go ahead and write the review because I have learned and enjoyed so much during its reading. In fact, as soon as I am done writing this review, I am going to go finish the book.

I grew up in a home, church, and social circle that viewed all forms of alcohol as ... well... evil. When it was mentioned that someone was drinking or that someone drank occasionally or socially, it was absolutely appalling. I am not sure how much of this was because of actuality or because of my perceptions of the situations where drinking was encountered, but it was a definite no-no to drink in any way, shape, or form.

When I got older, I began encountering people that caused my views to conflict with the reality around me... in other words, I was meeting people who were clearly steadfast Christians, but they would drink occasionally or socially. My worldview didn't allow for this. In fact, many of the drinkers that I met were by far more dedicated to the cause of the gospel than the teetotalers that I had known. So I did what any good Christian would do... I shunned them and ignored these conflicting worldviews. WAIT! NO! I went to the Bible to determine the truth! What I found was quite different than what I had "known" growing up. My views needed adjusting.

When I eventually encountered Drinking With Calvin and Luther!: A History of Alcohol in the Church by Jim West, which was a Christmas gift from my wife, my views had shifted appropriately and were fairly solid now on what the Bible actually teaches concerning alcohol, but were still hazy on the practicality of these new views. This book served to solidify those views, and give me direction on how to practically apply those views. It is a very Biblical book, but what was absolutely surprising to me was the actual history of alcohol in the church, which this book does an absolutely amazing job of bringing to light.

I have a great respect for church history. I believe that it is important what Christians have believed historically. This is why I am a big supporter of reading and learning from historical documents, creeds, and books. Like Paul writing to Timothy, I am often saying, "Don't forget to bring my scrolls!" (2 Timothy 4:13) ... well for me ... "books!"  I mean, really, who am I, or who are we to believe that the last 2000 years Christians have gotten  it wrong? In fact, tracing the beliefs that have stuck can be extraordinarily enlightening. The amount of historical information and quotes that Jim West shares from remembered and respected Christian leaders through the ages was extraordinary. It never felt cumbersome reading this book, but I did find myself often wanting to quote different portions of this book. Especially those encounters with quotes from Martin Luther, like:
"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?"
~Martin Luther
Jim West also confronted the different teachings of the prohibitionist's views by going directly to the scripture. He displayed an amazing knowledge of the topic from the historical, the Biblical, and even the opposing view points. If you are actually interested in learning what the Bible teaches concerning alcohol, then I recommend this book. If you want to learn the Church's historical stance concerning alcohol, then I highly recommend this book.

I would like to point out in advance, as a Pastor myself, that there were many members of the clergy, through the ages, that were paid ... not just monetarily, but with kegs of beer for the purpose of entertaining. I am not suggesting anything... I'm just sayin'...