February 8th, 2014
12:48 PM ET

Praise the Lord and pass the beer, change is brewing among American Christians

By Brett McCracken, special to CNN

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(CNN) - Something is brewing among American Protestants, and it has a decidedly hoppy flavor.

For much of the last century in the United States, Protestant Christianity’s relationship with beer was cold or even hostile at times. Protestant organizations such as the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union and the Anti-Saloon League led the campaign to make alcohol illegal.

Even after Prohibition ended, many evangelicals defined themselves by their abstention from alcohol, called “the beloved enemy” by televangelist Jack Van Impe.

Drinking was, and in many cases still is, outlawed on Christian college campuses and among leadership of many churches and denominations.

But in recent years, change has been fermenting. Taverns and beer halls, once dismissed as the domain of the “worldly” in need of reform, are today the meeting places for churches

Consider the following:

● “Bar Church,” a self-described “nontraditional church,” which meets at Memories Bar in Abilene, Texas, and is an offshoot of Southern Hills Church of Christ.

● North Brooklyn Vineyard, which meets at Trash Bar in Williamsburg, New York.

● Fort Worth’s “Kyrie,” which advertises itself as “Church in a Pub” and meets at Zio Carlo bar on Sunday nights.

Other churches are starting beer-friendly Bible studies or ministries, such as:

● “Beer and Bonhoeffer,” at Southlands Church in Brea, California, which meets to discuss German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s “The Cost of Discipleship,” while parishioners share their favorite craft brews. “I feel that real and honest discussions between men happen when we have a nice IPA or stout in our hands,” said group founder Pastor Kevin Meisch.

● “Beer & Hymns,” a gathering at First Christian Church in Portland, Oregon, where 100 or so mostly young people sing hymns like “Be Thou My Vision” while guzzling home-brewed beer from plastic cups. Similar “beer and hymns” events have occurred at churches in St. Paul, Minnesota, and Cincinnati.

● “Beer, Bible and Brotherhood,” an Oxford, Connecticut, group launched by the Rev. John Donnelly of Christ Church Quaker Farms, which studies Rick Warren’s "40 Days in the Word," while quaffing Sam Adams brews.

● “What Would Jesus Brew?” Valley Church in Allendale, Michigan, sponsors gatherings for craft beer enthusiasts, designed to “reach out to people in a loving, grace-filled way that meets people where they are and as they are.”

And all this is on top of the dozens of Catholic “theology on tap” events taking place at taverns across the country.

In the Protestant world, the trend toward tolerance of alcohol reaches beyond churches into conservative college campuses as well.

Last August, Chicago’s Moody Bible Institute — which just last year lifted a ban on long hair for men and nose stud earrings for women — dropped its ban on alcohol and tobacco consumption for its faculty and staff.

In September, Southern California’s Biola University — founded as the Bible Institute of Los Angeles in 1908 — lifted its ban on alcohol and tobacco for of-age graduate students, noting that the changes “shift the responsibility of conduct from the institution to the individual.”

Even though they are still banned from consuming beer while students, many recent graduates of evangelical colleges are starting to make an impact in the craft beer industry.

Several recent graduates of Indiana’s Taylor University launched the website ThePerfectlyHappyMan.com, which offers craft beer reviews and tips for beer tasting and making.

Tom Smillie, Christian beer maker and writer for The Perfectly Happy Man, says his love of good beer has allowed him to build relationships with nonbelievers.

“Sometimes I’ll go alone to a bar and have a great conversation with a person about sports, politics and most often religion,” said Smillie. “Beer is communal and appeals to the common man. Interestingly the gospel message is, too.”

The communal value of beer also appeals to Scott Sullivan, an alumnus of evangelical Calvin College who owns the Greenbush Brewing Company in Sawyer, Michigan.

“We are the community gathering place,” notes Sullivan, whose pastors are regulars in his taproom.

“Conversations and debates go on all day and people trade ideas. … I’ll often have a pastor sitting next to an atheist talking about all sorts of things, which isn’t something that can happen in a conventional church setting. How can you beat that?”

Christian craft beer aficionados like Smillie and Sullivan are also quick to point out that beer history is closely tied to Christian history.

St. Patrick reportedly used beer as a way to lure in Irish heathens before he converted them to Christianity. In the Holy Roman Empire, beer lover Charlemagne promoted improvements in brewing at monasteries throughout the empire, gradually making the church the primary wholesaler of beer in society.

Some brews today — such as Weihenstephan (founded 1040 AD) and Leffe (1240 AD) — originated in medieval monasteries. Famous nun Hildegard von Bingen was a brewer and is sometimes credited with the discovery that hops add preservative qualities to ale.

Despite their sometimes dour reputation, America’s Puritan founders were also big beer fans.

The Mayflower and other ships to the Massachusetts Bay Colony were stocked with ample wine and beer. In 1620, the ship carrying John Winthrop to the Massachusetts Bay Colony contained three times as much beer as water. In 1630, the Arabella brought Puritans to New England with at least 10,000 gallons of beer in tow.

Beer — then safer to drink than water — was such a necessary staple for the Pilgrims that a brewery was the first permanent building constructed in Plymouth.

Among colonial Christians, “no one felt any tension between Christianity and the moderate use of alcohol,” notes historian Mark Noll. Rather, most believers in America before 1800 “regarded the moderate use of alcoholic beverages, particularly beer and wine, as a privileged blessing from a gracious God.”

Perhaps today’s “beer Christianity” is not so much a new trend as it is a return to the posture toward alcohol that characterized much of Christian history?

Certainly vestiges of the temperance and Prohibition movements of 19th and 20th century American Christianity remain.

Many conservative denominations — Southern Baptists, for example — still discourage members, and particularly leaders, from consuming any alcohol.

In 2011, well-known pastor John MacArthur minced no words in chastising the “Young, Restless, Reformed” movement of young Calvinists for their fondness of beer.

“Cultivating an appetite for beer,” wrote MacArthur, “is not merely bad missional strategy and a bad testimony; it is fraught with deadly spiritual dangers.”

The dangers are real, to be sure. No one disputes the fact that drinking has its fair share of downsides, spiritually, physically, emotionally or otherwise. But so do a lot of things.

As I argue in my new book “Gray Matters: Navigating the Space Between Legalism & Liberty,” there are many perfectly good things in the world that can go wrong when we consume them recklessly.

The answer for Christians is not to demonize the good gifts of culture and wholly avoid them; nor is it to consume indiscriminately or immoderately.

As Martin Luther once said, “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?”

Luther viewed beer as a gift from God — something with the potential to be misused, but also something that could be used to honor the creator.

That’s how I hope Christians today see it as well — not as a lightning rod of the culture wars, to be avoided or embraced as some sort of statement, but as a pleasurable gift of a good God, who made water, yeast, barley and hops, and human beings with the creative capacity to brew up something wonderful.

Brett McCracken is the author of "Gray Matters: Navigating the Space Between Legalism & Liberty" and "Hipster Christianity: When Church and Cool Collide."

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Church • evangelicals • Protestant • Sacred Spaces • Spirituality

soundoff (970 Responses)
  1. sirhuxley

    Bravo! I seriously applaud this watering down of xtianism, or jeebusism, as it were...

    You know what the best part of this Evolution of Christianity is?

    Children are not allowed in Bars, and Religion isn't for Children, so perhaps this will prevent the systematic indoctrination of Children by the #1 sheep herder religion in the world.

    Also, we Freethinkers, or Freedrinkers if you will, well we are all too happy to educate Jeebians as to our own views, and I think this will be a meaningful experience for xtians.

    Little by little, it will Christians themselves who will dismantle this malevolent meme...

    March 5, 2014 at 5:18 pm |
  2. sirhuxley

    Hahaha! Dawkins was correct, memes are real.

    So, as a meme Christianity is EVOLVING...

    See? Everything must EVOLVE to survive.

    Now, some "pastor" may have sought this mode of "interaction" as a way to get his paws on some of the female attendees, but what is happening is that Christianity is just copying the Freethinkers.

    We Freethinkers OWN the bar, we won't go to your church to discuss your idiotic beliefs but we sure as hell will do so at a bar.

    Now, make no mistake, this is a step in the right direction for Christians, because it is the return of the "Agora" the "Forum" or the "Town Square" if you like, where you are free to talk your talk and you will have to hear the Free Speech of others too.

    Christianity can go to the Bar and get "Watered Down", because that is just what it needs in this stupid country....


    March 5, 2014 at 4:49 pm |
  3. mengfeit25

    Reblogged this on .

    February 25, 2014 at 7:15 pm |
  4. Salero21

    Ok drunkards from the drunken church in the drunken nation, or as they say in the fatherland the "church of the drunkards in the nation of the drunkards". How many more times do I have to tell you that such religion is 999.99% stupidity. However that's still better than the Total stupidity of atheism/evolutionism/idolatry. I mean is some progress but not enough. 😉

    February 16, 2014 at 3:23 pm |
    • stymie1

      999.99% is almost 1000% or 10 times as stupid as 100%, or am I wrong?

      February 22, 2014 at 1:18 pm |
  5. thesamyaza

    ... do you people even read your bible,.. dude your all going to hell,. all of you that follow Jesus,..

    February 14, 2014 at 9:08 pm |
  6. albertleslie973

    "Happy Velentine Day With Red Flowers"

    my best friend's mother makes $86 hourly on the internet . She has been without a job for 10 months but last month her pay check was $20416 just working on the internet for a few hours. browse around this website
    >>>>>> Sign up here> BAY91.­­ℭ­­Oℳ

    February 14, 2014 at 1:51 pm |
  7. Salero21

    Ok people; What is so difficult to understand about this? The drunkard church in the drunkard nation or the church of the drunkards in the nation of the drunkards is 999.99% stupidity. That's better than the 100% stupidity of atheism/evolutionism/idolatry.

    February 13, 2014 at 4:50 pm |
    • albertleslie973

      "Happy Velentine Day With Red Flowers"

      before I looked at the draft four $8224 , I didn't believe that my mom in-law was like realie taking home money in their spare time on-line. . there neighbor has been doing this 4 only eighteen months and by now took care of the loans on their condo and bought a top of the range Toyota . find out this here
      >>>>>> Sign up here> BAY91.­­ℭ­­Oℳ

      February 14, 2014 at 1:42 pm |
    • tshorey2013

      What is difficult to understand is your nonsense. What are you even talking about? By the way, atheists are not idolitors because that would involve supernatural belief in an idol. Also it would help your message if you wrote complete and coherent sentences, and used things like capital letters, and punctuation. It actually looks like you were drunk when you wrote your postings which kind of confuses your confusing message even more.

      February 18, 2014 at 1:29 am |
  8. realityyyyyyy

    Only for the new members:

    And now the nitty-gritty of it all:

    "John Hick, a noted British philosopher of religion, estimates that 95 percent of the people of the world owe their religious affiliation to their god to an accident of birth. The faith of the vast majority of believers depends upon where they were born and when. Those born in Saudi Arabia will almost certainly be Moslems, and those born and raised in India will for the most part be Hindus. Nevertheless, the religion of millions of people can sometimes change abruptly in the face of major political and social upheavals. In the middle of the sixth century ce, virtually all the people of the Near East and Northern Africa, including Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Egypt were Christian. By the end of the following century, the people in these lands were largely Moslem, as a result of the militant spread of Islam.

    The Situation Today

    Barring military conquest, conversion to a faith other than that of one’s birth is rare. Some Jews, Moslems, and Hindus do convert to Christianity, but not often. Similarly, it is not common for Christians to become Moslems or Jews. Most people are satisfied that their own faith is the true one or at least good enough to satisfy their religious and emotional needs. Had St. Augustine or St. Thomas Aquinas been born in Mecca at the start of the present century, the chances are that they would not have been Christians but loyal followers of the prophet Mohammed." J. Somerville

    It is very disturbing that religious supersti-tions, violence and hatred continues unabated due to radomness of birth. Maybe just maybe if this fact would be published on the first page of every newspaper every day, that we would finally realize the significant stupidity of all religions

    February 12, 2014 at 8:15 am |
  9. thunderlung

    Proestant universities realize they're missing out on young drinkers money.

    February 12, 2014 at 7:35 am |
  10. Salero21

    Regardless of all the changes that CNN may have made. Some thing have not change at all. The choice of wordpress to manage the Logins have prevented that dishonest, perverted extremely hypocritical compulsive and pathological liars atheists borrow (steal) monikers. Are they children of the devil or the devil's children?

    Anyways the point is that atheism is Total stupidity forevermore. The drunkard church or the church of the drunkards is 999.99% stupidity. That's some progress/difference.

    February 12, 2014 at 1:59 am |
    • Salero21

      Should read instead have NOT prevented from borrowing (stealing) monikers by perverse atheists for their perverse purposes. Atheists being the dishonest crooks they are will do it regardless. That's why I must remind them that atheism is indeed without a doubt Total stupidity. 😀 😀 😀 😛

      February 12, 2014 at 2:02 am |
    • realityyyyyyy

      Obviously, you still have not read the ex-pastor's path to atheism. Many of us have taken an analogous path.

      February 12, 2014 at 8:14 am |
      • jesussavior44

        Fallen angels showed humans how to fight make alcohol beautify the eyebrows and much much more, this society is a lie, and the atheists are living the biggest lie the devil told....that there is no god, how dare anyone say there is no god, sadly you will burn in the lake of fire if you do not find Jesus, we are living in the end times wake up!

        February 13, 2014 at 11:45 am |
        • sam stone

          your proxy threats are empty, gash

          if you are so certain of your eternity with jesus, what are you doing here?

          do you have tall buildings where you live?

          February 14, 2014 at 8:59 am |
        • sam stone

          while we are at it, jesusslavior, i am not saying there is no god.

          i am saying i have no reason to believe there is

          now, get back on your knees and beg

          February 14, 2014 at 9:01 am |
        • sirhuxley

          "We are living in the end times"

          Hahaha! We sure are!!!!

          We are living in the end times of all these sheep herder religions, now, go back to church and wave your hands like a zombie worshipper...

          March 5, 2014 at 5:01 pm |
    • sirhuxley

      "Anyways the point is that atheism is Total stupidity forevermore"

      Ok, well, check this out Mr. Prophet, those are your words to express YOUR OPINION, nothing more.

      Since there will be no Armageddon, Rapture, or 2nd Coming (There wasn't even a 1st Coming), in 20 years lets see who is winning?

      Fact is that you are free to believe whatever you want, it doesn't really help for you to even try to understand the simple elegant FACT of evolution, besides you lack the skills, knowledge, education, and understanding to contribute to fixing the problems that humankind will have to fix in order to survive.

      Only folks who "put themselves out there" will be a part of the team that makes a difference in our future, it is a shame that folks like you are so selfish that you can't put the needs of future generations first.

      But then, it is no surprise, because you think that Jeebus is going to come back and fix everyone else, everyone but YOU.

      March 5, 2014 at 5:10 pm |
  11. johnn23


    February 11, 2014 at 10:35 pm |
    • Doris

      Congrats on getting the new Casio keyboard. Now work on your song writing and arranging skills. I would recommend starting from scratch.

      February 21, 2014 at 10:56 pm |
  12. Tim R

    To the belief blog editors:

    You deserve a round of applause for fixing the problem!


    February 11, 2014 at 8:54 am |
  13. Woody

    Nice change CNN. Many of my posts disappeared after being reported "abuse" by the loonies. Hopefully, everyone can now convey their thoughts freely. Thanks.

    February 11, 2014 at 6:25 am |
  14. bootyfunk

    jesus made wine out of water
    wine is a form of alcohol
    alcohol is a drug
    jesus made drugs and gave it out to his followers

    jesus was a drug dealer.

    February 11, 2014 at 5:22 am |
    • realityyyyyyy

      The water to wine story is simply another myth concocted by John. See added details at http://www.faithfutures.org/JDB/jdb349.html .

      February 11, 2014 at 7:21 am |
      • realityyyyyyy

        In the reference, note the kibosh that Professor Meier of Notre Dame puts on said miracle.

        February 11, 2014 at 7:23 am |
  15. Vic

    1 Corinthians 6:12
    "12 All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything."

    1 Corinthians 10:23
    "23 All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify"


    February 10, 2014 at 7:13 pm |
    • Vic

      I take heed and drink in moderation.

      February 10, 2014 at 7:17 pm |
    • bootyfunk

      "but I will not be mastered by anything."
      +++ except a god that doesn't exist.

      February 11, 2014 at 5:23 am |
  16. Vic

    For Windows XP users:

    Support for Microsoft Windows XP will end by tax return deadline (April 15) this year. There will be no longer any service pack or security updates. You can still use it but as time progresses, your system becomes more vulnerable without security updates.

    February 10, 2014 at 7:07 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.