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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

(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. Angry Inch

    Beer good.
    Church bad.

    Beer + church = 1/2 bad

    February 10, 2014 at 12:00 pm |
    • The Running Twit

      beer is good in church, because you can sleep during sermons!

      February 10, 2014 at 12:02 pm |
      • Angry Inch

        I would rather get high and be amused at the sermon.

        February 10, 2014 at 12:20 pm |
        • The Running Twit

          be careful, they might confuse you with jesus!

          February 10, 2014 at 12:25 pm |
  2. Happy Atheist

    This again highlights the wide range of beliefs even among those that consider themselves Christian. For some drinking alcohol is a sin and they believe drinkers shall not inherit Gods kingdom (like Mormons), and others believe you should worship Jesus in a bar while having a pint. So even within the Christian faith there can be some Pascals wager demonstrated. Do you drink and risk eternity in heII or not drink just in case it might end you up in heII? Do you meet at a bar for worship if that might mean torment forever or do you not meet in a bar just in case?

    February 10, 2014 at 11:57 am |
  3. Dyslexic doG

    Ahhh religion. You can make it anything you want it to be. It's a license to imagine up your magical happy world and then tell others that it's what god wants.

    what a giggle!

    February 10, 2014 at 11:48 am |
    • The Running Twit

      Crom!

      February 10, 2014 at 11:49 am |
      • Dyslexic doG

        Arnold?

        February 10, 2014 at 11:50 am |
        • The Running Twit

          bring me victory Crom, or the hell with you.

          That's my king of god, afraid of a barbarian!

          February 10, 2014 at 11:57 am |
    • Happy Atheist

      It is pretty funny how almost every religions God seems to always want special status for it's followers...

      February 10, 2014 at 11:50 am |
  4. Robert Raulerson

    I don't think it's a good idea for Xtians to drink. They're violent enuff when sober.

    February 10, 2014 at 11:43 am |
  5. Dyslexic doG

    A priest, a rabbi and an imam walked into a bar.

    the barman said "What is this?! Some kind of joke?!?!"

    February 10, 2014 at 11:34 am |
    • The Running Twit

      Aren't they the orchestra for tonight?

      February 10, 2014 at 11:35 am |
  6. rockscryout

    I hope a designated driver is a requirement at the "hymn sings" and the "men's gatherings." Ought to make for quite an eye-opener when the first "bar church" attender gets pulled over for a D.U.I. on the way home from church, or worse yet kills someone in a drunk driving accident. Is that really the public witness Christians need to be projecting?

    Ever consider how many of your members are latent alcoholics who get their start at your church?

    February 10, 2014 at 11:03 am |
    • The Running Twit

      that will empty all bars in a 5-mile radius.

      Cops will wait outside churches then?

      February 10, 2014 at 11:39 am |
  7. Rainer Braendlein

    Jesus did not prohibit the drinking of alcohol. It is only that he gave some tips how to use alcohol in a reasonable way.

    Certainly, complete prohibiton would be a nonsense even from the Christian stance. Once, Jesus made wine out of water (Jesus wanted to support the joy of the guests of a wedding), that was the first miracle he worked. Jesus certainly did not prohibit the consumption of alcohol.

    Once St. Paul told Timothy he should use some wine as a drug, and wine was ever used at the Lord's Supper which is one of the most holy actions of the Church.

    On the other hand St. Paul writes that a persistent drunkard can not inherit the Kingdom of God. Alcoholism is a severe sin.

    There is a story in the Old Testemant: A certain Nabal refused to pay David his wage (David and his soldiers had protected the herds of Nabal). David was about to kill Nabal as an act of revenge but in the last moment he was prevented from that by the faithful Abigail, and Abigail told him that he should commend his case to the LORD, and he did it. Then Nabal, the godless sinner, made a party, drank too much, and died.

    It is not sure that Nabal died because he had drunk too much but boozing belonged to his goodless life.

    In a word: Only Jesus can make us happy, can give us a happy heart. When we refuse Jesus, we get an unhappy heart. And when we try to cover up this by alcohol, alcohol becomes poison for us. It will not only cause our physical destruction but also the destruction of our soul.

    One who doesn't accept Jesus, and keeps on sinning, faces the consequences of the sin: desperation, depression, misfortune, etc. Consumption of alcohol worsens it all. Better one would stop sinning through the releasing power of Jesus, and get happy through Jesus himself.

    One who believes in Jesus can surely consume some wine, maybe in order to increase the joy which he yet has in Jesus.

    We should not consume alcohol when we are in a state of depression caused by any stumbles of us. But if we are in a happy state we can drink some alcohol in order to increase the joy (see the wedding where Jesus made wine out of water).

    First straighten things out through Jesus' power, and after that you can make a party together with your friends, and drink some alcohol. Don't drink alcohol before you have straightened things.

    Better Nabal had converted to the God of Israel, had payed David's wage, and had made a party together with David and his soldiers. In that manner Nabal had used alcohol correctly, and it had not become poison for him but increased his joy in God,

    February 10, 2014 at 10:42 am |
    • Madtown

      What's your favorite German brewery? I really like Paulaner.

      February 10, 2014 at 10:46 am |
      • Rainer Braendlein

        I like "Erdinger alkoholfrei".

        It is without alcohol. I find that the "Erdinger alkoholfrei" tasts better than the one with alcohol.

        February 10, 2014 at 10:50 am |
        • Doris

          I wonder if that's available in the states. I like non-alcoholic beers occasionally. It's nice to have something bubbly that's not so sweet.

          February 10, 2014 at 11:23 am |
      • Rainer Braendlein

        "Warsteiner alkoholfrei" is also very good (really the queen amongst the beers).

        February 10, 2014 at 10:54 am |
      • Doc Vestibule

        The first beer I ever had was Dinkelacker when I was a teenager living in Vahingen.
        Straight out of a vending machine for 2 marks, 20 pfenning

        February 10, 2014 at 10:55 am |
        • Rainer Braendlein

          I have never heard of that beer. I guess Vahingen is in Baden-Wuerttemberg, or? There is a company making juices, right?

          I live in Bavaria. In Munich many people drink "Augustiner" but I don't like it.

          February 10, 2014 at 11:03 am |
        • Doc Vestibule

          Vahingen is just on the outskirts of Stuttgart.
          The Dinkelacker brewery is in the neighbourhood and the stuff seemed to be everywhere!
          I used to visit a Gasthaus out there where the hostess insisted on feeding everyone their "medicine" after dinner – lemme tell you, a restaurant in North America that gave 14 year old Schnapps would be shut down sofort!

          February 10, 2014 at 11:12 am |
      • Madtown

        Paulaner Hefeweizen!!!

        February 10, 2014 at 11:13 am |
      • Doris

        I'm not familiar with some of these mentioned. I'm gonna screen-shot this before the deleter troll comes by. I'd like to try these if I can find them somewhere.

        February 10, 2014 at 11:18 am |
  8. Women control alcohol use Mob Power!!

    ##$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ 🙂 🙂 $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$##

    February 10, 2014 at 10:32 am |
  9. Madtown

    ...but as a pleasurable gift of a good God, who made water, yeast, barley and hops
    --–
    It's a reach to say it's a "gift from God", as human beings have created it. Much more accurate to say that the Cannabis plant is a gift from God, it's natural.

    February 10, 2014 at 10:06 am |
  10. The Running Twit

    The langoliers are back!

    February 10, 2014 at 9:51 am |
  11. The Running Twit

    I love the smell of beer in the morning! Or was it napalm?

    February 10, 2014 at 9:37 am |
  12. Dyslexic doG

    the more you drink the better chance you will have aural or visual hallucinations. Then you can come on this blog and talk about knowing jesus or meeting jesus or having a relationship with jesus.

    what a bunch of knuckleheads ...

    February 10, 2014 at 9:19 am |
    • The Running Twit

      Imagine the oracle at Delphi. It ihas been discovered she was standing over a fault in the ground with emanations coming from underground.
      First use of lsd in history!

      February 10, 2014 at 9:28 am |
  13. HZ

    I have nothing against people drinking beer but I believe the reason why people took thousands of gallons of beer to the new world was that it was easier to keep the beer preserved than fresh water. People didn't drink bottled water back then. You can find lots of accounts of people drinking beer/wine instead of say soda (!)

    February 10, 2014 at 2:41 am |
    • doobzz

      " People didn't drink bottled water back then."

      Whaaat? You mean there wasn't any Dasani water? Gag me.

      February 10, 2014 at 12:14 pm |
      • The Running Twit

        they found a McDonald's below the KT boundary. It was run by raptors!

        February 10, 2014 at 12:23 pm |
        • doobzz

          LOL!

          February 10, 2014 at 12:26 pm |
  14. Disciple

    ABOMINATION

    February 10, 2014 at 12:01 am |
    • Maggie

      Do you realize how much wine Jesus and his disciples drank? It was not just at the last supper, my friend. So before you judge people who partake in wine and spirits, you should ask yourself whether or not your savior is one of the people whom you judge.

      February 10, 2014 at 12:26 am |
    • sam stone

      POMPOUSNESS

      February 10, 2014 at 1:36 am |
    • doobzz

      HYPOCRITE

      February 10, 2014 at 3:19 am |
    • Doris

      But you get saved for taking the Hypocritic Oath, don't you?

      February 10, 2014 at 10:00 am |
      • doobzz

        Of course. You take the oath in public, but you drink in private, like a good Christian.

        February 10, 2014 at 12:15 pm |
  15. hellsyeahs

    You have to be drunk to interpret the bible.

    February 9, 2014 at 9:11 pm |
  16. Robert Raulerson

    Water was deadly stuff in the days of the BuyBull. Typhoid, dysentery, cholera. The people who wrote the BuyBull were utterly ignorant so they didn't know what was killing them like flies. Beer or wine was safer to drink. Still true in Mexico today.

    February 9, 2014 at 9:05 pm |
    • The Running Twit

      Back when they were in Egypt, they drank so much beer, they decide to have a little stroll in the desert. They got lost for 40 years.
      That must have been a great party or what!

      February 10, 2014 at 9:21 am |
  17. Robert Raulerson

    I've taken to Apple Cider lately, instead of beer. If the Gawdders are getting into beer, that's another reason for me to get out.

    February 9, 2014 at 8:48 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      Ice cider is great stuff. There are a lot of good ones in Canada, particularly Quebec.

      February 9, 2014 at 10:18 pm |
  18. Byron McMillan

    Have you read "The Search for God and Guinness"? Amazing book of the history of beer and the good Christian business can bring to the world.

    February 9, 2014 at 8:44 pm |
  19. Brian Calix

    I just want Justin Bieber out of America...

    February 9, 2014 at 8:34 pm |
    • truthprevails1

      Sorry, you broke him you keep him...we have a no return policy on broken items in Canada.

      February 9, 2014 at 8:37 pm |
  20. children of Israel

    The truth shall make you free. Did you know the Roman Catholic church aka vatican are the inventors of Christianity and Islam to make you go whoring after other gods. People are bowing down to a cross by worshipping graven images. If color does not matter, why would caucasians paint a Jesus Christ in their image but deny his flesh and blood? (1st John 4:3) – John 1:18 (Numbers 23:19)

    February 9, 2014 at 8:05 pm |
    • truthprevails1

      "The truth shall make you free."

      That is about the only sensible thing you have ever posted. As a recovering christian, 5 years clean and open minded, the truth definitely did set me free-it set me free of the horrors and fear that come with christianity; it allowed me to look at things from all sides (putting the shoe on the other foot so to speak); it allowed me to love more freely and be a better person.

      February 9, 2014 at 8:12 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.