John Piper on Alcohol Consumption

John PiperJohn Piper’s view on alcohol consumption is encapsulated in these four sources:

  1. Total Abstinence and Church Membership,” a sermon preached on October 4, 1981
  2. Flesh Tank and Peashooter Regulations,” a sermon on Colossians 2:16–23 preached on January 17, 1982
  3. Is It Okay to Drink Alcohol?Ask Pastor John podcast, May 8, 2010
  4. Is Drinking Alcohol a Sin?” Ask Pastor John podcast, October 23, 2013

Total Abstinence and Church Membership

Total Abstinence and Church Membership,” though delivered nearly 32 years ago, is his most extensive treatment on the subject (that I’ve come across). In it he gives four main reasons that he personally abstains from alcohol consumption:

  1. “. . . because of my conscience.”
  2. “. . . alcohol is a mind-altering drug.”
  3. “. . . alcohol is addictive.”
  4. “. . . to make a social statement.”

While he argues that “Christians in America today [should] abstain from the use of alcoholic drink as a beverage,” he acknowledges that Scripture doesn’t explicitly forbid it. In fact, he also argues that “abstinence [should not] be a requirement for church membership” and even led the elders at his church to alter a line in their church covenant that required total abstinence for membership.

As a result, they replaced “We engage . . . to abstain from the sale and use of intoxicating liquors as a beverage.” with “We engage . . . to seek God’s help in abstaining from all drugs, food, drink, and practices which harm the body or jeopardize our own or another’s faith.”

Flesh Tank and Peashooter Regulations

Flesh Tank and Peashooter Regulations” was a follow-up message preached the Sunday before that change officially took place. In it he reiterates his objections to alcohol consumption, but primarily goes after legalism and why requiring abstinence for church membership is wrong.

. . . God hates legalism as much as he hates alcoholism. If any of you still wonders why I go on supporting this amendment after hearing all the tragic stories about lives ruined through alcohol, the reason is that when I go home at night and close my eyes and let eternity rise in my mind, I see ten million more people in hell because of legalism than because of alcoholism. And I think that is a literal understatement. . . .

. . . Legalism is a more dangerous disease than alcoholism because it doesn’t look like one. Alcoholism makes men fail; legalism helps them succeed in the world. Alcoholism makes men depend on the bottle; legalism makes them self-sufficient, depending on no one. Alcoholism destroys moral resolve; legalism gives it strength. Alcoholics don’t feel welcome in church; legalists love to hear their morality extolled in church. Therefore, what we need in this church is not front-end regulations to try to keep ourselves pure. . . .

Another source, “Brothers, Don’t Fight Flesh Tanks with Peashooter Regulations,” in Brothers, We Are Not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for Radical Ministry [Logos], 151–58 (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2002), simply reworks and condenses this sermon.

Is It Okay to Drink Alcohol?

A more recent treatment of the subject is found in this Ask Pastor John video.

Is Drinking Alcohol a Sin?

Most recently (October 23, 2013), John Piper addressed this in another Ask Pastor John podcast, “Is Drinking Alcohol a Sin?” He takes the same basic approach, but he seems to have softened in his desire to persuade others to abstain.

My Personal Stance

I don’t drink alcohol, for many of the same reasons that Piper doesn’t. I’d probably add at least two other far less important reasons:

  1. Cost: It’s more expensive than water, which is almost all I ever drink.
  2. Taste: Like coffee, alcohol tastes horrible. (I had a sip of wine for communion in a Russian Baptist Church in Riga, Latvia. And I also had a non-alcoholic beer with a missionary in Krakow, Poland.) Friends who drink alcohol tell me that you have to learn to like it. I think there are many other worthier things to learn to like.

I also think it is useful to acknowledge that the alcoholic beverages of today are generally more alcoholic than the beverages in New Testament times, so that it’s not an apples-to-apples (or grapes-to-grapes!) comparison.

I appreciate Piper’s desire to help others think through some of the wisdom issues of total abstinence. But I equally appreciate his balance in not going beyond Scripture and forbidding what Scripture does not.

For more from Piper on this subject, see these additional sources:

  1. “Don’t Turn to Alcohol, Turn to the Spirit,” in “Be Filled with the Spirit,” a sermon on Ephesians 5:18 preached on March 8, 1981
  2. The Issue Is Scripture!Taste and See article, October 20, 1981
  3. Is It a Sin to Smoke or Eat Junk Food?” Ask Pastor John podcast, February 1, 2008

See also my post “Thoughts on Proverbs 31:6–7.”

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7 Responses to John Piper on Alcohol Consumption

  1. Philip Larson March 11, 2013 at 1:08 pm #

    Thank you for your efforts (with others) to avoid amending God’s moral law. It’s such a temptation to think that we can “help” God’s kingdom by adding to his requirements.

    You also may wish to consider the naive in your midst. When I was younger and living in a different Christian society, I regret that I took what might have been institutional regulations, even internalizing them so that they became moral duties–elevating man’s law to God’s law, whether the institution meant to do so or not.

    May we know God’s law and follow it.

  2. Sarah Jones March 20, 2013 at 3:57 am #

    Respectfully, John says not to drink with someone who’s conscience has been wounded, drawing them in. Alcohol is killing marriages, jobs etc. He also says alcohol is a mind altering drug, it is addictive and another reason that he doesn’t drink is to make a social statement. John also says drunkeness was real in Jesus day. What I can’t quite work out is – if drunkeness was real in Jesus day wouldn’t all these reasons be the same for Jesus. If it is a mind altering drug would Jesus have partaken. Wouldn’t there have been people at the wedding in Cana who’s conscience had been wounded. Could the wine – if it was turned into alcoholic wine – have caused someone to be addicted, or maybe after so much wine, become drunk. What about the affect on some of the people there whose children or grandchildren were at the wedding – wouldn’t it be a bad example? Just asking!

  3. bob April 6, 2013 at 1:50 pm #

    Do you think that your extra two reasons may weaken your other points? If a person is cheap and doesn’t like the taste of wine in the first place, don’t you think that one could be suspicious of the fact that the weight of the other arguments seems more significant to him because he’s inclined already to dislike it?

    My problem with so many of the “balanced” arguments against alcohol is that they come from people who have grown up in anti-alcohol pasts and who do not like it at all anyway. Piper is no exception. I think that you gave some good arguments (not sufficient for me albeit), but that they are weakened by the fact that you freely admit that you don’t even like alcohol in the first place.

  4. Bob Gonzales April 6, 2013 at 1:59 pm #

    Bingo, Sarah!

    Jesus own example is precisely the reason why some of Dr Piper’s arguments are less than convincing. I respect his and other Christian’s right to abstain. But I don’t think total abstinence is always and in every situation the “higher ground.” In fact, there are times in 21st century America where a godly Christian may choose “to make a [biblically positive] social statement” by drinking in public settings as Jesus did.

    For example, I have found that far too many unbelievers in the southeast (Bible belt) tend to view total abstinence as a condition for salvation. Moreover, many professing Christians see it as a condition for sanctification. In order to disabuse these people from such unbiblical notions, it may be warranted for a Christian (with a strong conscience) to have a glass of wine or mug of beer to show the world and the church how to use without abusing as well as to make it clear that the Christian gospel is distinct from false religions (doctrines of demons) which tell us “don’t touch,” “don’t eat,” “don’t drink,” etc. If the Son of Man “came drinking” on his mission, it can’t be wrong or unwise for modern Christians to do the same. In some circumstances and for some believers, it may be wrong and unwise not to do so.

  5. Amber April 23, 2013 at 11:25 am #

    What about the absolute forbidding of certain foods in the Old Testament?? Regarding ‘clean’ eating Jesus did not come to bring any new laws or somehow change Torah law. He spoke it clearly and without doubt in Matthew 5:17-19 “(17) Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. (18) For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. (19) Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”

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