Friday, October 09, 2009

Emergent Inebriates

Some thoughts on "Pub Theology."



As he begins to rip into "a screaming guitar solo," a band member sarcastically yells out at the audience, "Let's go to church boys!"[1] Welcome to Pub Theology. As the reporter describes it, Pub Theology is "a Sunday night show that's one part church and one part party." Among other posters on the barroom walls, one alludes and adds to the final verse of the biblical chapter on love. It reads, "Faith, Hope, Love and Beer." WARNING: The biblical text reads, "But now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love" (1 Corinthians 13:13, NASB).[2]

Being "shaggy-haired, body-pierced and colored with assorted body art," members of the Sunday evening pub rock group double as members of a mega-church's "worship team" on Sunday mornings. Confessing to love both Jesus and rock 'n' roll, band members will burn through a pack of cigarettes and exhort the audience to visit the bar and buy beer during Sunday night "church." Initially skeptical about hosting Pub Theology on Sunday nights, the bar owner now admits the band has turned an otherwise dead night into a profitable evening.

Regarding this new outreach -- the mega-church's ministerial staff approve of doing Pub Theology -- one of the band's members says: "We want to be sincere and authentic and be who we really are, whether that is wearing jeans and a T-shirt or having a beer. I think that is real," he continues, "and I don't think it is wrong or that God is unhappy about that." Sure . . . in contrast to "drunkenness, carousing," one fruit of the Spirit is "self-control" (Galatians 5:21, 23).

Relates another band member: "I can drink a beer and smoke a cigarette and play some of my favorite songs and hang out with my friends and maybe meet someone and tell them about Jesus."

Interestingly, most of the band members were raised in religious homes. In fact, two of its members are former PKS (That's an acronym for "preacher's kids."). Having been a former pastor, their father has now become the band's "roadie" (That's a term which refers to the managers and technicians traveling with the band.). The members account for the band's existence and approach to ministry for reason of their holier-than-thou Wesleyan upbringing -- you know, "I don't drink, I don't smoke, I don't go to R-rated movies, I don't dance."

On this point, and as a rebellious child of the '60s who too was raised in the legalistic environment of Western Michigan, let me say that I understand and somewhat sympathize with the band members' rejection of legalism. But all rebels ought to be cautioned that "rebellion is as the sin of divination, and insubordination is as iniquity and idolatry" (1 Samuel 15:23). We ought to be reminded that God doesn't make Christians from the outside in, but rather from the inside out. Though one's Christianity is defined by inner faith not outer works, Paul did write that Christians are God's "workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:10).

Works are the issue of faith. Thus, we must not assume the opposite attitude from legalism, that of antinomianism (i.e., that God's grace cancels out any need to obey His moral and spiritual law). For as Paul asked: "What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?" (Romans 6:1-2). Contradicting antinomianism, the writer of Hebrews orders us to, "Pursue . . . holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled" (Hebrews 12:14-15, NKJV).

Nevertheless, the casual and alcoholically lubricated atmosphere of Pub Theology raises an important issue, for, as the reporter asks, "Does Pub Theology produce any lasting effects, or is it just a casual encounter with church in a bar -- a spiritual one-night stand?" All the band's claims of "doing ministry" notwithstanding -- they do field questions about Christianity from the audience and callers-in, give inebriated individuals rides home, and have even seen one rescued drunk baptized a few days later in their church -- Pub Theology shows every symptom of being a carnal "one-night-stand." (Note: I do not use the word spiritual.)

First, Pub Theology is not church. If it is, then where's the reading of Scripture, the apostles' teaching, prayer and observance of the Lord's Table? (Acts 2:42) But on this point, we can be certain that the band will avoid any impression of being too "churchly or preachy." But beer steins are no substitute for communion cups. In fact, to the true church the Apostle Peter announced that "the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousals, drinking parties and abominable idolatries" (1 Peter 4:3).

Second, Pub Theology is not theology. Reportedly, the band's opening song was Joan Osborne's one-hit wonder, "What if God was one of us?" The lyrics add, "Just a slob like one of us."[3] Imagine . . . God being a slob like the rest of the inebriated crowd at the bar. Given such a humanizing of God, what we're dealing with is not Pub Theology, but pub idolatry. "[T]he glory of the incorruptible God" is being exchanged "for an image in the form of corruptible man" (Romans 1:23, NASB). Do you think Joan Osborne's lyrical questions in any way resemble or affirm the great Christological passages of the New Testament? (John 1:1 ff.; Colossians 1:15-17; Philippians 2:5-11). By the way, these cited passages are comprised of theological statements extracted from early Christian hymns. Would the pub theology band sing them? I'd think they'd estimate that the lyrics of these biblical hymns are far too dogmatic, stodgy, and preachy for the "boys" at the bar! If the song "What if God was one of us?" gives any indication, probably none of the other music the band plays includes "psalms, hymns, or spiritual songs."

Third, Pub Theology is not Christian outreach. The Apostle Paul would not have employed carnal means to attain spiritual ends.[4] You can't fight fire with fire. He wrote: "For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God" (2 Corinthians 10:3-5, NIV; Compare Galatians 5:21 where Paul labels "drunkenness" a work of the flesh). The Apostle also ordered the Ephesians: "And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord" (Ephesians 5:18-19). To the Roman believers he added that, "It is good not . . . to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles" (Romans 14:21).[5]

So we conclude: Given the atmosphere surrounding Pub Theology, the description of love as it exists on a poster at "Sunday-night-church-in-a-bar" might be parodied to read: Now abide these four, "faith, hope, love, and beer," but the greatest of these is beer!


ENDNOTES
[1] Unless otherwise noted, all quotations are taken from Robert King, "Faith, Hope, Love, Beer," The Indianapolis Star, September 27, 2009, A1, A14. Article may be viewed online. See Faith & Values, Robert King, "Pub Theology conveys Christian message in Broad Ripple," Indy Star.com, September 27, 2009, http://www.indystar.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2009909270384.
[2] Wisdom testifies: "Every word of God is tested . . . Do not add to His words lest He reprove you, and you be proved a liar" (Proverbs 30:5-6, NASB). Compare Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32; and Revelation 22:18-19.
[3] Lyrics online at: http://www.lyricsondemand.com/onehitwonders/ifgodwasoneofuslyrics.html.
[4] Those interested in pursuing the matter of the Christian and alcohol consumption are invited to read, "The Wrath of Grapes: The Christian and Alcohol Consumption." Online the article is available at: http://www.frbaptist.org/bin/view/Ptp/PtpTopic20071105160759.
[5] On this point, readers are invited to check out website article, "Was Paul a Pragmatist?" Online the article may be viewed at: http://www.frbaptist.org/bin/view/Ptp/PtpTopic20080513102433 or at Herescope http://herescope.blogspot.com/2008/05/was-paul-pragmatist.html


Pastor DeBruyn is the author of the newly-released book UNSHACKLED: Breaking Away from Seductive Spirituality, available from Discernment Ministries 903-567-6423.