The Case for an Alcohol-Free Life

One of the loudest arguments in some circles of evangelical Christianity is over the use of or abstinence from alcohol — from wine to beer to harder stuff.  I am a lifelong teetotaler by conviction.  I do not make a huge deal of it with people outside of my family unless I’m operating in my role as a spiritual leader (father, pastor, seminary professor, etc….).  My sweet wife can tell you horror stories of what it was like to grow up in the home of an alcoholic.  I can tell you of stories too countless to number where people had their lives DESTROYED by alcohol — from losing children to a drunk driver, being made orphans by drunk drivers, to having their health destroyed, to committing unspeakable acts of mayhem, immorality or careless while under the influence of alcohol.

Everyday, my family personally has to deal with the horrific consequences that alcohol can have on someone totally innocent and without choice in the matter in a situation that is too personal for the internet.

Simply put — while I can’t make an air-tight theological case against ever taking a drink, I say it is unnecessary and dangerous to do so — for Christians and non-Christians alike.  If that makes me a narrow-minded, legalistic, fundamentalist — then I can live with that and you won’t be the first person to have called me that anyway.   (A liberal is often someone who has lower standards of behavior than you and a legalist/fundamentalist is often someone who has higher standards of behavior/conduct than you in today’s twisted label-slinging theological world.)

Southern Baptist Convention President, Danny Akin has a strong essay on the topic on his blog right now.  He makes a strong and personal case for the “alcohol abstinence” position.  I’d urge you to read it HERE.

I’m not going to get all embroiled in huge debates about the topic.  It’s not a test of “fellowship” with me.  I just find it foolish (even childish) for mature believers to be crossing this line as if it is some sort of exercise in “Christian Liberty” without assuming the responsibility for the consequences that come with this decision has on one’s self and others.

13 thoughts on “The Case for an Alcohol-Free Life

  1. Cameron

    ” I just find it foolish (even childish) for mature believers to be crossing this line as if it is some sort of exercise in “Christian Liberty” without assuming the responsibility for the consequences that come with this decision has on one’s self and others.”

    Good thoughts – thanks for linking this post.

    In my view it’s just as foolish for the free-birds to live without well-thought-out boundaries as it is for those the legalists they eschew to live with rules that reflect a similar lack of thoughtfulness.

    What is it with Christians and thinking anyway? ;)

  2. Jason

    So how do you feel about people who take mind-altering drugs that are prescribed to them by a doctor? (Drugs for depression, ADD, bi-polar disorder, etc.)

  3. Dan Burrell Post author

    Big difference, Jason, in my opinion. Chemical disorders in the brain can cause a lot of “misfiring” that shows itself in physical ways just like chemical disorders in the pancreas cause misfirings in physical ways like diabetes and hypoglycemia. Science is still learning and exploring these areas and a lot has changed in my lifetime on how they approach these issues.

    Drinking alcohol for medicinal purposes (as some like to rationalize it) is not necessary as there are alternatives that are just as effective without the side effects. Again, it may not be a sin — but it can definitely be a stumbling stone in our culture, is simply not necessary and is a gateway to abuse.

  4. Julie Wallace

    Thank you for your always-thoughful views. I have read your viewpoints many times and they always make me analyze my interpretation of God’s word.

    Thank you for taking the conservative view here as well. I can attest to the horrors of broken relationships due to alcoholism in families. I myself found that the propensity to enbibe was just as strong in me as my alcoholic family members.

    God woke me up one day and gave me strength to overcome any dependence on “substances”, and now I am head-long into dependence on Him alone. He is my only drug of choice these days. I pray this is for always and no looking back.

    We as Christians have many vices that we call acceptable and its time to look at why and how to become “God-only” addicts. We must choose holiness to effect the lives of unbelievers.

    Thank you and may God bless you and yours!

  5. ben

    I generally assume your articles are meant to create discussion so I wrote some questions down. I don’t know if the Devil needs an advocate but he has one here. lol Seriously though, I personally have these questions and have not made a decision either way. Right now I lean towards abstinence but I do have these questions:

    1. If God intended people to take an abstinence position on alcohol why doesn’t he come right out and say, “Thou shalt not”? Why not make it a commandment. Make the requirement for Pastor’s and Deacons to “refrain” from wine not be given over to it. (By the way with the deacon it is allowed a little.)

    2. If you make overstated rules for your children will they ever develop the charachter to say “no” on their own?

    3. By prohibiting something that God does not, do we take away the opportunity for others to have any moderation? I guess what I mean is if a person, especially young, feels that they are wrong for having one drink than why not have six what’s the difference?

    4. Alcohol is a fact of life. It does not have to be a fact of your personal life but, You can go to very few chain restaurants and not be offered a variety of brightly colored drinks. There is beer in almost every gas station. It’s all around us. Perhaps moderation is a better way to approach the world. Saying absolutely no creates a mysticsim about alcohol that isn’t real. Is alcohol a sinful brew that if touched by the lips of a Christian offends God in every instance?

    Perhaps I am being niave in thinking that people will drink in moderation. What are your thoughts, Dan?

  6. Dan Burrell Post author


    I’ll take you up on your questions. :-D

    1. God didn’t give us the law to give us a “rulebook” (as you well know), but to show us our need for forgiveness. Where would He had stopped had He decided to list every prohibition? The Pharisees tried that and it never ended. The fact that God does not make a clear prohibition against it does not make it “permissible” or even “expedient”. There are many areas which we would agree are not right or Biblical that have no direct scriptural prohibition from Slavery to pornography.

    2. There is a difference in saying “no” to children and “you probably shouldn’t” to adults. Even the law recognizes that. (alcohol, cigarettes, driving, etc…). Saying no to your children can be about maturity, training, ensuring safe environments, etc… We have no guarantees that they’ll say “no” as adults, but then as a parent, I’m not accountable for their choices….they are. As children, I am accountable to what I permit or allow in my home. If I want to take your suggestion about rules prevent character development, then I should not require my children to turn off the TV, eat their vegetables or bathe either.

    3. I never suggested “prohibiting.” I simply said alcohol consumption is not wise, nor expedient. Alcohol uniquely has the opportunity to impact others who do not imbibe in myriad ways ranging from fetal alcohol syndrome to drunk driving to spending money unnecessarily causing hardship on a family to behaving inappropriately and dishonoring Christ or others.

    4. So is immorality, adultery, pornography, prostitution, child abuse, cursing, smoking, drugs, (shall I go on)? You seriously aren’t going to use the “mystique” argument are you. Sin always has a mystique (beginning with the forbidden fruit) — how can that be justification for anything ranging from doing something clearly sinful or simply unwise.

    Your turn! :-D


  7. ben

    Don’t worry I will take you up on that one. I think I will wait for the next article in which you bash us third party people. With elections this week no time like the present. :)

  8. JT

    Just stumbled on this blog, and the responses. Who knows if my comment/questions will be like a tree falling in a forest that no one hears…

    As a tea-totaler (or however the term is spelled) myself, I’m trying to critically evaluate my personal preferences and biases, and keep on asking myself the same question: Do I have the same standards, and ask the same questions, and draw similar conclusions with other matters that have similar dangers that alcohol consumption has? A few areas come to mind:

    (1) Scriptures talk about how very dangers and destructive debt is, but doesn’t forbid it. But I find myself perhaps too comfortable with myself, others, and even my church, taking on debt. Debt is often an indication of immediate gratification, taking matters out of God’s hands and into my own hands, etc.
    (2) Similarly, scriptures warn about the dangers of wealth and money (while clearly identifying the “love of money” as evil), but I, other believers, and church leadership tend to be enamored with money, and the things that can be purchased with money…including the security that money can provide. The onlooking world gets rightfully confused by our affection for money.
    (3) What about “PG-13″ and “R” rated movies. We’ll put up with a great deal of crude jesting, or immorality, if the entertainment factor justifies it…don’t we deserve a few laughs? But what about the weaker brother that can’t handle the violence, can’t handle the nudity and innuendo? Should we be an example to them by forgoing our liberty to partake in them ourselves (while also redirecting our monies to more God-honoring endeavors)?
    (4) Spectator sports: our favorite college and sports teams compete for the affections of Americans like few other things. There have been seasons in my life in which I’ve received more contentment, joy, satisfaction, from my favorite team, than from my relationship with my savior! They are so luring, especially to males, should we consider abstinence from them for the sake of “the weaker brother”?

  9. EnnisP

    Hey Dan,

    I’m a little late to this party but thought I would say hi anyway. I came to your post searching for a title I saw in a CT ad. The book had to do with a case for an alcohol free life. Never found the title but I did find your post.

    By the way, your link to that topic delivers a 404 error page.

    My story is a bit long to share here but I grew up thinking like you, but not for religious reasons. My mother literally died from alcoholism and it was a painfully slow thing to watch. And worse, my dad became quite mean when he drank martinis. Yelling and fighting weren’t uncommon in our house, so it was easy for my two sisters and I to naturally – defensively – abstain.

    In fact, at 16 I was the designated driver for my buddies and that was long before the phrase had been coined.

    Now, though, my viewpoint has moderated. I have lived in South Africa for almost 30 years and one of the first things I noticed when we settled in is they have a very different perspective on the issue of alcohol. Drinking in moderation is very common and rarely seen as a problem. They do have problems, yes, but you hear very little about it, and the problems aren’t near as severe as you might find in the States.

    One problem you rarely hear about, if ever, is adolescent drinking. Kids do see their parents drinking and even share a sip occasionally but it’s never a problem. The reason for that has nothing to do with drinking. Kids aren’t allowed to drive until 18. They don’t get cars at 16. Their freedoms are quite limited.

    Even later when they can drive, their tendency toward excessive behavior isn’t as pronounced. I’m sure maturity has something to do with that.

    I’ve actually tried researching the topic for South Africa and other countries and found very little about it. I wouldn’t say the problems don’t exist outside the US but they are different and, as far as I can tell, not as severe.

    I hate to admit it but the problems with alcohol in America may have little to do with alcohol. Abstaining would be a solution but I doubt it will ever become popular. It may be better to focus on something entirely different.


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