Thursday, December 10, 2009

Alcohol Today: Abstinence in an Age of Indulgence by Peter Lumpkins (sneak peek)

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Alcohol Today: Abstinence in an Age of Indulgence

Hannibal Books (July 6, 2009)

***Special thanks to Jennifer Nelson of Hannibal Books for sending me a review copy.***


Peter Lumpkins is a Southern Baptist minister living in West Georgia. For more than 20 years, Peter served as a pastor in Kentucky, Tennessee and Georgia. Presently he serves as editor of a developing small-group Bible study series. Peter has degrees in religion and philosophy (B.A.), theology (M.Div.) and expository preaching (D.Min.). He also completed graduate work in bioethics.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.95
Paperback: 176 pages
Publisher: Hannibal Books (July 6, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1934749524
ISBN-13: 978-1934749524


"Why This Book"

While sitting in the coffee shop finalizing my outline for this project, my eyes drifted from the page I was writing to the screen of my laptop before me. My eyes latched onto the headline, ”College President Resigns Over Alcohol Incident.” Thinking it was just another typical story, I clicked the link and a picture loaded. In the lake sat a boat with several college students and one older man in his 50's. I quickly learned the older man was the college president.

A closer look summoned from my inner spirit a scalding-hot flush of anger. Why such raw emotion? Firmly gripped in the president's hands a keg of beer dangled over the mouth of a young female student. Her jaws appeared swollen with the foamy substance culture christens the "fifth element" after water, fire, earth and wind. Those of us not so captivated by its mythical powers just call it beer.

The young lady's physique, hair style, and age immediately sketched pencil drawings of my beautiful daughters in my mind, imagining them recklessly under the influence of a hypocritical authority figure sworn to protect their best interests. Instead he breaches my trust and pillages their conscience with a pathetically amoral approach to an incredibly powerful addictive drug--beverage alcohol. As I looked deeper into the picture, I could almost see the president's lips moving as I heard him mumble to my precious little girl, "eat, drink, and be merry; for tomorrow we die."

Frankly, the hot flush still smolders to this day. The image of an irresponsible educator pouring a dangerous drug into the mouth of some daddy's little girl indelibly pierces my inner soul, tattooing righteous anger in all its glaring colors. I feel fully David's hot but holy rage as he stared with shock at Israel's taunting enemy, blurting out: "Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?" The fact that I was not within the ancient sling’s distance was best for me and the college president.

The story continues. The college trustees quickly gathered to assess the damage. After considering the president's defense that he neither broke school policy or criminal law--never mind the breached trust, which remains a moral crime all its own to both student and parents--the trustees punished the president by endowing him with almost a half-million dollar settlement. They mentioned nothing about whether the president acted irresponsibly by encouraging the consumption of under-aged drinking nor his breach to public trust. Nothing.

Once again I realized a book like this one needed desperately to exist.

The 2007 Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that among high school students, when asked if, during the past 30 days, had alcohol been consumed, 45% drank some amount of alcohol. Also, an estimated 46 million persons ages 12 or older are “binge drinkers” (ASA, 2009). According to the Center for Disease Control, "binge drinking" is defined for scientific purposes as "drinking five or more drinks on the same occasion (i.e., at the same time or within a couple of hours of each other) on at least 1 day in the past 30 days" (CDC, 2009). More than one fifth (23.3 percent) of persons aged 12 or older participated in binge drinking at least once in the 30 days prior to the survey in 2007, translating to about 57.8 million people.

Even more disheartening is though the numbers decrease with age, a shocking number of heavy drinkers beginning at the tender age of 12 exist. In 2006--the latest available statistics--117,000 "binge drinkers" between the ages of 12 and 13 were boozing it up . Imagine: on average in excess of three hundred drinking "binges" per day by 12-13 year olds alone. Overall, underage drinkers consumed about 11 percent of all the alcohol purchased in the United States in 2002, with the overwhelming majority of alcohol consumed in a risky fashion. In addition, approximately 90% of alcohol consumed by youth under the age of 21 years in is “risky” drinking (i.e., binge drinking).

Compare such sad numbers of our young people who are already trapped in a world of irresponsible drink to the horrifying image of a publicly entrusted college administrator pouring from a keg into the mouth of one of these unfortunate youth an addictive potion such as beverage alcohol. If such imagined snapshots do nothing to you as a parent, a grandparent, a pastor, a student pastor, a politician, or just a concerned citizen, then it may very well be too late for us as a civilized society. Such a scenario is a major trajectory for this book--a simple but profound concern for our next generation.

My wife and I have been divinely blessed with three children who are grown and married now. We just had our first grandbaby last year and will have two more additions before this book goes to print! What a thrill to see our beautiful little Sofia as she begins to walk, talk and gain footing in this world our Lord preserves for her. Yet even the fleeting thought of her trapped in the jaws of the liquor industry frightens me. Liquor manufacturers cater to youthful tastes by designing new alcohol products, significantly adding to the underage drinking problem. Sweet, fruity beverages deceptively appearing like innocuous soft drinks, malt liquors, “alcopops,” etc. possess levels of alcohol content comparable to standard beers but are available at low prices.

Marketing ploys with gimmicks like containers which resemble “TNT explosives” or alcoholic beverages with neon colors which change the color of the drinker’s tongue are geared specifically with youthful drinkers in mind. Of course, for the most part, any question raised concerning the impact these marketing ploys have in tempting the under-aged to imbibe is met with an angelic-like denial.

Apparently the wine industry has now caught the profit-driven vision of recruiting our young and no longer sit idly by as beer brings in the bucks from the latest gimmick to entice young recruits. Said one winery at a stunning but candid moment: “…it is imperative to attract new generations who will be the wine drinkers of the future. Young adults feel lost in the world of wine...” (ACB, 2009). Designer wines marketed specifically to music tastes of our young, their hope is, will fix the budget crunch the industry experiences.

Connecting this youthfully designed marketeering with the culture of extreme so vividly illustrated by binge drinking, promoted even college administrators, who are entrusted publicly with our children's welfare, and the result becomes frightening. Can we not see the horrid end to our naive flirtation with societal extinction by peddling our sons and daughters to the pleasure-producers of this age? My answer to this question is partly why this book exists.

Concern for today's young people, if nothing else, catapults us to consider this profound problem which, unfortunately, is not an issue specifically of the young. In fact, it is a disease we've passed on to them. Indulging adults of this age infect their own offspring with the culture of extreme and excess. We want...And want more...Then want some more. Even though we get and got we live for more get. Our appetites appear never fulfilled, our thirsts never quenched. Thus, we pursue. We seek. We want. We desire. Always desire. Pleasure is no human privilege; pleasure is a human right.

Perhaps such excess is implicit to our incurable addiction to freedom. Not that freedom is not a good thing; to the contrary, freedom not only is intrinsic to the American spirit, freedom is also built into the structure of our being made in God's image. Freedom can lose its way, however, and travel down a dangerous road, leading to a kind of warped demand which insists against any and all who attempt to restrain, "I have a right," "I am free," "Who are you to tell me I can't?"

Again this skewed sense of freedom easily surfaces concerning. Just the mention of restricting access to alcoholic beverages draws the ire of the masses. Immediately one is charged with promoting the old, failed "Prohibition," the universal talking point of every advocate of alcoholic beverage. Nor is this just the culture at large who hurls the charge of restricting rights. Sadly, the religious public may blow the loudest horn!

The Church's Conviction Vanishing

The Christian church, which was virtually unanimous in support of the "old, failed Prohibition" policies (especially the Protestant side), will go on record quickly these days, if asked, that imbibing alcoholic beverages is not as bad as it used to be. Even though they were certain imbibing was a carnal evil a century ago, they remain certain no longer. Curiously, they never get around to explaining why imbibing alcohol was carnality then but not carnality now. Instead assumptions of the social acceptability of drinking are normalized, while continuing to sing the same melody about not legislating morality. Strange. The reality is, one is hard pressed to name any one thing that can be legislated that is not morality--someone's morality.

What can one expect even from some of the most conservative Christian communions when suggesting the recreational use of addictive drugs such as alcohol is neither moral or biblical? Well, when I do it, my body hopelessly reels from rapid-fire rocks the defenders of moderate drink cast . By far the rock so often tossed includes a personally hand-painted note on its surface--"pharisaical legalism." If it is suspected the position one publicly advocates is abstaining from intoxicating beverages, one might as well go ahead and duck while time remains. How easily some Christians mistake Jesus' words "on this rock I will build my church" for "from this church I'll cast my rocks"!

One professor from a Southern Baptist seminary had this to say: "Are alcoholic beverages a good thing? Sure! Within moderate amounts, of course. In fact, don’t ever let anybody tell you any differently. If they do they are closet Roman Catholics who are imposing pharisaical legalism on you. They do not hold to Scripture. They sacrifice biblical integrity” (more on this shortly).

One recalls the words Bishop F. W. Farrar spoke over a century ago as he lamented both media and churchmen who ambushed total abstinence from alcoholic beverages, "The secular press tells us that the advocates of total abstinence are impracticable fanatics and wrong-headed Pharisees; the religious press tells us that abstinence is a much poorer stage of virtue than moderation, and that, by declining wine and beer, we fall far below the attainment of those moral athletes who, to their hearts' content, indulge themselves in both" (Farrar, 1879).

Similar to the enemies of abstinence with whom Farrar contended, this professor's idea of the abstinence standard evidently reduces to moral legalism, denial of Scripture, and absence of integrity. I'd say those are three hefty rocks. If you mention abstinence, be ready to duck!

Thus, the idea that the least talk of moral restraint destroys freedom is not a position embedded in the culture of extreme and excess alone; the idea is deeply embedded in church sub-culture as well. This remains another reason this book begs for: The church has, in major proportions, conceded its historic role as the moral conscience of our culture, particularly as it forfeited its once strong position on abstinence from intoxicating beverages for pleasurable purposes.

The church--especially what's known as the evangelical church, the piece of pie to which I myself belong--increasingly speaks a message of moderation concerning intoxicating beverages. One may rightly ask, "What substantial help does the message of moderation offer to our next generation?" In fact, the message the church proclaims about moderately consuming alcohol is, in the end, really no different from the more responsible messages from the culture at large. The new song the evangelical choir sings is short, pithy and to the point: The Bible does not condemn the use of alcohol; the Bible condemns the abuse of alcohol. What difference is that, in effect, from saying "Drink but don't drive" or "Drink but be careful how much"? Tragically, the church which abandons abstinence partners itself with the more morally astute politic of secular culture. It moves in lockstep with the culture of extreme and excess, forsaking the biblically-driven ethic of abstinence, and penning a message morally legible to our young generation: "Drinking is perfectly o.k. Consuming intoxicating beverages for pleasure is an acceptable and moral social custom. Do it. But be particularly careful to neither abuse or drink irresponsibly."

Of course it is not literally written to the young generation. After all such things as laws exist against under-aged drinking. Nonetheless, those millions of under-aged drinkers somehow found themselves access to the intoxicant. Recall what we mentioned earlier. Not only did underage drinkers consume 11 percent of all alcoholic beverages purchased in the United States in 2002, but also the vast majority of the alcohol purchased for under-aged consumption was consumed in binge and heavy drinking. Thus, our children are getting the booze ,and the message about booze seems all too obvious: "Drinking is cool. Even the church says drinking is cool, if we're careful about the amount." The sad reality is, the church without the abstinence standard--consciously or unconsciously--plays a co-conspirator part in promoting such a message. If Christian parents, pastors, student ministers, and Bible-believing churches remain unmoved by such, one must consider whether or not we have a culture worth salvaging.

Consider with me something else. Mix the relaxed feeling young people inevitably experience when they hear over and over again that even the church supports drinking--at least in moderate amounts--with the natural temperament of the young. What do you think will result? When that batch of cookies pops out of the oven, do not be surprised if they are burnt black. Do we honestly think teenagers possess the developed psychological equipment to practice moderation in anything, much less highly addictive intoxicants? Once again, studies show that young people who drink are far more likely to drink more heavily than adults. In addition, the overwhelming majority of binge drinkers are young drinkers. Moderation? Not on your life.

Like it or not, the church that preaches and practices moderation toward intoxicating beverages for pleasurable purposes cannot escape partial blame for giving to our next generation an uncertain sound on moral restraint. That stands as yet another reason why this book must have a heart-beat. I intend to take this idea one step further in the next chapter.

My Story

Finally I’d better 'fess up' and share a bit of my own personal story. This too stands as a fitting motivation for writing this book. I grew up in middle Tennessee, the last of twelve children raised in a little four room house. Our home sat at the bottom of Coon Creek Hollow only a rock’s throw from a heavily used railway.

Beside our little house ran Coon Creek. Then, the stream seemed colossal, having a thundering waterfall less than ten yards from the front porch. My siblings and I swam for hours in what we called "the big hole" during the summers. Our swimming hole also doubled for the bathtub as weather allowed (that's right, we had no plumbing in our house).

As I've visited the old home place since, however, the "colossal" stream is only about six feet wide. The "big hole" isn't over three feet deep at most. Oh, and the "thundering waterfall" is 12 inches more or less.

Because Coon Creek ran through the hollow, the railroad built a trestle over it. In fact, our outhouse sat almost under the trestle. Believe me: things could get interesting when schedules overlapped between our occupying the outhouse and the railroad's daily use of the trestle! I spent the first 17 years of my life juggling those apples.

My family was large but extremely poor. Though we were not a “Christian home,” a measure of respect for God was both assumed and instilled. I will forever be grateful that my parents faithfully arranged for transportation to Sunday school and Church. It was in my childhood I had my first encounter with God. And, though I was not converted to Jesus Christ until I was adult, the early formative years I experienced through faithful biblical teaching branded spiritual marks on my soul concerning the Christian faith. I never forgot.

Unfortunately, it was also in my childhood I had my first encounter with alcohol. I don’t remember the age when I tasted beer for the first time but I was definitely young. In fact it is not too much to say that I cannot recall a period that I was not drinking. Oh, it wasn't a lot as a young boy. But then again it doesn't take a lot for a young boy.

My daddy was virtually uneducated. Yet he managed to raise twelve children on his humble earnings from a chemical plant in a neighboring city. Three images remain with me about Daddy. Daddy loved fishing. Whenever he could, he was setting the minnow baskets in the little creek that ran by our house, hoping to catch the desirable “chub minners” as he called them. For him "chubs" offered the most promise to land a small-mouth bass from Sugar Creek.

Another image which appears whenever I think of my dad is baseball. He sat glued to the black and white every Saturday when the Braves played. Next to fishing, baseball was Daddy's primary pastime. Indeed baseball was the last conscious activity Daddy experienced in this life. While watching the 1970 World Series, his lungs began to fill. When the game ended, Mama took him to the hospital, and he died about an hour later. I was 16.

The third image is an uncomely one. Daddy loved beer. Lots of beer. The truth be told it is hard for me to recall images of my daddy without also recalling the beer in his hand. It was Daddy’s beer I drank as a child--beginning only as a sip from his can when I would fetch him one from the fridge, graduating to swiping whole cans of beer and heading for the nearby woods.

I was barely 16 years old when my daddy died. From his death until I married, rarely a week went by I did not drink until I passed out. I share this snapshot of my life not to sensationalize my life. Instead because I want the reader to realize my personal identification with this issue. I know by experience the destruction intoxicating beverages brings. The social, leisurely perspective many embrace when dealing with this issue remains no luxury for me. Nor does it to countless others who've seen and experienced this destructive phenomenon up close. Alcohol's acid kills whatever or whomever it touches.

Admittedly, some may see my personal circumstances as tainting the case I make for abstinence. Perhaps my reasoning, they argue, may be emotionally driven and consequently, the moral reasoning I offer for abstinence becomes suspect because of my bias against alcohol. To those who may similarly rationalize, I say but two things in response.

First, I'm unsure my bias about this issue should concern us. My candid telling you of my tragic story should bleed the air out of that balloon. Also, one could ask, "Who exists as a biased-free being?" If being biased-free is the criteria for valid contribution, few, if any, could ever validly qualify. It is not being biased makes a person’s view suspect. Rather being bias-blind is the culprit tragically tainting a person’s perspective. I'm fully aware of the up-close connection I have with this issue.

The second thing I say in response is this: I concede the charge may be true. My objection aside, perhaps I really am so emotionally involved in this issue, my moral reasoning is hopelessly clouded, consequently offering little contribution to the needed discussion on the recreational use of intoxicants. Nor can I or will I deny the sympathy I possess for the millions of young people caught in the jaws of the death trap known as alcohol. So be it. My sole recourse, then, is to leave such judgment in the hands of the reading public. I only ask them to consider the argument I propose in the following pages with the same, unbiased perspective expected of me.

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