Saturday, October 10, 2009

the gospel according to beer

Recently heard in a sermon: You might be surprised if you knew some of the sinful things I had in my past. I was mean. I closed many a bar down.

I have not recently heard this in a sermon: Beer is good.

There, I said it. I can hear my Southern Baptist heritage crying out with pain at that statement. But, long before prohibition, long before "thou shalt abstain from strong drink" became the eleventh commandment, long before secular became known as the opposite of sacred, Christians liked drinking beer. Billy Sunday and Adrian Rogers probably believed with all their hearts they were preaching the right thing, but they're up against some pretty big names in this department.

Don't take it from me. Take it from a guy named Martin Luther, who once said, "We old folks have to find our cushions and pillows in our tankards. Strong beer is the milk of the old." Of course, that is politely rendered from the original German quote, which may actually be closer to, "I like beer/it makes me a jolly, good fellow/I like beer/it helps me unwind and sometimes it makes me feel mellow."

Baptists don't like beer. I'll take that back. Actually, Baptists in the south don't admit to liking beer. Even though I have long begun to distance myself from the Baptisty position on a lot of things, I was still surprised when I received my copy of The Search for God and Guinness: A Biography of the Beer that Changed the World by Stephen Mansfield from Thomas Nelson Publishing. It's just not everyday us Texans see Guinness and God in the same sentence, unless it's regarding Sodom and Gomorrah. They were big Guinness drinkers, you know.

This is the same guy that wrote The Faith of George W. Bush and The Faith of Barack Obama. Because of his reputation for writing fair, engaging analysis of cultural snapshots, I was anxious to read his book.

But beer?

I have to say that, excepting Baptists in the south, of course, Guinness is well-known as the preferred beer of theologians, at least the English-speaking theologians. My guess is that if Luther were here, he might have something to say about Heineken, but that's hard to tell. Therefore, I learned to drink it on occasion during deep theological discussion with others. There's nothing quite like having Bible study and beer.

Trust me, folks, they fit together perfectly.

Mansfield realizes this. He also realizes that because of a good beer's ability to bring people together, along with the unique business model of Arthur Guinness's company, make the Guinness story an especially interesting one.

In a day when the bottom line is all that matters and when institutions and corporations have robbed, cheated and lied people out of their livelihood and future, the story of the old Irish brewers is a breath of fresh air. It also begs the question, "Can we see anything like this here in our culture?

I was especially struck with Mansfield's account of a corporation that functioned like community. In a culture when churches continue to run themselves according to a business model, especially an American business model, we have some things to learn. What people are hungering for is Christian community, not good preaching, not entertaining music, not ministries specific to demographics, but genuine community.

Maybe our churches should run more like an - GASP - Irish brewery.

Please don't throw stones. Not yet, at least.

Mansfield's retelling of this story is an inspired and fresh account, a sober analysis, and a motivating conclusion. It is worth the read.

It's also better with Guinness.

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