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Alcohol, Acts 29 and the SBC

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–“How about beer with your Bible?”

That’s the question NBC’s “Today” show host Campbell Brown asked March 4 on national television to introduce a report titled “Beer and Bibles: New Churches Lure Young Members.”

Featured in the two-and-a-half minute segment was Darrin Patrick, founder and senior pastor of The Journey in St. Louis — a Southern Baptist church with ties to the emerging church movement, the North American Mission Board and the Missouri Baptist Convention, which loaned the church $200,000 to help start a church planting center.

The emerging church movement is diverse and difficult to generalize. However, the mix of influences includes: postmodernism (a focus on sense-making through the various mediums of culture); Calvinism ala John Piper; and for some, Christian liberty, as granted by their scriptural interpretation, to drink alcohol and engage in other cultural activities that many Southern Baptists eschew based on opposing scriptural interpretation.

NBC spotlighted The Journey’s “Theology at the Bottleworks,” a church-sponsored discussion group in a bar where alcohol is available to attendees.

“This isn’t just a brew pub, it’s a church,” NBC reporter Jennifer London said, describing the room where the meeting is held. The “church” in reality is the Schlafly Bottleworks where The Journey reaches out to younger adults who might not consider going to a traditional church setting.

Patrick told Baptist Press he abstains from alcohol and that The Journey “doesn’t personally encourage nor corporately promote the use of alcohol.”

However, the reporter emphasized the link.

“Followers say they may come for the beer, but they stay for the Bible,” London said. “And back at the brew pub, it’s about saving souls, one beer at a time.”

Some attending the Theology at the Bottleworks gathering also made the connection between alcohol and the outreach effort. Erin Ryan, who accepted Christ at one of the meetings, told the NBC crew, “You sit down over a glass of wine or a pint of ale or something like that, and you can connect with people more.”

NBC’s focus on the novelty of the methodology obscured the apparent serious approach The Journey has taken in reaching a cultural-generational demographic group. The Journey’s strategy has helped the congregation grow from 30 to almost 2,000 since its 2002 beginning. Last fall it planted the Refuge Church in St. Charles, Mo. and it is assessing church start possibilities in Illinois.

Patrick, in e-mails to Baptist Press, was clear that beer was not a tenet of his non-traditional methodologies. Last December, The Journey’s website included an invitation to “grab a brew, share your view” when attending the Theology at the Bottleworks meeting. A picture of people raising glasses of beer in an apparent toast appeared adjacent to an essay by Patrick on the church’s website. Patrick attributed the content to a secular website design company hired by the church. He told Baptist Press he had the alcohol-related verbiage and picture removed as soon as they came to his attention because “it does not reflect the values of our church.”

Still, the church’s unconventional means of reaching the lost might be shaping its internal culture as much as the church is shaping others. The bio of The Journey’s mission pastor, Jonathan MacIntosh, mentions that he enjoys drinks with his wife “at the almost secret bar beneath Brennan’s in the Central West End.”

The “Today” show feature about The Journey was not the first time “beer and the Bible” garnered media attention. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch ran a lengthy article on its Sunday, Jan. 28, front page detailing the alcohol controversy associated with The Journey.

Referring to a Theology at the Bottleworks meeting, the Post-Dispatch article gave this description of the atmosphere: “In a back room at Schlafly Bottleworks in Maplewood, about 50 people gathered on a recent Wednesday night to talk rock ‘n’ roll…. Beer-stained wooden tables and the smell of hops complemented a free-flowing, spirited debate among hip young people in scruffy beards and T-shirts.”

Patrick stressed that the Bottleworks ministry was a means to reach out to unchurched people in their cultural setting. Asked about negative perceptions and the number of biblical references that warn about the dangers of alcohol, Patrick told Baptist Press, “We don’t believe that having a current event discussion at a bar is unbiblical.

“We try to choose venues for these events where un-churched members of our community would feel comfortable,” he said. “Others have taken place at restaurants, coffee shops, office buildings and cafes.”

Patrick, who is vice president of Acts 29, an association of emergent churches, conceded that as a group, Acts 29 holds a “much more liberal view” of alcohol use than The Journey.

Some website material seems to support his conclusion.

The pastor of an Acts 29 church in San Diego (non-SBC), for example, claims on the Internet: “Beer is one of our core values. We enjoy it and like to drink it.” Although the statement appears meant for humor, it seems to show a casualness of attitude about alcohol consumption.

Another Acts 29 church (also non-SBC) — the Seattle-area Damascus Road Church — sponsors a men’s poker night for which gamblers are encouraged to bring beer. The website also states: “There is just something about having food on your plate and a drink in your hand that makes fellowship that much easier. Whether the food is healthy or fattening, or the drink is coffee or beer, we desire to follow Christ’s example.”

The alcohol issue goes straight to the top at Acts 29, whose president, Mark Driscoll — who is pastor of the Seattle-area Mars Hill Church — wrote in his book, “Radical Reformission,” that abstinence from alcohol is a sin. In a chapter titled “The Sin of Light Beer,” Driscoll explains that he came to this conclusion while preparing a sermon on the Lord’s miracle at Cana where Jesus turned water into wine.

According to information published on the church’s website, Mars Hill sponsored a New Year’s Eve party that included a champagne bar. Mars Hill’s website also advertises “beer-brewing lessons … whenever a large group of (Mars Hill) men get together.”

Driscoll is controversial also for once having the reputation of the “cussing pastor.” However, as he recounted on his blog, he finally listened to a friend who helped him realize he was becoming known for “good theology, a bad temper, and a foul mouth,” and he repented, starting with a public apology.

Patrick’s SBC connections include the North American Mission Board. He co-chaired NAMB’s Young Leaders Task Force with Ed Stetzer, a NAMB employee who is on the board of Acts 29. The task force last met over a year ago.

Stetzer defends his board member status with Acts 29, saying, “There are a lot of sharp young guys in Acts 29 churches planting theologically driven churches, so I have the opportunity to influence and encourage them in what I believe are positive ways. Honestly, few other Southern Baptists have this opportunity, and I would rather choose to risk and influence than to pass up being a positive force among the guys at Acts 29.”

Some of those within Acts 29, Stetzer said, “unfortunately overemphasize what they see as ‘Christian liberty.’ That dynamic often comes with some younger pastors, and I do my best to remind all involved to think biblically about such issues; and everyone in Acts 29 knows my views.

“Regardless,” he said, “I think it is a good thing that there is now an inerrantist wing (Acts 29) of the emerging church with solid theology.”

Stetzer, who has stated publicly his opposition to alcohol, told Baptist Press he joined the Acts 29 board after speaking at their conferences, establishing a friendship with Driscoll and also procuring “NAMB upline approval.”

“There are, by the way, other more notable evangelicals who’ve spoken at events and advised Acts 29, such as John Piper, Tim Keller and Joshua Harris,” Stetzer said.

There are other SBC connections to Acts 29, too.

According to the Mars Hill Church’s website, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary professor Bruce Ware will headline the Acts 29 annual event known as the Resurgence Conference, March 23-24. An SBTS spokesman said Ware would be talking on the openness of God, which he speaks about across the country as “one of the leading defenders of the traditional, biblical understanding of God’s sovereignty.”

Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., has scheduled Driscoll to speak at a conference there in September, according to the school’s website. A spokesman for SEBTS explained that the conference would address important theological issues surrounding emerging and traditional churches, and Driscoll, as “a leading voice in the diverse emerging church movement,” was invited to contribute to “what we hope will be a valuable and fruitful discussion.”

As a loan recipient from the Missouri Baptist Convention, The Journey — because of its practices primarily related to alcohol — has raised controversy within the state convention.

MBC Executive Director David Clippard explained by e-mail to Baptist Press that when he heard allegations about possible promotion of alcohol consumption by The Journey, “Within hours, I personally contacted Pastor Darrin Patrick and his response both verbally and in writing was that Journey Church does not promote or encourage alcohol use.”

MBC board members Kerry Messer and Ron Turnbull attended one of The Journey’s Bottleworks meetings on their own initiative. Both expressed displeasure that a church would sponsor a meeting in a bar.

Still, Patrick insists The Journey is a Southern Baptist church in doctrine and practice.

Yet, concerns persist about the theological and doctrinal moorings of both The Journey and the Acts 29 Network.

Missouri Baptist and SBC Executive Committee member Roger Moran told Baptist Press: “No Southern Baptist entity or personality should be loaning our denominational credibility to such churches or organizations as The Journey and Acts 29. We simply cannot do that for movements that are dripping with error and expect good to come out of it.”

Moran addressed the Executive Committee Feb. 20 regarding his concerns relative to Acts 29, saying in part, “One of the most dangerous and deceptive movements to infiltrate the ranks of Southern Baptist life has been the emerging/emergent church movement. Not since the stealth tactics of the CBF (Cooperative Baptist Fellowship) have we seen a movement operate so successfully below the radar of rank and file Southern Baptists.”

After Moran spoke, Executive Committee President Morris H. Chapman suggested that Moran prepare his statements for submission to LifeWay Christian Resources which in response to two referrals from last year’s SBC annual meeting in Greensboro, N.C., will be conducting research “relating to Calvinism, the emergent church, elder rule and other topics of interest and discussion in Southern Baptist life.”

“Church history confirms what 2 Chronicles 7.14 says,” Moran told Baptist Press later by phone. “Revival comes to a nation when God’s people get right — when they return to holiness, purity, obedience, faithfulness, and to the intent of Scripture and the purposes of God.”

    About the Author

  • Norm Miller