Or, the half-Nazarite.

So. my seminary application process has hit a snag.

I left Gordon Conwell some six years ago, half-way through my seminary degree, due to finances, and a lack of focus.  The finance issue you can figure out.  The focus was more subtle.  Gordon Conwell didn’t have the best advising program in the world, so there was a partial issue of me taking classes that didn’t actually apply all that well toward degree completion.  But there was also the issue that, when you get out, you have to get a job somewhere, and churches tend to come in flavors.  Where does a Charismatic-Calvinist-Congregationalist go to become a pastor?  Answer me that, and I know what tradition to study, and maybe I’ve got some guide rails to a shorter answer to those big open-ended questions.

So then I joined the Army, which has helped tremendously with the finance issue, and I really dug in to parsing out different theological traditions in modern Evangelicalism.  Best I can figure, I’m a sorry excuse for a Baptist.  I’m not much of a modern Baptist, but go back 200-300 years and I think I can make a decent defense for myself.

I decided to apply to Southern Baptist Seminary.  It has the reputation for academic intensity that I’m looking for, and they certainly can’t get any more Southern Baptist.  The firm denominational footing will be useful to me in thinking through how well I really fit into that tradition, and the name on the degree should be helpful in calming people’s fears when I confess to unusual doctrines, such as my belief in the third person of the Trinity.

But I’ve hit a snag. I really should have seen it coming.  SBTS requires its students to sign an oath not to touch a drop of alcohol.

Now I’m not a heavy drinker.  In fact, I’m hardly a drinker at all.  I had to force myself some years ago to stop being teetotal, because my study of scripture led me to the conclusion that Jesus drank.  The servant is not greater than his master, so if I don’t drink it had better be for some reason other than an ethical one.  Otherwise I’m saying Jesus was a sinner, which rather defeats the whole purpose of being a Christian.  I have never even come remotely close to being drunk.  If I buy a six-pack of beer, it will take me the better part of six months to drink it.  But if a guest to my house offers me a bottle of wine (as happened just last night), I will accept it with a thankful heart.

I won’t give a grand theology of alcohol right here.  It’s not the sort of thing you can persuade somebody to in the space of five minutes.  But it is my conviction.  Jesus and his disciples drank alcohol for the same reason they didn’t fast.  The bridegroom was with his friends, and it wasn’t time for mourning.  The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they called him a glutton and a drunk.  He wasn’t either, but he laid himself open to the accusation by not being an ascetic like his cousin John.

But here’s the thing:  drink or don’t drink to the glory of the God.  There’s a dozen reasons why a fellow might abstain in good conscience, but a blanket “it’s wrong to drink” isn’t one of them.  That’s a dietary law, and it isn’t even found in the Old Testament.  When the council at Jerusalem met, the only restriction they thought fit to put on people was to avoid meat that had been strangled.  For 1900 years that’s the way it was.

Tee-total is not a Biblical standard.  In modern western culture, it goes all the way back to the late 19th and early 20th century, when there was a great social push to eliminate drinking.  You may recall prohibition and the 18th amendment. That was the last joint effort between the conservative and liberal church traditions in America.  The liberal churches pushed for it by working for a law to be passed.  The conservatives did it by adding temperance to the moral code, right next to chastity.

In fact, I’d say that abstaining from alcohol isn’t really a Christian standard at all.  It’s closer to Mormonism or Islam than anything else. And yet, here’s this oath in the middle of my seminary application.  What do I do with it?

There’s a line of reasoning I got from DA Carson (though for the life of me I can’t find a reference in print) where he says that if somebody asks him to abstain from drink because they have an alcoholic background, of course he won’t drink.  Or if someone asks him not to drink because it’s an unacceptable practice in the local culture, and it will confuse the non-believers, of course he won’t drink.  But if someone tells him not to drink because it’s a sin, he’ll say, “pass the port!”  I’m wondering if this should be that sort of thing for me.

There is, of course, another way to look at it.  There was one condition in the Old Testament that allowed for abstaining from alcohol:  the nazarite vow.  For a set period of time (or occasionally a person’s whole life), a man would dedicate himself to the Lord, and the sign for this would be that he would abstain from alcohol, all the fruit of the vine, and from getting his hair cut.  Samson is the famous example, but there’s reason to believe that John the Baptist was also a Nazarite.  Paul apparently took a Nazarite vow on his final return to Jerusalem.

So, it’s possible to consider a requirement by a seminary not to drink alcohol as a kind of Nazarite vow.  Seminary makes sense as a kind of temporary period of religious fervor.  And they make you sign an oath, that is to say, a vow.  Of course, as a Soldier, I couldn’t make it a fully Nazarite vow – failing to get a haircut is grounds for disciplinary action in the Army.  But could I consider this oath as a kind of half-nazarite vow.

Of course it’s a rather transparent mendacity to commit to something “for purpose of evasion,”  that is, affirming something with a certain meaning, knowing that it is taken by the other party as having a completely different meaning.  In the end, it doesn’t really matter what sort of mental gymnastics I put myself through in order to sign an oath.  What really matters is what it means to the person requiring the oath.  Does Southern Seminary, and whatever board they fall under, think of their temperance oath as sort of temporary vow that you can reaffirm or rescind later, or do they think of it as a commitment to adhere to an already established moral standard?

Because if it’s the one, sure I could do it.  But if it’s the other, how can I submit to a moral standard that violates my conviction?  What sort of convictions are those?  I may have to take my studies elsewhere.


Some links for your perusal.

* First, a friendly reminder not to believe every rumor you hear. There are plenty of rumor checking sites for you to use to double check whenever you hear something unbelievable. Snopes is my favorite, since I can always remember the name. The most recent one I heard is the Starbucks military non-support rumor, which can be disproven here.
* Global distribution of world GDP, illustrated: “How a minor British colony became a world economic superpower with free market capitalism.” That, and also with 3.7 million square miles of undeveloped prime real estate, with no competition or major military threats.
* Husband and Wife, the foundation of gender diversity.

  • Why you should consider cancelling your short term missions.

    This has been a concern of mine for several years. In a lot of ways, most short-term mission trips could be replaced with Christian vacations, with an increase in the actual long-term spiritual good being done. Instead of a traditional mission trip to Guatemala, why not take a vacation in Guatemala, where you rent a house near a local church and participate in normal church life with them? Instead of building a school for someone, why not hire an underemployed church member to give you a tour of the community, introducing you to key people, who can teach you how to pray for their church? Schedule your vacation to coincide with the local church’s annual conference, pay full price for everything, try to form real friendships, and don’t think too highly of yourself.

  • * Eternal Generation of the Son of God. I balk at the original objection – Who says monogenes doesn’t mean only-begotten? Etymologically, that’s exactly what it means. Of course, by extension, only-begotten must mean unique, but you can’t use one to cancel out the other. That’s not how language works.
    * Greg Mankiw pours hot coals. Sometimes, I suspect he may be a Christian.
    * An Allen Levi update. Excellent.
    * Honoring God in an Unequally Yoked Marriage
    * Peace through confusingly similar flags.

    Functional Trinity

    It’s useful sometimes to think of the Trinity in terms of the work that they do in the world, so:

    • The Father’s work is primarily Election and Providence;
    • The Son’s work is primarily Propitiation and Intercession
    • The Spirit’s work is primarily Conviction and Empowerment

    Of course each one of those jobs is worthy of reams of discussion, and that wouldn’t even cover the more difficult items like how they relate to one another and how they can be “one” and “three” at the same time. But I think it’s interesting to see how the roles that each one does relates to the others. Election, Propitiation, and Conviction kind of go together under the heading “salvation.” Providence, Intercession, and Empowerment kind of go together under the heading “sanctification,” or possibly “building up the church.” At the same time, Election and Proivdence go together in a way that uniquely says “Fatherhood;” Propitiation and Intercession go together in a way that uniquely says “Sonship;” and Conviction and Empowerment go together in a way that uniquely says “Spiritual.”

    Two final thoughts:

    1. Can somebody give me some other word than “propitiation” for “Christ’s unique giving of himself in my place as a sacrifice for sins by dying on the cross”? I keep thinking there should be another word, but I can’t think of any.
    2. I really like the above rubric. It ties things together in a delightfully simple, thorough, interrelated way. It also makes me feel cool because I thought it up all by myself. Therefore, I don’t trust it. Can anybody think of any other “works” that God does that don’t fall neatly into these categories, or in any other way punch some holes in the above? I’d be much obliged.

    Properly Trinitarian

    I once heard a pastor say that the key area to check when searching for a church to join was that church’s position on Jesus Christ. I think his reasoning was that consistently throughout history, but particularly in our age, if a church falters, it falters first over the person and work of Jesus Christ.

    Point taken, but when I heard it, it struck me as a little wobbly. There are lots of churches which hold a perfectly acceptable understanding of Jesus Christ, but which I think are still a little less than they could be because of a weakly expressed understanding of the Father and the Holy Spirit.

    It seems to me that the goal of a church should be what I would call “properly trinitarian.” That is, the life and teaching of the church should reflect the actual relationships within the Trinity. All three Persons of the Godhead are equal, and so they should get equal press from the pulpit and on our minds and lips. Nevertheless, there is a hierarchy of precedence within the trinity, and we ought to seek to reflect that precedence in the way we honor and submit to God.