I chose to attend a seminary with a no-drinking policy. I’ve been at the seminary for three weeks now, and I still haven’t actually heard or read a very good rationale for why the policy is in place, though I could probably guess and get pretty close. To be honest, abiding by that policy has been a more difficult process than I anticipated. I’ve had to explore some of the reasons why. I wonder whether some of the things I found inside myself ring true with the rest of my millennial brothers and sisters, specifically those in the Church. For right or wrong, these are my off-the-cuff, largely undeveloped thoughts. I’d love to hear yours.
Maybe this is why we drink:
We drink because it’s fun.
This is the most obvious motivator. I don’t think it warrants extensive discussion.
We drink because we can.
Like the Corinthians, we boisterously declare, “All things are lawful for me!” This argument really only holds water for the over-21 crowd. We millennials often confuse freedom and autonomy. If we’re “allowed” to do something, most of us will try it at least once. Sometimes once turns into twice, and twice turns into a habit. Sometimes that habit turns into an addiction. And sometimes addiction doesn’t look like we think it does.
We drink because someone told us we can’t.
We millennials seek fulfillment through self-expression, so if you tell us we can’t do something, you’re encroaching on our ability to express ourselves and therefore our ability to feel like a complete person. For this reason, most millennials will take directives as suggestions.
For those of us in the Church, the choice to drink often seems like an overreaction to legalistic environments in which consumption of alcohol—responsible or otherwise—is dogmatically condemned. I attended a denominational university in which this was the case, and in which drinking was not only allowed, but was encouraged, and celebrated. Looking back on those years with fresh eyes, it’s no wonder that the Religion students were notorious for our hypocritical abuse of alcohol. What we celebrate, we invite.
We drink because our leaders drink.
It’s always been true: What leaders do in moderation, followers do in excess. The Bible is very clear: Leaders are responsible for the spiritual well-being of their followers. Those who lead and teach will be held to a higher standard of accountability. Howard Hendricks used to say, “You can teach what you know, but you can only reproduce who you are.” Many of us drink because the people we look up to do, or did, and they modeled it for us. I spent my 21st birthday at a pub with a pastor who would put away three or four beers when we went out. That behavior was reproduced in me. I would venture to guess I’m not alone in that experience.
We drink because we want to feel like grown-ups.
Millennials have a word for having to act responsibly – to pay bills, to study, to clean the house, to be productive, to perform well at work. We call it “adulting.” The fact that we have a word for it is evidence that it’s not yet become our default mode of operation. You see, most of us are still children. But when we want to feel like adults, we participate in those kinds of activities that only adults can participate in. Like drinking.
We feel mature when we go out and get a drink with our friends. We feel sophisticated. We feel superior to the folks who are still in college binge-drinking mode when we can go out, have two responsible drinks, and safely drive ourselves home.
This is especially true for men. We don’t drink just anything. We drink beer—craft beer. Not college party beer (unless it’s the only thing available, in which case we’ll make an exception). And we don’t drink just any liquor at the bar. We drink whiskey (As Ron Swanson put it, “Clear alcohols are for rich women on diets”). We only touch red wine if it’s on the table next to a ribeye. There’s a sort of macho-masculinity culture that’s crept into evangelicalism. Young evangelical men want to feel strong and sophisticated. So we indulge in the “finer things” – brown alcohols, cigars, beards, the writings of puritan theologians. The combined influence of Acts 29 culture and Mad Men is all over us.
We drink because we don’t know how to connect with people otherwise.
I’ve always struggled with making friends. I just tend to keep to myself in environments where I don’t know anyone. So when I moved to Dallas to attend Dallas Seminary and was having to force myself to meet guys, I found myself saying, “We should hang out this week and grab a bee-, um, lunch.” This happened several times.
Why is it that my default choice for connecting with people involves alcohol? Part of it is the influence of the aforementioned pastor. Part of it is the influence of my college environment. Part of it is the culture of masculinity that I find myself in. And part of it is the fact that I like to drink. Regardless of the cause, I’m not comfortable with the outcome.
To be honest, I think maybe young evangelicals have a drinking problem. I mentioned 1 Corinthians 6:12 earlier. In that chapter, Paul is addressing sexual behavior, but the principle he outlines there applies to Christian conduct in general: What’s allowable isn’t always healthy. It’s possible to be mastered by alcohol without being an alcoholic. And it wasn’t until I was asked to yield my right to drink that I realized just how tightly I was holding onto it. My hunch is that I’m not the only one with a strong grip.
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