If you are a pietist …


PietistAs you can see from the photo, the bottle is nearly empty. That’s not entirely my fault. I purchased this whisky on my way to visit a good friend. He played a big part in its demise.

But anyway…

I received a Facebook message from a fellow pastor who suggested that I spend more time writing about theology and less about whisky. He appreciated the hymn study postings on my blog, and he delighted in the sermons and poetry offered there as well, but he was a little put-off by the devotion to Scotch whisky. He suggested that mixing theology and whisky was a little unsavory and could be offensive. After first asking him if he had converted to the Baptist branch, I followed with the reminder that Lutherans are not pietists. Even more so, when Lutherans are pressed into the box of legalism, they will rebel. For example, if my memory serves me, at one time the Reformed church began insisting that it was required of the presiding minister while speaking the Verba during the Lord’s Supper that he snap the bread at the words “when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to His disciples…” I’m pretty sure I remember reading that the Lutherans used to break the bread, but after that, they refused.

So what does any of this have to do with The Dalmore 12-Year-Old bottle of whisky in the photo? Nothing. Everything. Something, I guess. It means this happens to be the bottle I was enjoying when I was urged by a fellow Lutheran clergyman to forego receiving such a gift from God that I certainly enjoy in acceptable measure, and on top of that, I was discouraged from sharing my enthusiasm with others. I want this brother to know in an amplified way that I humbly and evangelically refuse.

Now, I’m sure he will read this, and while he is reading he will lean back in his office chair with arms folded and a crookedly surprised smile beginning to stretch his face, Even this smile is good enough for me. It is a relative opening to offer this Lutheran brother the opportunity to acknowledge that perhaps it is that God has blessed the Scots with a divine beverage while the Lutherans received the better theology. And with that theology comes the benefit of serving in churches full of Christians who know they aren’t pietists…that is, unless they are being slow-boiled by a pastor who is living, breathing, and preaching pietism and then secretly enjoying the gifts in solitude for fear that his preaching may actually be taking root. Not here, brother. Those chains are self-imposed. I intend to remain free.

So with that being said (and hopefully without causing offense), the Lutheran clergy have the freedom to enjoy the likes of this wonderful edition from The Dalmore. It is, as I began, best shared out in the open …and with friends.

Now, to really chuck dirt onto the caskets of the “living dead”, eh hem, I mean, the pietists… The nose of this Dalmore whisky is delightful – thick with sherry and vanilla. The palate is so easy and smooth, fulfilling the promise made by the nose and delivering vanilla with the presence of delicate spice – not harsh – but gentle and perhaps even fruity. The finish waves goodbye with a smile and tiptoes behind you to remind you that you are invited to return anytime. With such friendliness, the bottle’s contents disappear rapidly. In fact, as a side note, this whisky is so wonderfully gentle that even if by some freakish accident you get some in your eyes (which of course has never happened to me), it doesn’t burn. It just becomes one more way to laugh with Christian friends and rejoice in the gifts.

Oh, by the way, the cost is surprisingly pleasant at around $50. You won’t find it in your local Christian bookstore, but I guarantee it will be a better purchase than that leather bound engraved copy of The Message you just bought last week because you finally convinced the Elders not only to allow you to move the choir to the chancel, but to order and install a glass pulpit. All you needed next was a floppy “relevant” Bible in your hand to shake at folks during your pietist prattling, I mean, preaching.

To close, I wonder if I should, in a sense, reconsider my harsh regard for the prodding tag of my pietist friend. I suppose that the more the pietists discover their freedom, the less whisky for the rest of us, and I read recently that a whisky shortage is on the horizon. The last thing I want to see are converts drinking my booze and sending the prices higher. So with that, brother, forget everything I just said. Whisky is inherently sinful and bad. Very sinful. Very bad. Have a Coke instead.


If you are a pietist … — 93 Comments

  1. @helen #50

    @John Eidsmoe #49

    It’s tricky to find a Biblical injunction against drunkenness that isn’t right next to one against gluttony. (Is gluttony ok now?)

    I’d say w/ Paul that “bodily training is of some value” and that self-destructive behaviors ARE a moral issue, but that road’s got a nasty ditch on both sides of it. (Legalism on one side license on the other and worship of self on both sides.) I think it’s best to aim this sort of question at ourselves rather than others. Left to myself I tend to say: “I don’t smoke, so smoking’s a moral issue because (of course) it’s bad for folks to smoke.” or “I bike to work every day to stay in some sort of shape, so lack of exercise is a moral issue so (of course) it’s bad for folks to drive to work.” Left to myself I’m less likely to say: “Speeding kills 10,000 Americans per year, so speeding is a moral issue.” or “Excessive caffeine is bad for us, so that 4th cup of coffee is a moral issue.” because I am more likely to speed, or drink too much coffee than I am to smoke or drive to work.

    For fun though, I’ll close w/ the Fundamentalist Baptist Biblical support for smoking (in the KJV of course):
    Gen 24: 64 “And Rebekah lifted up her eyes, and when she saw Isaac, she lighted off the camel.”

    “And if Rebekah lighted off HER Camel, then …”

    -Matt Mills

  2. Thanks, Matt. I agree this is tricky on both sides, being overly judgmental or saying there are no moral issues involved.
    And if I say someone is too judgmental, am I not judging him?

  3. Save up a little extra money and try the Dalmore 15yr. It is well worth it, being infinitely better than the 12yr.

  4. Eric :
    What about marijuana? Now that it is legal in certain places, what would be a good Confessional Lutheran response to getting stoned? (This is a serious question btw).

    Please don’t sidestep this good question by citing federal law: What would be a good Confessional Lutheran response to getting stoned on marijuana where it is legal?

  5. Eric: IMO – Nowhere in the comments do I see men discussing “getting drunk” on wine or other spirits. Would you think that “getting stoned” would be a right practice either?

    Since I don’t know a whole lot about marijuana, I don’t know how much one must inhale before it inhibits your responses. Does one smoke just for the buzz, or do they taste good? Are they to be enjoyed like fine liquors?

    Anytime liquor or other substances are taken in such quantity as to make one lose their powers of reasoning and their senses become dulled, there is a door for Satan to slip in to work his mischief. I know I have to stop at a couple of glasses or I can feel the effects a little too much. Most others probably have a much higher tolerance, however. I’m a light weight. I think Matt says it best when he says that we are to examine ourselves.

  6. @LadyM #6
    I think you’re spot on, LadyM.

    Since there is no intrinsic evil to apples, chicken, whiskey, or cannabis, the liberty of the Christian is used to evaluate the consumption against the effects. A little cannabis might do a whole lot more damage to your brain than a little wine, and the Biblical injunction seems to reflect taking care of our bodies rather than destroying or mutilating them.

    There is no thus saith the Lord on cannabis, anymore than there is on heroine or meth. However, we do know our responsibilities to care for our bodies, and to remain fit for the work the Lord calls us to do.

  7. “For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.” 1Cor 8.

    “It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. (Rom 14:21)

    Let us not forget this side of Christian freedom when writing blogs or drinking scotch.

  8. You’re title is “Pastor” and with that title (as well as the title of “Christian”) comes the burden, the responsibility of placing the needs and faith of others above yourself. You sir, have not done so in this instance. You placed your own desire for freedom above your brother. Read Romans 14 and 15 and tell me how that is ok? I like beer, I like cigars, but in the face of a brother in Christ who does not yet fully understand my freedom or his own, I must again become a slave. This is why you wear the collar and yoke (stole) of a servant; this is the life to which you have been called. If you’re constant posting about whiskey causes your brother to stumble (which is exactly what your post has shown) then shut up about the whiskey, you are, by definition, his servant.

    (Why was this post deleted before?)

  9. @Reaper #9

    With such service, Reaper, comes the duty to teach. The weaker and unlearned brother should be brought up and strengthened, rather than forever left in his infantile immaturity.

    Pastors serve all given to their care. I sense that Pr. Thoma is doing that service quite well, both sacrificially and catechetically, helping the weaker to become strong in the Lord.

  10. Luther: “Consciences weak in faith are to be led gently, spared, so that we do not use our Christian Freedom for doing harm, but for the assistance of the weak. For where that is not done, the result is discord and contempt for the gospel; and the gospel is the all-important thing. Thus it is better to yield a little to the weak in faith, until they grow stronger, than to have the teaching of the gospel come to nothing. And this work is a peculiar work of love, for which there is great need even now, when with the eating of meat and other liberties, men are rudely and roughly–and needlessly–shaking weak consciences, before they know the truth.”

    Argue with Luther if you want to, but the approach suggested in this article is not a loving approach and does a disservice to the gospel. Telling Pietists to remain Pietists is the opposite of love, especially when the author (as well as the readers) knows that pietism denies the gifts of Christ.

  11. @Matt Mills #1
    It’s tricky to find a Biblical injunction against drunkenness that isn’t right next to one against gluttony. (Is gluttony ok now?)

    [As has been discussed (as nauseam) gluttony is not “OK” but you can’t tell a “glutton” by appearance, unless you are watching him take third helpings.] Drunkeness is not “OK” either.

    It has developed that Pr. Thoma probably enjoys fine liquor only a little more often than I enjoyed my mother’s 3 layer chocolate cake, [date filling, fudge frosting], which was on my birthday, and not since I was 12 years old. 🙂

  12. @Reaper #13
    Telling Pietists to remain Pietists is the opposite of love…

    I don’t actually know what a “Pietist” is, beyond a term of derision on this list. I suspect they are getting smeared, unfairly perhaps? 🙁
    If you mean “someone who is against liquor”, that may be because they’ve been abused by someone who abused alcohol. A comment about moderation might be in order (with a discussion of any food or drink, actually).

  13. @Reaper #13
    There is a clear distinction between a weaker brother, and a hardened legalist, and there is a clear distinction between how Luther handled the two. There’s nothing on this post telling recovering alcoholics that they should be drinking whisky (UK spelling). What Pastor Thoma is saying in his own winsome way is: “This train don’t pull no Legalists, this train …” and in doing so he is 100% in line w/ Luther, and historical Christianity.

    Pax Christi+,
    -Matt Mills

  14. Wow. This is some crazy stuff. I better get use to this, huh?

    I think that if humility is applied to the conversation (and a little bit more hermeneutical diligence), it may be a bit easier to see that Romans 14:16 falls at a very important point in Paul’s instruction here.

    How about this… If I promise to grow up (as you urged), not to impose upon folks whiskies that have been sacrificed to idols, and figure out a way to set up a filter on everyone’s computers so that they can’t of their own free will actively visit my site and read something I have written that they may not like, will you promise to adjust the inappropriate usage of the contraction “you’re” for the correct possessive adjective “your”? Since we are delving into a weirder depth of humanity’s frailties, I should let you know that it offended me and caused me to stumble…but only grammatically.

    Or we could go a step further and recognize the very important difference between giving and taking offense. The Bible equates “sin” and “offense”, right? So, one person has been offended if someone sins against him. Reading through the Ten Commandments (and Luther’s Small Catechism if you have time), you’ll get the idea. It is amazingly thorough. So now, for example, if someone deliberately or accidentally takes the Lord’s name in vain, in light of the Second Commandment, a sin has been committed. This is very different than taking offense. Again, for example, if one person says that he likes beer and cigars and then becomes enraged and angry at another brother because he likes whisky (and please stop putting an “e” in the word, folks — all other whiskies have an “e”, but scotch does not, and that’s the one I’m talking about), and then say for example he proceeds to post an insult and then re-post when he sees that the first insulting post was deleted, then the first person may actually be guilty of taking offense. The issue is not with anything the second person may or may not have done to the first person, but rather the anger is an indicator of the condition of the first person’s weakened spiritual viscera.

    I wonder if in one sense, that is at least a portion of what Paul is trying to teach in Romans 14 and 15. If so, it makes sense that Paul would add a bit of a “theme” statement in the absolute best place in the text that we ought not let weakness have the final say, but rather we should be diligent to catechize so that what is to be considered “good” is not relegated to what is “evil.” What if the Gospel becomes the source of the offense? And so now Paul’s teaching is rather simple and straightforward on this: Do not ramrod. Do not impose (which, systematically, is no different than his instruction to season your speech with the salt of the Gospel), but remember, certainly don’t back down from catechizing with regard to what is actually true. (As a side note, I appreciated the little “Minnesota nice” poke Paul added in 15:3 by comparing the accusations of weaker brothers to the insults heaped upon Jesus. That was funny. Not the insults, but the poke.)

    I’m pretty sure I didn’t impose anything. And although not all opportunities are the same, I’m pretty sure this was a unique opportunity to catechize in a humorous way with regard to pietism.

    I have received your (not you’re) rebuke. Please forgive me where I have hurt you. Although not direct and somewhat passive, I humbly urge for you to consider mine.

    Maybe I should have submitted this post as a future article, eh, Josh?

  15. @helen #14
    Best construction is a very fine thing when dealing w/ individuals, but the US has a huge (pun intended) problem w/ gluttony, and where’s the church calling them out on it? There is doubtless a group of very big people w/ rare glandular imbalances, but I assure you that my own extra pounds are absolutely attributable to eating more than I should.

  16. @Pastor Chris Thoma #17
    Well! Now *I* take offense by your improper use of “different” in this post: It is “different *from*” not “different *than*”.

    Just kidding, of course. This *is* a pet usage peeve of mine, but, Pastor Thoma, you have not given offense against me thereby. 🙂

    At Mr. Mills from earlier: Maybe tomorrow we will have to say “whisky” is the “NSUK” spelling–Not So United Kingdom.

  17. @Brad #7
    The reason I brought up the federal law issue was that it is a very simple first step. If it’s still against the law of the land (at least one level of government) the 4th commandment still applies. To be sure, we could argue that a controlled level of cannabis consumption is not truly harmful to the state, and therefore *all* levels of laws against its use (other than “reasonable regulation”, such as with tobacco and alcohol–new areas of discussion and argument opens up….) should be repealed. *Then* we apply wisdom, reason and Christian love to its *legal* use. I think LadyM and Brad give excellent thoughts on this.

    In the end, the answer always comes back to the grace of God in Christ. It is precisely the fact that I live purely by grace that I *desire* to behave in such a way toward my *own* body that I am doing that which is truly loving for my neighbor. That *may* actually mean (see Klem Preus’s The Fire and the Staff) that I *purposely* exercise my freedom in Christ in the face of someone who wants to add Law to His Gospel, or it may mean that I lovingly refrain for the sake of the neighbor. Do I always know which time is which? Might I regret doing one or the other in a particular situation? Nevertheless, I live by the faith of the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me. (I do use the “of” of the genitive there, without denying the force of “in”.) And I trust that God’s grace for my neighbor in Christ is able to overcome my sinful ignorance and selfishness–without that being an *excuse* for it.

  18. @Ted Crandall #5
    That last post was supposed to be a response to yours–the point is, it may well *still* not be legal anywhere in the U.S.–I simply wanted to get that bit of information cleared up. *Then* we deal with the more “hypothetical” question. (Which, to be sure, may not be hypothetical for very long….)

  19. Bam! That just happened, brother Mueller. Colloquial speech patterns take over sometimes. I have repented of my sinfulness and have amended my sinful ways. (I changed it in the post.)

  20. Rev. David Mueller :
    That *may* actually mean (see Klem Preus’s The Fire and the Staff) that I *purposely* exercise my freedom in Christ in the face of someone who wants to add Law to His Gospel, or it may mean that I lovingly refrain for the sake of the neighbor.

    I miss Klem, but at least he left us a gem!

  21. @Pastor Chris Thoma #17
    Wow. This is some crazy stuff. I better get use to this, huh?

    You are adapting very well!
    In thanksgiving for being excused previous offenses, I won’t even re write your second sentence. (The gentleman with whom I argue about grammar might do so).

    [That last sentence of mine was reconstructed with him in mind. I, myself, usually have Churchill’s attitude toward ending a sentence with a preposition.] 🙂

  22. helen :
    I, myself, usually have Churchill’s attitude toward ending a sentence with a preposition.]

    Is he the dude who first said that ending a sentence with a preposition is something “up with which I shall not put”?

  23. @Pastor Joseph Abrahamson #28
    “What is that author who’s book I read out of about down under up to?”

    Would that be Nevil Shute [Norway]?

    As Norway he was in WW II aeronautics research. As Nevil Shute, he wrote a number of good books, (now out of print, probably). On the beach. was a post war movie, in the days when EVERY author of note had to write one about “The Bomb” His was located in Australia, where he emigrated after the war.

    You didn’t know you were going to get all that, did you! 🙂

    [I think he’s six additional feet “under” … down under.]

  24. @Pastor Joseph Abrahamson #28
    “What is that author who’s book I read out of about down under up to?”

    Now that I’ve tried to be “clever”…. ;(

    Perhaps you meant Kurt E Marquart, who spent 20 years “down under”, came back to be a CTS Professor, wrote some pretty good books, and died this day in 2006.
    I will remember that because it’s my eldest son’s birthday.
    Someone told me that maybe meeting Prof. Marquart again was a birthday gift from God.

  25. @Ted Crandall #26
    Is he the dude who first said that ending a sentence with a preposition is something “up with which I shall not put”

    Actually, Churchill meant (if the story is true) that being corrected for ending sentences with a preposition was something he would not put up with. 🙂

  26. @helen #32
    One might make the argument that “put up with” is one whole verb, a distinct unit, despite the spaces, in which case the rule concerning ending a sentence with preposition does not apply. Kinda like a beer: Separate sips, but once you’ve opened the bottle, the whole thing must be enjoyed.

    (“Kinda” used in order to prove that I’m not a true grammar Nazi.)

  27. Otoh, you *can* open a bottle of top-notch Scotch and not finish it off–unless you have a fair number of friends with which you are sharing it. (Note the “with which”!) 🙂
    Indeed, I do believe it would be “drunkenness” to finish the whole bottle of Scotch in one sitting.

  28. @Rev. David Mueller #34
    Indeed, I do believe it would be “drunkenness” to finish the whole bottle of Scotch in one sitting.

    Unless you invited enough friends to “share the wealth” it would, indeed.
    And once you’ve passed “moderation”, you might as well be drinking ‘rotgut’ because you won’t be able to appreciate the difference.

  29. What does boasting of alcohol do for the member whose family has been destroyed by it? This is the case for my family. Christians are free to enjoy alcohol. It is a gift from God. I choose not to drink. I understand that this is my choice and that everyone is free in Christ to choose, just as I am free in Christ not to drink. I am discouraged at how many Lutherans (pastors and laity) wink at getting drunk. Being drunk is not part of Christian freedom; it is an abuse of it. I can tell you that as someone who has been deeply hurt by alcoholism, it would be difficult to listen to a pastor who wanted to write odes to his favorite alcohol. I would not want to be called a Baptist or a pietist any more than you would want to be called antinomian. I am a faithful confessional Lutheran. Perhaps the pastor’s advice was an effort to help improve your ability to minister to people like me and to proclaim the gospel with less distraction.

    Lutherans are not pietists, but pietism is at the heart of our sinful nature. Pastor Thoma, have you not ranked the sin of being put off by your praise of scotch as the worst sin? How is this not pietism as well? Look at the disdain for your fellow pastor and anyone else who finds “devotion to Scotch whisky” to be a hindrance to the proclamation of the gospel. So, you assert that they are such theological dolts as to read the MESSAGE, etc. So criticism of your liquor reviews is a worse sin than slandering pastors (whether or not they are indeed pietists?) Isn’t ranking sins like that inherently pietistic? Some of us you dismiss as “pietists” actually have spent time purging church libraries of the Message. We are your allies against choirs in front of the altar, etc. Some who are critical of your article may, indeed, have orthodox Lutheran theology.

    “I want this brother to know in an amplified way that I humbly and evangelically refuse.” Yes, we heard you loud and clear. “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.”
    1 Corinthians 13:1 (Sorry for the ESV. I didn’t have a copy of the Message at hand for you. 😉 )

  30. I agree with much of what Heather has written. We are indeed free in Christ, but why must some flaunt their choice? I understand their desire to shock people out of legalism, but some people have good reasons for choosing abstinence, such as not causing others (or ourselves) to stumble.

    But I disagree with Heather’s flat assertion that “Lutherans are not pietists.” Many are not, but many are. Some contributors to this blog have defined pietism as adding Law to Gospel especially as a means of or condition of salvation. I have been associated with two pietistic Lutheran bodies, first the Church of the Lutheran Brethren and now the Assn of Free Lutheran Congregations (aflc.org) for over 40 years. I assure you we are as Lutheran as anyone else; we hold the Law/Gospel distinction and preach and teach that salvation is by grace alone.

    There may be a Lutheran pietist out there somewhere who believes abstinence is essential for salvation. But I have never met one. I have never heard a pietistic Lutheran pastor preach that, and I was not taught that at Lutheran Brethren Seminary.

    Could it be that some of you have a distorted picture of what Lutheran pietism really is? Have you formed your views of Lutheran pietism based on what Lutheran pietists have said, or on what others have said about them? May I suggest that you read Philip Spener’s PIA DESIDERIA, Joseph Levang’s LIVING LUTHERAN CHRISTIANITY: A HISTORICAL SKETCH OF LUTHERAN PIETISM, FREE AND LIVING CONGREGATIONS: THE DREAM THAT WOULD NOT DIE (ed. Christopherson, Dyrud, & Horn), or the writings of Hans Neilson Hauge or Georg Sverdrup. Then you can decide whether you are reacting against Lutheran pietism or against a caricature thereof.

  31. @John Eidsmoe #37
    There may be a Lutheran pietist out there somewhere who believes abstinence is essential for salvation. But I have never met one.

    I haven’t met one either. I have had a Pastor and wife who would enjoy a moderate amount of alcohol on a social occasion but confided that they would not do so at some of the parties peripheral to pastors’ meetings, to support a colleague they knew to be abstaining because he had trouble with alcohol.

    The pastors on this blog must not know such people, and apparently the annual gathering of BJS is only for those who can drink. 🙁

  32. I’ve been to gatherings of pastors and laypeople where alcohol (beer and wine) has been served in the fellowship hall. This happened after a DS or Evening Vespers. I was surprised the first time I witnessed this, however, no one was abusing it. Everything Heather said appears to be true. I applaud her for stating her POV.

    I think BJS would get the same reaction from some people if a pastor posted an essay and/or video about all the Glocks he owns.

    The fact of the matter is pastors are held to a higher standard.

    In Christ,

  33. @John Eidsmoe #37

    Like COWO, I suspect there are several different flavors of Lutheran pietism – some good, some bad.  It does seem that on this blog we have only one caricature of Lutheran pietism.  I’d like to see a thread devoted to an accurate and balanced discussion of Lutheran pietism.  Perhaps an AFLC  or CLB representative could start such a thread.

  34. @Diane #39
    I think BJS would get the same reaction from some people if a pastor posted an essay and/or video about all the Glocks he owns.

    Oh, dear! Now we are going to hear from Paul T McCain, who does own one or more, and sometimes puts bloodthirsty quotes on Cranach!

  35. @John Rixe #40
    Perhaps an AFLC or CLB representative could start such a thread.

    If they would be heard and not jeered at….

    I suppose my Grandmother brought pietism with her from Denmark. I am told that when her Navy veteran son brought cribbage (and possibly beer… it’s a family tale, not eye witness account) into the house, she was not happy. However, she loved her son, and cribbage prevailed, to the extent of cribbage tournaments becoming a feature of family reunions to the third generation. 🙂

    Alas, the fourth was not interested. 🙁

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