Saturday, September 1, 2012

C.S. Lewis—A man who smoked and drank alcohol

One of the most engaging seminars on C.S. Lewis was done by Dr. Knox Chamblin (who died earlier this year) at Reformed Theological Seminary. This series explored primarily Lewis’ life, his works and his theology. In one of the earlier seminars, Dr. Chamblin shared this historic interaction between the well-known fundamentalist Dr. Bob Jones Jr. and C.S. Lewis. Asked afterwards for an assessment regarding the Oxford Don, Dr. Jones stated,
“That man smokes a pipe….and that man drinks liquor….but I do believe he is a Christian!”

This quote leads us into the central thesis of this blog post, “What is the Christian’s position regarding alcohol and tobacco?”

I admit grappling with this issue is nothing new in the blogosphere or in pockets of evangelicalism. 

Furthermore, I will gladly confess that this blog post will not bring anything original to this provocative topic.

Being a Christian is not about abstaining from alcohol or tobacco.

I used to judge the individual who put out his cigarette and heads into his local church. To me, this person was a sinner, a hypocrite and a person who needed to cleanse himself of his addictions before he walks into the house of the Lord. In the judgment of my youthful self-righteousness, this person certainly could not be a Christian.

But what does the Scriptures say?
Romans 14:17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
It is amusing to me that through the puffy haze of a pipe and a frosty pint, Dr. Jones was convinced he saw a man whose greatest affections were for Jesus Christ, the Savior of drunkards.

The above verse reveals what the legendary Fundamentalist saw: Trust in the alien righteousness of Christ; Peace as one reconciled with God; Joy as one given new desires by the Holy Spirit.

Does this mean Lewis was correct in his approach to alcohol and tobacco? Not necessarily. But again, this is not the essence of this point. It is simple fact that consumption does not make the man, but it is what comes out of man.

Jesus said,
And He called the people to him and said to them, "Hear and understand: 11 it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person." (Matt. 15:10-11)
Young men love to invoke Spurgeon to defend their enjoyment of cigars and Lewis to support their taste for beer. Yet I would rather have young men look to emulate the Giants’ orthodoxy, affections and zeal; since it is by these standards the God of Justice will either smile or frown.

Don’t drink to numb yourself.

Here are some interesting facts:

--There were over 3.3 Billion prescriptions filled in America in 2002 (12 times the U.S’s population - that’s 12 prescriptions for every man, woman, and child in the U.S. that year).
--65% of North Americans take prescription medications daily, 43% take mood altering prescriptions regularly.
--Paxil and Zoloft (two of the more popular anti-anxiety medications) ranked 7th and 8th in the top ten prescribed medications in the US (these two medications totaled almost $5 Billion in sales in 2002.  
--Recreational drugs are also used to cope with anxiety. 42% of young adults in America regularly use recreational drugs (National Institute on Drug Abuse).

The point: People regularly use recreational drugs to NUMB themselves from the ache of their inner soul.

Is this why you drink alcohol…to forget? To find relief? Is your union in Christ not enough? Are the Scriptures not sufficient to give hope to a hurting heart?

Pink Floyd’s legendary song Comfortably Numb, says it all:

Come on
Now…I hear you're feeling down
I can ease your pain
Get you on your feet again 
O.K….Just a little pinprick.
There'll be no more, ah!
But you may feel a little sick.
Can you stand up?
I do believe it's working, good.
That'll keep you going through the show
Come on it's time to go.

Though the lyrics are likely referring to cocaine or heroin, either way, the desire was to become numb to the pain of this existence.

What is the answer to the hurting Christian? A big view of God.

A proper (i.e. big) view of God attacks our anxious thoughts and replaces them with a peaceful confidence in Him.

Addiction is sin.

Why? Because addiction reveals that something or someone is controlling you other than the Lordship of Christ. Another way to put it is that addiction is not acting in faith and whatever is not done in faith is sin (Rom. 14:23).

Was Lewis addicted to nicotine? Probably. Testimonials reveal that Lewis’ doctors advised him to stop smoking and apparently he declined to submit to this encouragement.

And yet I would caution the reader in their judgment on Lewis or others. Is the sin of pride such an addiction? Does the evil lure of lust ever completely resolved in this life? Is there much difference between these types of addiction? If you were being honest, which addiction does the most damage to a person’s soul (and often the souls of others)? Is it not the addiction of pride?

To be clear, I am NOT saying that we should therefore be indifferent to addictions. By no means! Rather, we must fight for holiness, whether the snare of pride or any other physiological addiction, since all addictions are rooted in the individual’s replacement of true worship for false worship (Rom. 1:24-25).

Drinking can be a hindrance to “personal holiness”.

Notice I wrote can and not is. In other words, drinking has the ability to be a hindrance.

I am referring to drinking to excess? No, drunkenness is clearly forbidden in scripture and therefore, is not relevant to this discussion.

So when is drinking a hindrance to holiness?

If you have a propensity to drink to excess, maybe it is time for some biblical amputation (Matt. 5:29-30; Romans 13:14).

If you are still torn in your conscience, you shouldn’t drink (I Cor. 8:11). Furthermore, why spend so much energy fretting over something like drinking anyways? Again, it is not that important.

If you are in a cultural environment where drinking is viewed as sinful, immoral or irresponsible, you should be prepared to abstain for the sake of the gospel. Some of you will say, “Why do I have to curb or limit my freedoms for a legalistic Christian or church or culture?”

Because God said so.
1 Corinthians 9:15 But I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing these things to secure any such provision. For I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of my ground for boasting.
In other words, the liberty which we have attained through the gospel, frees us to lay aside our rights for the sake of the gospel.



Drinking has nothing to do with being “reformed” or any other group with Christianity.

I am so sick of the recent resurgence for the consumption of alcohol within the YRR (Young, restless and reformed) movement. Is this what contemporary evangelicalism needs, more blog posts about the historical precedence of beer consumption, the reality of wine in the ministry of Jesus or the possible interpretation of future eschatological banquets involving wine, specifically during the millennial reign of Christ.

I am well aware that Luther’s wife brewed her own beer, which by the way, is impressive, especially since she used to be a nun. But who cares? Is Luther remembered in the pages of church history because he fought for the doctrine of justification by faith alone or because his wife had a brewery in their house?

Have a beer…or don’t have a beer. I don’t care. But stop making it a badge of honor for many in the Reformed community and concurrently, stop acting like it shouldn’t matter to other Christians, specifically those who come out of alcoholism or who are still trying to purge themselves of their fundamentalist roots. Quite frankly, God seems to care more about those people then the imaginary badges you enjoying hanging on your elite green jacket worn in Club Reformed.


  1. Great post, I feel that so many people decide to take a stand on minor issues like this, rather than standing up and defending the gospel. I know several Christians who hold a very legalistic view on alcohol and I know several Christians who border the line of abusing their freedoms. There are extremes on both ends that we can go to, however we shouldn’t be letting things like this be a hindrance to the gospel. If someone says that they wont give up alcohol for the sake of the gospel, then it is clear that they are not actually free to it but rather enslaved by it. There may be a time and a place for certain things, like alcohol, but we must always be sensitive to those around us. I am sure that I am not coming across as clear as you did in your post, but I completely agree with you.

  2. Well said. I also have friends on both sides. Frankly, I used to be fairly legalistic about this issue. But God is patient with me, breaking of my prideful heart, while concurrently developing within me a heart of compassion. Thanks again for your comments.

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  4. Drinking is one thing, but with smoking, aren't you talking about a recreation with over 70+ certified carcinogens? If the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, wouldn't puffing on a cancer stick be working it's destruction?

    1. Smoking no worse for you or "unholy" than the rampant gluttony that goes one with most folks daily. Government studies that "show" that tobacco smoking is bad for you are mostly bull snot anyway. It is just a way for them to control people and get more taxes. This is why the scientists who do these studies rarely give us all the parameters of their tests or all of the raw data. Any data that might distract from their preconceived notions of smoking being the most horrible thing on earth are simply ignored. Smoking isn't nearly as harmful as a bunch of people who's funding depends on them beating that drum lead people to believe. Calling cigarettes, cigars, or pipe tobacco "cancer sticks" is loaded and misleading language. Most people who get cancer get it due to genetic problems, not smoking. Lots of non-smokers get lung cancer. Doctors just don't look for it because they have preconceived notions about smoking from faulty studies. The Kingdom of heaven is not eating or drinking or smoking. It is not what goes into a man that defiles him....

    2. I agree with Ben, but on an even simpler plane. Yes. So many Christians talk of not smoking--as Ben said--so as not to pollute the temple of the Holy Spirit and then go to the fellowship hall to consume donuts, pastries, pancakes, hamburgers, hot dogs, sodas, et. al. I've said often that if polluting the Holy Spirit is the concern, it would be healthier for everyone to enjoy a martini and a cigarette at the fellowship hall.

    3. Good point Anonymous. I knew of one Christian that would go on hunting trips and consume nearly a dozen donuts and two thermoses of coffee by himself before noon. I also read a report about the consumption of hot dogs. They reported that eating one hot dog was equivalent to taking so many minutes or hours off of your life.
      Studies showed that the typical pipe smoker who usually does not inhale and only smokes a pipe two or three times a week are not addicted like cigarette smokers are. This explains why many pipe smokers can go months on end without feeling the need to smoke their pipe at all. I know of men who only smoke a pipe or occasional cigar only when they go fishing or are at the deer hunting camp; which means 99% of the time they are not smoking anything at all. For these kinds of smokers they probably have a better chance of getting hit by lighting than to contact any kind of disease from their rare encounter with tobacco.
      I think the key is to do all things in moderation, to be in self control. It seems the studies show it is most likely those that abuse their indulgences that get into trouble. In fact i don't think I have ever heard of anyone contracting lung, lip, or throat cancer as a result of smoking the very infrequent cigar or pipe.

  5. As someone who grew up in fundamentalist Christianity as the son of a Pentecostal preacher, I struggled with a lot of things. I was weaned on the bible and various Charismatic teachings and studied my bible and knew it very well. However, in all my understanding and knowledge I discovered in recent years that a lot of my beliefs were based more on the preconceived beliefs of my heritage. I always loved God's word and held my beliefs very strongly. I too believed firmly that Alcohol was wrong and that a true Christian couldn't enjoy such an evil thing. However, I spent a considerable amount of time studying and researching the historical and biblical truth of my belief and was thoroughly shocked to learn the bible's actual teachings concerning Alcohol. Also, in the course of my studies I discovered that many regions of the world to this day do not have a problem with Alcohol, North America seems to be the area with the most problems. Most of these long held beliefs stem from early America and as a Canadian these same beliefs have infiltrated my native country as well. I also discovered CS Lewis and his love of the Pipe. Wow, I was blown away. I turned 40 this year and attend church regularly and play my guitar there, but as of last year I now smoke a pipe and absolutely love it. I suffer with back pain also and take prescription drugs to help me get through the day. I find that a Brandy and my pipe help me relax and also help with the pain. I now believe that there are natural things that God placed here for our benefit that can help us in the enjoyment of our lives. The key to this is the same as with food, moderation. I find from the scriptures that moderation in all these things will enhance our time on this earth, but that overdoing things can be detrimental to our lives. I feel so much freer and enjoy my life so much more now that these religious sinkholes have been removed from my heart and mind. The bible teaches us that Christ has made us free from the law yet in my formative years in church that freedom was elusive at best. We need to use our minds that God gave us and read his word for ourselves and put aside our traditions of man that make the word of God of no effect in our lives.

  6. I love this post. And I don't say that often. Articulated much of what has been swimming around in my head - both the legalistic aspect that doesn't reflect Scripture at one extreme, and the obsession with freedom to drink and the desire to be an "expert" in it and talk about it all the time, that replaces passion for the Gospel at the other extreme. Well said - take away sola fide, and we'd never talk about Luther. Take away his beer, he's still in a giant in the faith. Great job.

  7. Well said. I was a bit rattled by the end-bit there in regards to the "[reformed Christian youth tooting their own horn about how superior they may be because of these fresh revelations concerning alcohol and tobacco]" if I may paraphrase it? I think it's really pretty simple; alcohol, tobacco, pride, gluttony, greed, lust or any other sin you can think of, can be detrimental if it takes the form of an idol. However, in regards to the above, I do not believe tobacco or alcohol can be categorized as it is not explicitly FORBIDDEN in Scripture. Alcohol is used time and time again as a symbol for joy, celebration, and marital bliss! However, we are clearly told NOT to drink to excess and drunkenness.

    I read a blog as well regarding tobacco and the dangers of it. Ben Stokes made a very solid point regarding tobacco as well (read above). Some would assume Satan took the natural plant and twisted its purpose by altering the minds of humans into smoking it. My problem however is: is it more of a twisted state of mind to take a plant in its natural form and say it can't be consumed? Or is it more of a twisted state of mind to take a plant in its natural form and say it can't be consumed because of what society says, thus barring it from the pleasure God intended? When I have a beer, or a glass of wine (not excessively) I enjoy the smooth affect it has on me and the bubbly (not intoxicated) feeling it gives me. When I smoke my pipe, I enjoy the aesthetic and calming affect it gives me which feels completely ordained and GOOD.

    Just some thoughts. I'm a philosopher by trade so I can't take something that I feel convicted of in my heart and just let it go without reason. :)

    BTW- C.S. Lewis died of kidney failure and J.R.R Tolkien died of a non-cancer related death.

    With all Brotherly love!

  8. When my mother passed away tragically after elective surgery on her upper spine, I experience something I once made fun of in others. Clinical depression coupled with extreme and persistent panic attacks actually disabled me. The pills the medical community prescribed did nothing, so I turned to alcohol. It became a syndrome that society calls alcoholism. I battled this for ten years until I developed a true relationship with the Lord. Recovery from this syndrome is entirely futile. The end result is a dry-drunk and there is nothing more miserable. I am on the path of restoration. This is not the restoring of my previous life, but the restoration of the being the Lord intended for me to be. I'm sorry to say this, but all of the twelve step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous are actually preventing many people from attaining restoration from the Lord and trapping them into a syndrome of the dry-drunk. What a miserable existence. And believe me, I have really been through that too. This is the cure to all of our compulsive behavior syndromes, even the minor, disregarded traps that we all have in our fallen state.

  9. I stopped drinking and smoking 2 1/2 years ago- and rededicated my life to Christ. I gained awareness- (either through the AA 12 step program, or as a result of repentance, I do not know), but what I do know is that I have been barraged with medical issues and illness's since I stopped drinking my wine. I have been thinking that perhaps these illness's were God's way of chastising me for the pain I have incurred on others; (He disciplines those he loves..), but am confused when after so much seeking and praying, and abstinence, I am more miserable than ever before.
    It is refreshing to hear others who sound like their hearts are in the right place with their faith in Christ, speak about freedom, and the comparisons of which 'sins' are truly those that damn the soul.
    I would love to be able to enjoy a glass of wine each day without feeling condemned. I'm starting to wonder if I, like Timothy, may actually require it for my health issues.
    ...but what about what AA refers to as the relapse? Will the guilt of having returned to a glass of wine do me in?
    I want to know Him- intimately, and obediently. I want to please Him and rely on Him. I want to enjoy those things that are permissible without fear of failure.

  10. If the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, why do I see more over weight or plain fat people claiming to be Christians. Is this a double standard? Share the gospel with love not finger pointing.

  11. that why all the discipline the apostles and the prophet smoked and get drunk with the win i did not know about that folks i will start today for give me for now
    i think there is two kind of calling form god among the christian one group are called to smoke and to drink and the other group are game changers who are told not to drink and to smoke like Samson and john the baptist

  12. that why all the discipline the apostles and the prophet smoked and get drunk with the win i did not know about that folks i will start today for give me for now
    i think there is two kind of calling form god among the christian one group are called to smoke and to drink and the other group are game changers who are told not to drink and to smoke like Samson and john the baptist

  13. I was looking to see what kind of analytical information there was on Lewis' diet, how much he smoked, drank, etc.. Nothing available yet on that score just that he seemed addicted. He poo-pooed the idea of dietary significance and didn't seem particularly interested in real physical exercise. It is unfortunate he wasn't more consistent with the clear Biblical teachings on health and lifestyle.

    1. Another pillar of Biblical Theology was Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He also drank and was a heavy smoker of everything.

  14. Very good comments. I find that as the years progress and we grow in grace and in the knowledge of Christ, we usually become more and more tolerant with others and less judgmental. This I think is because years of reading and studying God's word tends to more and more reveal our own shortcomings, inconsistencies, failings, and sins. In other words, we begin to see more logs in our own eyes, therefore we can be more merciful to others.

    This is not to say that we should never approach another about some failings that we see in them, but it does say that we should not rush to judgment, nor should we be harsh in them (Gal.6:1). One of my favorite verses is Rom.4:8 "Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin." The believer's sins (all of them) have been imputed to Christ...Amen! Remember that when others are harsh with you concerning the things that you struggle with.

  15. We have to remember everything has a spirit tied to it. If it controls you meaning you can't live w out it its now your god them you have entered the danger zone of idolatry from what you wear to what you eat and do even how we worship meaning if God can't come and change your plans or if you can't abstain from what He for a season or a lifetime tells you you can't afford to do that anymore cause of where I'm taking you and what I've purposed to do thru you then its your god. Too much is given much is required also He does say abstain from the meer appearance of evil. If it comes before God and your relationship w Him then deliverance to wholeness is required and a must do. I have a glass of wine and even some Coquito during holidays, love dressing well singing Karaoke, etc. yet none of these things keep me from who I am in God nor from fulfilling my assignment in His Kingdom. If and when it keeps me from praying reading fasting, going to fellowship w God people and others, keeps me from speaking His truth in love, from being a life giver, keeps me seeking His face and heart, keeps me from expressing authentically who God is to me and thru me His love to all man kind then that's the sin. I must be willing to acknowledge humble myself repent from and turn back to God nothing we do should take God place in our hearts. Free will is God giving but less its sanctified we will choose incorrectly every time. Jesus had free will even said I can't I don't want but thank God lastly He said not my will but Thy will be done. When anything we do controls us when He came to set us free indeed. We must be willing in all thru all to say the same thy will be done be it unto me according to your will. One may be able to drink another smoke but He may require me to not do either know God and allow Him to show you your heart. Its a heart matter many will say but I did this set captive free, healed the sick He will say depart from me I know you not. Bottom line your heart must be completely His settle not to just be healed but to be made whole spirit soul and body. He will then let you know your boundaries that you are to follow and live by as you walk and live life while releasing Him forward to all. Shalom! Prophet of the Lord!

  16. Sadly we all forget not to judge one another and that christ is all we need to be saved so smoke if you want for not smoking will never save you.

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  18. Through employment moves to several cities over several years I observed a consistent problem in every church where Not drinking and Not smoking were viewed as the hall marks of Christianity and membership. It was with pride that these people would point out that they were not sinners where as those who drank and smoked were certainly not Christians. Any who drank were in fact referred to as Drunkards even through there was no evidence at all that the ones so labled had a drinking problem of any kind. During my years working with high school youth I many times encountered children of members who were using drugs. When I would meet with the parents over what was taking place - arriving at youth stoned, a not uncommon answer was "Yes but they dont drink". Most disturbing was how many of the Non Drinking Non Smokers eventually get divorced and were unfaithful to their wives(or husbands) and even were involved in much of what was prohibited in the 10 commandments - but they would still boast that they didn't drink nor smoke.
    It seems it was more important to not fail man made commandments than Gods commandments. I am just retired now and these problems are only worse. The latest comments I have heard from people in Church is that Marijuana is not Tobacco. I challenge them that the use of Marijuana a known hallucinogen is actually the practice of sorcery but no one seems interested in the truth of the explanations. The Churches I have attended are not old style mainline churches but evangelical.