I went to seminary to escape alcohol.
This may seem somewhat ludicrous to you, as it now does to me. But beyond the genuine belief that God had called me into the ministry, there was the sick notion that I could flee from John Barleycorn behind the ivy-covered walls of a theological cloister.
I did not know then that an alcoholic, or incipient alcoholic, will find a drink anywhere—if he hurts enough. I did not know then that a “geographical cure” is doomed to failure, that an alcoholic needs a new heart, a new spiritual outlook, not a new environment.
I began my alcoholic odyssey as a newsman and ended it as a clergyman. In the sodden interim, I managed to write my senior seminary thesis in a ginmill, escape for a time to an alcoholic’s paradise abroad, be hospitalized twice—and yet remain the object of concern of the Hound of Heaven.
God’s grace has been particularly evident in the fact that, unlike a lot of other alcoholics, I was able to keep my family intact—thanks to the never-failing support of a praying wife. Had I lost my family, I am sure I would not be writing this article, much less be preaching with all my heart the unsearchable riches of His grace. Can human nature be redeemed? You bet it can! I stand in my own pulpit as Exhibit A!
While my faith in Jesus Christ has never been stronger, my hope that the institutional church will help to reclaim the suffering alcoholic is much more limited. I used to blame my alcoholism on the narrow fundamentalism of my youth. No longer. I discovered that my liberal colleagues would offer me a drink to prove their own “liberation.” They would use and abuse the alcoholic with an abandonment unknown in warmly evangelical circles. The sad truth is that nobody likes a drunk.
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