Beer and the Bible?

guinnessOK, the Bible and beer do not ordinarily go together, but what I am going to tell you next will be intoxicating. Arthur Guinness (1725-1803) started a beer-brewing business in Dublin in 1760. Arthur was married to Olivia Whitmore and together had 21 children (10 of whom survived into their adult years). He died in 1803 and she in 1814. He was deeply inspired by the revivalist John Wesley to use his wealth and talents to make the world better. Taking scripture as his guide, Arthur served the needy of his time by making beer and worked to use his gifts to honor God. Guinness was also the founder of the first Sunday Schools in Ireland and started an organized effort to outlaw dueling. His son, Arthur, became an ardent defender of Irish Catholic civil rights, which was interesting because he was a Protestant.

I still don’t think that many of you are convinced that brewing beer would ever be a means of social reform and/or Christian witness. However, before you judge too harshly—— keep reading. Many people today do not even like the beer because it is so filling, but that was/is the genius of Guinness. He made his beer so full of minerals, barely, and iron that most people weren’t able to drink more than a couple of pints. In addition to being nutritious, because the alcohol content was considerably lower than whiskey or gin, it meant that fewer people were actually getting drunk. Curt Harding of Christian News Wire writes: “The water in Ireland, indeed throughout Europe, was famously undrinkable, and the gin and whiskey that took its place was devastating civil society. It was a disease ridden, starvation plagued, alcoholic age, and Christians like Arthur Guinness–as well as monks and even evangelical churches–brewed beer to offer a healthier alternative to the poisonous waters and liquors of the times.”

I am also impressed with the legacy of Olivia and Arthur. Their grandson was Henry Grattan Guinness (1835-1910), a famous evangelical preacher throughout Britain. He once said, “I do now most heartily desire to live but to exalt Jesus; to live preaching and to die preaching; to preach to perishing sinners till I drop down dead.” By the way, Henry was a teetotaler. His daughter, Geraldine (1865-1949) became a missionary to China at the age of 22, and there met and married the son of Hudson Taylor, the founder of the China Inland Mission. She became known as Mrs. Howard Taylor and wrote the biography of Hudson Taylor as well as other significant books about the work of God in China. Finally, Os Guinness (1949- ) Christian author, apologist, and social critic, is Arthur and Olivia’s great-great-great-grandson. When he was two, Os was carried out of China in a basket on a pole by his missionary parents escaping the invading Japanese army. He is an excellent writer and speaker whom I have had the privilege of meeting.

Throughout history Christians have used their skills, gifts, and resources to glorify God and change the culture in some very unique ways. You may not have agreed with the way Arthur Guinness addressed an issue of his day, but what are you doing? I wonder if it will be a Christ-follower who will effectively address the issue of gun control?

You can read more about the Guinness family in THE SEARCH FOR GOD AND GUINNESS: A Biography of the Beer that Changed the World (Thomas Nelson, October 13, 2009), Stephen Mansfield.

8 thoughts on “Beer and the Bible?

  1. Paul

    That’s a great story. But the final statement came out of left field. What is meant by “the issue of gun control”; and why does it need to be addressed? I ask, because it strikes me as terminology that has very different meanings to different ears (and eyes). And if we can’t even come to an agreement as to the identity of a problem, we certainly won’t come to an agreement as to its solution.

    1. How would the gospel define the issue of gun control and then how would the Holy Spirit help us to figure out how to deal with the problems that gun control advocates are trying to solve? That is what I mean.

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