The article is entitled “College Drinking is Liberating, and a Good Excuse.” I’m not sure if the folks at USA Today agree with the title, but it seems that college students certainly do. In the August 22 report, Sharon Jayson maintains that college students drink a lot and there’s not much anyone can do about it.

Colleges trying to stem the tide of student drinking have focused on the evils of intoxication and all the trouble that can ensue when students drink too much. But new psychological research suggests that the downsides of excessive drinking aren’t bad enough to make students stop.

“They intend to get intoxicated,” says psychologist E. Scott Geller, director of the Center for Applied Behavior Systems at Virginia Tech.

“We have shown in several studies that their intentions influence their behavior. If they intend to get drunk, it’s difficult to stop that.”

Geller, who has been studying alcohol awareness since the mid-1980s, notes that education hasn’t worked.

“We thought if we could demonstrate to students that their performance deteriorated under alcohol, they would be convinced that their alcohol consumption has put them at risk,” Geller says. But “knowing that one is impaired, physically and even emotionally, did not seem to reduce alcohol consumption.”

Binge drinking is so bad that when researches tried using Breathalyzers at parties and bars it only encouraged students to drink more. No matter how many bad consequences are put in front of students–drunk driving, addictions, unwanted sexual intercourse, unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, decreased performance in school–Jayson argues that it just doesn’t offset the two perceived benefits of drinking: it’s liberating and a good excuse.

On the former, students thinking of alcohol as “liquid courage.” It makes them more fun, more adventurous, less tied to inhibitions. On the latter, drinking is seen as a convenient way of avoiding personal responsibility. The sober girl who hooks up with a complete stranger might be considered a slut. But if she’s drunk, then it’s not really a mark on her character; she just had a few too many. Likewise, many students feel justified if they miss class or perform poorly because of a hangover. No matter what people tell them about the possible dangers of drinking, getting drunk, for many college students, is the best way to have fun. And whatever negative consequences may come, these are thought to reflect on the alcohol not on the individual.

What to Do?

How should Christians respond? Here we are at the start of another school year with thousands of students returning to classes and thousands more leaving home for the first time. Many of these students are already excited to drink. Others will be sucked into the party scene their first weekend and may not pull out of it for years…or ever. Many professing Christians will live duplicitous lives–getting smashed on the weekends while still trying to be the good Christian boy or girl their parents and ministry friends imagine them to be. The problem is huge and anyone wishing to minister to college students needs to think about a biblical approach.

Here are a few suggestions on how to begin formulating a Christian response to drunkenness on our college campuses.

1. Know your enemy. Like a good AA course, the first step is admitting we have a problem. I don’t need to give you statistics to convince you that lots and lots of college students drink alcohol to get drunk. Churches and Christian leaders must not take their eyes off of this singular fact. Take almost any college in the country, especially the big state schools, and I can just about guarantee that the biggest obstacle to Christian discipleship is not Richard Dawkins or Bart Ehrman or all the heady objections to Christianity that our apologetics are meant to counter. We need apologetics. I’m 100% for taking every thought captive to Christ. But for most 17-22 year-olds the most common temptations to sin are alcohol and sex. Even when there are intellectual objections to Christianity, these are often just cover for a debauched lifestyle. Tens of thousands of college students walk away from the church this year or never give it a chance because their main goal each week is to get smashed and hook up. Rare is the campus ministry that needs to talk about Derrida more than drunkenness.

2. Demonstrate a mature attitude toward alcohol. Some Christians go farther than Scripture in condemning alcohol. I won’t get into that argument here, but I don’t believe you can condemn alcohol from the Bible. If you try, many folks will swing to the other side when they realize your arguments don’t work. On the other hand, the Christians that recognize the good gift of wine or beer need to grow up at times. Christian upperclassmen (and other adults) who can drink legally should be careful with alcohol consumption around underage believers. They should not talk about beer like it’s the coolest thing since Sufjan Stevens. Christian liberty is no reason for social life and conversation to revolve around the conspicuous consumption of alcohol.

3. Be boldly biblical. There is good wisdom in admonishing sinners by presenting the negative consequences of sin. “You reap what you sow” is how the Bible puts it. So it’s appropriate to warn binge drinkers of STD’s and addictions and DUI’s and scrambling your brains on a car antenna (I won’t go into details, but it was the most disturbing story I heard while I was in college). And yet the Bible doesn’t just say, “Stop getting drunk because it will hurt you.” It also says, “Stop getting drunk because God hates it.” Drunkards do not inherit the kingdom of heaven (1 Cor. 6:10). Drunkards do not belong in the church’s fellowship (1 Cor. 5:11). Of course, there is forgiveness for the sin of drunkenness. But the Bible repeatedly rebukes those who seek after this sin. Woe to those who run after strong drink, Isaiah says (5:11). Do not get drunk, is Paul’s command (Eph. 5:18). This is what God has to say about the tradition of partying every weekend while in college: “Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Rom. 13:13-14).

4. Show tough love. There’s a fine line between caring for your drunken friend (who may legitimately hurt himself or others) and enabling sin. Don’t let friends drink and drive and don’t let friends crack their skulls open (I saw people come close in college). But don’t feel sorry for the weekend warriors. Don’t pick up all their messes or remove all their consequences. This line from the USA Today article stuck out: “The campus environment provides so much social support that even when students have bad experiences drinking, the help they get from friends afterward is seen as a positive.” If you are interested in real community, take a risk and show some tough love.

5. Remind the Christians who they are. I realize that many of the binge drinkers have nothing to do with Christianity. But at least in the Midwest (and I’m sure in the South), most college students claim some Christian affiliation. Press home their profession of Christ. Tell them what it means to be a new creation. Help them see who they are in Christ. Show them that because they are joined to Christ they take Christ with them to get hammered and get in bed with someone. Teach them again all the good news of Christ crucified for sinners and Christ raised for newness of life. Then implore them to live as if they actually believed what they say they believe.

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48 thoughts on “Sobering Report on College Drinking”

  1. Louis says:

    Great article Kevin. Point #2 is instructive and needs heeding among so many of us.

  2. Jenn says:

    So well written. Based on my experiences and friendships in college, binge drinking/getting drunk just to get drunk-was and is a symptom of a deep void and desperate need for the Gospel. I watched as one friend lived intoxicated…became a believer our senior year…and I saw her entire life change because of the Gospel. Precious!

  3. Nate says:

    KDY-
    I really do love your work and look forward to what you have to share however I feel that you have missed an opportunity to acknowledge our nation’s continuation of the failed culture of prohibition started by the 18th amendment and the number of unintended consequences caused by this failed policy. Instead of allowing adults who are encouraged to sacrifice their lives country, vote, and participate in a world of higher learning, we have restricted their rights and legislatively treat 18-20 yr olds as second class citizens. We will take your votes and your lives in time of war but heaven forbid you toast champagne at a wedding.
    Maybe the culture of binge drinking is the unintended consequence of young adults being treated as children.
    J. Gresham Machen was onto something when he said, ““Everywhere there rises before our eyes the spectre of a society where security, if it is attained at all, will be attained at the expense of freedom, where the security that is attained will be the security of fed beasts in a stable, and where all the high aspirations of humanity will have been crushed by an all-powerful state.”
    http://www.thefreemanonline.org/columns/j-gresham-machen-a-forgotten-libertarian/

  4. taco says:

    The last part of #3 is your biggest apologetical tool. In a non-Christian worldview there is no objective reason to not get drunk. Even if it will be detrimental to ones health there isn’t a reason for it to be “bad.” One needs a Christian Worldview in order for the “badness” of drunkenness to make any sense.

  5. taco says:

    Also – This is the case for all moral pronouncements. So, in the end this needs to be addressed in the overall context of evangelism and apologetics (they go hand in hand).

  6. Jim says:

    Great instructions, Kevin.

  7. Matt says:

    @Nate – interesting point, but here in UK drinking is legal from 18 (or younger in some contexts), but we still have a massive binge drinking culture.

  8. Kyle says:

    “We have shown in several studies that their intentions influence their behavior.” Good one psychology. No one saw that coming.

  9. Jane says:

    I really appreciate your advice and the Scripture passages you pointed to in this article. Thank you! This post will help in conversations with friends about this topic.

  10. Melody says:

    Living in a college town and so continuing in the environment past what is considered college age I think your article is spot on.
    I think the level of drinking in high school would shoot multiple holes in the theory of adults being treated as children leads to binge drinking. It is very obviously simply a sin issue and being seduced by what the world tells us.

  11. Binge drinking is not liberating, it puts you in bondage to alcohol. Drinking only seems liberating in your own mind, the false courage it supposedly gives is foolishness and lack of any self-control so you are more vulnerable to evil, you become used and abused by the world very quickly. Flee from youthful lusts the Bible instructs for a reason, God is protecting you, not keeping you from “having fun”.

  12. Steve says:

    Kevin, excellent article. After 18 years of working as a college minister with a parachurch organization and now after 8 years working in a church–this is a huge issue. As I interact with campus ministers and others I am amazed at the number who will quickly run to the “freedom” they have as a means to justify their desire to drink. They have seldom, if ever, thought of using their freedom “not” to do something. I appreciate your point about thinking properly about alcohol. We need to help our students see the incredible riches and responsibility of their being united with Christ. Thanks for the article.

  13. This is my favorite quote, “Rare is the campus ministry that needs to talk about Derrida more than drunkenness.” And I’m from an OPC church, so I’m definitely not one to take any importance away from apologetics.

    I found this a very challenging post, Pastor DeYoung. At my age (I like to call it the post-college-wishing-we-were-still-in-college age) I find a LOT of these things to be applicable. For me, especially points 3 and 4. Sometimes drunkenness is treated (and I’m guilty of this too) as just a little and sometimes amusing sin rather than the big deal that it really is. Thank you for your words.

  14. Caitlin says:

    Thank you for this article. As a 26 yr old follower of Jesus in recovery from alcoholism and drug addiction I really appreciate this article.

    I was not a follower of Christ before college, but I was searching. My search for meaning in life lead me to drink but it also led me to “try Jesus”.

    I will always be grateful for the church and pastors in St Louis who walked me through my addiction. Even though I was stubborn and rebellious it was ultimately through followers of Jesus in the local church speaking truth in love and standing in the gap for me that lead me to seek help for my addiction and walk me through my struggles with truth,love, and a whole lot of grace.

    The best thing they did was love me where I was, speak the gospel, and encourage professional help. For that I will always be grateful.

  15. Doyle says:

    When the church turns a blind eye towards divorce, homosexuality, fornication, greed, and many other forms of sin and immorality, kids are going to laugh at being lectured about drinking. Young people can smell hypocrisy a mile away.

  16. @Doyle As a young person, I can tell you I’m well aware of those things and still appreciated this post. And check out the post above yours. Sounds like someone else was helped by stuff like this too.

    Plus, this is not a lecture about drinking. It is about the sin of drunkennes. It is not a valid argument to say, “Well, all these sins are being committed, why talk about THAT one!?” In this way you could excuse all sins. Sin is sin and I applaud Pastor DeYoung for highlighting one that often gets brushed off with a smirk at the antics of the “college crowd.”

  17. An encouragement to all: Tell about people about the Lord even if they are drunk.

    I was once an atheistic, licentious Art School student convinced of the stupidity and intolerance of Christianity. Someone who loved Jesus and cared about me once said: “Y’know, God is not an idea, He is a living Person.” I was totally drunk at the time but that simple statement haunted me and played a role in God drawing me to Himself.

  18. John says:

    “We can thank God for beer and brandy by not drinking too much of them”. – G.K. Chesterton

  19. malin friess says:

    Kevin-

    How do you feel Christian Colleges are doing regarding this issue (Calvin, Wheaton, Hope, Westmont)? Do they tend to look the other way or actually inforce the law regarding underage drinking? Is a pledge (like Wheaton has) to refrain from drinking appropriate?

    Malin

  20. Andrew says:

    Hi Kevin

    I enjoyed reading your article and I think there is nothing wrong with what you have said. In my mind, you have addressed the major issues. But I also believe that you have missed the one issue that I think is most important – The ‘why’ college kids drink. Why exactly do they do it?

    It seems to me that both the article you referenced and the text you provided address the symptoms of the issue very well. But they don’t ask the question ‘Why do kids feel the need to actually drink to this level? What are they getting from their friends, social status, community etc that makes it worth going out and getting so incredibly drunk?’

    I was grabbed by God about 5 years ago, and prior to that my attitude to drinking was it was a panacea to all of my issues. If I was feeling crap, I’d grab a beer. If I had issues with relationships, I’d grab a beer. If I failed a subject because I was hung over, I’d grab a beer. If I was at a wedding and feeling keenly the sense of loneliness that ached to the depth of my soul, I’d grab a beer.

    Alcohol was used as a tool, and the results were simply indicative of just how broken I was.

    For mine, the issue I feel is most prevalent is what has happened in the 17 years before the student heads to college that has motivated them to damage their bodies in this manner? What are they missing that we haven’t, as a Christian community, identified and tried to raise up Christ as the answer?

    As Pascal said, ‘Inside of every man there is a God-shaped vacuum that only God can fill’ and to my way of thinking we, as the Christian community, need to spend the 17 years before the student heads to college showing them that Christ is the only thing that will fill that vacuum.

    If that is done successfully, I would certainly think that students heading to college would be much wiser with what and how much they put into their stomachs.

    Yours in Christ,

    Andrew

  21. Doyle says:

    @Heather – you need to read my post closer – you obviously missed the point.

  22. Zach says:

    2 years ago I graduated from a southern university having seen plenty of under age (and over age, for that matter) binge drinking. In fact, I’d be lying if I said there weren’t a couple of instances where I consumed more than I should have.

    I think the biggest issue for the myriad “casual Christians” in a college environment is the perceived lack of consequences and a perspective that “I have plenty of time to turn this around later.”

    Many saw it as easier to ask forgiveness than resist the pressure and temptation of the college party scene. “I can do that whole Christian thing later, but I don’t want to miss this experience now.”

    For the most part the kids who are really well grounded in their faith headed into college are able to successfully resist the temptation and pressure, but particularly in the south (and it sounds like the midwest, too) there are so many who come out of high school as what I call “social Christians.” They enjoyed the summer youth group trips and the time to hand out with friends on Wednesday and Sunday night, but mostly lacked any depth to their relationship with Christ or their understanding of scripture.

    With all of the new temptations and pressures, its very easy to give into them and promise yourself you’ll figure out this whole Jesus thing in a couple of years. It amazed me how many people I saw start reforming themselves, so to speak, senior year when they realized the “real world” was quickly approaching and it was probably time to figure out how they really wanted to live their lives.

    Obviously none of these are valid excuses, and I don’t really have good answers, but perhaps it will help others understand how so many kids end up this situation.

  23. @Doyle: Patronizing tones do not get your point across. Why not try clarification? I read your post again, even though I HAD read it a few times before I responded. Like I always do, but you wouldn’t know that because we don’t know one another and you merely jumped to conclusions. Perhaps you can clarify what it is that I “missed.”

  24. Doyle says:

    @Heather – the point is a message of consistency. I don’t disagree with what Kevin said. However, when other sins get a pass with a wink and a nod, this does not go unnoticed by teenagers. As one example, take divorce and remarriage (one of the points I made in my original post). It is rampant in the church today and it is seldom, if ever, addressed from the pulpit or by church leadership. In fact, in my previous church the assistant pastor was divorced and remarried as were fully half of the elders and deacons. Yet nary a word about it for obvious reasons.

    That’s just one brief example – you can look at my original post for others. So when the message being put out to kids by the church is one of inconsistency, do you really think they’re not going to rationalize drinking, and any behavior for that matter, based on these leaders and mentors they observed in church.

    My point again is that the message that needs to come from the church today is Biblical consistency. And in the state of the church today, that is not what they are hearing and seeing.

    And by the way, condescending? Really? Perhaps I could look at your response as a feminist looking to be offended.

  25. Jason Ricarden says:

    I love it! When KDY tells us we need to grow up about alcohol, it’s cool. When Dr. MacArthur says it, it’s legalism and he’s a grumpy old man who needs to quit being so negative.

    I, for one, am thankful for the messages from KDY and Dr. MacArthur. I just find it funny how YRRs are reacting to the exact same point of critique from these two great men.

  26. Jeremy McKinzey says:

    I am one of the few who believe that drinking alcohol for a believer is a sin. I understand no where in Scripture does it state that. Here is my point: What benefits from drinking alcohol? It is known as a depressant, a drug, and it damages your brain cells. Alcohol also destroys families, marriages, and relationships. I am 31 yrs old, was a virgin when I married and I have never had a drop of alcohol. I have seen the negative effects of alcohol, my parents told me to stay away from it from their negative experiences of the drug in their own families. You can try and pull the argument that Jesus and the others drank alcohol but that won’t work on me. I stand with John MacArthur and other goldy older men who say there is no good thing comes from drinking alcohol. I say stay away from it and you won’t have to worry about being a stumbling block to others. I also say, that if Scripture tells us that our bodies is the living temple, then we should not pollute our bodies with alcohol or anything else for that matter that destroys the temple of God. I will till the day I die state that drinking alcohol is no good and should be avoided at all costs. In 20 to 30 yrs, b/c this ridiculous teaching that says drinking alcohol is ok for a Christian, there will be more alcoholics and families destroyed from this bad drink. More pastors will fall out of ministry b/c of it and many more families will be broken b/c pastors and bible teachers and mature believers don’t have the balls to stay away from it.

  27. Gary Horn says:

    I would add this:

    6. Unpack for them, to borrow a sermon title, “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection”. People need to hear more than “don’t”. They need to be shown something better. How many of us can show someone how Jesus is better and alcohol or sex or any other sin?

  28. Kimberly says:

    HOW MANY OF YOU LOGGED ONLINE, ITCHING WITH ANTICIPATION TO READ MY POST!? Just as I thought.

    The fact of the matter is that without credibility our words, no matter how well intended, often go unrecognized. Hence the expression: “Fell upon deaf ears.”

    Would you jump at the chance to write, or even read, an article about the importance of being agnostic? My strong hunch is probably not. Other wise, we wouldn’t be passionately discussing the correlation between Christianity and “College Drinking.” For those of you still reading this, stay with me… I have a point!

    Pastor DeYoung, Andrew, and Zach, I couldn’t agree with your posts more. The root cause of issues such as binge drinking, alcoholism and the like, need to be assessed more closely. It is vitally important that the “how’s” and “why’s” of these issues are understood if there is to be any sort of resolve. I agree that it is important for us to come alongside of these individuals with principles such as “tough love,” but more importantly, Biblical love – which can also be tenderhearted.

    No matter how well intended our ideals might be they still seem to be lacking one very important thing…Understanding. According to Biblegateway.com, the word “understanding” occurs in The Bible over 110 times. Obviously, it is a word that holds significance.

    I am reminded of Galatians 6 (primarily verses 1-3). “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person GENTLY. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. CARRY EACH OTHER’S BURDENS, AND IN THIS WAY YOU WILL FULFILL THE LAW OF CHRIST. If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves.”

    If we are to fulfill this law, more than anything we need to be understanding. In order to be understanding, we must have a heart of compassion, and in order to be compassionate we cannot allow our hearts to harden.

    It is so easy for us to talk amongst each other as believers. Think for a moment about how the context of this conversation would change (or should change) if a non-believer…say, an Agnostic for example, entered the chat. Yes, we are to be “salt and light” to the world (Matthew 5:13-14), but we are also called to “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave us” (Ephesians 4:32).

    It was St. Francis who said “Preach the gospel at all times, and when necessary use words.” Anybody who truly understands this quote knows that he wasn’t literally saying don’t verbally preach the gospel. He was merely trying to illustrate that most people aren’t listening to the words that we speak nearly as close as they’re watching the actions that we carry out.

    Therefore, if we call ourselves “Christians” but refuse to be Understanding, Compassionate, Loving, Caring, and Forgiving of those who commit the same sins that we do, then we are no better than the hypocrites, scoffers, mockers and pagans. We all need to be rebuked at times…All of us. We just need to be extremely careful how we chose to go about it!

  29. @Doyle, Sure you could look at my post that way. It wouldn’t really make any sense since I didn’t mention women in my post, whereas you were clearly patronizing by insinuating I had missed the point of your post.

    Because, as it turns out, your “clarification” was exactly what I thought you meant. And I still think it’s illogical to say you can’t condemn X, while turning a blind eye to Y. Just because something may be inconsistant doesn’t actually take away from the fact that X is reprehensible. Also, I think teenagers and college age young people know that they don’t necessarily struggle with all the things on your list, and they may actually be convicted by something like this. It’s the ones that want to excuse their behavior that will say, “But you [Church] aren’t doing anything about those OTHER people…”

    I appreciate that this post talks more about the necessity of responsible drinking as opposed to “not drinking at all,” as John MacArthur (a man whom I deeply respect and have learned VERY much from) attempts to do. And this post cuts at the people (myself included) who are prone to taking drunkenness as a “light sin.”

  30. Mike says:

    Who is Sufjan Stevens?

  31. Kimbra Wood says:

    Excellent article, especially the paragraph #3 marked Be Boldly Biblical, as these are God’s comments not ours, therefore authoritative, about drunkenness. Also, excellent advice to be truly Biblical in our comments about drinking; God prohibits drunkenness, not moderate self-controlled alcohol consumption. Good point, calling a Christian back to his own convictions with the Scriptures in #3. An illustration: waterfalls, sex, and fire all have incredible power for good harnessed properly. Outside the fences of God’s ordained purposes, they are incredibly destructive.

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (RCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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