“Pub Theology 000” by Pastor Larry DeBruyn

Larry DeBruyn, the guest writer of this ABI blog post, received his Th.M. from Dallas Theological Seminary in 1974 and has been the Pastor of Franklin Road Baptist Church in Indianapolis, Indiana for many years. Pastor DeBruyn has published two books; regularly writes articles as a guest contributor on several websites; is a conference speaker; and has taught internationally including at the Word of Life Bible School in Hungary.

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“Some thoughts on Sunday night church in a bar.”

As he begins to rip into “a screaming guitar solo,” the band member yells out at the audience, “Let’s go to church boys!” Welcome to Pub Theology. As the reporter describes it, the theology is “a Sunday night show that’s one part church and one part party.” Among other posters on the bar’s walls is an alluding slander of the final verse of the biblical chapter on love. It reads, “Faith, Hope, Love and Beer” (The actual text reads, “But now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love,” 1 Corinthians 13:13, NASB).

Being “shaggy-haired, body-pierced and colored with assorted body art,” some members of the Sunday evening pub rock group double as members of a mega-church’s “worship team” on Sunday mornings. Confessing to love both Jesus and rock ‘n’ roll, band members will burn through a pack of cigarettes and exhort the audience to cozy up to the bar and buy beer. Skeptical about hosting the “Pub Theology” on Sunday nights in his bar at first, the owner of the business admits the band has turned an otherwise dead night into a profitable evening.

Regarding this new outreach—the mega-church’s ministerial staff fully approve of Pub Theology—one of the band’s members says: “We want to be sincere and authentic and be who we really are, whether that is wearing jeans and a T-shirt or having a beer,” remarks one of the band members. “I think that is real, and I don’t think it is wrong or that God is unhappy about that.” Another band member relates, “I can drink a beer and smoke a cigarette and play some of my favorite songs and hang out with my friends and maybe meet someone and tell them about Jesus.”

Interestingly, most of the band members were raised in religious homes. In fact, two of its members are former PKS (i.e., preacher’s kids). Having been a former pastor, their father now sees the light and has become the band’s roadie (a catch-all term covering all those managers and techies that accompany the band). The band accounts for the band’s existence and novel ministerial approach for reason of their legalistic Wesleyan upbringing—“I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I don’t go to R-rated movies, I don’t dance.” But the casual and alcoholically lubricated atmosphere of Pub Theology raises an important issue, for a reporter asks, “Does Pub Theology produce any lasting effects, or is it just a casual encounter with church in a bar—a spiritual one-night stand?”

First, Pub Theology is not church. If it is, then where’s the reading of the Scriptures, the apostles’ teaching, prayer and observance of the Lord’s Table? (Acts 2:42) We can also be certain that the band members will avoid any impression of being preachy.

Second, Pub Theology is not theology. Reportedly, the band’s opening song was Joan Osborne’s one-hit wonder, “What if God was one of us?” The lyrics also add, “Just a slob like one of us.”[2] Imagine . . . God’s a slob like one of us. Given the humanizing of God in the song “What if God was one of us?” what we’re dealing with is not Pub Theology, but pub idolatry as “the glory of the incorruptible God” is being exchanged “for an image in the form of corruptible man” (Romans 1:23, NASB). Do you think Joan Osborne’s lyrical questions affirm the great Christological passages of the New Testament (John 1:1 ff.; Colossians 1:15-17; Philippians 2:5-11). By the way, these three passages are comprised of theological statements extracted from early Christian hymns. Would the pub-theology band sing them? I’d estimate the lyrics of these hymns to be far too dogmatic, stodgy, and preachy for the “boys” at the bar!

Third, Pub Theology is not Christian outreach. It’s the use of carnal-fleshly-worldly means to attain spiritual ends. The Apostle Paul would not have engaged such means for he wrote: “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5, NIV; Compare Galatians 5:21 where Paul labels “drunkenness” a work of the flesh). Given the atmosphere surrounding the Pub Theology, Paul’s majestic description of love as it exists on the barroom wall might be contemporarily translated, now abide these four, “faith, hope, love, and beer,” but the greatest of these is beer!

10 Comments
  1. I don’t know what to say. Inviting people in to sin. Conforming to the worlds standards.

    • I know. It’s not a good thing.

      Some try to justify it based on Jesus spending time with sinners – but I think that is significantly different than what is going in this situation.

      Dave

  2. I was a bartender in the early 80’s. I did find Jesus, and I wanted to tell about Him to colleagues of mine in a bar of neighbouring hotel. I met one there who was interested about my new life, and reluctance of drinking beer. Next day we met, and he did find Jesus, too. That’s the way it goes, not both standing on the deep mud, but the other one standing on the Solid Rock.

  3. As one of the most nonlegalistic Christians one could ever hope to meet, I just find so much wrong with this I can’t stand it. FIrst off, let me say that my problem is NOT secular music. Most of the stuff I like is secular and a goodly chunk of it would turn a lot of Christians green.
    No, my problem is glorifying smoking and drinking. I am all for churches not shaming folks that are addicted to nicotine. It is extremely hard to quit and making someone feel like crap for being hooked isn’t going to win them for Jesus. Disqualifying people from ministry because they smoke is also something that has no place in a church committed to serving Jesus. Would they disqualify someone who hadn’t quite learned to lay off the twinkies? We all have our struggles.
    BUT to have this band up there gloating about it and flaunting it like it is a good thing is troublesome. Smoking is horrible for one’s health and nothing to be encouraged. It killed my father. I am no friend of tobacco. Is their goal to get impressionable young people hooked because of the not so subtle hint that part of their coolness is that they smoke?
    The beer issue is troublesome as well. Yes, we get it. They drank alcohol in bible times. It wasn’t grape juice. I don’t think drinking is a sin “per se”. HOWEVER, any church that is reaching out to the edges of society needs to keep at the foremost of their minds that for many, many people alcohol is destroying their lives. Whatever happened to not doing anything that will cause a brother to stumble? There is a huge stretch between a beer now and then and waving it around from the stage like a badge of honor. Again: do they want to encourage people to indulge more so that they won’t feel like the unhip??? Last time I remember this kind of emotional manipulation I was a teenager. And not a Christian by any stretch of the imagination.
    Which brings me to something else: where once people who showed up at a church looking “worldly” were made to feel like they didn’t belong, the trend with certain types of churches now seems to be a type of reverse discrimination. Where you are really only with it if you’re tattooed, pierced, armed with a potty mouth and swilling the booze (unless you’re a certifiable alcoholic; then you can abstain. But otherwise, you’re just a legalist if you don’t think all that booze is a terribly good idea). How is acting like one is spiritually superior for being a tattooed drunk punk any different than the spiritual pride that the “church ladies” of the world fling around?? I’ve seen churches that have fellowships for the tattooed. That bothers me. Not because I think Jesus is bothered by tattoos, but because I thought Christianity, unlike the world, is not about setting up exclusionary cliques based on which of the latest coolness one is indulging in. (as an aside i have more than a few tattoos myself. I am well beyond a delicate little rose on the ankle. I just don’t feel the need to act like I am spiritually superior for having them) These people don’t “judge everyone as individuals” the way they claim: they just judge by different standards.

    Just some stuff to think about.

  4. Awesome article!

    I wish someone had been there to stop it from happening and rebuke these punks in person! One can obviously see their true motives and intent just from reading that article! For once the media reporting exposed these frauds for what they are.

    Trying to tell people about Jesus in a bar, and encouraging people to drink and smoke, shame on them! They should do what Jesus really wanted, abstain from all forms of unhealthiness (smoking) and alcolhol and wait for those people to realize the sin in their life and come to church where they can be saved!

    I know we’re not supposed to judge, but this is an easy call, don’t you all agree? I mean, we can figure this one out from a mile away!

    • I allowed the response above to post, although I’m concerned that it might be a “troll” or a sarcastic comment – to elicit a response, rather than serious post.

      In partial response, if it is a serious post, ABI realizes that our responsibility includes going into the world to preach the gospel – which obviously includes going outside the four walls of our churches. Not every, perhaps not most, lost people are first going to realize they are sinners and then go to church to get saved. Many realize their need for Christ through a co-worker or friend or family-member, etc. who shares the gospel with them – and are then invited to a church where they hear the gospel again – sometimes many times – before they make a decision. Many make a decision for Christ outside of a local church context (like myself) and then go to church because of the need for fellowship, to learn the Word and to worship the Lord in community with other believers.

      Dave James
      ABI

  5. The unchurched look at this web post and see both judgement and legalism. They would say this is why they avoid church. The method or delivery is definitely outside the box, how can we condem them….are we supposed to judge. We are supposed to point out biblical truth, but are they 100% wrong or do you just feel uncomortable with their approach? I will use a true story to convey my challenge. A childhood pastor of mine disagreed with abortion. Both him and his wife would stand and protest outside the abortion clinics. Then one day they felt a challenge from the Holy Spirit. Instead of condemnation they wanted to tell the greatest love story of all time. They met a young lady approaching a abortion clinic. They told her they didn’t agree with her decision, but they wanted to be there for this young lady and be there for her during this dark time in her life. They offered to pray with this young lady prior to the procedure as she was terrified. Unfortunately she went ahead with the procedure, but instead of showing judgement and condemnation the pastor and his wife followed up with this young lady. They prayed with her and invested in this young lady’s life. The young lady got to see Jesus in their actions (love, forgiveness, mercy, and grace) and was redeemed/gave her life to Christ. So I am not saying they are right and you or wrong OR you are right and they are wrong, rather they care and are investing in these people and they are communicating the greatest story of history, God giving His one and only son as an atoning sacrifice for their sins because He loves us that much. I am not passing judgement on your opinions, rathering encouraging/challenging all of us (yes me included) to roll up our sleeves and invest in reaching the lost instead of criticizing others. How can we criticize others as we stand on the sidelines? Let’s get in the game, actively pray for the lost..spend some time on our knees in prayer, and ask Jesus where He would have us go and get outside our comfort zone. Maybe for one of us that would be downtown, across the street, on a golf course, at a hair salon, on a motorcycle, or someone else it may be a bar.

    • Denny,

      Thank you for your thoughts and for the encouraging story of the young woman who came to Christ.

      I would like to make a few observations and comments.

      * This post isn’t primarily for the unchurched, per se, but primarily to report to evangelicals on a philosophy of ministry development within evangelicalism that is historically far outside the norm for evangelicalism – and of which most are probably not aware. I think it is also somewhat important to note that the post was referencing an article that first appeared in a secular newspaper.

      * It is not unbiblical to judge as is commonly thought and taught. The primary passage in the Sermon on the Mount that is usually quoted simply as “judge not, lest you be judged” is rather cautioning about the manner in which things are judged – and the intent is to be careful about how one judges, because the same standards will be applied to us. The Bible is filled with far more examples of passing judgment rather than withholding judgment, particularly in the areas of discerning correct doctrine and appropriate behavior – which is the issue here. So, yes, we are supposed to judge, albeit carefully. At the same time, it is also important to note that the judgment is of the behavior and methodology – but not of the heart or motives – which is something that we cannot do and which therefore must be left to the Lord. I think the author is careful to not cross that line.

      * Are they 100% wrong? I don’t think that is the issue and it’s not what the author addresses. Rather the concern is that there is a problem with attempting to evangelize in a context that is arguably a problem morally – even though we would acknowledge that not everyone would come to that conclusion. This is partly a philosophical question in that some would contend that method can be separated from the message, while others make the case (and I think rightfully so) that the message is influenced by the method because of the nature of communication and the perception of those who hear the message.

      * The illustration of the young lady who had the abortion does not really parallel the situation addressed in the post. The author is not commenting on those who go into the bar to drink, but rather on those who are communicating the gospel – which in your story would be the pastor and his wife. To be a parallel, the pastor and his wife would have been assisting at the abortion clinic in order to have an potential avenue of ministry to those coming to have an abortion. And if that were the case, they would have been communicating a similar mixed and confusing message to the young ladies – as I would suggest is true of those who are performing and drinking in the bar. We would agree that we need to carefully and compassionately communicate the love of Christ and his gospel – and in such a way that they would understand that true deliverance from sin and its consequences can be found in him. And beyond this, they need to be made aware of the nature of sin, as well, to understand that without Christ they do fall under condemnation. That is very hard, if not impossible to communicate in a context that is arguably riddled with sin.

      * Ironically, there is a fairly strong hint of judgment in your post in the admonishment to get in the game and “spend some time on our knees” – which suggests that the author has not (and we have not) already been doing this – particularly when you write, “How can we criticize others as we stand on the sidelines?” Why would you think that is true? That is actually passing judgment far more than the original post itself. Beyond that, I personally know the author of the post and know that as a pastor of many, many years he has been rolling up his sleeves on a weekly basis to reach the lost. So, he is not simply trying to quarterback from the sidelines and simply criticize others. And I was a missionary in Eastern Europe for 16 years – which is hardly a comfort zone. I don’t say this to be defensive, but rather to confirm that to express concern about certain methodologies and actively doing the work of the ministry are definitely not mutually exclusive.

      Again, thank you for your comments. I hope you return often and feel free to share your thoughts and concerns. We appreciate the feedback.

      Dave James
      ABI

  6. Dave,
    Hello! Thanks for the thoughtful reply. Good clarification of noting, “judgment is of the behavior and methodology – but not of the heart or motives – which is something that we cannot do and which therefore must be left to the Lord I think the author is careful to not cross that line”. A Christian author once said, “methods are many, principles are few, the methods always change, but the principles never do”. I quoted this from memory so I don’t think I misrepresented the quote and the author slips my mind right now. Also agree the website is not for the unchurched, but rather the purpose in which you stated..not a bad thing. Unchurched may visit the site as it comes up in google searches on the article from the Indy Star and that is how I found the post.

    I would like to clear up my intent on stating “spend some time on our knees”. I tried to be careful and not say, he should spend some time on his knees and rather say “our knees” meaning the church as a whole not a specific person or denomination. I don’t know Pastor Larry DeBruyn and I would not criticize him as I don’t know him personally, so my apologies if I didn’t communicate that more clearly. I also included myself in my challenge so I was challenging myself as much as the church as a whole as to not be hypocritical. Thanks for pointing this out so I could clear up any miscommunications and especially to Pastor Larry DeBruyn. My personal opinion is that the church as a whole does need to “get in the game and off the sidelines”. There are many people out there getting it done, but there are an equal # or more on the sidelines (again church as a whole). It was neat to hear how you had served in Eastern Europe for 16 years, I am sure that was very challenging thanks for the service to the Lord.

    I heard it said one time that we judge ourselves by our intent and other by their actions which seems to be pretty true at least it is for me. I was trying to paint the picture of how this could be or may be perceived from the unchurched. Just a different perspective to ponder as we all work towards the great commission.

    Have a good week!

    • Denny,

      Thanks for clarifying the part about getting in the game. I should have seen your intent myself – the dangers of the writing – and reading – when dealing with potentially emotionally-charged subjects. It’s impossible to replace the tone of voice and look on the face – and especially personal knowledge of the other person.

      Take care,
      Dave


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