13 May 2017

To Drink is to Pray!: The Spirituality of Wine, Gisela H. Kreglinger … A Review

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Bible, Bobby's World, Books, Church History, Contemporary Ethics, Culture, Gnosticism

I grew up in a teetotaler environment. I grew up in a “dry” county, Lauderdale, in north Alabama. I remember when Florence had a referendum on whether wine, beer and spirits could be bought and sold. My home the same way. My mom believed that Jesus did not make actual wine in his sign at Cana and a single drink would be a sin. As a result I have studied “wine in the Bible” rather deeply and have long since come to the conclusion that such notions are not only unbiblical but antibiblical to the the explicit testimony of Scripture and alien to the worldview that God is the Creator of all.

I have read numerous books on wine that have shed considerable light on the world of the Bible such as Patrick McGovern’s Ancient Wine: The Search for the Origins of Viniculture (Princeton University Press, 2007). McGovern’s work devotes on the ancient near east and the land of Canaan itself. A more eye opening read could not be found.

In 2015, I was preaching on Jesus and for the miracle at Cana, I decided to contact some vineyards in Sonoita, Arizona.  The vintners at Hops & Vines welcomed me with open arms and I spent an entire day following them around as they explained the nature of vines, graps, how wine is made, stored, the effect of climate.  I even spent the night in their vineyard to watch the Perseid Meteor Shower. I suddenly had a far deeper understanding of much of the Bible. All this leads to a remarkable book by Gisela H. Kreglinger.

Gisela H. Kreglinger grew up on a vineyard that has been in her family since the seventeenth century. She went to England and got a PhD in historical theology at the University of St. Andrews and has lived in the United States (including Birmingham, Alabama).  I am delighted I stumbled upon her wonderful book The Spirituality of Wine (Eerdmans 2016). Kreglinger has not only written one of the finest works on wine in Scripture, church history and its relationship to a radically Christian Spirituality and worldview but also offered a tasty assault upon joyless Christianity that she sees infesting north American Christianity. Joy is essential to Christian Spirituality and wine is biblically connected with joy.

Whether you drink wine or not, like wine or not, you should read this book. In fact ministers, elders, “lay people” need to read The Spirituality of Wine.

” … the best wine that goes down smoothly …” (Song of Songs 7.9)

Quotable Quotes

The Spirituality of Wine is a finely crafted work of both scholarship and Christian devotion. There are passages that simply require placing the book down to meditate.  I want to share some great line in the book.

“the temptation is to ally ‘spirituality’ with all kinds of dualisms” (p.2)

Gratitude and joyful celebration are two important ways for Christians to respond to God’s exuberant gifts of creation and salvation” (p.5)

The Gnostics denied the body and physical enjoyment as a gift from God, and thus they [often] forbade marriage, certain foods, and wine” (p. 32)

True abstinence, therefore, means abstaining from sin and drunkenness and enjoying the gifts of God’s good creation in moderation” (p.42)

Bread and WINE in the Lord’s Supper is a defense against lingering Gnostic heresies with their strong tendency to devalue creation (p.67)

The potent metaphor of ‘the blood of the grape’ suggests that, just as blood was seen as the center and carrier of life, so wine was seen as the ‘very life to humans’ as Ben Sira put it” (p.74)

He [Cyril of Jerusalem] makes the analogy between the Eucharistic wine on the mouth of the believer and the blood of the lamb smeared on the Israelites’ doorposts in Egypt just before the Passover” (p. 80)

Our participation in the ritual of the Lord’s Supper, with its emphasis on the movement of the body and different bodily postures and gestures, teaches us something fundamental about the Christian faith, something that is a very hard lesson to learn: that we are not in charge of our salvation …” (p.81)

It is for this reason that we need to rescue wine FROM the gluttons FOR the contemplatives, because wine was meant to draw us nearer to God and each other rather than alienate us even further from his loving and healing presence. In the words of the German proverb, ‘To drink is to pray, to binge-drink is to sin.” (p. 198)

I could go on …

Wine is a Prominent Theme in Scripture and Church History

Biblical faith is a full bodied faith. It embraces all of creation as good and from God himself. The book has two sections. The first, Sustenance, could be considered the historical-theological portion. Kreglinger first gives the reader a fairly exhaustive survey of Biblical texts that mention wine, of which there are many.

There are 88 different Hebrew words that refer to wine in some fashion in the Bible occurring 810 times.  There are 36 different Greek words for wine in the NT that occur 169 times.  Kreglinger helpfully provides a table of all the Hebrew and Greek terms related to vintage on pages 221-228.  Not much in this section of Spirituality of Wine was new to me, though the list of words is of great value.

Evangelical, and Restoration, disciples will be surprised to find that the vast majority of the references to wine are favorable as signs of prosperity, peace,  enjoyment, of divine blessing upon the people. In the Old Testament, wine is often included in imagery of a prominent future restoration of Israel where all will be able to feast and live life abundantly. This use continues in the New Testament as Jesus not only performs his water-to-wine miracle at a wedding feast, but during his final meal with the disciples envisions a day when he will once again drink of the fruit of the vine with them in a blessed new reality.

After Kreglinger’s analysis of the Bible, she turns her attention to an eye opening history of wine in the church, which is also quite extensive. We learn that early church leaders and theologians such as Cyprian and Augustine praised wine’s positive attributes. The Church Fathers especially defended wine both in the Lord’s Supper and as personal drink against the heretical Gnostics.

We learn that many monasteries and other religious communities kept vineyards to not only sustain themselves but to offer gifts to the neighborhoods in which they resided. We learn about Dom Perignon, a Benedictine monk and creator of one of the first champagnes. And we learn how recently Christian calls to abstain from wine and other alcoholic drinks really are recent, as they didn’t become prominent until around the time of Prohibition in the early 1900s. Up until that point, many in the church much more readily embraced wine as a gift to be enjoyed in moderation rather than a source of evil to be altogether condemned.

Wine and Christ’s Feast

Kreglinger then explores the use of wine particularly in the Lord’s Supper. I found this chapter to be particularly thoughtful and full of insights. During this chapter, her theological treatment of the book’s central idea is perhaps most pronounced and complete, as in addition to wine being a gift from God’s creation, she also notes how—particularly through the celebration of communion—it creates community and grounds us in a lived reality: “The Lord’s Supper, central to our lives as Christians, is a wholly physical and communal experience. It calls on our mind, our senses, and our imagination to receive Christ and his work on the cross as a living presence in bread and wine, the fruit of the very earth that God made. This is a profoundly embodied and thus sensual experience and anchors our spirituality in creation.” I am looking forward to communion and noting the “sensuality” of the Lord’s table.

The theme of joy occurs repeatedly in The Spirituality of Wine. Wine is placed squarely in the communal life of the Christian.  Kreglinger takes the reader through a wonderful meditation on the film Babette’s Feast to illustrate the power of and goodness of creation expressed at God’s table in wine and feasting.  The very purpose of wine is to “gladden the heart” of God’s human creatures, she writes. Wine points to the exuberant generosity of our Creator.

Kreglinger does not eschew discussion of drunkenness and alcohol abuse.  She discusses it frequently and notes that both the Hebrew Bible, New Testament, the Church Fathers and the Reformers all addressed this matter unambiguously and forthrightly.  She then devotes an entire chapter to this abuse of God’s creation.  Drunkenness is placed in Scripture and in Christian history with other forms of abusing God’s good gifts such as sex and food.  Gluttony and drunkenness are frequently dealt with by the Fathers addressing converts coming out of pagan background.  Interestingly enough these Fathers refused to countenance the Gnostic dualistic denials of the goodness of food and wine.  In a wonderful quote from Martin Luther, Kreglinger notes that the issue has never been women or wine but what the sin that lies in our hearts.

Wine and women bring sorrow and heartbreak, they make a fool of many and bring madness, ought we therefore to pour away the wine and kill all the women? Not so. Gold and silver, money and possessions bring much evil among the people, should we therefore throw it all away? If we want to eliminate our closest enemy, the one that is the most harmful to us, we would have to kill ourselves. We have no more harmful enemy than our own heart” (p. 181)

John Calvin refused to give in to the ascetics who wanted to cast God’s good creation aside.  Such is an affront to the Creator.  Commenting on Psalm 104.15, the Reformer wrote,

In these words [i.e. wine gladdens the heart of men] we are taught that God not only provides for men’s necessity … but deals still more bountifully with them by cheering their hearts with wine and oil. Nature would certainly be satisfied with water to drink; and therefore the addition of wine is owing to God’s superabundant liberality … we gather from his words taht it is lawful to use wine not only in cases of necessity, but also thereby to make us merry.” (p. 56)

To “drink is to pray.” But to get drunk is to abuse God’s creation as a glutton it is a denial of the intended goodness of God’s gift just as the Gnostics do.

The Hebrew worldview, while clearly receiving wine as a gift from God with gratitude and thanksgiving, consistently rejects the abuse of alcohol and drunkenness as inappropriate and destructive behavior leading to disregard for God and his purposes for humanity. While God wants his people to enjoy the gifts that he has given them, their purpose as God’s people extends beyond their own well-being and enjoyment to be a blessing to others” (p. 184).

I have explored the relationship of blessing, food, sex and wine in the Song of Songs in this article linked here: The Song of Songs and God’s Good Gifts: Wisdom’s Way with Food, Sexuality and Wine.

The book closes with a chapter called “Wine, Viticulture and Soul Care.” Does wine have anything to do with the “care of the soul?” Kreglnger insists that if we believe the Bible and listen to the Christian tradition then the answer is an unequivocal yes. She concludes and wraps a “spirituality of wine” around the person and work of Jesus Christ through his sign at Cana (which ties to the 800+ references to wine in the Hebrew Bible) and the Lord’s Supper.

Rather than seeing the miracle of Cana as mere symbol or picturesque illustration hinting at greater spiritual realities, however, we can and must see in it the manifestation of God’s presence with his people and his desire to redeem all creation. The gift of wine will always remain a tangible expression of God’s blessing and his desire to rejoice with his people and make them glad.

Wine in the Lord’s Supper will always remind us that Christ is the choice wine that God poured out for the life of the world. He is the noble grape that was crushed in the divine winepress [a notion explored in the book] so that the world might be reconciled with God and receive everlasting life” (pp. 219-220).

To Drink is to Pray …

Wine is Gift.  Wine is Joy

The Spirituality of Wine bristles with insight on God the Creator, Jesus the Vine, the people of God as the vineyard. It calls us to slow down and pay attention to what God has placed in the world through sight, sound and aroma and taste. It is amazing the light that is shed on dozens of biblical texts (like prophetic texts about pruning hooks, I did not know those were related to vintage! but they are!). There is very perceptive cultural analysis on the rise of “abstemious reading” of Scripture in America in the 19th century (something that has no connection to historic Christian reading of Scripture). And the role of joy, full bodied wonderful joy, in Christian faith.  Spirituality of Wine is not merely about wine but a tasty counter to prevailing Evangelical asceticism and its faux claims of being biblical and spiritual but it has more in common with what Paul condemns in 1 Timothy 4 with its touch not, taste not Gnostic worldview.

Wine connects us to the earth created by God. Wine connects us to Jesus Christ the Creator and Redeemer of all things. Wine connects us to family of God that is at the table through time and space.

The faith of the Bible, the Christian faith, is not dour.  It is marked by joy, celebration, gratitude and thanksgiving. Wine plays an enormous role in Scripture, far larger than most have any idea about.  What is interesting, Kreglinger argues, is that historic Christian faith has always known this.  Modern American expressions of faith have been so impacted by a number of cultural factors that it has “forgotten” that Christian faith is about body and soul and the Creator God who loves and redeems both body and soul.

Joy and Gratitude are essential postures of those who receive the gift of salvation and the gift of creation.  God place wine in the world for both.

Read this Spirituality of Wine … buy it as as gift for someone.


Some Related Links:

When Wine is “Really” Wine.

Beer & the Bible: What the Bible Really Says about it.

9 Responses to “To Drink is to Pray!: The Spirituality of Wine, Gisela H. Kreglinger … A Review”

  1. Robert Limb Says:

    I thought for a moment you were saying that St Andrews is in England. That would have been a very serious error!

  2. Swango Says:

    Thanks for sharing this and recommending the book.

    I was surprised to see a mention of Babette’s Feast, which is an obscure French film I’ve actually seen! 🙂 If you haven’t seen it, then Chocolat (2000 film) has the same great message.

    When reading your article or the Scriptures about wine, one question worth asking each and every time “wine” is mentioned is: “Is it talking about alcoholic wine or grape juice?” There is a very big difference, both physically (as grape juice takes just a little labor while alcoholic wine takes quite a bit of human effort such as time, yeast, sugar) and spiritually (as in the spiritual application of what the author is trying to say). In short, it is worthwhile to differentiate between alcoholic wine and grape juice when just mentioning “wine.” Without the difference, the reader might interpret either one or the other, based on their own inference.

    What does Kreglinger have to say about the difference between grape juice and alcoholic wine–either in the Scriptures or outside of the Scriptures?

    • Bobby Valentine Says:

      First, Babette’s Feast is a wonderful movie and for my readers who have never seen I urge Netflix asap.

      Second, Get the book Spirituality of Wine. Read it and ruminate on it. You will be greatly enriched.

      Third, the notion that wine is not really wine when that word occurs in the Hebrew Bible or the New Testament is a the invention of the American Temperance Movement and Kreglinger has an incredibly perceptive analysis of the cultural factors (none where rooted in either Scripture or Christian history) that led to the emergence of this POV in North America. No one, in any part of the world, ever thought wine was not alcoholic prior to late 19th century America.

      Wine simply happens. Yeast is already present on the surface of every grape. Fermentation process begins the moment the grape is crushed. Only in the modern world can fermentation be stopped by the modern chemical process of Pasteurization. I am not sure where you get your information from Andrew that alcoholic wine takes “quite a bit of human effort.” It takes none at all, literally. I will happen unless it is stopped. And it happens quickly. Wine is not aged to increase alcohol content but to “condition” the wine. Fermentation is usually finished in less than five days.

      The Bible, however, makes a clear distinction between “wine” and “juice.” Note Numbers 6 in the Nazarite vow. The requirements are:

      “they shall separate themselves from WINE and strong drink;
      they shall drink no WINE VINEGAR,
      and they shall not drink any GRAPE JUICE
      or eat raisins”
      (Numbers 6.3)

      Juice is not wine and wine is not grape juice.

      I have added some more links on this within the blog post to expand on this.

      I cannot recommend Kreglinger’s The Spirituality of Wine enough. Rich book.

      • Swango Says:

        Thanks for answering my question and for explaining.

        Does Kreglinger mention why, at the Last Supper, the Scriptures only say “fruit of the vine” instead of the Greek words for wine such as “gleukos” or “oinos”?

  3. Dwight Says:

    Booby, I have written an article/small book called “Wine: Pressing out the Facts”
    In it I not only confront wine in the Bible, but also confront the bad, recycled arguments against wine and also show how the Temperance Movement changed the church’s perception of wine and also show proof that up until the 1800’s all recipes and dictionaries and science books in regards to wine included the sense of fermentation. I did a lot of actual reading of the Greek writers to cut through the mis-statements attributed to wine being just grape juice put forth by the Temperance writers.
    If you are interested I will send you a copy for you to peruse and make corrections if need be.
    I will also send this to anyone who ask.
    Just email me at; criticalchristianthinker@gmail.com
    It answers the questions by Swango.
    But here is my answer:
    “fruit of the vine” was the typical Jewish term for wine/diluted wine by the Jews used in their prayers and benedictions during their feast.
    In reality it takes very little effort to create wine, but good effort to create good quality wine. I once created wine by crushing grapes and keeping them in the fridge door for a week as an experiment. How many jars of homemade jam and jellies have turned when they were supposed to be unfermentable…many.

    • Swango Says:

      Thanks for addressing my question! Based on your answer, what does that mean for us, practically speaking? If the gospel authors did that on purpose, what does that mean for us?

      Also, why use that term instead of gleukos or oinos? Based on what you said, is the only reason that they are referring to the wine or diluted wine used at the Jewish Passover? In other words, its a religious term?

  4. Dwight Says:

    One of the first things that should strike us when we read a Jewish song/psalm or read a Jewish prayer is the poetic nature. Sometimes two+ words are used when one could have been used to express it poetically. In fact we can poetically say “fruit of the womb” to express “child”.
    The Passover benediction/prayers were generally poetic in nature/form.

    What it means for us is that we need to reorient ourselves to understanding Jewish thinking and writings to better understand the scriptures as it sometimes provides much needed context.

    An interesting thing is if you read the Talmuds (Mishnah and Gemera) you will see where wine (yayin) is talked about being used in relation to the “Fruit of the vine” as part of the benediction for that wine (yayin).

    Now personally I do not raise a stink about “fruit of the vine” having to be wine and not grape juice, but if we are going by what they did in the scriptures it would have been fermented grape juice or wine.

    This is my understanding after years of in-depth reading of many writings and information gathering…

  5. JAC Says:

    Just surprised no one mentioned I Cor 11 and the drunkenness that was condemned at the love feast. It was obviously alcoholic in content and was accepted as part of the table. The abuse was forbidden but the alcohol was not removed from the table or home. In fact, they were told to drink at home. Notice the wine was not condemned.
    Side note: I was criticized for teaching this same subject in a small Christian college. Some even told me to not teach on the subject. Just skip those issues. To me truth is more important and I no longer teach there because of economic restructuring????
    Thxs for your insights, its not good for man to feel alone in this movement

  6. Dwight Says:

    JAC, I am probably the only one in my congregation who believes this way and doesn’t compromise the scriptures to argue to the evilness of wine vs the evilness of man’s use of wine.
    How many get around I Cor.11 is by arguing that they didn’t get “drunk” as in intoxicated, but that they drunk in terms of gluttony, so as to redefine the word “drunk” by comparing to other scriptures that use the term drunk i.e. Luke 13:26 “pino”, despite the fact that this particular word “drunk” is “methyo” in I Cor.11 and it means intoxicated in all other passages.
    It is pure slight of hand in terms of words.
    This is done consistently in the coC to deny that they used wine in the Lord’s Supper and argue that the Fruit of the vine was grape juice.

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