by David Beilstein
FROM the nicotine stained pages of the esteemed Nicotine Theological Journal—a publication produced with care and fragrant tobacco smoke, by Professor’s John R Muether and D.G. Hart—comes a refreshing reflection on ill-informed fundamentalist piety; and better still, some good reflection on the beauty of the Lord’s Day.
In an effort to make back issues of the Nicotine Theological Journal available on-line, readers may be interested to see that volume one of the journal glorified newsletter has been added to our page of back issues. (Please beware that the PDF versions will not capture the original layout in WordPerfect.) To tempt readers to take a gander, here is an excerpt from the lead article, “Calvinism, Ethnicity, and Smoke,” from issue number 2.
Old School Presbyterians who grew up within or on the edges of American evangelicalism — we write autobiographically — generally came to regard the Christian Reformed Church with awe for her robust expressions of Reformed piety. To be sure, Dutch-American Calvinists were never completely spared the piety of fundamentalism. But it was always a fundamentalism with a difference. While they may have frowned on such worldly amusements as card-playing or the theater or the dance hall, they continued to drink and smoke. “Sin came from the heart, not the environment,” they generally insisted, and they were usually right. So when you walked into the Calvin College coffee shop twenty years ago, it was not coffee that you smelled, but the pervasive scent of burning tobacco. Then there was the habit of the elders of the Wheaton CRC who smoked on the church lawn after Sunday morning worship, conveniently applying a jolt of nicotine to bus loads of stunned evangelical college students who were returning from church and knew next to nothing about Dutch ways, let alone Calvinism.
This brazen dismissal of artificial morality seemed so, well, healthy. For between puffs these elders could readily produce sound and sophisticated theological arguments on Christian liberty, the true nature of Christian virtue, and serving God in all walks of life. Yes, healthy, and more than a bit intimidating. Mark Noll well described the shock of seeing professing Christians smoke for the first time in his life, when he traveled to Calvin College as a Wheaton basketball player for his team’s annual “ritualistic slaughter.”
SUCH NICOTINE-STAINED PIETY, however, rapidly seems to be becoming a thing of the past. Visiting teams no longer suffer the effects of second-hand smoke on their travels to Grand Rapids. Recently the oldest college of the CRC held a “Great Calvin Smoke-Out.” Anti-smoking support groups have been launched, and smoking is now prohibited in all buildings on campus. (Though our spies report that some faculty are quietly practicing civil disobedience in the privacy of their offices.)
The new CRC morality was on graphic display in the January 6, 1997 issue of the Banner. In its “Worldwide” news column, the Banner reported on the combined efforts of the American Cancer Society and the National Jewish Outreach Program to encourage Jews in converting Saturdays into “Smoke-Free Sabbaths.” We are not persuaded that the pleasures of smoking are forbidden on the Lord’s Day. Still we would pause to commend the Banner at least for recognizing the increasingly quaint principle that some things are inappropriate on the Sabbath.
One hopes the pietists amongst us will show good sport and shake with a sense of humour.