LTRP Note: Recently, a father called us very concerned about the growing popularity of “Pub Theology.” He asked if we had any information about it. The late Larry DeBruyn wrote the following article in 2009 and gave permission for Lighthouse Trails to post it. Since 2009, Pub Theology has indeed increased greatly in popularity, especially among evangelical millennials. Type “Pub Theology” (in quotes which narrows the results) into Google, and it comes up over 43,000 times! DeBruyn’s article offers some valid (and Scriptural) advice and insight on Pub Theology.
“EMERGENT INEBRIATES: Some Thoughts on Pub Theology”
By Larry DeBruyn
As he begins to rip into “a screaming guitar solo,” a band member sarcastically yells out at the audience, “Let’s go to church boys!” Welcome to Pub Theology. As the reporter describes it, Pub Theology is “a Sunday night show that’s one part church and one part party.” Among other posters on the barroom walls, one alludes to the final verse of the biblical chapter on love. It reads, “Faith, Hope, Love and Beer” (The biblical 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,” 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 visit the bar and buy beer during Sunday night “church.” Initially skeptical about hosting Pub Theology on Sunday nights, the bar owner now admits the band has turned an otherwise dead night into a profitable evening.
Regarding this new outreach–the mega-church’s ministerial staff approve of doing 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. I think that is real” he continues, “and I don’t think it is wrong or that God is unhappy about that.” Relates another band member: “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 (That’s an acronym for “preacher’s kids.”). Having been a former pastor, their father has now become the band’s “roadie” (That’s a term which refers to the managers and technicians traveling with the band.). The members account for the band’s existence and approach to ministry for reason of their holier-than-thou Wesleyan upbringing–you know, “I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I don’t go to R-rated movies, I don’t dance.”
On this point, and as a rebellious child of the 60s who too was raised in the legalistic environment of Western Michigan, let me say that I understand and somewhat sympathize with the band members’ rejection of legalism. But all rebels ought to be cautioned that, “rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry” (1 Samuel 15:23). Yet God doesn’t make Christians from the outside in, but rather from the inside out. Though one’s Christianity is defined by inner faith not outer works, Paul did write that Christians are God’s “workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). So we must not assume the opposite attitude from legalism, that of antinomianism (i.e., that God’s grace cancels out any need to obey His moral and spiritual law). For as Paul asked: “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” (Romans 6:1-2). Contradicting antinomianism the writer of Hebrews orders us to, “Follow [pursue-NKJV] . . . holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord: Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled” (Hebrews 12:14-15).
Nevertheless, the casual and alcoholically lubricated atmosphere of Pub Theology raises an important issue, for as the 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?” All the band’s claims of “doing ministry” notwithstanding—they do field questions about Christianity from the audience and callers-in, give inebriated individuals rides home, and have even seen one rescued drunk baptized a few days later in their church—Pub Theology shows every symptom of being a carnal “one-night-stand.” (Note: I do not use the word spiritual.)
First, Pub Theology is not church. If it is, then where’s the reading of Scripture, the apostles’ teaching, prayer and observance of the Lord’s Table? (Acts 2:42) But on this point, we can be certain that the band will avoid any impression of being too “churchly or preachy.” But beer steins are no substitute for communion cups. In fact, to the true church, the apostle Peter announced that, “the time past of our life may suffice us to have wrought the will of the Gentiles, when we walked in lasciviousness, lusts, excess of wine, revellings, banquetings, and abominable idolatries” (1 Peter 4:3).
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 add, “Just a slob like one of us.” Imagine . . . God being a slob like the rest of the inebriated crowd at the bar. Given such a humanizing of God, what we’re dealing with is not Pub Theology, but pub idolatry. “And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things” (Romans 1:23). Do you think Joan Osborne’s lyrical questions in any way resemble or 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 cited passages are comprised of theological statements extracted from early Christian hymns. Would the pub theology band sing them? I’d think they’d estimate that the lyrics of these biblical hymns are far too dogmatic, stodgy, and preachy for the “boys” at the bar!
Third, Pub Theology is not Christian outreach. To attain a “spiritual” end, it employs carnal, fleshly, and worldly means. But the apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit; Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:18-19). If the song “What if God was one of us?” gives any indication, probably none of the other music the band plays includes “psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs.”
The apostle Paul would not have employed carnal means to attain spiritual ends. You can’t fight fire with fire. He wrote:
For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God. (2 Corinthians 10:3-5; compare Galatians 5:21 where Paul labels “drunkenness” a work of the flesh).
So we conclude: Given the atmosphere surrounding Pub Theology, the description of love as it exists on a poster at “Sunday-night-church-in-a-bar” might be parodied to read: Now abide these four, “faith, hope, love, and beer,” but the greatest of these is beer!
Pastor Larry DeBruyn
Used with permission from Larry DeBruyn in 2009. Larry DeBruyn passed away in 2017.
 Unless otherwise noted, all quotations are taken from Robert King, “Faith, Hope, Love, Beer,” The Indianapolis Star, September 27, 2009, A1, A14. Article may be viewed online. See Faith & Values, Robert King, “Pub Theology conveys Christian message in Broad Ripple,” IndyStar.com, September 27, 2009, http://www.indystar.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2009909270384.
 Lyrics online at: http://www.lyricsondemand.com/onehitwonders/ifgodwasoneofuslyrics.html.
Photo from bigstockphoto.com; used with permission.