What do you get when you mix a theologian and a woman who is from a long line of vintner’s? A very fascinating book. Gisela Kreglinger’s book is a carefully researched and detailed account of wine’s role in scripture, culture, and the church. I really can’t imagine the research that went into this book as it is a wealth of historical knowledge. Kreglinger begins by exploring wine through both the First and New Testament. She then moves through history exploring people like Cyprian, Irenaeus, and Celment of Alexandria. After that we are given a historical tour of the monastic communities and come to understand their immense contribution to the world of wine. Closer to our times we are given a glimpse into the thought’s of Martin Luther, Wesley, Calvin, and then in America people like John Bunyan, Jonathan Edwards, and Thomas Welch. The point of all of this? To understand the churches historical thoughts on wine.
Of course, Kreglinger is also a theologian. No book on the spirituality of wine would be complete without a robust chapter on the Eucharist. Kreglinger gives us two (ch.’s 3 & 4). She further explores important topics such as place and terrain in Chapter 5. In all of this you walk away from reading with a deep sense of awe for God’s creation and for scripture.
The second section of the book brings the wisdom of several vintner’s who offer theological reflections from their work. I remember touring a vineyard in Napa Valley and walking away with new understand of Jesus’ metaphor about the Vine and the branches. This section will have a similar impact on most readers. This section also explores the way that technology has impacted viticulture, as it has agriculture. Caring vintner’s, we learn, can teach us a thing or two about our interaction with technology.
There is a fantastic chapter on the health benefits of wine which is also well researched. Following this there is a chapter on the danger’s of alcohol abuse (ch. 9). I am grateful to the author for her careful treatment of this topic. While the author clearly believes that wine should not prohibited, she also plainly notes that drunkenness is clearly spoken of throughout scripture (she mentions many examples) and continues to remains a problem in our own time. In fact, she has been writing about this throughout the book. In her previous chapter on health benefits, for example, she mentions that while those who drink red wine in moderation have a much lower risk of cardiovascular disease than those who don’t, she also writes that “Heavy drinking and binge drinking, on the other hand, increase the risk of heart disease and stroke” (p. 177). This book does not seem like the author’s attempt to stand on a soapbox but is rather a careful and fair treatment of the topic at hand. (It should be noted that the book is specifically about wine and not alcohol in general. One comes to understand that the author believes that cheap beverages with high alcohol content contributes to the problem of alcohol abuse). The final section (ch. 10) is filled with wonderful theological and pastoral wisdom. I found the writing on “pruning” and soil care particularly meaningful.
I am a part of a tradition (Assemblies of God) that prohibits it’s ministers – I am one – from drinking wine. What made me read this book? For starters, I have been very interested in recent years in the study of the theology of food. Norman Wirzba, who endorsed this book, peaked my interest a few years back with his masterful “Food and Faith.” Since then I have been interested in this field of study and have been reading along these lines, though with the topic of food (not drink) in particular. A few years prior to Wirzba’s work I had heard a few sermons on the correlation between the eschaton and wine which were eye opening. When I saw that this work was being released I was thankful that there was an entire book being dedicated to the topic. After having read it, I am hopeful that a book like this can also help to shape some of our fellowship’s future discussions regarding wine. Discussions “for” or “against” are frequently based in emotion as opposed to scripture and church history. My hope is that Kreglinger’s work can help facilitate fruitful reflection, conversation, and further study. I will end this review with a quote from the last page of this great book’s conclusion:
“Wine in the Lord’s Supper will always remind us that Christ is the choice wine that God poured our for the life of the world. He is the noble grape that was crushed in the divine winepress so that the world might be reconciled with God and receive everlasting life.” (p. 220).