The Addict’s Gospel

I went to rehab for a weekend. Well, I went to visit someone. We arrived expecting to hear progress reports and plans for sobriety moving forward. Instead we heard about enabling. We were encouraged to take responsibility for the role we had each played in perpetuating the addiction. The entire point of the weekend was to start to understand that we needed to own our “stuff,” and not scapegoat the person experiencing addiction. Which is absurdly easy to do, by the way, because addictions are really easy to point to when we don’t want to look at the mess inside of us.

This particular facility ascribed to the Twelve Step Program of Alcoholics Anonymous. While the program was created specifically for those struggling with and recovering from alcoholism, it transfers onto many other forms of addiction. The steps ask you to put your faith in something outside of yourself.

During this weekend, one of the leaders spoke about the basic brain chemistry and psychology of addiction. We know now that addiction operates as a disease. In speaking about this phenomenon, the speaker referenced a Bible verse, though he changed one word and didn’t mention the specific scripture reference. I looked it up later, and it was Romans 7:20, which says, “Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it” (NIV). The original text says “sin” but the speaker swapped it for, “the disease.”

As I sat in the different sessions throughout the weekend and participated in various activities, I thought, They are onto something here. I am not the first person to have this thought. In the most recent issue of Christianity Today, Kent Dunnington writes,

[AA] has a theory of how people change and a set of practices designed to change real human beings. In this respect, AA has what the contemporary church, or at least a large portion of the contemporary evangelical church, seems to lack: a clear theory of personal transformation codified in practices and traditions that are easily accessible to those who would like to be transformed. -“Small Groups Anonymous”

There’s something about being in a place where you can’t hide behind the presumption of a perfect and holy life. It frees us up to own our struggles and our fears. So, for the next twelve weeks, I’m going to walk through the twelve steps and how they can apply to a life of faith and holistic well-being. The Twelve Steps encourage honesty and provide a model for relational healing and a means for transformation.

Of course, I will be writing through metaphor and comparison. By its very nature, this type of writing falls short, it cannot be taken as exact. My intention is to offer thought-provoking questions and begin dialogue to encourage us all to think about our lives and relationships more deeply. AA is a very specific environment. As such, its model of radical honesty is practiced in a very specific context and inspired by a visceral life-and-death condition.

However, I hope that we can look at these very practical steps as a fairly adaptable tool through which we can be challenged to practice faith and relational well-being, not just conceptualize it. I do want to warn you, and myself, these ideas are counter to much of what we learn culturally, and even in church. Dunnington finishes his article with this confession:

I am not sure I want something this involved. I want to want it, but I am not sure I want it. And this raises a disturbing possibility. Maybe we get exactly the churches and the small groups that we deserve. In my book Addiction and Virtue, I referred to addicted persons as “unwitting modern prophets” because they force us to look at the inadequacies of our cultures, our communities, even our churches.

I feel the same way. I want to want this, but I am scared of what it could cost me. I hope that we can wrestle through these ideas together in the coming weeks, and that we can extend grace and care to each other.

**If you’re interested in reading Dunnington’s article, “Small Groups Anonymous,” CLICK HERE

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