Addictions, A Banquet in the Grave, Edward T. Welch

addictionsI haven’t read many books on addiction, but of those I have, this is certainly the best.  The title refers to Proverbs 9 v 13-18.  Whether you are struggling with your own addiction or with that of a family member or friend, this book will really help you to understand the spiritual war that is raging over the addict and how Christ can set them free.

Welch describes the nature of addiction and recovery from a Scriptural viewpoint and the book is filled with quotations from Scripture that are incredibly relevant, but which most of us would of we brainstormed it together.

He recognises that the church is not good at helping addicts in the way that secular organisations like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA) are.  He gives a scriptural critique of AA in Chapter 6, as it was when it was set up and as it is now and refers throughout the book to the aspects of AA’s 12 Step Program which are consistent with Scripture and highlights where they are not.  He shows why moving away from Scriptural principles is not helpful to complete recovery, for example in the addict becoming dependant on a method of recovery rather than on Christ, and in maintaining the identity of being an addict rather than finding their identity in Christ.  He does not set out to condemn AA, rather to help us to see the 12 Steps and the issues of addiction and recovery with our Bible goggles on.

Welch explains that, in contrast to most secular opinions, the Bible shows us that addiction is sin, not a disease process, and he uses the biblical terms of idolatry and slavery to explain the sinful nature of addiction – how it starts, how it consumes you and how it holds on to you.  He demonstrates the ‘small steps of disobedience’ that can lead to sin: ‘Within a generation, the Israelites were familiar enough with the surrounding people that they were serving their Baals (Judg. 2:1-12)’ (p69) and with the case of a teenager, ‘Drugs have slipped past the moral sentry of her mind, and they can now do it again with greater ease’ (p71).

He uses the same terms – sin, idolatry and slavery – to show us how we can recover from addiction.  Since addiction is sin, it must be repented of and forgiven in Christ.  As believers we are no longer slaves to sin, although sin is still present and powerful in our lives.  Recovery from addiction, he says, is not by an external force (as you would treat a disease with a medication) or by behavioural change but by an internal change involving confession, repentance and forgiveness, ‘We are targeting our hearts.’ (p62).

The battle for sobriety, he says, is by self-control – this means a battle with sin, not a truce (I know that sounds harsh but you need to read the book not just this review!!).  ‘When your desires start growing into ungodly proportions, beat them into submission, says Paul.  This is where a disease metaphor is weak.  It doesn’t lend itself to violence – vigilance perhaps, but not violence.’ (p228).

The book is equally relevant to all sorts of issues – alcohol, drugs, sex, porn, pain, eating disorders etc.  Welch makes clear that we are all addicted to something, and must not (cannot) stand in judgement over people whose addictions have brought them and their families to breaking point.  Welch gives (rather stilted) examples of conversations between ‘Christian friend’ and addicts, which help you to see the kind of things you could say in a conversation with an addict who wants to recover.

The book also gives a lot of space to the issues that the family of an addict have to cope with and how they may need to be helped, during the addict’s recovery as well as during active addiction.  Each chapter ends with practical questions for you as an addict and as you try to help someone else and, as the book ends, Welch helps us to consider reconciliation with those who have been harmed by our addiction, and the importance of the support of the church – that the church should be supportive and the addict should be able to look to the church for support.

If this subject is close to home for you, read the book.  Don’t let my short summaries in a review put you off if you’re now thinking you’re going to disagree with everything this guy says.  It makes sense.  Honestly.