I don’t like the word, “addiction.” Far too often, I hear Christians using the word addiction in a way that suggests a helplessness and inability to please God or live in a way that glorifies him. So anyone enslaved to a substance (be it legal or illegal), a habit like pornography or overeating has an automatic excuse – after all they’re “addicted.” Such a person continues to battle but usually with little hope of ever overcoming their sin.
Addictions: A Banquet in the Grave by Edward T. Welch obviously employs the use of the word that I struggle to embrace. However, he too has reservations with the word. My suspicion is that our uneasiness with the word, “addiction” is very similar, if not identical.
Part I: Thinking Theologically
The author reluctantly uses the word “addiction.” Ultimately, he links addictions to the sinful heart of human beings. Instead of suggesting that addictions are a result of sickness (which is the dominant model in the counseling world these days), the author identifies the core problem, namely – people desire a given substance over God. So idolatry drives the addict. Dr. Welch adds, “Addicts make choices to pursue their addiction.”
In the bravest and most bold move in this work, the author makes an appeal to Luther’s classic work, The Bondage of the Will. Luther rightly notes that the will is powerless apart from God’s grace. Sin has the power to captivate and control sinners – and that it does. But Welch adds, “Sin feels exactly like a disease. It feels as if something outside ourselves has taken over.” No wonder so many in the counseling community refer to addiction as a disease!
The author demonstrates how sin works on the human heart: “We are both hopelessly out of control and shrewdly calculating; victimized yet responsible. All sin is simultaneously pitiable slavery and overt rebelliousness or selfishness. This is a paradox to be sure, but one that is the very essence of all sinful habits. If you deny the out-of-control nature of all addictions, as some Christians have done, then you assume that everyone would have the power to change himself. Change would be easy. You would simply say, ‘Stop it.’ There would never be a sense of helplessness or a desperate need for both redemption and power through Jesus. So this cannot be our position.” Such thinking elevates this work to the top of the list and proves a helpful addition to the tool box of pastors and counselors.
Part II: Essential Theological Themes
Part two explores several avenues of change that pastors and counselors can pursue with people trapped in idolatry. The author includes several noteworthy sections that encourage people to know God, fear him, and turn from the lies that led them to the cesspool of sin.
Edward Welch makes a solid contribution that is of tremendous help. First, he offers biblical help to anyone who is struggling with sinful addictions. Second, he offers a treasure chest of resources for pastors and counselors who seek to reach out and encourage people trapped by sinful addictions. Addictions are never treated as unavoidable events in the life of a struggling sinner; rather these addictions are confronted as idolatrous behavior that can be broken by the power of Jesus and his saving gospel.