Sunday, May 16, 2010

Good News for the Chemically Dependent and Those Who Love Them

Jeff VanVonderen is both a personal friend and television reality show star. He is the professional interventionist on the Emmy award winning show Invtervention. Jeff has spoken at our church several times, but his ongoing ministry to the people of our community comes in the form of his bestselling book Good News for the Chemically Dependent and Those Who Love Them. For all the pastors, counselors, teachers and family members who read this blog and know people who struggle with chemical addictions, there is no better written resource to help addicts understood the source of their problem and to find recovery than Jeff's book. We keep dozens of the books in stock in our church office and give them away almost as fast as we order them. Our Celebrate Recovery Ministry is introducing us to people that we would otherwise not know, and Jeff's book has been a great tool and resource for this ministry for our church as a whole.

I've been re-reading the book, and a passage from Chapter 1 reminded me why it is such a great resource for Christians who work with the chemically dependent. I quote from portions of the pertinent text to give you a sense of the power of the book to expose the real cause of chemical addictions.

Chemical dependency is a problem that has reached epidemic proportions in our society. There is no typical alcoholic or chemically dependent person. If it had the power to choose whom it would affect, chemical dependency would not be very good at distinguishing between the rich or poor, young or old, black or white, male or female, white- or blue-collar worker. Holding a religious view that prohibits alcohol use proves no more effective in the area of preventing chemical-related problems than holding a liberal view. Why not? Because alcohol and drugs are not the cause, only a symptom of what runs much deeper.

In Mark 7:15 Jesus said, "There is nothing that enters a man from outside which can defile him." If Jesus is right in this passage, why are so many families and churches characterized by a "barriers" approach to preventing "defilement?" That is, telling people how bad it is for them to drink this, eat that, or go there, making a rule against it, trying to make them good rule-followers. This represents such an inadequate view of health. Just because a person avoids or stops using chemicals and goes out for football or band does not mean he or she is a healthy person. Attendance at church instead of the local bar is no the same as health either. Yet, so much of the effort put forth in families and churches is toward extinguishing one behavior and rewarding another.

Jesus' statement confronts all of our efforts to solve or prevent problems by avoiding something that does not have the power to cause the problem in the first place. What a waste of time! This approach urges us to define health in terms of outside behavior instead of inside fullness. It provides no help or support once a person has broken through the barrier. It simply does not address the cause of the problem.

So what is the cause? It is seeking life from idols. At first glance, my answer to that question might seem so "religious" as to be of no use at all. This is hardly the case. The truth is that this concept, whcih we have too long seen as purely theological, has many very practical ramifications in our lives. I believe that at the heart of all harmful dependencies is the issue of idolatry. A grasp of this concept is essential as a foundation for understanding the processes of chemical dependency and codependency, or, for that matter, any unhealthy dependencies. Let me explain idolatry.

Remember the account of the Garden of Eden in the book of Genesis? It tells of God's creation of Adam and Eve. God was their source and sustainer. He placed them in relationships (with Himself and each other) and in an environment in which all of their needs were met. This is much of what I believe God meant whenHe said, "This is very good." There was a tree in the garden which was off-limits. Genesis 2:17 says, "for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die." They ate and they died.

Man lost life in the Garden of Eden.

Understanding death and life is not really so difficult. It is like darkness and light. Darkness is not the opposite of light; it is the absence of light. The way to be in the light is not by trying hard not to be in the dark. It is by coming into or turning on a light. Death is not the opposite of life; it is the absence of life. The way to have life is not by trying hard not to be dead. It is by coming to what can give life.

"I have come that you may have life" (John 10:10); "I am the bread of life" (John 6:48); "I am the resurrection and the life" (John 11:25); and "I am the way, the truth and the life" (John 14:6). Why did Jesus come bringing life? Because we did not have it. Romans 5:12 says that "death spread to all men, because all sinned" To argue whether we are dead becasue Adam sinned or because we sin misses the point. The point is that we all lack life.

Anything besides God to which we run, positive or negative, in order to find life, value, and meaning is idolatry; money, property, jewels, sex, clothes, church buildings, educational degrees, anything! Because of Christ's performance on the cross, life, value, and purpose are available to us in gift form only. Anything we do, positive or negative, to earn that which is life by our own performance is idolatrous; robbing a bank, cheating on our spouse, people-pleasing, swindling our employer, attending church, giving 10 percent, playing the organ for twenty years, anything! Addiction is the ulitmate end of idolatry.
 When people look to anything other than Christ for life, they will eventually find ultimate dissatisfaction. Alcohol and drugs dull or mask the inner dysfunction, and soon they become the substitute for life from Christ. Anyone who uses a chemical, or a hobby, or religion, or food in order alter one's mood is addicted. Only when one comes to know, to trust, and to love the fullness of life that Christ brings will the ultimate solution to the idolatry behind addictions be found. This small post gives the reader just a taste of Jeff VanVonderen's book Good News for the Chemically Dependent and Those Who Love Them. I would urge readers of Grace and Truth to You to purchase a copy for yourself. You will find yourself reading, learning--and giving it away to help someone you love.

In His Grace,

Wade Burleson


Anonymous said...

". . . I am come that they may have life, and may have it more abundantly."
John 10:10

gary dilworth said...

That is an excellent post. I and several members of my family have dealt with the pain of addiction. I am delighted that it is called what was in my life: an idol.
I want to you to rethink one sentence you wrote: "When people look to anything other than Christ for life, they will eventually find pain." There is pain with Christ, and without Christ. I have taught my family to say, "We must choose the better pain." Additionally, the joy of a life centered on Christ, is better than the pleasure of a life centered on chemicals. Being poor in spirit and broken and contrite over my sins against God, involves significant soul wrenching pain. Yes, we all are comforted by the Holy Spirit and the Blessedness that God Himself experiences. But I have come to understand that the attitudes are with me as I enter the narrow gate, and live and grow in Christ, sharing in the persecutions and sufferings of Christ.
I hate much of AA and NA, where I am court ordered to attend. The meetings are loaded with the necessary theological chaos that must ensue from "a god as we understand him" (this phrase ends step 3 and is in step 11): Theological relativism. I have spoken many times there that we must connect with God as He understands Himself to be, and as He has revealed Himself to be. They have repeatedly spoken against the mention of Christ, though in AA they quote Him at the end of each meeting: the Lord's prayer. Yet just as Christ was merciful to all ten lepers, while only one returned to give thanks, the mercy of some kind of recovery falls on those who go to AA and NA meetings. But "His kindness is meant to lead us to repentance." said...


Excellent point! Agree wholeheartedly. "Pain" was not the right word, and it bothered me so much I went back and placed the phrase "ultimate dissatisfaction."

Thanks for the astute comment!

Douglas said...

Man, I need to nip outside and light up a chemical stick and have a few puffs and calm down a tad. Mind you, if I was meant to smoke God would have built a chimney on the top of my noggin. I remember Ray Comfort saying to me many moons ago that those who smoke may not end up in hell but they sure smell like they have been there. Something like that.

Wade, just when I was starting to think that I had come across another God fearing man in the Church, from around world, who is wise and loving and caring (even to a mad man like me from way down here in Christchurch, New Zealand) and who has his finger on the pulse on the health and state of things of what is really going down I read these words: "Celebrate Recovery" and my heart dropped into my guts. I was totally deflated and thought what is going on in the Church. Man, we don't celebrate recovery, as Christians, we celebrate the LORD Jesus Christ plus nothing.

The whole Celebrate Recovery thing is just another one big hyped up money making business created by mere men and foisted upon the Church. God help us all.

Just look at the money involved in the New Products section linked to from the home page. "New Products New resources and products out now, click here to see what's available."

President Bush lauds Celebrate Recovery for 'changing hearts'

"LOS ANGELES (®)--During a recent speech in Los Angeles, President George W. Bush praised Saddleback Church’s Celebrate Recovery® program as a ministry that does what government cannot – change hearts."

Who gets the recognition and praise for changing hearts from Mr. George Bush? CELEBRATE RECOVERY!!! Not the Father, not the LORD Jesus Christ, not the Holy Spirit, not God, but Celebrate Recovery. Governments cannot change hearts, Celebrate Recovery cannot change hearts, nothing in the whole universe can change hearts except GOD alone, PRAISE the LORD Jesus Christ, God, for that. Amen. Christians are to be transformed by the renewing of their minds through the washing and cleansing of the word. Christians need to study to show themselves approved unto God, workmen/women, handling accurately, correctly, carefully, thoughtfully, slowly and gently at times like a surgeon in the operating theater, rightly dividing the word of God.

The whole celebrate recovery program is based upon Rick Warren's faulty interpretation of "The Beatitudes". Rick Warren has not drawn the true meaning out of the texts, he has poured in his own meaning (Eisegesis: an interpretation, esp. of Scripture, that expresses the interpreter's own ideas, bias, or the like, rather than the meaning of the text. Shame on him. The Beatitudes are not about "happiness" at all, but about "BLESSEDNESS." And people say Rick Warren is a sound theologian?????? Man, what is the world coming to, what is the church coming to? GREAT WORLD WIDE PERSECUTION? Maybe. The church is purified by and grows through, the fires of persecution. Watch out America. It is coming. Watch out Church in the western world. Watch out Church through out the whole world. Won't be a very happy time.

I have a quote to go with this post next, if that is ok?

Douglas said...


"I just purchased a book entitled Life's Healing Choices,2 by John Baker, the founder of Celebrate Recovery. The book is based on Rick Warren's series of sermons called "The Road to Recovery" that was based on the beatitudes. In the series, he interprets the beatitudes as "eight healing choices" that will lead to happiness.3 (Never mind the beatitudes themselves never speak about "choices.") Incidentally, about six years before Warren preached his sermon series, Robert Schuller published The Be Happy Attitudes.4 Schuller uses the beatitudes to teach that if we change our attitudes we will find happiness. Baker and Warren teach that if we just change our choices we will find happiness.

But I have a question: what if, in fact, the human will (even for the Christian) is powerless to overcome sin? As we shall see, that is exactly what Paul experienced and his travail is the basis for his Romans 7 lament. The key to sanctification is not willpower, but rather the grace of God operating through the power of the Holy Spirit. Grace comes to us not from motivational books and sermons but through God's ordained means of grace."

Let us go back to the Beatitudes as understood by Rick Warren and Robert Schuller. Warren wrote this: "Jesus began the Sermon on the Mount by sharing eight secrets of genuine happiness."10 Jesus was not issuing prescriptions for happiness, but rather descriptions of the citizens of the Kingdom of God. The first and last of the Beatitudes (the term, by the way, comes from the Latin term for "blessings"11 and has nothing to do with our English term "attitudes") end with, "for theirs is the kingdom of God." Those between the first and last beatitudes are promised future blessings such as, "they shall inherit the earth." Far from "secrets to happiness" or "be happy attitudes," these blessings are for people who appear to be far from blessed in the eyes of the world but have, by faith, seen that the kingdom has drawn near. As mentioned before, John Baker of Celebrate Recovery calls the beatitudes, "eight healing choices." These are not choices; they are conditions people are in because of a work of God."

Last piece with references in next post.

I hope what I have posted is seriously considered.

To all the posters who are quick to remind folks like me that this is Wades Blog please hold that, as I already know and am constantly reading that sort of thing on other blogs. Wade does not have to post my comments and when he and anyone else for that matter does I say "Thanks for taking the time to listen to me." And, God bless if they don't.

Douglas said...

For example, consider this beatitude: "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied" (Matthew 5:6). To put this in perspective, consider Paul's teaching in Romans: "as it is written, ‘There is none righteous, not even one; There is none who understands, There is none who seeks for God'" (Romans 3:10, 11). Without a prior work of God's grace, no one even seeks God. Some claim that Paul is exaggerating and should not be taken literally. But the context tells otherwise. Paul's litany of human sinfulness in Romans chapters 1-3 is very clearly intended to be universal. It sets up the universal need for the gospel. Therefore, hungering for righteousness is neither a "choice" that leads to happiness nor a "secret" of genuine happiness. It is a blessed person's condition, caused by a work of grace that God did.

I use the example of how Schuller and Warren use the beatitudes because both have been so very important in recent church history. I claim that they and their ideas are products of a misguided evangelicalism that has been addicted to human ability for more than a century. The idea of human willpower even affects how the gospel is presented. Whether for therapeutic purposes or for saving ones, evangelicalism assumes we need the best approach to motivate people to make decisions. They believe the human will reigns supreme. Why else would someone reduce the beatitudes to choices or secrets that lead to happiness? They assume everyone wants to be happy, so they use that desire to motivate people to make different choices. The need for a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit gets little or no consideration. They do not think themselves wretched like Paul; they simply believe they just need a volitional boost by a motivational speaker.

If Edwards was right (and I believe he was), their motivational approach which is so very American, is sure to fail. If we have evil desires because of a sin nature, then we can be motivated not to act on them by the existence of external penalties. But our problem with lust itself is hopeless. Only a supernatural work of God by the Holy Spirit can change our desire at the heart level. Our desires and motivations change when our heart is changed." (references in article) - from Why the Human Will Cannot Overcome Sin by Bob DeWaay

Listen to a 15 part audio discussion of Bob DeWaay's book Redefining Christianity: Understanding the Purpose Driven Movement

More sound studies here

Come LORD Jesus, come and take me home where I belong. I am not of this world, I am an alien, a sojourner, I am just passing through this way... said...


Most folks know their need is recovery before they perceive their need for Christ.

On my way to New York. Blessings


B Nettles said...

This is good discussion.
Wade: "Pain" was not the right word, and it bothered me so much I went back and placed the phrase "ultimate dissatisfaction."

Plus Douglas: The Beatitudes are not about "happiness" at all, but about "BLESSEDNESS."

Yes, it gets under my skin when people say that "blessed" in the Beatitudes means "happy." Argh! The word "happy" comes from a word that means "chance occurrence" as in "happen." There's nothing random or chance about blessing. Happy is such a weak word theologically.

Blessed is a status conferred by God (makarios) which has the same idea as the Hebrew used in Ps. 1:1. To put it in words similar to the change Wade made ... "Satisfaction from God will be upon" is much closer to what is meant than "happy."

Unknown said... thinks that I've met some folks here at our church who have been granted regeneration, faith, repentance and are now brothers and sisters in the Lord who have come through the avenue of our church's Celebrate Recovery ministry. This is really a great discussion! And, that's ALL it is! Celebrate Recovery is about more than discussion it's about reaching people with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I'd rather hang with folks who don't get all their terminology right but who are "reached" and "reaching others" than the stuffy-crusty types who are trying to pound every fine point of theological particularity yet don't get dirty in the trenches with the sin-addicted idolaters being reached by the Gospel of Jesus in Celebrate Recovery.

I get the eisegesis thing - it pains me too! But really! Wade posts an excellent article on reaching people for Christ's sake and this turns into a diatribe on Warren and Schuller? I'm not a big fan of either (rather loath the false prophet Shuller!) but really! This is the best discussion we can have?

Go to a Christ-centered, Gospel-saturate Celebrate Recovery and see the evidence of lives changed...then maybe you'll be able to look past the foibles of others.

Now, I need to go repent of my own pride.

Dee said...

If this is the same Jeff V who coauthored The Subtle Tyranny of Spiritual Abuse, then we need to read this book.That book is the finest book I have ever read on the subject.I have given that book to countless people!

Douglas said...

"Most folks know their need is recovery before they perceive their need for Christ."

Wade, I must be one of a few then as I did not see a need for recovery from anything. From the moment I realized I was born again by the Holy Spirit of God all I knew was my need for Christ and for Him alone. And that is the same for me today as it was 29 years ago.

Celebrate Recovery is based upon the false foundations of Scripture twisting. Christians are being added to HIS church daily in spite of that not because of it. When Christians cannot even blink at the distorting of God's Word something is drastically wrong. There is absolutely no excuse, no matter who or where it comes from. It is not as if Rick Warren is an uneducated, ignorant man, he is in fact very brilliant. His whole warm, friendly, loving nature disarms people and because he is on such high pedestal now it is if can say or do no wrong. Who is he accountable to for his mishandling of God’s word? None of us insignificant, unknown, uneducated (I left school and started work when I was 14) lay people it seems.

Hope you have/had a great time in NY.

"If God does not save men by truth, he certainly will not save them by lies. And if the old gospel is not competent to work a revival, then we will do without the revival." Charles Hadden Spurgeon

The Gospel According to Warren
Gary E. Gilley

Have you ever read this before Wade? Is it true? Is it? Or is it an attack on Rick Warren himself rather than a close look at what Mr. Warren actually teaches? Rick Warren is a Southern Baptist pastor isn't he? Or has he resigned and disassociated himself from that organization?

Douglas said...

B. Nettles, may God continue to increase your insight, wisdom, love and compassion as you grow in the grace and knowledge of our LORD Jesus Christ.

The flowers in the Lord's garden
(J. C. Ryle, "The Gospel of John" 1873)

"Peter and the other disciple ran to the tomb to see. The other disciple outran Peter and got there first. He stooped and looked in and saw the linen cloth lying there, but he didn't go in. Then Simon Peter arrived and went inside." John 20:3-6