Theology of Christian Recovery

The primary distinctives that differentiate Christian Recovery from other approaches to life change lie in our approach to spirituality. Here are some of the major theological tenants of the Christian approach to recovery.

    1. Recovery is truly Christian only if God is part of it. This God is not just a nebulous “Higher Power”, but rather is the Creator of the Universe Who has revealed Himself in the Bible. Additionally, this God is a loving God, who showed His love by sending His Son, Jesus Christ, into this fallen world to save us. (John 3:16)
    2. The Word of God is the authoritative rule and guide for our recovery. We believe there is, indeed, some objective TRUTH in this world and that it is revealed in the Holy Scriptures. (Hebrews 4:12)
    3. There is a real devil. He is a real entity, who though the power of deception, is fighting for the minds of men. Truth is therefore the ultimate weapon in the spiritual warfare of Christian recovery. (John 8:31-32)
    4. Sin is deceptive, powerful and addictive. As Christian author, Keith Miller states, sin (or the “control disease”) is the root of all addictions and compulsive disorders. (Romans 7:15-25)
    5. There is a Redeemer. Jesus Christ has won the victory over sin, death, and the devil by His death on the cross. (1 John 3:8b) Therefore, the message of the Gospel brings forgiveness and the power to experience real change in our lives through God’s power. (Romans 1:16)
    6. This is a fallen world Not only are external things warped, perverse, confused, and corrupt, believers in recovery must still contend with their own fallen natures, as well. (Romans 7:21)
    7. All human beings need spiritual rebirth. Because spiritual death is a reality, we must assume that everyone needs to experience new life from God. (John 3:3)
    8. There is a significant difference between guilt and “toxic shame”. Guilt is a response of the conscience to specific sinful actions. On the other hand, destructive (or “toxic”) shame is an inner sense of being unlovable, unredeemable, hopeless, irreparably flawed, incomplete, and worthless. Everyone who struggles with a compulsive disorder experiences this to some degree. The Gospel provides the answer for both of these dilemmas. Confession and forgiveness are God’s way to overcome guilt. And, growing in relationship to Him and other healthy people enables us to accept ourselves as loved and lovable. (1 John 4:9)
    9. There is a definite difference between the terms “drunkard” and “alcoholic.” According to the Bible, drunkenness is a moral condition. On the other hand, alcoholism is a therapeutic condition. What separates the addict from the non-addict is not how often they drink or how much they drink, but what happens when they do drink – the loss of control (or powerlessness). Once an individual becomes addicted, he can never be a social drinker. (Ephesians 5:18)
    10. God works in processes. “Recovery” is not a one time, once-and- for-all thing – it is a process (Romans 12:2). Recovery is not just “fixing” ourselves, but rather it is gaining the “tools” to succeed in working out what God has already put within (sanctification). (Philippians 2:12,13)
    11. God works through His Spirit. The word Greek word “paraclete” is used in the scriptures to refer to the Holy Spirit. This term means “counselor” or “personal tutor.” To succeed in recovery, believers must learn to respond to God’s Spirit and walk in His will for their lives. (John 16:13-15)
    12. God works through people There is no more isolated and lonely person than the addict. John Bradshaw says, “The deepest wound of toxic shame is the inability to develop meaningful, intimate, human relations.” The message of Christian Recovery is that God’s grace is experienced as a process which involves intensely honest and nurturing relationships with other people. They serve as agents of His grace to unravel our woundedness and reshape our thinking. (Hebrews 10:23-25)
    13. Christian recovery is “intensive discipleship.” “Putting the cork in the bottle” (not using drugs or alcohol) is no guarantee of any lasting change in an individual’s life. What addicts need is a systematic commitment to an ongoing process of personal growth. Christian recovery means gaining new tools that enable us to live a new sober life and to remove all the “stumbling blocks” to a life of Christian victory. (2 Peter 1:5-11) We might also consider “recovery” as another word for what that Bible refers to as “sanctification”.
    14. Repentance is more than simply confessing our sins to God. We all must own up to our own sin if we are to experience forgiveness. (1 John 1:9) Still an additional step is necessary — repentance. The Greek word for repentance is “metanouia” which implies a complete change of mind. New thinking comes from new attitudes that have been formed by new perspectives. (Acts 3:19)
    15. “Rigorous honesty” is essential for true spirituality. Jesus declares that the truth will set us free (John 8:32) So, we must make a commitment to “walk in the light”. (1 John 1:5-9)
    16. There is a “therapeutic value” to talk. Self-revelation in a safe environment is a tremendously healing experience. Support groups provide an environment that promotes this process. (James 5:16)
    17. “Grace flows freely through unclogged conduits.” Christian workers cannot bring people to a place they have not come to themselves. Therefore, if we want to reach out to hurting people, we must be in the process of dealing with our own issues first. (1 Cor. 11:31; 2 Cor. 4:1-2)


You may also want to hear the audio work entitled Spiritual Foundations for Recovery

Abstinence: Still the Best Choice?

Carrie Nation on the war path for the Women’s Christian Temperance Union

As a person who has struggled with addiction to alcohol and drugs, I would be foolish to drink. But what about the Christian who has never had this problem? Is there anything wrong with what is considered social drinking? I believe there are at least five compelling reasons why abstinence should be the norm for all followers of Christ:

A. The cost to society. Nationwide one in four families is experiencing alcohol related problems. It is estimated that 20-25 percent of all hospital costs result directly from alcohol misuse and abuse. People without Christ drink mainly to fill a spiritual void that only Christ’s presence can fill. Therefore, Christians who do know Him ought to stand out in this fallen world by not being identified with this destructive spiritual counterfeit.

B.   The children. By the time they turn 14, 30 percent of boys and 22 percent of girls drink alcohol, many weekly or even daily. Alcohol-related trauma is the leading cause of death for those ages 1 to 19. There is a spiritual principle that what one generation excuses in moderation the next can excuse in excess. We must protect our children by setting the example of abstinence.

C.   The weaker brother. Paul wrote, “It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall” (Romans 14:21, NIV). At a Christian drug rehab center where I was director for 1 0 years, our board, staff, and volunteers were expected to abstain from alcohol. Why? To set a good example to those who were struggling to recover from alcohol and drug addiction. We never wanted them to think, He’s a strong Christian; if it’s OK for him to do it, it must be OK for me to do it too.

D, The danger. If it were discovered today, ethanol (the active ingredient in beverage alcohol) would have to be tested by the FDA before it could be marketed to the consumer. It would likely be listed as a controlled substance, sold only by doctor’s prescription. In almost 15 years of working with alcoholics I have found only one common denominator-all started as social drinkers. No one plans to become an addict. No one can safely assume he or she is immune from the seductive and addictive nature of ethyl alcohol. This is especially true if one has a history of family alcoholism. Not drinking at all is the one guaranteed way to keep from becoming an alcoholic.

E.   Our enemy. We are in a life and death struggle for our souls. In 1 Peter we are admonished, “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8, NASB).   We have enough difficulty discerning Satan’s activities when we have a clear mind. But if our spiritual sensitivity is clouded by intoxicants, we are more open to his deception and control. No wonder we need to take Paul’s exhortation to heart: “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18, NIV).


The Importance of Reconnecting

I have often been asked why the topic of “reconnecting” is such a common theme in my writings and addiction recovery training sessions.   To that I can answer, there’s no more disconnected people anywhere that the homeless addict.   By the time he finds himself on the streets, he has succeeded in burning every relational bridge behind him.   This lack of social support will keep him locked in a downward spiral because no one recovers from addiction and homelessness by themselves.   Real changes occur when such a person is able to reconnect, first, with God, then himself and, finally, with other safe people with home he can continue the journey toward wholeness.

A.   Common assumptions about the causes of homelessness – Most often in discussing the needs of the homeless and what must be done to help them, the following are assumed to be at the root of their situation:

  • Lack of affordable housing
  • Government policies/Welfare Reform
  • Poor economy
  • No employment opportunities
  • Education/language barriers
  • Prejudice against minorities/women

B.   The real reason people become homelessness – Certainly, the issues listed above represent real challenges faced by homeless people, they are not the root cause of homelessness.   In their landmark book, A Nation in Denial (Westview Press, Boulder, CO 1993), public policy analysts Alice Baum and Donald Burnes shatter many of the myths surrounding the root causes of homelessness.   They contend that the condition labeled “homelessness” is best described as a state of “disaffiliation” or complete alienation from meaningful human relationships and the social support systems most people have working for them.   As Christians, we might also say that it means lacking a sense of “community” or “belonging.”

C.   Causes of “disaffiliation” – Based on their research, Baum and Burnes conclude that at least 65-85% of all homeless adults suffer from chronic alcoholism, drug addiction, mental illness, or some combination of the three, often complicated by serious medical problems.   Of the nearly 1/3 of homeless adults who suffer from chronic psychiatric disorders, half are “dually diagnosed” – suffering from addiction to alcohol and/or drugs, as well as mental illness.

A lack from meaningful human relationships is one of the core issues of addiction.   Dishonesty, blame shifting, irresponsibility, and outright abuse of those closest to them are all a part of the downward cycle of addiction.   Mental illness adds even more stress and strain to family relationships.   So, it is little wonder that most homeless people become alienated from their loved ones.

D.   “Re-connection is the antidote for “disaffiliation” – Dean Sherman, missionary trainer with Youth With A Mission states “The quality of our lives is totally dependent on the quality of our relationships with other people.”     This is why rescue mission recovery programs are most effective when they are very relationship oriented.   In essence, this can summarized in what I’ve called the three re-connections of recovery – 1) with God   2) with themselves and 3) with others (especially loved ones).   Most rescue mission programs do a very good job with the first reconnection – with God – which really differentiates what they do from all of the secular efforts to help the homeless.

E.   Reconnecting with the Family of God – Reconnection with the Heavenly Father also comes with the promise of a new sense of “belonging” as a member of the Family of God.   A well-organized long-term residential program can be the first place newly recovering people can experience this sense of community.   An important component of rescue mission programs is preparing formerly homeless people to reconnect with the church.     The best approach to this is to find “Rescue Mission Friendly” Churches and train sponsor families within them to help clients find their place in a spiritual community.   Building a significant relationship with the local church must begin in the earliest stages of a long-term program and continue up through graduation.

Maurice Vanderberg, long-time director of Kansas City’s City Union Mission had this vision – “Our goal is to see that every program graduate becomes a mature, contributing member of a Christian community.”   With this in mind, no one should ever graduate from a residential recovery program until he or she is firmly planted in a local church.

D.   The role of Christian Recovery Support Groups – One of the most powerful words in the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous is the very first word of the First Step – “”We admitted we were powerless over alcohol and that our lives had become unmanageable.”   Few things are more powerful incentives for recovery than the realization that others have experienced the same struggles as we have – and overcame them.   One of the challenges of the rescue mission program is integrating the principles of spiritual life and addiction recovery.

In light of this, I am convinced that Christian recovery support groups are probably the most effective bridge between the rescue mission program and the Christian community.   These groups provide recovering homeless individuals with a combination of personal support and group accountability.   They promote an atmosphere of positive reinforcement, support and hopefulness.   This “family” atmosphere into which newcomers may comfortably” fit it”.   There is no better place to find sponsors in the community who can support program participants after they graduate.