“Addictions – A Banquet in the Grave: Finding Hope in the Power of the Gospel” by Edward T. Welch. Published by P&R, 2001. Reviewed and recommended by Pastor McShaffrey.
“An effective church will have addicts in it. After all, the church is, in part, a hospital for sinners…” (p. 120).
This valid insight invites us to consider how ready we are and whether we are even equipped to deal effectively with the ugly ravages of sin associated with addiction.
In this book, Welch provides a wealth of information with regard to both addicts and the heart issues involved when counseling such. Welch’s approach is thoroughly and self-consciously biblical because he views this particular sin/affliction ultimately as disorder of worship. Therefore, throughout the book, the reader is challenged to consider the deeper issues involved with addiction.
Particularly refreshing are Welch’s definition of addiction and the resultant broad applicability of his insights. He defines addiction as, “bondage to the rule of a substance, activity, or state of mind, which then becomes the center of life, defending itself from the truth so that even bad consequences don’t bring repentance, and leading to further estrangement from God” (p. 35).
This understanding of addiction frees both Welch and the reader to consider the dynamics of addiction rather than thinking only about specific forms. As a result, Welch often speaks so generally that one might easily substitute the word alcohol with heroin, food, or sex without altering or negating his point.
The Alcoholics Anonymous model has dominated the treatment of addictions and Welch is quick to admit such. Though some of the foundational principles and rotten fruits of such programs are injurious to the cultivation of true Christian spirituality, Welch admits the reality that escaping this model may not be an option. Therefore, he equips the reader to function within and even cooperate with such a model with careful discernment.
Similarly, Welch demonstrates the value of redeeming present models in his discussion of “interventions” or a deliberate attempt to confront the addict with their sin. He roots the practice in Scripture (Proverbs 24:11 & Matthew 18:15-17) and explains well the proper motives, approaches, and goals of such “rescue” attempts.
Just as Welch does not shy away from the fact that the AA model exists and dominates the field, neither does he ignore the “sin or disease” debate. Welch, in addressing the issues and relevance of genetics, predisposition, disease, and sin offers a helpful model. He affirms the validity and truths which are presented from both sides of the debate and concludes that addict is victimized yet responsible. This approach best equips the counselor not only to deal with sin biblically, but also to appreciate the bondage involved with addiction and, thereby, appropriately sympathize with the addict.
A theme which necessarily recurs throughout the entire book, is that of idolatry. Understanding addiction as a worship disorder equips the counselor to use the Bible more effectively. Specifically, Welch demostrates how useful the entire history of Israel (but particularly her journey from Egypt to Canaan) is when dealing with those who nurture adulterous, idolatrous, and foolish hearts. This method of concretizing Scripture is fine example of sober and effective exemplarism.
In order to decimate the idols of our hearts, Welch shows us a biblical and “un-domesticated” picture of Jesus, calls us to find satisfaction and freedom in the fear of God, and alerts us to both the deception of our hearts and those more cruel devices of Satan. After these lessons, Welch essentially calls us to wage that holy war against sin that we are called to as Christians and are also equipped to win through God’s grace in the community of faith.
Most helpful were the periodic challenges and opportunities for self-examination that conclude each chapter. It quickly becomes evident that Welch wrote this book for the counselor, the addict, the spouse, the friend, et alia.
Each chapter is filled with helpful principles and practical hints. A few of our favorites include:
- Toilet tanks are a favorite hiding place for bottles
- Excuses are often masterfully crafted to redirect guilt
- Enabling is as easy as it is dangerous
- The signs of addiction listed (p. 90ff)
- The profitability of written contracts
- Souvenirs as a potential snare
Though not exhaustive, this list demonstrates the usefulness of Welch’s study, experience, and practical approach. His approach is biblical and redemptive. This is best demonstrated by his oft-repeated gospel arithmetic: For every one look at your sin, take ten looks at Christ.
Welch has provided the church with an invaluable insight into the heart of an addict. He has equipped both her members and officers with the simple but essential tools necessary for facing the dreadful sin of addiction. He has maintained balance and a charitable spirit in his interaction with alternate and unbiblical models. Over all, Welch has succeeded in pointing us toward the hope which is to be found in the Gospel.