Addictions, a Banquet in the Grave, by Edward T. Welch (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2001, 298 pp., $16.99.
Welch makes clear from the outset what he is trying to accomplish: “What is the basic point of this book? Theology makes a difference. It is the infrastructure of our lives. Build it poorly and the building will eventually collapse in ruins. Build it well and you will be prepared for anything. The basic theology for addictions is that the root problem goes deeper than our genetic makeup. Addictions are ultimately a disorder of worship” (p. XVI).
The author interacts much with the teachings of Alcohol Anonymous, recognizing a number of positive features of the program but identifying its limitations as well. One of his major concerns with AA is that while it teaches that addictions are sinful (or wrong) choices it ultimately promotes the disease model (p. 37). When sin is seen as a disease, both its DNA and its cure is changed from the biblical teachings which focus on responsibility, sin, repentance and Christ. Welch therefore 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.” He adds, “To locate it on the theological map, look under sin… Find addiction on the side that emphasizes slavery” (p. 35).
Addictions is broken into two major sections, the first being that of “Thinking Theologically.” Here the author wants us to see addictions, as he defines them from a biblical framework rather than from the disease or medical model. He does believe, however, that an enlarged perspective of sin indicates that we are both victims and responsible. He writes, “We are both hopelessly out of control and shrewdly calculation; victimized yet responsible. All sin is simultaneously pitiable slavery and overt rebelliousness or selfishness” (p. 34).
The second section is entitled “Essential Theological Themes,” which include: speaking the truth in love, knowing and fearing the Lord, saying no to sin and being a part of the body of Christ. Most of this material is quite helpful, even if a bit overwhelming at times. I am also confused as to exactly how to use this book. It seems to be aimed toward the helper (those attempting to counsel and guide the one addicted to sin), as well as the one struggling with addictions. This is evident throughout the book but is made clear at the end of each chapter when Welch gives assignments to both the counselor and the one struggling. While this may be beneficial it has certain drawbacks. For example, I would hesitate to give this book to someone attempting to overcome a particular sin because it might confuse him and because of the amount of material presented. On the other hand the duel nature of the book makes it unnecessarily long and somewhat perplexing, in my opinion, for the helper.
There were a few thoughts in the books in which I disagree, probably the most important of which deals with temptations. Welch seems to believe that as the believer matures that will eventually no longer be tempted internally (that is from the flesh) but only externally (the world and Satan). He writes, “Temptations are guaranteed, but not the temptations that come from within. The temptations we entertain in our own imaginations are on their way out. They might persist as something unwanted, even detested, but they are being put to death. It is the temptation outside of ourselves (also called testings) that will continue” (p. 239). I find this a biblically indefensible position and a dangerous one.
Overall however Addictions has a number of good insights, is realistic, and well thought out. The goal of the book is to “show how the theological riches of the Bible speak practically and meaningfully to the problems of addictions” (p. 88). I believe Welch attain his goal.