Read an Excerpt
How can the Twelve Steps be of any use to committed Christians already seeking to be God's people and do God's will? Especially how can the program be of use to Christians who are not alcoholics, overeaters, drug addicts, compulsive gamblers, or sex addicts and do not have family members involved in such addictions? And even if we agreed that these steps would bring one closer to God and to doing his will, how would a Christian take the steps without a specific addiction to focus them on?
It is true that a Christian with no clearly definable addiction finds it more difficult to recognize the need for and then to partake of the benefits of this Twelve-Step way of life. But it is also true that without a strong motivation, usually involving pain, it is difficult for a Christian to pay the price to master any of the classic Christian spiritual ways. An alcoholic who has lost family, job, and health and is facing loss of freedom in court has some very concrete evidence that he or she needs help. But Christians who have not faced these particular difficulties do not see that they are powerless and need help too. Yet many of these same Christians have become aware of feeling spiritual and emotional pain, anxiety, and confusion within themselves. I believe that these symptoms are indications of the same spiritual disease that underlies alcoholism and other addictions.
The similarities to the underlying spiritual disease addressed by the Twelve Steps strongly suggested to me a connection between the way of life prescribed by those steps and a committed Christian's spiritual growth. This bookdescribes how certain Christians, even without a specific substance addiction, can apply the Twelve Steps as a powerful model and "medicine" in their lives for alleviating emotional pain and stress and for practical spiritual development in Christ.
Which "Certain" Christians
Can Receive This Help?
The method of spiritual growth described here is for Christians whosespiritual practices are not working even though they believe in Godand want to trust him with their whole lives. If they are honest, theseChristians know they are not happy, and certainly not serene. Their personal lives are troubled; their intimate relationships are clouded by conflict and confusion; and they find that significant people in their lives can't understand them or love them as they feel they should be loved. These people's resentment, anger, fear, shame, guilt, loneliness, feelings of low self-worthand pain about their relationships and about living generally often feels "larger than life."
They may have tried many times to change their behavior or the behavior of the people around them. They may even have called God (Father, Son, and Spirit) in on the struggle to change those close to them or to change themselves. Yet when those whom these frustrated Christians try to "help" don't cooperate, the Christian helpers become angry and hurt, thinking, "Why do they resent me? They'd be so much happier if they'd just do what I say. I'm only trying to help them, after all!"
But in our clearer moments some of us Christian helpers have realized that we can't fix even our own pain not even with our prayers for God's help. We have seen that this secret pain of life does not respond to our manipulations and our prayers to make it go away. Increasing numbers of good Christian people are in pain, and they are realizing that they may not have the power or the spiritual resources to overcome this pain by themselves.
The Source of This Pain
Traditionally we Christians have been told that Jesus Christ came "to save us from Sin." But who has heard a good sermon on Sin lately? Many of us have pretty well forgotten what Sin is all about. In the Church we have practically eliminated dealing with Sin as a central agenda for Christians. This is a little strange, because virtually all Christian bodies consider the atonement for or the overcoming of Sin as the central message of the New Testament.
At an existential, everyday level of thinking, sin is thought to refer to "bad things one does" such as theft, adultery, murder, gossiping, judging, and so forth. But as William Temple pointed out, these things are only symptoms of a deeper disease. He says there is only one Sin (with a capital S), and that is putting ourselves in the center of our lives and other people's lives where only God should be . Sins with a small s are those specific things we do as a result of putting ourselves in the center (like stealing, adultery, and trying to control people).
There is a difference between "Hebrew Sin" and "Greek Sin." Hebrew Sin involves conscious violation of God's commandments. Greek Sin (illustrated in Greek tragedies) involves a kind of willful unconsciousness, unwillingness to recognize a tragic flaw that in the end brings about the destruction of oneself and others. Both conscious and unconscious aspects are involved in the Christian view of Sin.
The idea of referring to Sin as a "disease" troubles some people, who think I am saying that one is not responsible for one's sinful behavior. in other words, if Sin is a disease and I can't help myself, why not go on and sin? I am not saying that at all, but merely stating what biblical theologians have always known: Sin is a pernicious condition that all have (1 John 1:9) and that we can't defeat on our own. Otherwise why would Christ have to "come and save us from sin"? Sin is like compulsive or addictive habits that seem to control our actions even when we don't want them to and after we swear we will "never do it again." Paradoxically, even though we are powerless to defeat Sin on our own, we are responsible for our Sin and for seeking help to stop sinning, a seeking that leads us to God.