Alcoholics Anonymous, the Twelve Steps, and the world of recovery at large represent an untapped and highly valuable resource for the Christian Church. Not only can the church learn a great deal from AA about the nature of addiction, but also about the reality of how God works in the lives of troubled people. In this sense, AA can help the church rediscover a great deal about itself, much of which has been sadly lost, at least in the majority of the church’s current mainstream expressions. Specifically, AA can recall to the Church its understanding of the human condition as intrinsically impaired, of God primarily as rescuer and of spiritual growth as a cyclical rather than linear phenomenon. AA also offers an extraordinary model for how those understandings play out on a corporate and organizational level. The aim of this article, then, is to re-establish both a basis of hope for the church and a basis for the church as hope.
The problem of addiction compels even the most convinced ideologue to re-examine his/her conception of human nature, and consequently, God. Things that seem to be true for the addict can challenge and sometimes contradict our assumptions about both subjects. Addiction presents an impasse. Its victims are countless and most treatments have little long-term impact. Alcoholics Anonymous and the Twelve Steps have been one of the only avenues of hope to develop on this dark horizon. They have brought about results in devastated lives. It is not surprising that courts and schools continue to mandate that addicts attend Twelve Step programs; their success is undeniable.
But the success of AA cannot be divorced from its core understanding of human beings and their need for God. Indeed, the Twelve Step approach is based on claims about the relationship between God and man, claims which may be implicit in Christianity but are not usually stressed in so singular a fashion.
The chief concern of Twelve Step recovery is redemption, pure and simple. The sober alcoholic who has found joyful release from alcohol epitomizes the “wretch saved by grace,” and therefore, the hope of the church. If “redeeming love is [indeed their] theme” (W. Cowper), Christians might begin to give the flourishing world of recovery more attention. It is almost as if God cut out a substantial portion of His heart in the late 1930s and hid it in church basements and community centers across the country and the world. There it continues to beat loudly and healthily, despite the buckets of bad coffee and parking lots full of cigarettes. The heart is detached from its home.