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In earlier times, some theologians wrote "natural theologies" by first explicating the wonders of nature and then gradually moving toward theism, revelation, and Christian doctrine. If I were writing a natural theology today, I think I would start with recovering alcoholics.It staggers me that psychiatrists, pharmacologists, and scientific reductionists cannot improve on a spiritual program devised by a couple of Christian alcoholics 60 years ago.Anthropology, original sin, regeneration, sanctification--the recovery movement contains within it seeds of all these doctrines. As an alcoholic once told me, "I have to publicly declare 'I am an alcoholic' whenever I introduce myself at group. It is a statement of failure, of helplessness, and surrender. Take a room of a dozen or so people, all of whom admit helplessness and failure, and it's pretty easy to see how God then presents himself in that group."The historian of Alcoholics Anonymous titled his work Not-God because, he said, that stands as the most important hurdle an addicted person must surmount: to acknowledge, deep in the soul, not being God. No mastery of manipulation and control, at which alcoholics excel, can overcome the root problem; rather, the alcoholic must recognize individual helplessness and fall back in the arms of the Higher Power. "First of all, we had to quit playing God," concluded the founders of AA; and then allow God himself to "play God" in the addict's life, which involves daily, even moment-by-moment, surrender.Bill Wilson, the cofounder of Alcoholics Anonymous, reached the unshakable conviction, now a canon of twelve-step groups, that an alcoholic must "hit bottom" in order to climb upward. Wilson wrote his fellow strugglers, "How privileged ...

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Philip Yancey
Philip Yancey is editor at large of Christianity Today and cochair of the editorial board for Books and Culture. Yancey's most recent book is What Good Is God?: In Search of a Faith That Matters. His other books include Prayer (2006), Rumors of Another World (2003), Reaching for the Invisible God (2000), The Bible Jesus Read (1999), What's So Amazing About Grace? (1998), The Jesus I Never Knew (1995), Where is God When It Hurts (1990), and many others. His Christianity Today column ran from 1985 to 2009.
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The Back Page | Philip Yancey: Lessons from Rock Bottom
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July 10, 2000

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