A friend of mine, let's call him Bob, was a faithful and lifelong churchgoer. He sang hymns with gusto, responded to the liturgy, insisted that his kids be baptized, and mingled at coffee hour. He even served in various leadership roles within the church. At the same time, Bob's life revolved around drinking alcohol.
Eventually Bob lost his job, and was on the brink of losing his marriage as a result of his addiction. Then he started attending Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). He found a sponsor, someone who had been "in recovery" for years and could teach him not only how to avoid alcohol but also how to do the introspective work he would need to stay sober. It took a year or two, but eventually Bob stopped going to church. AA was the place where he connected with his "Higher Power." AA was the place where he experienced fellowship and accountability. AA was the place where he knew himself as both broken and beloved.
Bob is not alone, and Kent Dunnington's new book, Addiction and Virtue: Beyond the Models of Disease and Choice (InterVarsity Press) provides a way to understand and respond to Bob's experience. The book offers theological and philosophical insights into the causes of addiction, challenging our tendency to blame substance abuse either on autonomous choices alone or on medical conditions beyond one's control. Dunnington generally supports the 12-step model of overcoming addiction, but critiques the theology implicit within this model. He disputes the idea that we can construct a "Higher Power" rather than recognize God's authority. And he looks beyond the narrow identities these programs assign to addicts: They are not, as the customary AA greeting would have it, mere "alcoholics," but rather children of God, beloved and redeemed.