Book Review: Addictions

Edward Welch, P&R (2001), 320 pages, 4 of 5 stars

Screen Shot 2015-10-03 at 4.26.50 PMVoluntary slavery. This is how Edward Welch defines addiction. His thesis: the root problem of our addictions is not genetic makeup but ultimately a disorder of worship. He centers on addictions like alcohol and drugs but also addresses lying, pornography, overeating, and laziness.

Regarding the last point, my wife once asked our neighbor if she has any hobbies. “Sleeping”, was her reply. This book could help her.

Welch gets the big issue right. Addictions are not the fault of chemical imbalances. The deepest problem is sin, meaning the greatest solution is the gospel. He also shines when digging deeply into the psychological nature of sin, by “psychological” I mean in relation to the mind, not lying on a couch hitting a pillow tagged “Dad”. He is a bit soft on Alcoholics Anonymous but that is quibbling.

Husband, Father, Pastor, Preacher

As father and husband, I was convicted that anger is an addiction (see quote #8 below). As a pastor, I was convicted for not being more approachable. “Ask family members. Are you perceived as humble and patient by those close to you? Are you quick to anger? If so, no one is going to be eager to speak honestly with you” (70).

As a preacher, I need to be more practical in the pulpit. Welsh gives 7 behaviors to spot addicts, 8 ideas for private worship, and 14 ways to remember you are in a battle. P-r-a-c-t-i-c-a-l. He uses every weapon available, be it role-play, homework, or illustrations. Who said Presbyterians aren’t teetotalers? He rails against gateway drugs like cigarettes and alcohol and reminds us that addiction is monolithic. “Everything is alcohol (drug, food, sex) soluble.” Whatever the addiction, it can dilute guilt, alleviate depression, bring pleasure and quiet loss.

Excerpts

  1. Perhaps no other narrative portrays the irrational nature of sin so clearly [than Samson in Judg. 13-16]. With Delilah his lust defied all reason. Over and over she was exposed as a betrayer, yet Samson was intoxicated with her. Although aware of her plotting, his desire still blinded him. (57).
  2. Satan and sin are like wild animals (1Pt. 5:8; Gn. 4:7). There is no subtlety here. No wooing, attractive women. No idol that holds out promises it can’t keep. This is just plain old in-your-face, rip-you-apart warfare. Sin and Satan victimize. They enslave. (60)
  3. Addicts must know that they are being given a gift, and those who are helping addicts must know how to give this gift in a way that reflects its cost and beauty. Beautiful gifts must be presented in the most attractive way possible. Ask the person, “Does what we talk about sound like condemnation, or does it sound like a beautiful gift?” (63)
  4. When an addict is caught, excuses are masterful. They are offered immediately, without hesitation. They are bold, without averted eyes or a hint of “I just got found out.” Inevitably, they will somehow make friends and loved ones feel guilty. (75)
  5. [Use a gentle tongue]. If there is going to be a battle, you want it to be between the person and God, not between the person and yourself. (94)
  6. Being rebuked is not the same thing as being hypocritically judged. (114)
  7. We can quickly identify [evil] temptations by asking ourselves which of our desires prefer to stay in the dark. Which desires do we want to hide from certain people? (230)
  8. Let’s say a husband and father is dominated by anger. When he gives into his rage, he verbally abuses his family and destroys property. Rage is his addiction; he wants it. (241)

Book Review: The Great Gain of Godliness

Thomas Watson, Banner of Truth (1682/2006), 166 pages, 4 of 5 stars

Screen Shot 2015-09-11 at 8.59.36 AMThomas Watson squeezes the orange and yields more heavenly juice from three verses than many a modern preacher.

From Malachi 3:16-18 he writes 168 pages and 16 sermons. This small book would make an excellent Homiletics textbook. A young preacher wonders how he could get forty-five minutes of sermon material from, say, the story of the prodigal son. Here, in an obscure passage, Watson goes phrase by phrase and mines truckloads of truth. The word “then” receives one sermon. “Fear of the Lord” gets five. His lists are endless: four things to consider, nineteen ways it is important to fear God, and two cautions about deceit.

I can imagine a homiletical exercise that asks for a sermon manuscript on Malachi 3:16. When the students return frazzled and empty of sufficient material, tell them to read Watson’s ten sermons on the same verse. It may be to them as scales falling from their eyes.

The Puritans teach us how to use word pictures in illustrating truth. Like an Eskimo his clothing, Watson layers his metaphors. “Profession is often made a cloak to cover sin” is followed by, “the snow covers many a dunghill”, which is followed by Absalom covering his treason with a religious vow (2Sm. 15). “The fear of God swallows up all other fears, as Moses’ rod swallowed up the magicians rods” (33). How to illustrate the need to share the sweetness of what you have read this week? “Samson having found honey did not only eat of it himself, but carried it to his father and mother” (68). Christian unity: “one single coal is apt to die, but many coals put together keep in the heat” (72).

The Great Gain is an excellent counseling manual as well, for it shows how to present Scripture winsomely to the hurting soul.

Excerpts:

  1. Almost all court the Gospel Queen when she is hung with jewels. But to own the ways of God when they are decried and maligned, to love a persecuted truth, this evidences a vital principle of goodness. Dead fish swim down stream; living fish swim against it. (6)
  2. Reproaches are but splinters of the cross. (11)
  3. Be not laughed out of your religion. If a lame man laughs at you for walking upright, will you therefore limp? (11)
  4. Fear is as lead to the net, to keep a Christian from floating in presumption, and faith is as cork to the net, to keep him form sinking in despair. (15).
  5. A secure sinner lays in Delilah’s lap, yet hopes to be in Abraham’s bosom. (23)
  6. He who pampers his body and neglects his soul, is like him who feasts his slave and starves his wife. (34)
  7. A Christian should keep two books always beside him; one to write his sins in, that he may be humble; the other to write his mercies in, that he may be thankful. (108)
  8. God will not stretch the strings of his violin too hard, let they break. If God should strike with one hand, he will support with the other (Sg. 8:3). Either he will make our yoke lighter, or our faith stronger. This promise is honey at the end of the rod. (158)