by ProfDave, ©2022

Cover photo, “Holiness in 12 Steps” by David W. Heughins, used with permission

(Feb. 8, 2022) — Since 1939 Alcoholics Anonymous has set the template for successful addiction recovery by bringing together people in the process of recovery to understand and support each other.  Therapy in itself, whether medical or psychiatric or spiritual was not enough.  The sufferer needed a spiritual experience and the support of others who had been in the same case.  Since then, any number of spin-offs using the same process have been developed dealing with different addictions and compulsive behaviors.  In addition, there are other support and therapy programs that have arisen to meet the need.    Celebrate Recovery was founded in 1981 by John Baker as a ministry of Saddleback Church in southern California and has spread worldwide, sponsored by local churches of many denominations.

Celebrate Recovery differs from AA and other secular 12 Step programs in being Christ centered and addressed to the whole person, not one particular destructive behavior.  The secular 12 Steps makes the secular person aware of their spiritual need without identifying the specific Higher Power or specific dogma or church through which that need is to be filled.  The alcoholic is supposed to find that for himself – and often does.  CR specifies the only Higher Power, Jesus Christ, who is capable of miraculous deliverance.  It still leaves church and dogma up to the participant.  This is done in a nondenominational Christian context, reinforced by Scripture, prayer and worship.

First, the public preaching and teaching ministries of the local church pour into the congregation the wealth of Scripture and spiritual instruction.  There are times of prayer and fellowship where God is close and needs are met around the place of prayer.  Small groups and classes may build accountability relationships.  Pastoral counseling may address more serious issues with the Word of God.  Celebrate Recovery encourages all of these.

Second, there are many recovery programs that address particular issues in a less step-wise manner, relying on trained leaders and more sophisticated materials to dig into the psychology and/or theology of the addiction.  The focus may be knowledge of the Word or of the self or of the addiction.  Insight and tools to deal with temptation are provided.  Pure Desire is an effective example of this approach, for sexual addiction. 

Third, most such programs rely on insight downloads.  Education and exhortation are seen as the means to set the sufferer free.  Tell them how bad their case is and what they need to do to escape.  “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.”  Information is helpful, but it needs to be received by a heart that is open to the Truth (Jesus Christ) in order to take effect.  “He that heareth the word and doeth it not” is a fool.  Without faith there is only condemnation and without support progress may fail.

Finally, many programs focus on self-discipline and motivation.  They encourage us to try harder.  In many cases this seems to work.  We get parts of our behavior under control.  As long as we depend on Christ and not ourselves, as long as we continue to grow in the knowledge and consciousness of Him we will have victory.  But if our addictions are beyond conscious control, if we isolate from our support structures or if we become self-righteous and self- rather than God-reliant, we will fail.  White knuckles are self-defeating with serious addictions.  Celebrate Recovery does not encourage this approach.

Celebrate Recovery is set off from other Christian ministries by being a support, rather than a therapy program.  The purpose is to support individuals during their recovery, complementing whatever help they may be receiving elsewhere.  When it comes to sharing, it is presumed that the participants already know something they should be doing or not doing.  No suggestions, prescriptions or condemnations are offered.  Wounded facilitators and participants do not presume to remove a speck from another’s eye but work on our own lumber.  The Higher Power is the only one among us qualified to fix us.  Support simply stands with the wounded believer as a child of God in victory or defeat as the Great Physician does his good work in them.

A support program works from the inside out.  Instruction is secondary to process.  CR lessons focus on the Biblical basis for the 12 Step process, but do not address particular hurts, hang-ups and addictions in depth.  Our Participants are encouraged to learn about their issues from outside therapists and doctrinal matters from their own pastoral staffs.  The CR way to recovery is through transparency and surrender, not knowledge. 

The CR Guidelines discipline us to share about the lumber in our own eyes – not another’s.  We listen respectfully, in turn, without fixing or cross-talk.  This makes the small groups safe places to bare our souls without fear of criticism or condemnation.  No amateur therapy or lecturing is allowed.  Most of us know plenty we should be doing but need accountability and supernatural help to do it.  We open ourselves to each other and to Christ – our pain, our shame, our hopes, our dreams.  We comfort each other in defeat, celebrate each other in victory, and pray for each other that we may be healed.  We benefit from the intimate experiences of others, ask questions after group, and give a sponsor permission to speak into our hearts privately.

Celebrate Recovery uses the tested 12 Step framework and its own rigid DNA.  First, it is problem centered.  We begin by acknowledging that we are broken people, living in a broken world, and acknowledging that we have a hurt, habit or hang-up that we are unable to fix on our own (Romans 7:18).  Those who do not acknowledge any sin or malfunction are not served by this sort of discipleship.

Second, it is a step-wise, process-oriented program.  It begins with admitting need before going on to hope, before going on to decision, before  . . ..  One step builds on the next.  It is not a quick fix, or a random benefit.  It is a process.  The annual cycle of the curriculum calls the participants onward through the process.  When we complete Step 12 we go back to Step 1, becoming aware of additional growth needed.  The actual Step Studies, workbook driven small groups, require completion of one step before the next. 

Finally, Celebrate Recovery depends on the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of individuals in small gender-specific groups.  They may or may not be issue specific (like AA).  We do not rely on wisdom, knowledge, skill or self-discipline.    We simply surrender and depend on the Holy Spirit to do the rest.  CR runs on miracles.



David W. Heughins (“ProfDave”) is Adjunct Professor of History at Nazarene Bible College.  He holds a BA from Eastern Nazarene College and a PhD in history from the University of Minnesota.  He is the author of Holiness in 12 Steps (2020).  He is a Vietnam veteran and is retired, living with his daughter and three grandchildren in Connecticut.

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