Theological Perspectives on Substance Abuse -- By: Joe Prank Jones, III

Journal: Faith and Mission
Volume: FM 09:2 (Spring 1992)
Article: Theological Perspectives on Substance Abuse
Author: Joe Prank Jones, III

Theological Perspectives on Substance Abuse

Joe Prank Jones, III

Professor of Religion and Philosophy
Barton College, Wilson, North Carolina


Perhaps you, like me, listen to the sound and fury surrounding addiction with feelings of wonder and fear. We have our second national Drug Czar. Some are insisting that calling alcoholism a disease is failing to call sin “sin.” Others suggest that Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) twelve-step groups provide a good model or even substitute for church these days. Others say recovery has become a game of blaming somebody else for our problems. Niebuhr has more reason than ever to ask, “What is going on?”

Closer to home, pastors are being pressured by many drug and alcohol related demands. Parishioners want from clergy a biblical understanding of addiction. Those who recognize compulsive behavior in their lives want church-based support programs. Parents of young children want programs to inform and lead their children away from involvement with alcohol and drugs. Parents of older children in trouble want the pastor to intervene without disrupting their own external lifestyles. Parents of older children in recovery want the pastor to tell these children to stop blaming them for the problem. The demands go on and on, ever increasing in complexity. It is no wonder that pastors are overwhelmed.

My own story is one of violence, compulsive controlling, distance from my own feelings, and fragmented loyalties as the son, grandson, and brother to alcoholics. My help has come from treatment programs which encourage the integration of biblical insight and personal growth. Such insight and growth have occurred away from the institutional church in my case, in places where I have allowed myself to feel safe. In the safety of my wilderness, or desert, I met and spoke with God about myself. Some of the things I learned about myself have seemed helpful to others on occasion. I have tried here to place my learnings into the language of theology and biblical study. My hope is that I might at least be a voice crying in the wilderness. My prayer is that my words might indeed prepare the way of the Lord, and make straight some paths. Path-straightening presupposes unfettered communication. I try within my limitations to be organized and transparent in what follows.

The first section of the article locates this essay from a theological perspective. The second section is a brief history and understanding of something called “family systems therapy”. The third section discusses the essential three-part picture contained in the two greatest Christian commandments. It also suggests that this tripartite picture and its internal relationships are accurately presented in the Twelve Step...

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