Book Review: Addictions: A Banquet in the Grave by Ed Welch
Addictions: A Banquet in the Grave: Finding Hope in the Power of the Gospel. Edward T. Welch. Phillipsburg: P & R Publishing, 2001. 296 pp.
About The Author
Ed Welch is a counselor and faculty member of the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation, a Christian counseling and educational ministry located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He holds a M.Div from Biblical Theological Seminary and a Ph.D in Counseling Psychology with a neuro-psychology specialty from the University of Utah. Welch has also authored multiple books dealing with depression and addiction in relation to Biblical Counseling and is a regular contributor to The Journal of Biblical Counseling.
About The Book
Welch’s premise for his books and counseling ministry is that theology is the infrastructure of our lives. In Addictions: A Banquet in the Grave Welch sets out to provide a practical theology on addictions. He proposes that the common understanding of addictions as a disease, which “conveys the idea that these problems have their ultimate cause in the body rather than the soul,” conflicts with biblical teaching and should be rejected. He suggests instead that “addictions are ultimately a disorder of worship” (p. xvi).
Welch divides his book into two parts. Chapters 1 through 4, entitled “Thinking Theologically,” compose the first part of the book. Throughout this section Welch sets forth a biblical theology of addictions grounded in the doctrine of sin. As such he says that “if we are going to be informed by God’s Word” it “is clear and indisputable” that the deepest problem of an addict is sin (p. 21). The addict, Welch argues, makes a choice, conscious or not, to give into their cravings and desires in order to pursue their addiction.
Furthermore, he purposes that for the addict “slavery with the object of desire is sometimes preferable to freedom without it” (p. 27). This voluntary slavery is an infection of the heart, which results in idolatry. Specifically, Welch redefines addiction based on his study of Scripture: “Addiction is bondage to the rule of a substance, activity, or state of mind, which then becomes the center of life, defending itself from the truth so that even bad consequences don’t bring repentance, and leading to further estrangement from God (p. 35).”
The second part of Addictions: A Banquet in the Grave, “Essential Theological Themes,” makes up chapters 5 through 12. This section is more practical in nature. These chapters are designed to help the addict or those friends and family members who desire to help a loved one wrestling with addiction break the bondage of their addiction. This is accomplished by finding freedom through the worship of God instead of idolatry of self, pleasure, substances, or other material things.
While Welch does provide a nearly 200 page thorough discussion of addiction as a worship disorder rooted in human sinfulness and idolatry, his argument is largely devoid of grace and rooted in judgment. Springing from the roots of Jay Adams and a nouthetic model of counseling, Welch fails to understand an integrated view of addictions that considers truths found in psychology, as well as theology. While Welch correctly elevates Bible first he fails in that he asserts the Bible only.
The psychological communities’ understanding of the disease-model of addictions is not in conflict with the Truths of Scripture and can therefore teach us a great deal about the struggle of addiction. The understanding that “slavery with the object of desire is sometimes preferable to freedom without it” is incomplete and often erroneous.
For the addict the categorical qualifier for addiction is that in the face of repeated undesirable consequences (i.e. loss of family) the “behavior” does not/cannot be stopped. While it is true that addiction does begin with a conscious choice to abuse drugs/alcohol, at some point, as supported by scientific research, chemical and metabolic changes do occur in the brain that turn abuse into a compulsive and chronic disease: addiction. While the premise of Welch’s book is incomplete he does provide some helpful tools, particularly in the second half of the book, for recovery. For example, He directs and encourages the individual in his/her efforts to strengthen dependence on God. For, it is not in the absence of sin that the addict will find freedom but in their dependence upon God.