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Review of The Heart of Addiction

October 12, 2011

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Dr. Mark E Shaw successfully unpacks the Word of God in an effort to help Christians better understand that God is not silent on the matter of addiction. This resource is specifically geared toward Christians dealing with addiction and it seeks to demonstrate the sufficiency of the Bible in concert with the other resources that God has given his Church for its edification and sanctification.

The Heart of Addiction provides gentle rebuke for the individual dealing with addiction. Readers will be informed and equipped to biblically tackle the topic of addiction so that they may be overcomers in Christ Jesus. For a topic that can often be daunting to those struggling with addiction, the book is simply written; the author does not complicate the matter but keeps the issues clear without using overly-technical jargon. Shaw avoids frequent use of theological terms and concepts that may be unfamiliar to the average Christian. The resources provided are accessible and realistic to implement. The tone is direct but gentle so that the reader is not repulsed or discouraged.

Truth and Tools

What makes a resource on the topic of addiction worth reading? In short, a resource that is based in Scripture and balances truth with tools. Dr. Mark E. Shaw takes exactly this approach in his book The Heart of Addiction: A Biblical Perspective by writing to Christians and non-Christians in need of care and transformation from addiction.

Shaw clearly states, “Substance abuse and addiction manifest as a physical problem but the root issues are in the spiritual realm of one’s own heart” (6). He stays true to his intent in providing a biblically-based perspective regarding addiction assessment and care compared to a secular view of diagnosis and treatment. He highlights how Scripture identifies and addresses alcohol and addiction which derives from our sin nature. The sin nature thus manifests through the idolatry of self in contrast to the secular position that believes addiction or substance abuse is a “disease” by which an individual is prone to certain behaviors and thus “attacked” by the disease (vii). He states, “Addiction is a ‘worship disorder’ and not a man-made, theoretical ‘disease’… idolatry can be applied to any pleasure that becomes so excessively desired that it replaces the desire to worship God” (xi, 7; 2 Timothy 3:4).

The foundational verses for this biblical approach are 2 Timothy 3:16-17: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” Shaw breaks down this passage into four sections for his book, unveiling the applications for addressing the sin of idolatry. These sections include:

  • Section One, Teaching: providing biblical teaching and insights about addictive thinking

  • Section Two, Reproof or Rebuke: to demonstrate and explain how the Lord wants us to turn from ourselves to Himself

  • Section Three, Correction: so that readers will learn how to renew their minds to think more biblically about addiction, and lastly

  • Section Four, Training in Righteousness: so readers can successfully practice doing what is right to overcome addiction permanently (xi).

The corresponding workbook also allows for readers to go into greater depth regarding these sections.

Why so much emphasis on the heart? Shaw states that the heart is “the fountain and seat of the thoughts, passions, desires, appetites, affections, purposes and endeavors” according to Scripture (8). Figuratively, it is the spiritual, innermost part of a person that reveals what is going on inside (8). It is where we find the answer to the question, “Do I worship the Lord or do I worship myself?” It is a battleground in which Christ desires complete devotion.

The Sufficiency of Scripture

Taking the foundational position that addiction is a spiritual problem resulting from one’s “sin nature,” Shaw advises against an integrational or “mixture approach” that combines the world’s disease-centric approach with God’s Christ-centric approach to addiction recovery or transformation. The author believes that Scripture and the resources in Christ are sufficient without extra help needed from outside “sources” (3).

The author also fairly demonstrates where the world’s approach and God’s approach are in agreement. For example, he notes that both approaches agree on the categorization of the problem, both agree on the symptoms of the problem, and both agree that the root cause is spiritual. The most important factor, however, is not the shared commonality of these peripheral points, but the central core of addiction counseling which is the saving power of Jesus Christ (3).

As Shaw continues to present his premise, it is important to note how he highlights the resources Christians have accessible to them in order to overcome their addiction and be transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit. These resources include salvation through Jesus Christ, the transforming Word of Truth (the Bible), the Holy Spirit who is our Helper, the Body of Christ to provide support and accountability, and prayer. For those who are not Christians, they do not have these resources available to them and are therefore limited in their ability to overcome addiction with their own power and ability. Furthermore, the crux of these two contrasting positions is the person at the center or focus of care. The world’s approach is man-centric versus God’s approach which is Christ-centric. Shaw repeatedly brings the reader back to this understanding.

The Heart of Addiction is very practical and designed with resources in the appendices to help the reader along the way. Shaw does encourage readers to find a mentor or someone to guide them in this process as they work through the book and learn to be transformed in Christ. Shaw also includes the biological impacts of addiction and withdrawal.

As a Christian he is not ignorant as to the physical impact and need for hospital care that may become necessary for an individual wrestling with an addiction. In light of all this, he exhorts Christians from God’s Word that they are not powerless to overcome their addiction. Dr. Shaw has over 15 years experience working in the field of addiction and is a certified Master’s Level Addiction Professional (MLAP) with the Alabama Association of Drug and Alcohol Addiction. He is also a biblically certified counselor through the National Association of Nouthetic Counselors (NANC). He is a pastor and founder of Truth in Love Ministries in greater Birmingham.


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