Gary C: Welcome to Search the Scriptures 24/7 , a radio ministry of The Berean Call hosted by T.A. McMahon. I’m Gary Carmichael. We’re glad you could be here. In today’s program, Tom begins a two-part series with guest Gary Gilley as they address the topic: “Is It Alcoholism…Or Just Being A Drunk?” Here’s TBC Executive Director, Tom McMahon. When is it alcoholism.
Tom: Thanks, Gary. Today and next week I’ll be discussing a couple of related topics and their adverse influence on those who profess to believe in Jesus Christ. The topics are “12 Steps” and “Alcoholics Anonymous,” along with a number of associated programs promoting codependency.
Joining me in the discussion is pastor and author Gary Gilley. Gary’s books include This Little Church Went to Market, which is available as a free downloadable pdf. He’s also written I Just Wanted More Land, related to the Jabez deal that was going on…”I just wanted more land,” as the title says – a problematic teaching that Gary’s addressed. Also This Little Church Had None, and he’s a contributor of articles for the Personal Freedom Outreach Quarterly Journal, which I highly recommend, and maybe we can give you some more information about that.
Tom: Gary, you, along with Kurt Goedelman wrote a feature article for the PFO Quarterly Journal, which I just mentioned, addressing 12-Steps, AA, and codependency. Now, what prompted you guys to tackle that subject?
Gary: Well, a number of years ago I actually wrote an article on Moral Codependency – at I least started with that – and at that point, codependency was kind of a big fad, and it still is. But I was starting to read the books by people like Melody Beattie and different ones. Minirth and Meier were supportive of that, and they were very big at the time, and a lot of…especially women were reading these books, and everybody, supposedly, was codependent. It got kind of ridiculous, actually. By the time they were done, almost the whole population, especially female population, of America was codependent.
So I wanted to read these things because I knew they weren’t biblical, I knew they weren’t teaching what Scripture taught, I wanted to read the primary writings and see what was going on and address them. So as I did, I saw that they were talking about a lot of pop psychology things: “Your love tank is low” and self-esteem, and things like that that women, especially, but men too, supposedly had. But they also got to the cure, and the cure for codependency was joining a 12-Step program that was modeled after AA.
So that was really when I first started studying this a little bit, and I found out that there are actually around 300 12-Step programs that are active today covering virtually every kind of issue possible. And codependency was just one of them
But they’re all modeled after AA, and they just change a few words around and so forth. But it’s all the same program. And these things – these 12-Step programs – they’ve been the rage for a very long time, and, as we’ll talk about later on, many Christians and many churches either use 12-Step programs, or adapt them a little bit, and they think they’re biblical ways of helping people get through problems and be sanctified. But as I studied them, I realized they certainly weren’t biblical and needed to be addressed.
Tom: Right. You know, Gary, I think we need to start off…and you’ve covered some important aspects related to just how bogus these programs are. But I want to start off with something that I believe our listeners need to know about regarding the 12-Steps approach, Alcoholics Anonymous, and codependency in general. And it relates to their scientific basis so called. Now, Gary, do those things have any scientific basis whatsoever?
Gary: Really, they don’t, because when we’re talking about a scientific base, we’re talking about a way of examining something. So, when we look at this scientifically, they’re not using any kind of protocol that would be a scientific method. For example, they don’t use control data, or control groups. They don’t use double-blind studies and so forth. They…Alcoholics Anonymous in particular has been very cautious about revealing their results. They want to stay anonymous, and they really do not like even addressing… so as a result, there have been very few actual studies of any kind from a Christian or a secular group, and those studies that have been done have been very contradictory. They’ve been mostly anecdotal. There’s been really nothing from a scientific methodology that has shown that these programs are very effective.
What is interesting, though, is they have great PR. I wish the evangelical church could get their PR program going, because no matter what we do, everybody hate anything we do. It seems like no matter what AA does and how useless it might be for most people, it’s got great PR and everybody thinks it’s the best thing out there. But the studies that have been done simply do not show that at all.
As a matter of fact, I was looking up some new online studies on this just yesterday in preparation for today, and one study – this is a study (these studies that I was looking at were not Christian at all, they were very secular) - but they said that the rate of recovery for alcoholism for people that don’t do anything except get up and say, “I’m tired of this,” the rate of recovery’s about 24 percent. Alcoholics Anonymous, it depends on who’s trying to do a study, goes anywhere from 5-30 percent. So, what this study was saying is that the success rate of just will power for an unbeliever in getting sober is higher than going to an AA program.
So, again, like I said, the studies are very scattered, and nobody’s really been able to do an excellent study on it, but there’s been really no major evidence that the programs really work.
Tom: Gary, it’s important – that’s why I brought this up – because, you know, there’s the myth of scientific support, which is just not there and it hasn’t been there. See, and the other problem, and you know this well, because you’ve written, as I have, about psychology, and so on – it is subjective. That’s why you can’t have a science of psychological counseling because we’re so unique, we’re so different. Nobody knows what goes on in their hearts and minds, and it moves from here to there, and so on, so you can’t get it down to a scientific method.
And even, we would say, “Look, if it’s physiological, now you have a basis for it,” even though that’s somewhat questionable because of just how different and how unique we are, and all the elements that go into “What causes us to think, do, act, the way we go about things?”
Gary: Right. But you know, as I watch a few television programs on occasion, it seems to me like these programs are picking up steam. Everybody with any kind of addiction is now going to some kind of meeting, and supposedly, that’s the help that’s out there that people are looking at, and most people are convinced that they’re being helped. But again, the evidence is not there.
When is binge drinking alcoholism
Tom: Right. Now, that covers the practical side of those endeavors, which people are attempting – and, look, we all have problems! Nobody is denying that. Christians have problems, folks! I think I might get some “amens” out there. But how we go about solving the problems – that’s the issue. But what about the spiritual side? Or do these things that we’re addressing here, do they have no spiritual side of life? Especially where a Christian – a committed Christian – is concerned?
Gary: Yeah, we’re convinced from Scripture. I think that all these problems and phobias that we’re talking about today have a basis in sin and our choices. So, again, this is where Christianity is in some sense very simplistic. It doesn’t have all these myriads of problems that…and roots…most of…everything really goes back to our sinfulness, our flesh, our choices in that regard, and then the biblical answers are there, but all these things that are out there – all these psychological issues, and AA is included – they all are really trying to deal with the same issues that Scripture deals with but from a very different angle.
And so, they are spiritual. They’re dealing with the spiritual side of humanity. And AA is very much a religion. It might be a good time to jump in on this…
Tom: Well, what I’d like you to do, and it’s a good segue into the next thing I wanted to ask you, you pointed out in your PFO article that the basis for the 12-Steps method and codependency were derived from Alcoholics Anonymous.
Tom: Now, give our listeners a bit of the history of AA. I think that would be really helpful.
Gary: Yeah, AA goes back to a man named Bill Wilson - and Bob Smith as well, but mainly Wilson. He was an alcoholic who couldn’t get better. He’d gone into detox programs in hospitals, and it wasn’t working. He was on his second round of detox, I think, when he got desperate and he cried out to “God,” if God was out there. And he claimed at that point that he had some kind of a very mystical experience in which he said, and I’ll just quote a little bit of it. He said, “Suddenly my room blazed with indescribable white light, and I was seized with ecstasy beyond description.” And on the basis of that, he claimed he became sober and never returned to it again.
It’s interesting that even the secular press, they pick up on this, that it seems that Wilson had some kind of an experience that he attributed to God, but that’s something we can talk about later, but it wasn’t working the 12 Steps that helped him. It was some kind of encounter, some kind of spiritual something that he traced his sobriety back to later on.
So, this is kind of the beginning. As things moved on, him and a fellow named Bob Smith began to write down different things. They wrote what they called “The Big Book,” which becomes their Bible. It’s the basis and authority of the movement. And it began to pick up steam. Different ones began to follow these programs and work the programs. And eventually the secular world, the psychological world, picked up on some of this and began to use it. And it’s really kind of grown since then. It just keeps on growing.
But it never…there was never anything in the basis of Scripture, or, really, the Lord, as we understand Him from the Bible. There were spiritual, religious implications, but not biblical Christianity, which is something I think most Christians do not understand.
Tom: And, Gary, as you know, he was told when he was going through these detox situations that…a medical doctor told him that his overwhelming desire for alcohol, for booze, was biologically based – that he was suffering from a physiological disease. What about that?
Gary: Well, originally, they thought it was allergies. There was a new fad at that point, which is interesting – with psychology – how different fads flow through. But at that point, they said it was an allergy to alcohol, so that’s what they went with. Eventually, they started calling it a disease, and there’s been debate over how much Wilson meant it to be a physical disease, but before long, that’s what it was to them. So it became this physical problem – it was a disease like any other.
So, it’s interesting to watch on television the advertisements that come on about things like this. And they all say this is a disease. There’s nothing you can do about it. Will power won’t help you, and so forth. You’ve got to cure the disease as you would cure pneumonia or the flu, or something like that. And also “disease” takes it out of the hands of our own fault, our own choices…
Gary: Yeah, we’re victims. So it’s not my fault that I drink too much. I can’t help myself. I’m diseased. And once you accept that, which most…that’s the basis of a lot of psychology – once you accept that, then you are a victim and the only way to be cured supposedly is following some program or take some medicine, or something.
So, although Wilson did not invent the disease model, probably more than any other program, AA has promoted that. And so, now, I think it’s just accepted by almost everyone about everything today. We’re all diseased with something.
Tom: And this is really, as you said, although he didn’t come up with the idea, he certainly bought into it.
Tom: And, that really is the heart of AA, because we’ve been using the term “alcoholic,” because it’s Alcoholics Anonymous, but basically, we’re talking about drunkenness.
Gary: Yes. That’s what Scripture would call it.
Tom: And in that process, because it’s a “disease” (and this is why I know a lot of people – not a lot – but a few are trying to defend this being used as a metaphor, but wait a minute! Why, then, are they “recovering”? And they will continue to recover from this “disease” that they can’t get rid of?
Tom: Now, how does that fit into a metaphor? It doesn’t, does it?
Gary: Yeah, even if it started out as a metaphor, that’s not how it’s being used today at all. So, we are “victims” of a “disease,” just like diabetes. And you would never pick on a diabetic. You’d never say, “It’s your fault that you’re diabetic.” So you wouldn’t say to an alcoholic or a drunk, “It’s your fault.” It’s somebody else’s fault. We can fix you through these programs – which I think, quite sadly, since these programs don’t work for most people, really, we are giving them false hope and perhaps this is perpetuating their problem because they're not covering the bases with what really is their issue.
Tom: Right. And the other aspect of that is, you’re not held accountable…
Tom: …before God, which is a problem, and maybe we could talk about that now. Bill Wilson believed, and you articulated it, that he had this spiritual experience. But he would not take that spiritual experience, according to his own, to his writings, to what he said, to the point of being accountable to a personal God. That was something that was out of bounds for him. He recognized that this experience, he believed, helped him, but he only took it so far, because, you know, many are under the misunderstanding that AA, which began, really, you could go back to the Oxford Group - that that was Christian, and that certainly AA, with its twelve steps, that’s Christian.
Now, Gary, what about the Oxford Group?
Gary: Well, the Oxford Group was kind of a – more of a mystical type of group. I’m sure there were Christians involved with it, but they looked for guidance from God outside of Scripture. That was the big deal to them. They used a lot of the principles that Wilson would eventually adopt back in the 1930s. But they were not a group that necessarily were strong in the Scriptures, and they kind of saw a lot of subjective ideas about God that you could come up with. So, I think Wilson bought into some of that and began to listen to God’s – whoever “God” was – guidance. But it wasn’t the God of Scripture.
One of the things that really bothered me as I researched this is people like the Minirth and Meier group - they said that Wilson and these others knew God intimately. And this is simply not true. You know, these were pretty well-respected guys in their time, but if you go back and read their own biographies and their own statements, they had an idea about “God” – they believed in “something” – but they did not come down on the God of Scripture, the true God. And that’s why the whole thing is built upon “God as you understand him.” It’s the god that you want to have.
These guys who got involved in spiritism, which was very popular in those days, and the occult activities – they played around with various religions, such as Catholicism (that’s probably as close as they came to Christianity), but Wilson never joined the Catholic Church, he never really proclaimed Christ. So he was what we might call today “religious,” or even “spiritual,” but not a Christian. And that’s by his own admission – we’re not making this up. So, when we say that they’re dedicated Christians and they knew God intimately, that’s deceptive, in my opinion. They did not know the God of the Bible.
Tom: Without a doubt, and it’s interesting – as I read your article, I was fascinated that he was mentored regarding Christianity by Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, who was hugely popular back in the ’50s and ’60’s, and so on. But it didn’t take, because - coming out of Roman Catholicism myself, it’s a very legalistic system. There are obligations, there are…he wasn’t into that. His spirituality – and I’d like you to just touch on this for a bit – his spirituality was confirmed or supported by James, the father of so-called American Psychology.
Gary: Yeah, he wrote a very influential book that still is read today called The Varieties of Religious Experience. And what he…basically…and James is not a Christian – didn’t claim to be a Christian - but he was a researcher, and he went through different religions around the world and tried to find a common denominator with all those different religions and different experiences that people had. This was the basis of a lot of what Wilson used for his own spiritual life. What James was saying was that God as you understand him is just fine. Everybody has their own God, and nobody has the final, definitive God. So, whatever you want in a God, you can have, which was very popular then, even more popular now.
But he said – and one of the interesting quotes from James’s book is that most people around the world, as he studied all of these religions, they didn’t care what God they worshiped as long as they could use him. That was an interesting quote. It didn’t matter as long as they could use God for their own purposes. And that fits right in with AA. It’s not an organization of the worship and the praise of God and commitment to God. It’s a religion in which we can use God to get over our disease of alcoholism. So that fits right in with James, and he gets more of his religion from that than he does from Scripture.
Tom: Now, Gary, I think at this point, I want to just tell our audience, because this…we’ve done programs on this subject before, and it gets some hostile reaction. And one of the things – and I know this is your heart as well as mine – look, people are sinners. They deal with sin - with the consequences of sin, so we’re not denying that, whether you’re a drunk, or whether you’re into lust, pornography, whatever it might be, we know that there are situations out there that not only unbelievers but Christians, professing Christians and true Christians, can get involved in this stuff.
When did alcoholism become a problem
So what we’re saying here is that AA is not the answer. Twelve Steps is not the answer. It’s the Word of God. We’re going to talk more about that as we continue it here. Just lay it out for us. Bill Wilson’s life. His writings. We can’t know a person’s heart or how it ended for them in the last moments, okay? But…did he know the gospel? Did he ever promote the gospel? Was there ever anything in his writings? You know, he talked a lot about different spiritual beliefs. He was into spiritualism, necromancy, séances, all of the above, and one of his spirit entities that he communed with, and, you know, this is in the Big Book, at least part of it is, that he gained the information for 12 Steps rapidly through this spiritual communication.
Gary: Yeah. No, there was never any evidence that Wilson either committed his life to Christ or that what he believed changed his life to a Christian lifestyle. He continued to live an ungodly life for the rest of his life, at least as far as Christianity’s concerned, so there really wasn’t any real major change there. There was no commitment. He played around with Catholicism some, never joined. But his ideas were not based in Scripture, and I don’t think he ever claimed that, really. So, it’s a bit surprising that Christians buy into this as much as they do. The unsaved people do what they can do. They grab whatever program they think might work, and I can understand that. When Christians have so much more, it’s pretty pathetic and pretty sad.
But I think what has happened in a lot of churches, the churches have simply said, “Well, we don’t know how to help this person. We'll turn them over to the experts in AA who know how, and we’ll just give it to them,” not realizing what they’re doing when they do that.
Tom: You see, and that’s the heartbreak in this, because those individuals – any individuals – who are going through some kind of issues that we’re talking about, they are very vulnerable. And especially if it’s not themselves, it’s a loved one. So they’re looking for any kind of answer that they think might be helpful, and that’s just dead wrong.
And Gary, I was in Denver, and I was speaking on this subject, and afterwards – I was talking to people afterwards, and I could see this guy out of the corner of my eye, and his neck was bulging red. I knew this guy is going to try and rip my head off. But the good news was he had a little four- or five-year-old son with him. So, after I had finished talking, I walked over to him, and I said, “Can I help you?”
And he just went after me like you couldn’t believe. But his statement was, “Listen. God USED this in my life. He saved my life through AA.”
And my response was, “Well, praise the Lord!” Now, why would I say that? Because look – there are times where God will open things that will move us from one place to the next. It’s like a man crawling through the desert. He’s dehydrated, he comes to this pool, and the sign says “Toxic. Don’t drink!” But he needs fluids. So he drinks from this…gets this fluid into him so he can move on. So that’s what I said to the young man. I said, “Look. God used AA to move you on. But you’re not still there. And what about your son? This little boy here. Do you want him drinking from that same polluted lake or pond, or whatever?”
You know what he did? He almost cracked my ribs! He hugged me. He just started crying.
Because, look, folks, our heart is empathetic, sympathetic, and all that, but we want to direct you - if you’re having to deal with any of these things – to the Word of God.
In the next section, we’re going to talk about the sufficiency of the Word of God as opposed to so-called 12-Steps. And we’re going to deal with churches that are into it, especially Celebrate Recovery, which is…this is what we’re talking about, but it’s syncretism. It’s mixing AA, 12-Steps, all of that stuff, supposedly with the Word of God, which can’t happen.
So, Gary, thanks for this session. I look forward to next week.
Gary C: You’ve been listening to Search the Scriptures 24/7 with T.A. McMahon, a radio ministry of The Berean Call. We offer a wide variety of resources to help you in your study of God’s Word. For a complete list of materials and a free subscription to our monthly newsletter, contact us at PO Box 7019 Bend, Oregon, 97708, call us at 800.937.6638, or visit our website at the bereancall.org. I’m Gary Carmichael. Thanks for tuning in, and we hope you can join us again next week. Until then, we encourage you to Search the Scriptures 24/7.