Dr. Mark Shaw has spent over two decades working with men and women who have developed addictive habits. He does so from a Biblical perspective, focused on using the Scriptures as his ultimate authority on matters of definition and treatment. So, when he writes about this issue I listen. The Heart of Addiction represents his most comprehensive work on the subject and serves to set the issue of addiction and change within a Biblical framework. It is essential reading for addiction counselors. The depth of its nuance and clarification about the divergent approaches to addiction counseling makes this book more ideal for counselors than actual addicts.
There are many divergent theories about addiction and treatment. While many have the appearance of scientific fact, and while some are accepted as unarguable, Dr. Shaw demonstrates where and how they diverge from the Biblical picture of man, sin, and transformation. He writes with great insight and clarity on the issue. As a certified addiction counselor (MLAP) he knows the ins and outs of the contemporary addiction counseling world. He understands the arguments, the research, and the ideologies that support the dominant views. As a certified Biblical Counselor (ACBC), however, he also understands how the Scriptures speak differently to these kinds of issues. Where there is good overlap in approaches he notes it, but he is quick to point out how a wrong approach to these issues will ultimately impact the results we have. For that reason, The Heart of Addiction is an invaluable resource to Christian counselors.
The book’s outline is based on 2 Timothy 3:16-17. So, section one focuses on “teaching,” and provides Biblical insights on addictions. He reveals its nature as a “spiritual problem,” defining that more Biblically than organizations like AA or NA do. He redefines the world’s terminology, exploring the difference between recovery and transformation. He also imbues ideas with theological weight, speaking of addiction as idolatry and sin, not as disease. Much of this section moves towards chapter 11, and the “Perishing Mentality” that accompanies “addictive thinking.”
Section two is all about “Reproof.” Shaw’s honesty about the consequences of addiction, the issues of pride and arrogance, and practice of “putting-off” are all developed in this section. He is sometimes less practical than I had hoped in this section, but he makes up for it with clear information regarding the needed changes.
Section three delineates the issues of “Correction.” Shaw focuses exclusively in these two chapters on thought life. He directs readers to the Romans 12 and the “renewing of the mind,” as well as to the battle to take our thoughts captive.
Section four, then, finally looks at “Training in Righteousness,” and seeks to help readers move forward in their commitment to follow Jesus in all their life. These six chapters turn attention to the “put-on” practices of the Biblical equation. He addresses a number of healthy alternative habits that addicts must cultivate, including responsibility, thankfulness, humility, and love for others. Chapter 22 suggests taking a “Nazarite Vow” as part of the latter stage of fighting an addiction, which is a commitment to abstinence from drugs or alcohol for a limited period of time. While the principle itself is not unique, Shaw’s construction of it under the label of a Nazarite Vow attempts to connect it to a Scriptural teaching. Overall the chapters in this section are the most practical in the book.
This is a good work that helps to highlight some of the major distinctions between the way Biblical Counseling approaches addictions and the way the rest of the world does. Shaw is well-versed in the dynamics of addiction counseling and is able to write intelligently about them, while showing their disconnect with a Biblical worldview. Yet, because of this nuance and clarification the work is more ideal for counselors than for counselees. While none of the chapters are long, the amount of information he reviews in chapters can be overwhelming to someone who is looking for help with their life-dominating addiction. Other resources that engage the reader in more self-evaluation and reflection will prove to be more fruitful, in my opinion. The accompanying workbook does do a lot to help readers engage with these sorts of activities, but it is asking a lot, in my opinion, to expect addicted individuals to do as much reading as Shaw urges at the early stages of their fight. It’s quality material, but simply too much too soon. Yet, with that being said, Shaw’s work is of impeccable value to the counselor. I highly commend The Heart of Addiction to all Christians interested in learning how to help those struggling with addictions.