A Review of “The Heart of Addiction” by Mark Shaw

shawDr. 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.


  1. Thanks, Dave, for your review. It is a big book (usually an author’s “first” book packs too much in). I wrote this one for the counselee to read WITH a TCF (trusted Christian friend who disciples him/her). I never meant them to read it alone – either outside of counseling or outside of disciple-making. I probably don’t emphasize that aspect enough in The Heart of Addiction (though I do mention it in a couple of places in the book and especially in the workbook) but I always envisioned an addict reading this book in a disciple-making relationship with a more mature, same gender mentor. It is intended to be a marathon read rather than a sprint and the content is packed in there. I try also to write at an easily accessible, understandable manner so that anyone can grasp the concepts. That’s not easy to do.

    I am grateful for the many alcoholics (especially) and addicts (I don’t prefer those labels as you know) who have said it has really helped them. I never get tired of hearing that because I wrote it for the addict him/herself – but to be read in a disciple-making relationship of some type! I had someone email me recently that he was saved as a result of reading the Gospel presentation in Appendix B and that is a testimony to God’s amazing grace. Glad to be His messenger.

    Thanks again for your work in the area of addiction and look forward to working with you in days ahead as the Lord allows,

  2. Hey Mark. Art Wimberly from B’ham here. I recently connected to Pastor Dave. You guys careful examination of and writing on scriptural and cultural takes on addiction and recovery are such a blessing to so many of us working in addiction ministry. I’ve had your book, Mark, for years now and it has been so helpful along the journey. I’ll never forget your kindness to me while you were in B’ham and in our last phone contact from Indiana!

    Thanks to both of you,

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