A Review of “Relapse” by Mark Shaw

relapseMost works on relapse focus on self-awareness and avoidance strategies. These are important techniques for fighting the temptation to return to a life of addiction, but they are missing a key and vital component: spiritual growth. It is not enough just to have a strategy for saying “no.” We must also have something significant to which we say “yes.” A growing and healthy relationship with God through Jesus Christ is the best tool for fighting the temptation to return to addiction.

Mark Shaw has made a career out of helping men and women wrestle with addictions of various kinds. He is a certified Addiction Professional (MLAP) and has studied the subject with great depth, yet what he presents in this volume is a work focused on spiritual growth. He states plainly the reason:

Most secular relapse prevention programs emphasize knowledge in temporal things. They emphasize knowledge of warning signs, “triggers,” and relapse prevention strategies. All of that knowledge is good but only for a little while. The emphasis in this book is on the eternal knowledge you need first and foremost – knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ! You need to put that knowledge into action! (1-2)

Shaw understands the importance of practical helps, and his book addresses such things, but only after having set a solid foundation of spiritual significance. He orients readers, then, first and foremost to their relationship with God which makes all the difference in their fight against sin.

Like his previous works on addiction Shaw focuses a lot of definitions. He explains his use of the term “relapse,” and orients readers towards a more biblical concept of transformation. He is not a fan of terms like “recovery” or “relapse,” though he recognizes their usefulness in common conversation. He prefers, instead, to speak of transformation and the godly practices of “putting off” and “putting on.” He labors at times to make this distinction clear, but it is useful for readers to learn to think in Biblical categories and so we can give him some latitude on this aspect of the work.

The book’s eight chapters work progressively to help readers develop Biblical prevention strategies. He addresses the importance of “fellowship,” understanding the nature of addiction, identifying “triggers,” developing godly habits to replace sinful ones, and seeking to understand ourselves in light of our identity in Christ. All this helps readers to prioritize godly goals and fight temptation with the power of God’s Spirit and Word. Ultimately his emphasis on an individual’s relationship with God is what marks this resource as unique. There are very few Christian resources on relapse prevention out there, but to have one that emphasize spiritual growth is even more rare. The key for Shaw is to understand that sin arises from the heart and therefore what all recovering addicts need is a changed heart. Chapter eight, in the book, does the most extensive work in this area seeking to expose the attitudes and identities of the heart that needs reshaped by the gospel. This is one of the best chapters in the book and offers great help in “staying the course,” so to speak, towards transformation.

The book is interactive. Each chapter contains exercises to help readers apply what they are learning, understand themselves better, evaluate themselves and their context in Biblical ways, and strategize for the battle that lay ahead. His six appendices further develop ideas and give readers more focused help on specific issues developed in the main text of the workbook. Workbook is a key word too. Shaw’s goal is to help readers avoid a return to addiction, and that requires their own personal engagement, alongsideĀ a “trusted Christian friend” (TCF). A TCF will find this workbook, then, to be a very helpful tool in walking alongside somebody who has found some level of sobriety and is fighting to maintain it.

As a counselor, and one who specializes in working with addicts, I found this to be a great resource. I actually liked it better than Shaw’s book on addiction, The Heart of Addiction. It is very engaging, easy to track with, and offers real help in self-analysis and godly re-orientation. Shaw’s interaction with and application of the Scriptures was very helpful and an exceptional benefit to those fighting relapse. I highly commend Relapse to all those working with addicts, and those seeking to maintain sobriety.

1 Comment

  1. Thanks, Dave. I appreciate your thoughtful reviews and careful critiques. You are a blessing to many.

    I use this workbook-style book first with counselees and have them read Cross Talking twice through (it is a daily devo I also wrote) simultaneously. That gives me time to get to know them and to help them see the contrast between living for self and living as Christ did – for God and others (Matt. 22:37-40). Then, after this is completed, I start on The Heart of Addiction with the workbook and assign them this lengthy book with a TCF (trusted Christian friend) to relationally disciple them through it. It is a marathon and not a sprint as you know and there are many more theological teachings to share with them down the road.

    Thank you again for your work in the area of addiction,

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