Sunday, October 21, 2012

AA and Paul: Fake it till you make it?

Faking Christianity

Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith

A writer for World ‘s online edition asserts that Alcoholics Anonymous “has a lot of good advice.” She goes on, “AA also has cool sayings, which you may have noticed on the bumpers of cars, next to the faded ‘Obama ’08’ campaign stickers: ‘Easy does it,’ and, ‘One day at a time.’”  I guess cool sayings are in the eye of the beholder, and the beholder must have a certain affinity for trite, potentially misleading, and easily abused clich├ęs. (

The AA saying the author uses in service of the point of her column is: “Fake it till you make it.” She says tells us that AA means this saying to be used “when you are feeling shaky on that third day of sobriety, encouraging you to persevere with the counsel of the program until someday it becomes second nature to be sober. Grow into the fullness of what you are becoming by walking in the footsteps of it one day at a time. To put it another way, learn to be sober by being sober.”

She believes “fake till you make it” is one aspect of living the Christian life. “Fake it till you make it” is drawn from the Bible, specifically the Apostle Paul: “Where is the Bible root of ‘Fake it till you make it’? It is this: ‘… put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life … be renewed in the spirit of your minds … put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness’  (Ephesians 4:22-24). ‘Put to death what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire. … Put on … compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience’ (Colossians 3 3,12).”

One wonders if Apostle Paul would ever say, “AA has a saying that captures my teaching on sanctification. ‘Fake it till you make it' in holy living.” “Fake it till you make it” does not seem to catch his meaning in Ephesians or Colossians or his exhortation in Romans 6 (which follows Romans 5) to act following a reckoning of one’s self dead to sin and alive to God on the basis the reality of union by faith with Christ in his death and resurrection. 

Further one must ask if what an unbelieving person, trying to cope with alcohol abuse, does when he/she uses the “fake it till you make” strategy (and we are not discounting that this "work") is at all the same thing as what happens when the believer reckons and acts on the reality of his/her relationship with Christ. This is a question that begs to be addressed by those who believe that union is Christ is primarily objective and positional, those who believe it is primarily subjective and experiential, and those who believe it is equally both. What exactly is the difference between the change that occurs in the lives of unbelievers through self-help or counseling and the change that occur in the lives of believers through regeneration and sanctification? How do you recognize the difference in others or yourself?

Note the reason the author has confidence in the teaching of AA: “Alcoholics Anonymous has a lot of good advice because they took it from the Bible. All Twelve Steps are shamelessly cribbed from Scripture—from the counsel to surrender to a ‘Higher Power’ to the exhortation to ‘make amends’ to the people we have harmed.’"

It is important to think about her reason because the truth is that quoting the Bible or using Biblical terminology or Biblical ideas is not the same thing as drawing upon the Bible for teaching and counsel. To say that AA takes some of its teaching from the Bible is akin to saying that Mormonism takes some of its teaching from the Bible or that Bill Clinton’s vision for the future was Biblical because he quoted, “Eye hath not seen and ear hath not heard…”. It is more accurate to say that both Mormonism and AA are cults which make some use of  the Bible without understanding it.

Make no mistake about the fact that AA is a cult. It believes in a base level spirituality to which one may (but not must) add a religion of one’s preference.  It has its own God, the Higher Power, who is the “god of your understanding” whom you may “choose (if you like) to call God.” God is whoever you need or would like for him/her/it to be. God can be the Trinitarian God of the Bible for you personally, if you want, so long as you do not make too big a deal of him or imply that anyone else’s Higher Power may not exist or that your Higher Power is better or the only. Your god can also be a tree or, of course, yourself. God is just something to believe in or act like you believe in (another example of “fake it till you make it’). Your god-concept is does not matter, because AA works with any god.

AA has prophets, Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith to whom some say God has in these last days revealed the way of salvation from what the Irish call “the drink.” AA has its holy scriptures, The Big Book, whom some in AA claim literally to be “divinely inspired.” This book is read again and again, quoted, studied, and discussed. A portion of the these scriptures is read at the beginning of every meeting and devotional books are taken The Big Book.

It has its own assemblies that are not to be neglected. Adherents are supposed to attend faithfully and frequently. Especially in the early stages of salvation (“recovery”) such meetings are encouraged once a day every day, even as much as two or three times daily is different locations. Members have a home group but also attend other “churches.” Failure to attend may indicate one is “in denial”, a “dry drunk” who is jeopardizing one’s recovery, and may soon relapse (‘backslide”).  AA has its discplers, “sponsors’ who can exercise a control that if exercised by church leaders over members would rightly be called “spiritual abuse.”

AA has its own salvation to offer, a salvation one must seek first trusting that other things will be added to it. The AA program must take priority over your family, work, church, and religion. This salvation, to use orthodox Christian terms, is all sanctification (a combination of passivity and activity that is similar to higher life teaching and practice) and no justification. An anonymous author writing for Modern Reformation magazine wrote to the effect that that justification must be prior to sanctification not only logically but also temporally and that justification must at every point not only accompany but take precedence over sanctification:
This inborn and incurable disease is treated by God first, not by attacking the disease’s controlling power, but by addressing its condemning power. This is where the Christian gospel differs from the standard treatment of addictions. It is true that people are powerless over the disease and that they cannot change themselves. But the next word to the person in despair is not that “God could and would if he were sought.”
 When I was at my lowest I found a ray of light, first in this: “When iniquities prevail against me, you atone for our transgressions” (Psalm 65:3).” Would others forgive? Maybe, maybe not. How genuine was my desire to change. I was pretty sure I was about as sincere as I have ever been, but others, with reason, had their doubts. What I knew was that someone else (the Psalmist) knew the experience of being overwhelmed by sin yet believed God would provide atonement. And by his using “my” and “our” he held out the same hope to others.
  What the disease of sin requires, no matter its particular manifestations, is atonement and forgiveness. We cannot atone for our own sins; nor can we or others do the forgiving. Others may not be able to forgive us; we cannot declare or will ourselves forgiven. As Pharisees said, when Jesus pronounced a man’s sins forgiven, none but God can forgive sins.
 To put the gospel in grammatical terms, the indicative must precede the imperative. What is goes before what must be. You must be a Christian before you can be told to live like one. To put the gospel in theological terms, justification always goes before sanctification. Your sins must be forgiven and you must be declared righteous by faith apart from anything at all that you do or try to do before you can begin to develop a holy character or engage in holy conduct.
 Furthermore, the necessary renovation of the heart and reformation or life cannot progress apart from regular massive doses of gospel. God does radically treat sin, when we come to faith. Paul, who later describes his struggle, first tells us that faith unites us to Christ and that the power of his death and resurrection means we have died to sin and are alive to God and righteousness. But this radical treatment does not eradicate the problem.
 And, nothing save forgiveness can deal with daily struggle. In fact, in some way I do not fully comprehend you must never forget that the struggle, even the successful struggle, does not get you God’s favor.  Nothing but the forgiveness of sins received by faith in Jesus and his atoning death can get God to smile at you and like you. And nothing but that acceptance by God can enable the struggle.

AA’s salvation is a salvation of what it believes a Higher Power will do in us if we ask and by what we do to cooperate with that inwrought grace, if it can be called grace (which Biblically it cannot). It is not a salvation based on the objective work of Christ for us but on a subjective work in and the resulting effort we take in the desire to be better and do better.

To say that AA is a cult is not to say that those Christians who are involved in AA and in some sense believe and practice it are not Christians. I believe a person can belong to the Masonic Order (which is paganism) and be a Christian. Similarly I believe one can belong to AA and be a Christian. But I do not believe that AA or the Lodge are healthy choices for those trust the Christ of the Bible.

















Mark said...

Can you give us the date or other information about the Modern Reformation quotation? Thanks. Great quotation, even if we don't get into the temporal distinction and stick with the logical....

Mark said...

Can you give us the info about date and page of the Modern Reformation quotation?

The Christian Curmudgeon said...

July/August 2011