Grace in Addiction: Alcoholics Anonymous as Church?

A few excerpts from the aforementioned section of Grace in Addiction: The Good News of […]

Mockingbird / 5.7.10

A few excerpts from the aforementioned section of Grace in Addiction: The Good News of Alcoholics Anonymous for Everybody:

The ironic and sad truth is that in AA one finds a much better example of Christian community than in most churches. This is a controversial statement, but there is much evidence to support it. AA presents an impressive model for church, not to mention evangelism: it started with two drunks in 1939 and today has almost as many members as the Anglican Communion. How has this happened? Especially when there is nobody saying “we have to grow”? There are no altar calls in AA. A small percentage of people are pushed there by the courts, but most attend because they want to be there. AA, in this sense, is truly phenomenal, having grown far beyond what any of the founders ever could have envisioned.

Of course, the same could be said of the growth of Christendom with regard to the twelve disciples from Galilee, that they never in their wildest dreams could have imagined the impact their ministry would have upon the world, even 2000 years later. But with AA, the growth is so fresh, unavoidable, and seemingly uncontrived. It is no wonder that author Kurt Vonnegut once claimed that America’s two greatest contributions to the world were “AA and jazz.”


It is an openly acknowledged fact in AA that the members of any group are far from holy. They have mostly lived tragic lives.  They have smoked too many cigarettes, wrecked too many cars, done too many deceitful things ever to feel justified in their own skin.  The result is that people in “the program” will fight to keep themselves and others from being overly self-righteous, judgmental, rigid, or serious. When a newcomer walks into a room, that person is not expected to be anything other than a terrible mess. Failure is the price of admission. One does far worse in AA to deny one’s weakness than to acknowledge it.

By way of contrast, the Christian church often creates an environment where people cannot really be open and honest about their struggles.  It can appear that Christians have no besetting struggles, just “victory,” and the occasional assaults of the devil, but very few inwardly generated liabilities or recidivistic tendencies. The person in AA who denies these things is nothing more than a liar. To quote 1 John 1: “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves.”

Imagine walking into a church where all who entered were asked to sign a waiver at the door that said: “I’m a sinner and by stepping into the room today I acknowledge that fact.” Ministry and church life would be tremendously more effective. Unfortunately, you can come into church these days and sign up for any number of identities: Easter/Christmas type, fanatic/Pharisee, sinner, middle-of-the-road, or whatever.  In AA there is only the option of sinner.

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