Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Thirst: God and the Alcoholic Experience

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Thirst: God and the Alcoholic Experience

Article excerpt

Thirst: God and the Alcoholic Experience. By James B. Nelson. Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004. 217 pp. $19.95 (paper).

Although most churches make rooms available for the use of Twelve Step recovery groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Al-Anon, Overeaters Anonymous, and Debtors Anonymous, there is too often a separation between what happens downstairs in the meeting room of such a group and upstairs in the sanctuary. James B. Nelson does a great service to all by bringing the downstairs upstairs through his book Thirst: God and the Alcoholic Experience.

Nelson, who is Professor Emeritus of Christian Ethics at United Theological Seminary in Minnesota's Twin Cities, uses paradox to help people understand the spiritual dynamics of alcoholism and God. In clear, well-organized chapters, he takes the reader from an examination of our thirst for God to the alcoholic s thirst behind the thirst for relief through moodaltering chemicals. Nelson looks at issues of disease and sin, body and spirit, grace and brokenness, and, finally, journey and home, to bring to light profound thoughts which will speak to alcoholics and distraught family members, as well as to pastors and theologians trying to understand a condition that the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous calls "cunning, baffling and powerful."

One of the unique topics about which Nelson writes is body and spirit, in a chapter that he subtitles "Alcoholism and 'Manhood.'" He helps people understand what is meant by "powerlessness" in recovery language. In his chapter on grace and brokenness, Nelson uses Jesus' grotesque suffering and death on the cross and his later resurrection to help readers understand the death and resurrection experience of the recovering alcoholic, who hits bottom, dies spiritually, and returns to meaningful life again. In a chapter devoted to God and the self, the author shares the following insight: "When (and only when) I have been freed from a desperate and neurotic need for God, am I also free to be God's lover. …

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