Celebrate Recovery: A Critical Review
(Jump to the problems or Biblical
The Word of God is life-changing. It starts with hearing the Gospel
(video): how we're saved
through faith by grace by Jesus Christ. The Gospel is all about who Jesus
is, what He did, and living in a relationship with Him. If we believe, God
gives us the Holy Spirit to make all that happen. He grows us to be more
like Christ through His Word, teaching based on it, and people in the
church who guide and help us. Within churches, we fill our minds with His
God, and let our love for each other grow more and more. Outside
churches, Jesus commands us to proclaim
His name, make disciples, baptize them, and teach them to obey His Word.
Those churches steadily grow upward in holiness and horizontally in
numbers until His Gospel reaches all
people groups. God makes us instruments of His will to His glory...
if we believe in and obey Christ.
This is how Jesus Christ changed my life. I was guilty of most sins
there's a Bible passage about. After surrendering to Christ, I spent every
day reading the Bible (starting with NT), praying about how He wants us to
live, and asking God to help me become that person. God sent others to
give good feedback, too. Taking free classes online, esp Bible overviews
and Proverbs, helped me see God's will in more areas of life. Reading,
praying on, and (where capable) obeying the Word daily changed me into a
(mostly) different person over about 1-2 years. I'm so grateful for my new
life. These Biblical methods that Christ and His Apostles used have worked
from the start of the church to today, in thousands of people groups, and
in the harshest environments (examples).
They've gotten these results for nearly 2,000 years.
(Edit: God just granted revival
by these same methods.)
For that reason, I believed that Jesus Christ, His Word, and living in
obedience to it via His Spirit all we really need. Extra work (aka
spiritual gifts) that build on those foundations help us grow a lot more.
The foundation is critical, though. Yet, I heard about another method that
did things totally different, claimed to be Biblical, and claimed even
better results than most churches. What is that?
Celebrate Recovery claimed to be a Christ-centered, 12-step program. Some
people there told me it was inspired by Alcoholics Anonymous but based on
the Bible instead. The proponents said it's a life-changing program "with
information every Christian needs to know." It has worship, Bible
teachings, practical lessons on every area of life, and groups of people
supporting each other through hard times. Even people who won't go to
church sometimes will go there. The founding church says over 5 million
people have "gone through the program." That all sounded really exciting!
A friend who wouldn't go to regular churches invited me. She had
emphasized it was like a Christian church. That C.R. was a welcoming,
worshipful community with many people who love Jesus. I stayed to review
the program, encourage people, and learn from them. Specific people there
who I'm very grateful for had a big impact on me. That was both their
advice and Christ-like character they displayed. In each case, what they
were doing was in God's Word with discipleship being all that's required
to get there. How much of the good in C.R. came just from them following
Christ vs C.R.'s materials? Could we just improve discipleship in churches
or did they lack something C.R. had? I stayed to assess this.
It was hard to see the problems at first. God kept making His servants do
more for Him than what was in the program. One guy in the band
spontaneously shouted a good chunk of the Gospel every night, often
beautifully described, just in praise to Jesus. One presenter liked going
deeper into the Word than the materials required. A few people from solid
churches were there ministering. I was there doing the work of an
evangelist. I kept carefully listening to and reading C.R.'s materials.
Over time, I noticed more and more stuff that bothered me. There were
many gaps, or even contradictions, between Scripture and C.R.. Their
interpretations of famous passages went far from normal teaching. They
sometimes quoted a fake Bible as God's Word. They'd also promote worldly,
pagan, or even false teachings over clear teachings in the Bible. They
sounded like A.A. or a prosperity gospel. They also treated non-believers
like they were the church, too. Some visitors from Biblical churches
noticed these things before leaving.
My biggest gripe was that they didn't share the whole Gospel (or barely
shared it). When I confronted them about it, some argued that we shouldn't
on most nights or should wait for them to come to us. Besides, the Gospel
"is Step 3." (What?!) Whereas, those same people would go into depth on
C.R.'s material, our works, and encourage evangelizing C.R. itself in a
direct way. Promoting C.R. directly has value but not the Gospel?
A pastor once taught me that Christianity isn't about practices. It's
about a person: Jesus Christ. They always pointed us back to
Jesus' identity, holiness, love, struggles, atonement, authority,
interceding for us in heaven now, and so on. We weren't doing something so
much as imitating who He is. Whereas, you could listen to hours of C.R.
services without getting to deeply know the man and God who died for our
sins, was raised, and our whole church is built on. Who or what was C.R.
really centered on?
My skepticism peaked when they said not to question C.R. because the
originating church spent decades figuring out how to get its results. Just
believe, follow, and it will work for you to.
Time for More Discernment
I decided to step way back to look at the whole program with fresh eyes.
I looked into the originating church (Saddleback), the founders
(Warren/Baker), the history, booklets, and so on. What I learned made me
discourage people from even visiting C.R., much less being in it. Later,
I'd encourage C.R. people to cut ties with it and shift to something
God will hold us accountable for whether we put Christ first and obeyed
His Word. John
15 shows God does His best work in and through us that way. Whereas,
Jesus warned His disciples to beware of the leaven of false teachers. He,
Paul, and Peter all called out false teaching with stern warnings. Hebrews
God also disciplines His children's sin. For those reasons, we're to avoid
it out to obey God and keep others out of sin.
To warn all of you, I'll do a quick rundown of its good points, corrupt
philosophy of the host church, pagan history, and false teachings in the
program. People must turn away from them and repent regardless of what
else they do. Then, I drafted some proposals on how to do a Biblical,
support group. I also dug up some free resources on counseling in case
they help people.
(Note: Before I go into it, I want to be clear that my statements about
C.R. are about the program's development, materials, and operating
philosophy. How a C.R. chapter actually runs is decided locally. The
leaders may be much more focused on Christ and God's Word. Or much less.
It's still important to review the program since it's the framework
through which they operate. And they promote and give out its materials.
If there's sin in these, even the best-run C.R. would be leading others
into sin while endorsing false teachers.)
Strengths of Celebrate Recovery
The strengths in the order that I ran into them:
- C.R. groups are highly-welcoming, non-judgemental, and loving
communities. They treat everyone who comes through the door like they're
sinners who know they need to change their lives. Their goal is to help
them, not cut them down.
- Many people there are (or were) in churches. They say they feel safer
sharing with C.R. groups. Some complained people in churches are less
friendly, stick with their cliques, and gossip about people more than
help them. Some said their churches were good but nobody could relate to
their problems. They all agreed they got more help at C.R.. Some people
said their time at C.R. was the only reason they didn't give into their
old sin (eg drugs). Others were on and off but found support there.
- Food and fellowship. Teaming up with the hosting church, the local
C.R. feeds people $2 meals before the service so they're focused on it,
not their bellies. They'll let you eat free if you have no money. The
volunteers from the church stay joking around with us. Everyone hangs
out for around 30 minutes getting to know each other or catching up
since last week. CR leaders get to know newcomers, talk about their
lives, and invest much time into them personally. They are compassionate
people who really listen. The local chapter also has the best, homemade
cookies you'll ever eat. It's hard to stop coming because you're giving
up C.R. and those cookies.
- The worship service of the local chapter is contemporary, energetic,
and has prayer teams to support those going to the altar. Far from
snoozing, many people there have hands raised high singing praise to
Jesus Christ. Many of them are clearly grateful to Him. This is partly a
worship style (i.e. personal preference). Of people who prefer it, some
didn't have it at their church at all, some had less of it, and some
just like an extra time and place to worship the Lord. They also offer
counseling and prayer at the altar as part of the worship service before
the sermon or group shares. Some people who were falling apart really
needed it, too.
- Based on C.R.'s materials, the sermons offer practical lessons about
many areas of life to help people overcome "hurts, habits, and hangups."
They're like having a therapist show up to preach a sermon with some
supporting Bible verses. They cover enough topics over time that
everyone will learn something helpful. The presenter usually keeps it
real about their own battles or how they used the lessons. You're often
hearing the voice of experience.
- Effect of the lessons on people. People commonly said two things about
C.R.'s lessons. First, they came in for one problem before noticing they
had many more problems. Second, those who brought someone else with a
problem to fix realized they needed to fix themselves, too. People say
they discover a lot about themselves through the program. After
discovering problems, C.R. might teach them how to deal with them, too.
- Nightly praises. The C.R. service takes time to ask the whole room
what they're thankful for. Many answers are straight-forward, such as
Christ's forgiveness and their church family. People also testify to
specific struggles they had, ranging from sin to family illness to job
situations, which God helped them face or totally solved. Quite a few
people that came in from jails testified that, after coming to Christ,
He changed them enough that their prison sentence was greatly reduced or
cancelled entirely. Some finally got their kids back. Although most
churches don't do this, weekly testimony at C.R. keeps everyone pumped
up and lets members see the bigger picture of how God works in peoples'
- Every other week, the local chapter trades a sermon for a stand-up
testimony from people in the group. People who often don't like speaking
in public will share their life story in front of a whole crowd. They'll
talk about the gritty reality of life before Christ. People mention
childhood abuse, sexual abuse, being on hard drugs, being violent,
feeling worthless, being crushed by life's pressures, and so on. They
eventually encounter Jesus Christ, a C.R. group, or both. Their life
starts changing. They share the lessons God taught them over time. In
some cases, the local C.R. saw that transformation happen. In the
audience's eyes, those testifying become living proof to both the power
of God and that C.R. itself changes lives.
- After service, they do "open, share groups." People take around 3-5
minutes each describing their sins and struggles that week. No
interruptions, mockery, or offensive jokes are allowed. There's a
confidentiality requirement. They share with a mix of friends and total
strangers with brutal honesty. The group encourages and prays for each
other. Only drawback was having no crosstalk or feedback from others.
Unlike in 1
Cor. 14, that model reduces how much people can help each other in
groups. People can talk one-on-one later for individual benefit.
- Many courts approve of the C.R. program as a way for people to improve
themselves. They might get reduced or canceled punishments. The C.R.
leader will sign some paperwork for them saying they attended. C.R.
groups also might have members running "recovery houses" for people like
this. Some would be in jail if not for the recovery houses. Quite a few
people in them excitedly praise God for changing their lives through
caring people, Bible teaching at that recovery house, and the C.R.
Many of those practices were in the New Testament. I expected to see them
in churches. Yet, most of us attending C.R. didn't see
that in our churches. The results people claimed that C.R. gave them made
me keep coming to understand it better. Plus, it was just really awesome
to see God move in many, visible ways every week.
Both church-going and un-churched people kept asking for help like this.
Even with that demand, most believers I talked to about it had no interest
in doing something similar or helping those people in a Biblical way. Most
would say it was interesting before going back to daily activities. Some
people told me to refer those in need to a therapist or something. Most
wouldn't even speak to them if they visited a church. If they did, it was
a few minutes before leaving them alone again.
Yet, we're called to love and help others. I feel like there's instead a
lot of apathy toward people in need in otherwise Biblical churches. I feel
like this drives people to seek help outside of those churches in programs
like these. And, if those churches lack love, how can they claim to be
more Biblical? If better at interpreting the Word, shouldn't we hold them
to an even higher standard when they love and care less than non-Biblical
We need Christ, His Word, solid teaching, personal holiness, and love all
together. All are necessary and work together. If a group failed in one or
more areas, I struggled to figure out how to react to that with what
priorities. I stayed in C.R. longer for that reason. What I noticed was
churches with bad teaching, esp not Bible-driven, went in the wrong
directions the most with turn around being hard or never happening. I'd
continue to make the Gospel and God's Word the highest priority, use
conformance to them as main tests, and address the remaining problems from
there using the Word. Let's see where that led.
The problems of Celebrate Recovery are severe. I'll split this
into a few sections. One set is where Celebrate Recovery came from with
what philosophy. There's so much disobedience to God's Word in each step
that big problems are inevitable. The next set describes the problems that
showed up in abundance.
The Purpose-Driven Life (Rick Warren's philosophy)
- The Purpose-Driven Life is Rick Warren's best-selling book. It has the
philosophy behind everything he does at Saddleback. I found most
problems in C.R. were right in that book. He was driving them. So, we'll
start by reviewing the Purpose-Driven Life as a book and model for
- Most good churches pick a solid translation that's close to the
original words God gave us ("formal equivalence"). They might cite extra
translations where a word has complex meaning. We do this because we
believe God's Word is living
and active with power to get
the results for which He sent it. In P.D.L., Warren uses dynamic
translations, paraphrases, multiple translations per lesson, and
constantly changes them. He says he does this because listeners will
tune out if they don't hear fresh things. The direct implication is that
Rick believes God's Word can't get results with his help (Rick's works).
That he must cleverly change up what the Word says or it has no power. I
want to ask him how he thinks God got results in areas with one
translation (eg KJV) or in the manuscript days. Warren showed elsewhere
that he's even willing to pick the one translation that's furthest from
the rest if it makes a passage sound like his own words.
- Warren also quoted The Message: a paraphrase of the Bible. A
paraphrase is like if a preacher retold the Bible in their own words
instead of God's. It's a mix of ideas in God's Word with their own
thoughts and interpretations. Rick Warren treats the paraphrase like
it's a Bible translation. He quotes a man's words as if it's God's Word.
No pastor should ever make this mistake or encourage others to.
- The author of The Message does have talent for vivid,
attention-grabbing descriptions. Yet, the author of The Message claimed
homosexuality isn't a sin. He also modified Bible verses in a way that
obscures the issue. That includes Romans 1. If homosexuality is your
sin, you might take the Roman's Road without repenting. You might
continue living in sin thinking it's righteous behavior that was just
- In the same vein, Warren's materials use proof-texting.
That is, he seems to start with his own opinions or talking points.
Then, he looks for verses that look similar. Then, he slaps them on his
own work to make the audience think what he said came out of the Bible.
The verses may or may not support what he said. The right
way to use God's Word is to understand a passage in its original
context, derive what it's teaching, and build your work on that. You
make your words match God's Word. Which of these you do also shows
whether you believe more in the power of God's Word or your own words.
Which does Rick believe in?
- In P.D.L., Warren is definitely a talented writer. He compellingly
argues the many benefits of following God and his own philosophy. I was
surprised that I even later made some of the same arguments as a new
believer. I used to think people would see how great Jesus is if I just
explained the benefits, said it in the right way, and was good enough to
them. I kept reading Scripture, noticed that their approach contradicted
mine, and that they simply shared the Gospel and the Word. God delivered
the results. (Illustrated
in Parable of Good Seed.) I really believed in my works,
not God's. I changed my style to match what Jesus and the Apostles did.
Like I once did, Warren tries to "sell" people on the Bible. What does
he believe drives the conversion process? His own words with convincing
benefits? Or God's Word with the Spirit's conviction?
- Paul in 1
Cor. 1:17 said he didn't come with eloquent words of wisdom: he
just preached the Gospel which has inherent power. Thousands of
conversions happened that way in the N.T.. Millions over time happened
the same way, often with one translation. Rick ditched Jesus' and the
Apostles' theory and practices for a new style. In P.D.L., Rick even
puts more work into his own arguments than the Gospel itself for
straight week. Were there passages in Scripture that inspired this
decision? Or is Rick doing his own thing thinking it will be more
effective than what Jesus and the Apostles' did?
- Sharing the Gospel
is something Jesus and the Apostles do immediately. Rick Warren waits
until Day 7. Before I say anything else, I will counter Warren that his
priority should be: "Jesus Christ is Day 1 and every day after that is
centered on Christ." The Gospel comes first when Jesus, Peter, and Paul
preach. It's priority in other letters, too. One parable
emphasizes that our audience might not even live another day. If Rick's
book is all you got, you'll need God to give you an extra week or just
motivate you to skip around looking for what he should've opened with.
- What's in the Gospel? Jesus and the Apostles focus on who Jesus is,
our sin, that we deserve wrath, Christ's sacrifice and resurrection,
faith in Him, repentance, and holy living. Jesus expects people to count
the cost of being hated, maybe losing everything, and maybe dying. They
must put heavenly hope over things of this world. Warren's writing for
six days was mostly earthly benefits of the Bible with rare references
to Jesus. In the Gospel chapter, Rick doesn't mention or clearly
explain: Jesus as man and God; what sin is with lists of specific ones
to convict readers; the atonement; that Jesus was raised from the dead
(!); what real repentance is. Without any of that, you just say a prayer
so that the Jesus you don't know becomes your Lord and Savior. Rick teaches you about 40+ pages of
material up to that point. He just doesn't teach you who Jesus is or
what He did for you in detail. Maybe you'll get saved. Why would Rick
leave you wondering? Why wouldn't he just share four or five verses that
make the key details crystal clear?
- Likewise, Warren contradicts God's Word by saying our biggest problems
are a lack of purpose and our personal struggles. Once again, Rick
sounds too much like prosperity preachers who say the same things to
give people what they want to hear. Even people who reject Christ like
listening to sermons in those churches. Whereas, God's Word says we're
wicked, sinned against Him, and deserve to die and burn in Hell. Jesus
says that's offensive to non-believers. His message is aimed at the
elect who will feel godly sorrow and repent. Rick designs his
presentations in a people-pleasing way that draws in the wrong type of
- When Warren ordained female pastors, he pointed
to his numbers while others cited
the Bible and 2,000 years of Spirit-led teaching. Warren usually pushes
growth, not Scripture, as the proof that his methods are good. I'll note
that growth is really popularity. Warren is saying, if it's popular,
then it must be God's will. Whereas, God's Word says His will is a
narrow gate, offensive, and leads to persecution. Jesus was abandoned by
his own disciples, too. That what Warren does is popular with all kinds
of people, even non-believers, is more evidence it's not what
So far, testing P.D.L. against God's Word shows there's a big gap between
the two. For seven days straight, Rick minimized the person of Christ, put
about 30s-1m into the Gospel, and went into enormous detail on everything
else. He also focuses on earthly things more than heavenly things. He
hasn't repented of or changed these practices that I know of. We should
avoid his writing and church since this philosophy will corrupt whatever
they do. If C.R. builds on it, our review will be that much easier.
Alcoholics Anonymous and John Baker (briefly)
- The Oxford Group
was an organization of Christians who wanted to overcome sins to live
holy lives. Their solution was mostly accountability groups confessing
sin, encouraging, and praying for each other. Their broader theology was
a mix of good and bad. They also claimed their practices transformed
many lives with impact on whole countries. I haven't tested their claims
for lack of time. I should still have links to free copies of their old
books if anyone wants to research them. I might later out of curiosity.
An article I'll cite next says H.A.
Ironside blasted them for preaching everything but Christ in
practice. At least some of them had a familiar problem.
- Bill Wilson was an
alcoholic who heard of the Oxford Group's teachings from a newly-sober
friend. In his fourth stay at the hospital, Bill prayed to an unknown
God to help him. He had a "spiritual experience" involving a white
light, a feeling of ecstasy, and serenity. He quit drinking. He remained
a "spiritualist" into all kinds of risky practices. Wilson tried to help
people in the Oxford group quit drinking but failed. Bob
Smith was an anti-religious alcoholic who tried Oxford Group for
two years for sobriety. Several articles (example)
cite their official biography saying they teamed up, connected with
spirits (aka listened to demons), and wrote up their recovery concepts
while doing that. (See 1
Tim. 4:1; 1
Cor. 10:20-22.) Wilson helped Smith quit drinking. They teamed up,
made their own recovery program (Alcoholics
Anonymous), claimed to help over 100 people get sober, and
published their "Big Book"
and 12-Step model to help others. Ch. 4 ("We Agnostics") looks
universalist and deist, not Christian. They'd make other A.A. groups
reflect their image by discipling them to teach and do the same things.
- Alcoholics Anonymous is a Christ-less program (1/2),
focuses people on their works, replaces the Bible with their own
book/practices, pushes worldly concepts over Biblical truths, and does
have good advice embedded in it that helped many people. I'll quickly
note that you can also get good advice on topics like addiction from
Christian writers who specialize in it. Since interpretations vary, I'll
say that joining A.A. is either disobedience to God's Word or very risky
due to many teachings contradicting it.
- John Baker was A.A. guy who joined Saddleback Church. In his book, he
was following A.A.'s steps as a Christian. He doesn't mention having any
Bible training that would put him at teacher level. The Bakers did have
a heart for many struggling people at Saddleback. They could be
supporting each other. John envisioned a Christian version of A.A. at
Saddleback. They pitched Rick Warren, thought he'd pick a qualified
leader, and were surprised when Warren chose Baker. In the Bible, the
requirements for leaders (ex: Titus
1:6-9) are they're strong in both Bible teaching and character.
Warren ignored that to put an A.A. guy in charge of developing a Biblical
- They merged A.A.'s practices, some Bible verses, and their own stuff
into a new program: Celebrate
Recovery. God banned
Israel from adopting pagan traditions because they turned His people
away from His Word and practices. If they believe God's Word, they
should've known mixing pagan practices (A.A.) with the Bible would cause
Celebrate Recovery's Problems (in order I encountered them)
- Like P.D.L., C.R. doesn't put the person of Christ front and center.
It doesn't require sharing the Gospel
first, often, or boldly. Like A.A., C.R. mostly preaches practices
to make our lives better. Whereas, the Bible centers on a person
(Christ) who saves our souls, practices to obey Him, maybe our
lives get better, and our suffering will often increase (i.e.
- They always countered by telling me "we go into surrendering to Christ
in Step 3." I don't know which is worse: that they said it, or thought
anyone obeying the Word would nod at it. If I explained C.R.'s steps at
Christ-centered churches, they always counter, "No, Christ is Step 1!"
That Christ is Step 3 at C.R. tells you their priorities right off the
bat. It was actually worse where I went because we did four videos in
the step study before getting to Step 1. So, they're actually saying
they'll talk about our Lord and Savior in detail... in about 1-2
months... if God lets you live that long.
- Worship is our offering to God praising who He is. In false-gospel
churches, the songs will usually be more about what good things God does
for us to appeal to our self interest. In the same vein, C.R. also uses
songs from churches that preach the Prosperity
Gospel: Bethel, Hillsong, and Elevation. Avoid these churches and
their songs. Even if you re-interpret them, your money or Youtube views
promote their churches (and fake gospels) to others who don't know
better. People looking for the real Jesus see fake Jesus's on top of the
search results and sales charts. The people in the crowd at C.R. that I
talked to about this didn't know anything about it.
- In church, you need a Bible to follow sermons that teach God's Word.
You will often read whole passages. Then, the leader will teach its
meaning, how we see Christ in it, and how it teaches us to live. In
C.R.'s services, they teach from C.R.'s materials instead of the Word.
You won't need your Bible. There are a few verses in each lesson but not
- Like P.D.L., C.R.'s materials appear to use proof texting with
multiple translations to support their own talking points. You'd have to
put a lot of time into verifying that the Bible is teaching what they're
using it to say.
- Jesus and the Apostles preach the Gospel, disciple people who
accept it, and teach them from the Word. Celebrate Recovery
ditches the Biblical model to use the 12-step model that Alcoholic's
Anonymous popularized. C.R.'s 12
Steps are A.A.'s 12
steps verbatim with minimal changes. C.R. participants read C.R.'s
materials more than the Bible, read C.R.'s meanings into the mixed in
verses, and Bible literacy might get worse. Few people at the one I went
to spotted misuse of Bible passages. When they did, they never took it
seriously enough to get rid of those problems.
- C.R. takes Bible verses out of context to teach different points. The
Beatitudes are a recurring example. The Beatitudes are a beautiful,
combined picture of repentance (justification), God giving us new hearts
(regeneration), outward behavior that flows from that (sanctification),
the eternal consequences of choosing Christ, and inner
contentment all of that brings. In Matt.
4:23, Jesus also preached the Gospel
and Word of God to all of those people before following up
with the Beatitudes. Jesus warned faith will make
life harder with our minds and lives focused
on heaven. C.R. uses them to justify a long-term recovery program, moves
Jesus to Step 3 to follow AA's model, makes it about having a better
life, lets non-believers stay in it, and non-believers are encouraged to
do Bible-based practices. That's nothing like what Jesus was doing. I
cringed every time they read the Beatitudes with that interpretation.
- God's covenant with Israel says He'll bless or punish the nation based
on their faith and obedience. Lev.
26 and Deut.
28 predict horrifying punishments. Lamentations describes
God's wrath on Israel during the Babylonian invasion. In Ch. 2, it's
about national sin and idolatry. In Ch.'s 2 and 4-5, the brutal
punishments line up with what God promised. God is causing
them to be enslaved, raped, murdered, and eat their own babies. The
around 70 years. Believers had obey God and pray for mercy every day
while His wrath on them stayed the same or got worse. No surprise that
the author ends Ch 5 begging for God's mercy while talking like it may
never come. In C.R., Baker cites Lam. 3:40 to support taking a personal
inventory of our sins to kick our bad habits because God wants us to
enjoy a better life. What Lamentations teaches its readers and how C.R.
uses it are as different as night and day. A good
lesson on it would teach us to face our most-hopeless moments with
trust in God. C.R. folks would've liked that, too. Then, I found out it
was Step 4 in A.A.. Baker wanted a matching verse to use it in C.R..
- Many teachings directly contradict God's Word, esp if based on A.A..
That includes un-Biblical diagnoses like codependency
that even psychologists haven't accepted (or supporters argue over),
that we are helpless needing faith in God to kick bad habits (atheists
do self-improvement), and trading Biblical terms for pagan terms (eg
"spiritual experience," "higher power") that A.A. to make folks
rejecting Christ feel welcome. Jesus and the Apostles speak of one God
and one Lord, Jesus Christ, whose Word is true with absolute conviction.
The Bible authors use Biblical terms to make us think God's way, not
man's or Satan's (eg A.A.).
- Codependency comes up so much I'll add something about it. In God's
Word, we are to do everything to the glory of Christ. We evaluate every
thought through that lens. From there, we stay humble loving others as
ourselves. Humble means selfless. Paul adds that he was all things to
all people to share the Gospel with them. While putting Christ and
holiness first, Paul from there would endure burdens others imposed, esp
cultural, to keep the peace. So, the Bible teaches us to live in a way
some in the world diagnose as codependency. Why would we view ourselves
their way instead of God's? If some behaviors are indeed sins, then just
use verses describing them to counter them. Teaching codependency at
C.R. led their people to constantly see and describe themselves that way
instead of how God's Word described them. How many more subjects at C.R.
will be like that? Should we keep investing our energy into checking
them? Or just use materials made from the Word?
- God's Word says only baptized believers can be members of local
churches. You're not in God's family unless you surrender to Christ. If
you do, we are all united in Him with the Holy Spirit working toward a
common goal. At C.R., everyone that regularly attends was addressed as
part of their "forever family." That includes non-believers. Our C.R.
"family" isn't a Biblical concept, aren't all going to heaven, and might
not all work toward Christ's goals on earth.
- God's Word places higher requirements (ex: Titus
1:6-9) on leaders. James discourages
most from being teachers because God will judge them more strictly. Many
people believe the devil attacks leaders harder, too. Most churches only
appoint as leaders baptized believers with proven character who are also
trained in the Bible and theology. C.R. seems to encourage almost anyone
to become leaders if they've done a step study. They push it more
quickly than churches, too. One C.R. leader I met tried, but failed, to
explain the Gospel to their audience. Another was actually from A.A. who
refused to share the Gospel due to A.A.'s training. He did share
prosperity theology bragging about the results of talking to God like
his child demanding what he wanted. Another talked like he was Roman
Catholic. Church's leaders must lead people to Christ and obedience to
His Word. C.R.'s might lead you... anywhere.
- C.R. always says "we're not here to fix one another" because we're
"not therapists." That sounds like it excuses the program's
shortcomings. Yet, those same people give lessons on therapy topics,
tell what's "right" behavior, what's "wrong" behavior, give out therapy
questions, and discuss the problems. It's definitely a therapy program.
It just delivers partial therapy using people untrained in therapy. If
C.R. is therapy, then it's materials should be Biblical, accurate, and
effective. Whoever wrote them should've likewise been trained in therapy
(eg Biblical counseling).
- Many Biblical churches end services with readings from Scripture,
either exhortations or prayers. C.R. ends every night with the Serenity
Prayer. Reinhold Niebuhr might have authored it. Yet, C.R. got it from
A.A.. You can bet A.A. picked it for wording that let their
non-Christians pray it while staying committed to false gods or
themselves. Why would a "Christ-centered program" imitate how people
pray in a group that rejects Christ? If they need pre-made prayers, we
have plenty of inspired prayers in the Bible from the Apostles on up to
the Lord Jesus Himself. Imitate them.
- CR claims its methods impacted millions of people to imply it will
have high impact for you, too. During my stay at C.R., it was mostly the
same people coming every week. Of new people, most left after one night,
some left shortly after, some had to be there for court, some visited
from other C.R.'s, and some were new members. In the same area, Biblical
activities had vastly more people with more conversions that I could
tell. They had better evangelism, Biblical knowledge, and skill at
spotting false teaching. Many lives were similarly changed through their
discipleship and ministry. Sharing Jesus, modeling after His ministry,
and teaching built on the Word gets way better results than
- Right as I was leaving C.R., God sent a revival up north that's
transforming lives by teaching... you guessed it... Christ crucified and
obedience to His Word. They're even confessing sins publicly like C.R.
does. The difference is they describe themselves using terms from God's
Word (eg liars, adulterers). The activities are prayer, worship,
proclaiming Jesus' name to all around them, Bible study, and obedience.
They're imitating what Jesus and the Apostles did. Maybe C.R. should do
that instead of imitating A.A..
- If you warn them, most C.R. defenders will say the program works
for people. Also, different C.R.'s have people who present more
or less of the real Christ, the Word, etc. Therefore, they think we
should keep promoting "what works" along with its problems since, like
Machiavelli would say, the end (outcomes) justifies the means. Well, the
results of Biblical churches and revivals suggest C.R. doesn't
get better or Biblical results. Even if it did, people say the same
thing about atheism, self-help programs, Alcoholics Anonymous,
Scientology, and fake gospels. "It changed my whole life! It's great
now!" Do we likewise mix their beliefs and practices with Bible verses
to send more people their way? Because "it works?" Or do we
avoid and warn people about them for rejecting Christ and/or being
severely disobedient to His Word? If so, why wouldn't we also obey God's
Word to avoid, warn about, and counter false teaching in Celebrate
In summary, C.R. is thoroughly filled with false teaching and
pagan practice. The "Christ-centered program" also minimizes the person of
Christ and His Gospel. That makes "Christ-centered" more like a lie. The
founding church hasn't fixed these issues in decades. That's enough to
walk away from both Saddleback and Celebrate Recovery immediately. At
least, that's what most people would advise if just using verses
on false teaching.
If your theology leans toward 1
Thes. 5:21, these are still enough problems to avoid promoting C.R.
to reduce the spread of false teaching. Even buying C.R. materials for a
non-C.R. group would fund Saddleback which spreads their false
teaching. Others who didn't know better might read them thinking you
believe in all of it. The devil aims for these ripple effects of false
Can Churches Have the Same Benefits?
With their life-changing experiences, many Christians attending C.R.
believe it makes sense to have a C.R.-like program. I tried to imagine one
with all its benefits but none of its weaknesses. The alternative must be
solidly ground in the Gospel, God's Word, have accountability for acting
on both, and practical lessons that don't contradict either. Churches
could implement it themselves alongside regular, Bible teaching. If they
didn't, groups in churches or outside of them could do the same. What
might that look like?
We'll need a model to start with that's flexible, easy to learn, and
grows believers. Many missionaries in South Asia use Three
Thirds. It divides a meeting up into discussing the past week, a
lesson, and goals for next week. If needed, that can be expanded into a
full service with more information and activities. Three Thirds meetings
already have group prayer, personal sharing, worship, lessons with group
discussions, and goal setting. Just make sure the sharing time includes
our actual sins, temptations, and worries.
For the lessons, the new program can ditch the pagan, 12-step model.
Instead, they can use topical lessons grounded in God's Word. They can
cover issues such as suffering, forgiveness, marriage, addiction, mental
health, and so on. The topics of the new program can be in any order. If
open-source and online, they can also be given to the group members ahead
of time so they can jump right to learning what's most important to them.
They can share what they learned on any topic in the personal-sharing part
of the meeting. If on-topic, they might share it during the lesson
My big questions include what topics to teach, how much is theology, how
much is personal issues, how to embed the Gospel, what Bible passages
teach on specific topics, and whether and how much to use secular sources
for therapy questions (esp worksheets). While brainstorming, I came up
with a few models that might work. I encourage people to experiment while
being careful about false teaching.
I have many
resources on Biblical counseling to get people trained for this
stuff. Ideally, Biblical counselors would write topical lessons for us.
They could also write questions for participants to answer about
themselves. I think such topical questions are called "therapy
worksheets." Ideally, we'd have open-source worksheets that can be used
for any purpose. Do those exist anywhere? If not, what Biblical counselors
would make them for us? If they don't, there's probably questions you can
use and cite in Christian articles, podcasts, and YouTube videos.
I know the therapy questions are really important to many people in C.R..
If they're not available, you can also produce your own by working
backwards from information in articles, books, etc. They'll describe
specific problems. You rephrase those statements into questions that
people can ask themselves. You can also make broader statements to cover
more ground. For example, a question about sexual abuse might be broadened
into "have you suffered abuse at different points in your life?"
Try to use sources who profess a solid, doctrine statement (simple
Whatever source you use, carefully vet their claims and therapy questions
against God's Word, cite them as external sources, and mark any that are
non-Christian in your references. We don't want to repeat C.R.'s mistake
of presenting worldly teaching as if it's Biblical.
Bible Study Method
Before I describe alternative models, I want to mention why and how we'll
study the Bible. Doing that the right way prevents the problems I
mentioned, will catch those we haven't foreseen, and keeps any material we
develop grounded in God's Word.
Let's briefly look at our goals with a Bible study method. We want
participants first and foremost to know who Jesus Christ is, how He saves
us from our biggest problem (Hell), and that God's Word is the ultimate
authority. We're putting Christ and His Word first. We also show these
people how to properly read it, apply it to their lives, and just soak up
more of it. My approach also builds on sources of free, theological
training to encourage believers to use them, too. Using the Word might
also lead the Holy Spirit to speak to and through believers in ways that
weren't in the planned lesson.
We'll teach Bible passages using the historical-grammatical
method. That will show the audience how to read God's Word in its
original context. We'll teach them the SWORD
method so they can get a quick and easy application out of any
passage. Then, we'll tie the passage into the person of Christ and the
redemptive story that runs across the whole Bible. We'll embed the Gospel
into the lesson somewhere since it's the only way people are saved.
Once we understand the passage, we will draw out the practical lessons it
taught people of that time. Then, we'll apply them to today. We can add
therapy questions that tie-in to the passage. They can discuss all of
that. We can give them web sites and/or handouts on those topics to let
them dig in as deeply as they want to.
If we do topical lessons, we'll use Bible passages that teach those or
similar lessons. The topics might be theological (eg God's character,
nature of sin). The topics might be therapeutic. A lesson on forgiveness
or family issues might use Joseph's story. Instead of "Starting Over" in
C.R., we'll teach the need for repentance, regeneration, and
sanctification. For non-C.R. topics, we might cover identity (including
gender roles), marriage, and children. We might use Jacob's and David's
families to make those interesting. If about feeling stuck or hopeless, we
can use Israel's exile in the O.T. and Paul's imprisonment in the N.T..
Many programs have an orientation class (or several). We might open by
teaching the techniques above. Basic interpretation, SWORD, good
translations, good commentaries, and where to get Biblical answers. To
support using SWORD, we might summarize God's character, man's attributes,
our sins, basic commands, and God's institutions. We'll give them solid
resources to learn about topics on their own: GotQuestions,
DesiringGod, IBCD's free
resources, and ACBC reading
list. For deeper education, we'll give them BibleProject,
BiblicalTraining, and No
Place Left's training.
The only mandatory requirements will be a good translation of the Bible
and the SWORD method.
The point of all of this is to equip them in a way that keeps paying off
during these and other Bible studies. They'll see how and where to look
for answers to important questions in God's Word. If unchurched or in an
un-Biblical church, this might be their first exposure to Bible study like
Proposed Models for Biblical, Support Groups
(aka brainstorming results)
(Far as I know, this is how God has used His Word to transform most
peoples' lives since the church was founded. John Wesley also made this a
formal, group activity in his churches. Many others have, too.)
We'll look at passages with sins, good traits, and outright commands.
Then, we'll ask if we've done or are doing any of those individually.
Next, we'll look at each institution in our lives: parents/children
(family unit), jobs (business), neighborhood/schools (community), and
government interactions. In each case, we'll ask what sins we've
committed, been victim of, what good we've done, and so on. We'll assess
our spiritual health in all areas of life.
Optionally, there might be a day-to-day portion. Participants will be
given basic lists of sins and fruits of obedience. They're to journal day
to day what God shows them in their interactions with other people, esp
failures or improvements. They share those. People answer any questions
they have about what God's Word says in such situations. So, they're are
meditating on what God is showing them now in their
own lives while also steadily learning from His Word.
Doing this is basically how God transformed the lives of many Christians
for thousands of years. That includes mine which started with a long
list of sins. We just read the Bible, explore all the ways it might apply,
pray for answers, note what pops into our minds, research it, and apply
it. We also discuss and pray together. We often learn from the example set
by mature believers, too. God sanctifies us in these ways.
(This is the most centered on the person of Christ.)
This is similar to Option 1. The difference is we focus on passages about
Christ, who He is, who we are, and try to close the gap. I mention it
second because it takes more interpretation than passages with clear
commands. The benefit is you really get to know Jesus Christ as you try to
imitate His character.
If being more specific, you might pick part of God's design which Christ
exemplifies in His life and character. Examples might be being filled with
God's Word, putting others' needs first, humility, purity, or even respect
for authority. Teach and discuss verses that illustrate it. If you know
any, include verses and real-world examples of any benefits that come from
living that way to show God's goodness.
Then, start listing the ways we fall short of that, the problems that
result, verses showing that, and real-world examples.
Give therapy questions that tie into those failures. Maybe ask follow-up
questions about how God's principles might have prevented or helped each
Give pragmatic advice on those topics ground in or at least compatible
with God's Word.
(This is the most like C.R..)
This option assumes two things: the real value of church is growing
together in Christ and God's Word; the remaining value of C.R. is in its
therapy workbooks that help us dig into our lives. We've already talked
about finding and developing them. I'll just give a few more tips.
Start with Bible passages that teach the same points as the exemplary
questions. If you don't know any, teach passages on the same topics
with their applications. Then, say something like: "Let's look at this
topic some more. We have some questions about it from (sources)." Then, go
to the questions. Each topic might use one or several passages with amount
of teaching tied to timing requirements.
People are also naturally attracted to both stories and mysteries that
get us asking more questions. God hardwired us for it. Then, He wrote most
of His Word that way. Follow His lead! Use Biblical narratives and loaded
passages (eg Beatitudes). For confirmation, missionaries in many countries
said narrative evangelism worked well even with non-believers. An
evangelist also pointed out that loaded passages let you squeeze lots of
God's truth into limited time. The follow-up questions people ask give you
more time to discuss God's Word with them.
(This is most like doing a "Foundations" program in BiblicalTraining
or No Place
This one is more of a theological class. The idea is that a church wants
theological lessons, counseling lessons, or a mix of both. Also, that this
church sees more value in theology than in support groups. So, you mix in
practical lessons from counseling materials. You tell people how the
theology applies to their lives. Some call these courses "practical" or
The support group should have a list of Christian counselors people can
see for one-on-one advice. The hosting church might consider having
Biblical counselors or other professionals there. They might be volunteers
or paid for blocks of time. There might also be people in the church who
specialize in specific kinds of struggles. I've seen "grief" and
"DivorceCare" ministries. Make sure people know who they can talk to.
In church, we should have brothers and sisters we regularly talk to about
our issues. Preferably, people we can call at any time if something gets
too much. That conversation might prevent the sin we were about to commit.
In A.A. and C.R., they have "sponsors" and "accountability partners" for
this. We should already just be doing this with Biblical terms like
"brother," "sister," and "church family." Support it with passages that
emphasize what loving each other means. Paul, James, and John all have
Celebrate Recovery opened with food and fellowship. The local church that
hosts ours had volunteers who supplied a meal. The charge was $2 but free
if you needed it. Some people there thought the fellowship time was too
short at 30-minutes. Standing in line took quite a bit of it. Consider
this if you implement it. Also, if your church already does fellowship,
that night might be a good one to implement this program. Our own church
already has up to an hour and a half of food and fellowship if you show up
on Wednesdays. Then, there's classes of many types. The support group
could happen that night to build on what's already there.
The "Celebration Station" is a table with their booklets, Recovery
Bibles, daily devotionals, and prayer requests. Saddleback is good at
marketing. Some churches likewise have helpful materials at their "welcome
booths." I suggest having on-hand materials from solid, Bible-based
sources. For study Bible, maybe the ESV Study Bible saying it will just
teach you the Bible. Although NIV, the Life Application Bibles are quite
popular with this crowd. Maybe have a few devotionals to choose from. In
the long run, someone should consider making an alternative to the
Celebrate Recovery Bible with a solid translation, sound teaching,
testimonials pointing to Biblical practices, and money going to a
Include training on how to lead small groups and do the services. How to
train leaders. Again, all based on good, discipleship materials. My Serving
page has small groups guides in it.
If there's music, I'd include a warning about churches that push a false
gospel with music that sounds great as bait. C.R. had many songs with
these problems. List the churches, their false teachings, and the band
labels. Instead, use songs from safe sources that worship Christ using
Host church should have cards or web sites with their own service times.
If church-neutral, maybe a list of good churches in nearby areas. Plus,
online sources where they can get good articles, sermons, and Youtube
content. Get people plugged into Biblical churches!
(Read the Gospel with proof it's
true and my story. Learn how
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