Addictions… Disease or Choice?

May 30, 2009

Macleans magazine (June 1, 2009) recently hosted a Q & A with Harvard psychologist, Gene Heyman, on why drug addiction is not a disease, but a matter of personal choice. This Q & A follows Dr. Heyman’s release of his current book, Addiction: A Disorder of Choice (Harvard University Press, 2009). At one point he writes,

At the heart of the notion of behavioural disease is the idea of compulsivity, by which people men it’s beyond the influence of reward, punishment, expectation, cultural values, personal values. Alan Leshner (the former head of the National Institute on Drug Abuse) says drug use starts off as voluntary and becomes involuntary. But the epidemiological evidence suggests otherwise. When you read the biographical information, you see individual drug addicts (who’ve quit) saying, “Well, it was a question of getting high on cocaine or putting food on the table for my kinds.” Or, “My life was getting out of control.” Or, in the case of William S. Burroughs, “The cheques from my parent stopped coming” (p. 19).

He goes on to answer other questions as to the viability of recovery programs that treat addiction as a disease, government involvment in treatment, free needle sites, etc. He advocates punishment against illicit drug use (as a deterrent and punishment) and other interesting conclusions for a secular psychologist. I found the Q & A very interesting and would seek out the book with interest. Another interesting answer is to a question involving choice in addictive behaviour. Heyman answers,

My analysis is based on the fact that there are always two “best” ways to make choices. We can take into consideration the value it has at the moment–the immediate rewards. Or we can consider this kind of circle of expanding consequences that each of our choices has. Your pattern of choices can be much different depending on whether you take into consideration this broader circle. A workaholic, for example, starts out taking into account only the immediate demands of working, dropping every other consideration. But he ends up, according to himself and everybody around him, working too much. The model just tries to formalize that idea, and it’s really just common sense.

So when people are choosing the drug, they’re thinking that moment, or that particular day, would be better if they did. A chronic smoker will think that the next tree minutes would be better with a cigarette than without. But after year of smoking 20 cigarettes per day, adding up to 60 minutes each day, you might think, “I’d rather have the 60 minutes of not smoking each day.” Unfortunately, you don’t choose 60 minutes at a time. You decide one cigarette–or three minutes–at a time, and that’s what makes this so difficult (p. 20).

While Heyman is right that addiction is a choice and not a disease he is mistaken as to the reason one ultimately chooses addiction. He chooses addiction because of sin and a desire to fulfill his sinful desires with that which is not Jesus Christ. So the problem is a failure to adaquately worship Jesus Christ and the solution is Jesus Christ. Obviously, this is a broad generalization and there are many steps in between, but this is the problem and the solution.

On this note, I would check out the best book on this subject from a biblical perspective, Edward Welch’s, Addictions–A Banquet in the Grave: Finding Hope in the Power of the Gospel. From the book description:

A worship disorder – will we worship ourselves and our own desires, or will we worship the true God? Scripture reveals addicts’ true condition: like guests at a banquet thrown by ‘the woman Folly,’ they are already in the grave. (Proverbs 9:13-18) Can we not escape our addictions? Following Jesus, we have ‘immense hope that God can give power so that we are no longer mastered by the addiction.’

Baptist Spirituality: Historical Perspectives

May 25, 2009

The Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies is hosting the 3rd Annual conference devoted to Baptist History. This year the conference is titled, “Baptist Spirituality: Historical Perspectives.” It is being held August 24-25, 2009 on the campus of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

The theme of the 2009 conference is, “Baptist Spirituality:  Historical Perspectives” Featured speakers will include: Crawford Gribben, Michael Haykin , Robert Strivens, Greg Thornbury, Kevin Smith, Tom Nettles, Greg Wills, Gerald Priest, Jason Lee, and Malcolm Yarnell. Other established Baptist History scholars, as well as several Ph.D. students will be presenting papers on the conference theme during the parallel sessions.

Make sure you come to hear me present my paper: “A Fountain of Gardens, A Well of Living Waters”: A Survey of Christian Spirituality from John Gill’s (1697-1771) Exposition of the Book of Solomon’s Song.

To Register for this excellent conference, see here.

Book Review – Cornelius Van Til: Reformed Apologist and Churchman

May 25, 2009

Cornelius Van Til: Reformed Apologist and Churchman by John R. Muether

D. G. Hart and Sean Michael Lucas should be commended for their work in editing the new P&R series of American Reformed Biographies. (Current volumes include, Robert Lewis Dabney: A Southern Presbyterian Life, John Williamson Nevin: High Church Calvinist, and soon to be released James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman.) Some key members of American Reformed history have been neglected and one important figure especially, Cornelius Van Til.

Now, Van Til’s writing and thinking is not neglected. It is continued to be taught at Westminster Theological Seminary, particularly in the presuppositionalist apologetic he helped to systematize. Even at a dispensationalist school like my alma mater, Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, we studied the presuppositionalism of Van Til. In this helpful new book by John Muether the life of Van Til is helpfully shaped. Particularly are how Muether traces Van Til’s life and shows the theological influences brought to bear on him from his Dutch Reformed heritage, his studies at Princeton, and other such factors. Muether catalogs his move from the Dutch Reformed church of his youth to the American Presybterian church (reluctantly) as he came to teach at the newly formed Westminster Theological Seminary. For a man who attempted to be simple and unassuming, his thinking became a hotbed for debate.

Many know of Van Til’s thinking (albeit they might not understand it), but many do not see him beyond his life as a professor. Van Til was a devoted churchman who sought to advance the church in its desire to obey the Great Commission in a thoroughly Reformed way. In this way, he was criticized during the various times of controversy in the life of the school and of the denomination. The devoted husband and father and dedicated student of modern theology and the Word of God was often under appreciated during his life and after. But many, knowingly or not, owe much of their Reformed epistemology to that layed out by Van Til. When others would capitulate to the unbelieving mind (as he criticized his former student Francis Schaeffer over) he sought to remain as consistently Reformed as possible in the knowledge that there is no “common ground” between the believer and the unbeliever. His motto of suaviter in modo, fortiter in re (gentle in persuasion, powerful in substance), sums up his life and teaching. He sought to be gentle as he taught the Word and as he sought to present the truth, but the truth was clear and powerful and able to change men’s hearts and minds!

While Van Til was criticized for being difficult to understand (I second that at times) his efforts paved the way for his students who helped to explain Van Til (men like Greg Bahnsen, and to a lesser degree John Frame). But, Muether presents a well-rounded treatment of the unusual life of a Dutch Reformed/American Presbyterian who loved the church and loved the truth and would not apologize for seeking to be consistent. We have much to learn from him in this way. Muether concludes this helpful biography in this way,

What makes Van Til’s life a compelling story and his theology one that merits a hearing is not so much a narrow analysis of his distinctive apologetic methodology. For this reason he is often disagreed with, and perhpas more often misunderstood. Van Til carbed out a way to be distinctively Reformed in the twentieth century. To be sure, that way involved apologetics, but it also involved much more. Van Til taught that the defense of the faith must be as Reformed as the exposition of the faith. Thus, to separate the man from his church is an abstract reduction of the richness of his heart and life. The unity of thought and life continues to be Van Til’s gift to the whole church of Jesus Christ (p. 240).

Besides having endnotes instead of footnotes (painful to check references!) the book is a helpful look at the life and labours of a man devoted to the church of Jesus Christ. I recommend you learn more about the life of this man and his efforts. It just might help you to better understand what he taught!

Michael Haykin on the Holy Spirit

May 17, 2009

Michael Haykin, Professor of Church History and Biblical Spirituality at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY recently spoke on a conference on the Holy Spirit. My friend Steve Weaver, Pastor of Farmdale Baptist Church, hosted the event. I would recommend you learning from Dr. Haykin at the lectures found here.

My Daily Prayer

May 14, 2009

Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord! (Ps 27:14)

John Piper on President Obama’s Stance on Abortion

May 13, 2009

The Qualities of a Theologian

May 12, 2009

A Disciplined Mind

First, the theologian need not be a genius, but he must bring to the study the following personal qualities: (1) He must have a love of learning and an insatiable thirst for the doctrines of Scripture; (2) he must be able to organize the material he studies and correlate it with what he already knows; and (3) he must be disciplined to go no further than what is written and be content simply to think God’s thoughts after Him. This final quality requires not only mental discipline but intellectual humility as well.

A Knowledge of the Original Languages of the Bible

Second, the theologian must be proficient in the biblical languages, including an attendant proficiency in exegetical methods. Exegesis is, after all, foundational to systematic theology, and the original biblical languages are foundational to correct exegesis. John Murray, whose work masterfully combines skill in both, says the following:

“The main source of revelation is the Bible. Hence exposition of the Scripture is basic to systematic theology. Its task is not simply  the exposition of particular passages. That is the task of exegesis. Systematics must coordinate the teaching of particular passages and systematize this teaching under the appropriate topics…. It is apparent how dependent [systematic theology] is upon the science of exegesis. It cannot coordinate and relate the teaching of particular passages without knowing what the teaching is. So exegesis is basic to its objective.”

In sum, systematic theology builds its structure with the material that correct exegesis provides, and this structure then aids in later exegesis and vice-versa.

A Holy Affection Toward God

Third, the theologian must have a holy affection toward God. David captures this in Psalm 25:14: “The secret of the Lord is for those who fear Him, and He will make them know His covenant.” “Secret” translates sodh, a word immediately describing intimacy and confidentiality; in fact, the NIV puts it this way: “The Lord confides in those who fear him.” This word is found in contexts more explicitly describing revelation, such as Jeremiah 23:18, 22 and especially Amos 3:7. Therefore, David seems to be asserting here that fearing the Lord s (or holy affections are) directly related to an increased ability for understanding God’s revealed truth.

Further, Paul suggests in Romans 12:2 that in order to know and approve the will of God, the believer must both yield himself sacrificially to God and avoid conformity to this resent godless order (“world”: aion). As Murray notes, the will of God here is the “will of commandment,” essentially the will of God “as it pertains to our responsible activity in progressive sanctification.” That said, sanctification obviously requires that Scripture be properly applied and obeyed (which activities themselves require correct understanding and correlation). Therefore, Paul implies here that a yielded life–a holy affection for God–is a requisite for understanding God’s written will and, thus, for doing theology.

Conversely, without this holy love for God and His word, Scripture hides its significance and systematic theology is, consequently, impossible. Strong helpfully concludes, “Only the renewed heart can properly feel its need of divine revelation, or understand that revelation when given.”

Divine Enlightenment

Finally, the theologian must have divine illumination. He needs this not only to mitigate his inherent depravity but also to enable him to appreciate and correlate the significance of the text throughout his life. Here it is also important to note that this ministry of the Spirit is bound up with various ordinary means, summarily the diligent study mentioned above. This is to say that the Spirit’s illumination works organically through the interpreter’s mind as the interpreter actively engages in the learning process.

Rolland McCune, A Systematic Theology of Biblical Christianity, vol. 1 (Allen Park, MI: Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, 2009), pp. 31-34.