Thursday, February 19, 2009

AA, the Church, and the Mission of God (pt. 1 -Introduction)

Convergence. In a word, that's what I've been experiencing—and been amazed by—over the last couple of years. The Christian faith contains many mysteries, some of which are intended by God himself, while others are just unfortunate failures to understand, hear or communicate what God intends to be obvious. I feel as though most of my questions of the last decade or so fall into the latter category, but have been substantially addressed by a variety of people whose insights and experiences have converged to help me see—and enter—the whole Christian faith in a different and much more cohesive and compelling way. The 'gospel' of the Old Testament, the gospel of the kingdom of God, the gospel of Paul, the invitation to discipleship, the Great Commission, the greatest commandments, the cross and resurrection, the larger mission of God led by Jesus, the new (and old) monasticism, holiness, worship, service, idolatry, addiction, righteousness (or justice), the practices of the Church, and even the work and methods of Alcoholics Anonymous—to name a few—all of these have a much deeper, complementary, and more mutually refining relationship than I ever would have imagined when I first encountered them individually. In fact, some of these things were totally mysterious to me when I first heard and thought about them, whether separately or as part of a larger whole, and it has been wonderfully satisfying, not to mention extremely helpful to see each of them fit together, overlap and even explain each other in often surprisingly simple and inviting ways, ways that shed substantial light on the heart of God's own intentions as well as the most typical of human problems and obstacles.

For those in the Church, especially those who have not personally been part of a 12-step recovery group, AA's inclusion in the above list of topics is likely surprising, and maybe even suspicious. As one who grew up chiefly in the Southern Baptist camp of Christianity, I think I understand at least some of that surprise and suspicion. Perhaps mentioning 'the gospels' (plural), of the Old Testament, of the kingdom of God, and of Paul only adds to the suspicion! If so, my point (which I'll eventually post about) is that each of these, while seemingly very different in their bare verbal content, contain much, much more of the same substance than most Christians realize. Indeed, the various ways 'gospel' is used in the scriptures have no conflict at all, but come from different angles and from different points in the story of God's good actions, often with more details of God's work available at the later points of the story. And it's when that shared substance of "the good news" of what God is doing is understood that one can better appreciate why AA's program has worked and continues to work so well for so many people around the world, and why AA can repay a very old favor and help the Church, particularly in the West, with her current task. In essence, each post in this series will discuss a different way in which one or more of the above highlighted topics converge or fit together, often in a way that ends up making AA's program, with surprisingly few adaptations, look more and more attractive as a way to respond to God, faithfully, appropriately and with the kinds of results God is seeking.

In the fashion of classic Christian witnessing (and AA tradition), this series will not be the explanations of an expert in any of the areas mentioned. I'm sure I've misunderstood some things and not yet even seen other important pieces. But these posts will be the reports of my own experiences, my own testimony of what I, a person in the process of following Jesus, think I have seen and heard, offered in the hope that they may be helpful to others and even generate conversations that will help me make progress in the Way.

The next post will look at the way the Old Testament and the New Testament talk about 'the good news' or 'the gospel', some of how they fit together, and what that might mean.