Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Book Review of Addiction and Virtue by Kent Dunnington
Addiction and Virtue
by Kent Dunnington
Strategic Initiatives in Evangelical Theology
Reviewed by Clint Walker
If most of the books in the series of Strategic Initiatives in Evangelical Theology are like Addiction and Virtue by Kent Dunnington, then Intervarsity Press is going to have a critically acclaimed, best selling series of theology books on their hands. Addiction and Virtue is a brilliant, interdisciplinary approach to developing a theology of addiction that has a lot to say to the church about its witness in the world and its life together.
The thesis of Addiction and Virtue is profound. Put simply, Dunnington believes that both the model of disease and the model of choice when approaching addiction is insufficient in explaining the addictive condition. A disease model, taken to its logical end, takes away a sense of responsibility for the person experiencing the addiction, which in turn can sabotage an addicted person's ability to take responsibility for their addictive behavior. A choice model is limited in that fails to take into account the etiological factors that are outside of an addict's conscious control.
Drawing from the philosophy of Aristotle and the theology of Aquinas, Dunnington attempts to account for addiction through the category of habit. Using the language and categories of virtue and virtue ethics, Dunnington believes that the idea of habit accounts for individual agency and responsibility, as well other forces that drive addiction that may feel or actually be outside of an individuals conscious control. Habit is formed by decisions, but it is also formed and influenced by upbringing, and complex biophysical drives and functions that are not easily explained.
The understanding of addiction as habit also had meaningful implications for the church, and how people in the church approach one another. It also has profound implications for persons who identify themselves as addicts within local congregations, and how we provide care for them. The second half of this book addresses these implications in detail.
One of the most profound thoughts in this section of the book is the idea that "Addiction is in fact a kind of embodied cultural critique of modernity and the addict a kind of unwitting modern prophet" (p. 123). The rise of the idea of addiction, the prevalence of those claiming to be addicts, as well as the effectiveness of AA in dealing with addiction all have a lot to teach us about who we are as modern Americans. Specifically, dealing with addicts can help the church in dealing with the emotional and social needs that all sorts of people all around us experience--not just addicted persons.
What I find intriguing about the concept of addiction as habit is how it relates to the current language and philosophy of spiritual formation. Much of what we describe as spiritual formation is about the development of spiritually healthy habits through the exercise of what is commonly referred to as spiritual disciplines. Could recovery from addiction be thought of as a spiritual discipline? I certainly think it can. As a matter of fact, those seeking to develop holy habits could learn a lot from folks in the recovery movement.
I think this is an excellent book. It is a must read for those interested in pastoral care, philosopy, and/or spiritual formation. It is "outside the box" thinking that is sure to become a standard and classic in a theological understanding of addictive behavior.
(This book was provided by Intervarsity Press in exchange for an honest review).