Fellowship of Saints and Sinners

We’re kicking off a new, five-part series, “The 12 Steps for Restless Souls,” with the following question: Is there such a thing as ‘recovery’ for the restless soul, and if so, what does it look like?  The short answer, I believe, is “yes,” because “recovery” matters to God, or at least the Bible would say so. Over the next weeks we’ll unpack how the “12 Steps” might take us there.

Since their formulation in the 1930’s by recovering alcoholic Bill Wilson, who sought a spiritual program for recovery emanating from his Christian beliefs, the 12 Steps have become synonymous with successful recovery for millions of people around the world, as evidenced by an overwhelming proliferation of 12-step groups for just about every form of addiction one can think of. The Atlantic’s merciless exposé last year notwithstanding, evidence-based research suggests participation in a 12-step group does improve one’s chances of long-term sobriety. As the late David Foster Wallace observes in the course of an especially comedic description of a fictionalized Boston AA group in the national bestseller, Infinite Jest, “the shocking discovery is that the thing [the 12 Steps] does seem to work.”

One premise, then, of this series and of my newly published book, The Recovery-Minded Church, is that not only does the 12-Step approach work, but it can work as a tool for spiritual transformation regardless of one’s place on the addiction spectrum. Another premise is that “recovery” isn’t some niche minority ministry. Recovery, I suspect, is actually central to God’s mission to the world in the person of Jesus Christ — so much so that you can’t really talk about what Christians call “the Gospel” (a.k.a. “The Good News”) without talking about recovery, even if you use a different vocabulary:



“Being born again.”


At heart, these terms are code for recovery: God is recovering what’s been lost and refashioning a whole world into what it was meant to be from the very beginning, with the implication that this cosmic picture necessarily also includes us, restless souls, saints and sinners alike. 

The Christmas story maybe best encapsulates this theme of recovery that runs throughout Scripture. The birth of Jesus is the culmination of Israel’s hope for a Savior, a Redeemer who will restore Israel as God’s people. The prophet Isaiah foretold of this Messiah whose kingdom would usher in a return to Eden of sorts. And Jesus is “The Way”: He is the way back to God and the way back to the garden where predator and prey are finally and completely at peace with one another. This original paradise not only precedes original sin but is also a reminder we were made for More and that God wants to lead us there. For restless souls, there is a twofold assurance here: if we’re looking for More, it’s because we were made for that More; and, if God is the very origin of our pursuit for that More, God is also The Way there.

And I suspect that if both the means of travel and the end destination (both “The Way” and “The More”) promise recovery for restless souls, that recovery will most look like REST. REST is also a helpful acronym for unpacking “The 12 Steps for Restless Souls.” Stop by next week to learn how.