Serenity: A Companion for Twelve Step Recovery*

by Robert Hemfelt and Richard Fowler

-  Published by Thomas Nelson Publishers (1990, 558 pgs.), the Serenity Bible is promoted as:

"The first New Testament to integrate the Twelve Steps of recovery with the Scripture that inspired them! Interspersed through the New King James New Testament, Psalms, and Proverbs are 84 one-page meditations; 600 verses illustrating the Steps are highlighted for quick reference. An 80-page introduction by Drs. Robert Hemfelt and Richard Fowler (of the Minirth-Meier Clinic) offers a biblical perspective on the Twelve Step program used by Alcoholics Anonymous and dozens of other recovery groups."

The Serenity Bible is perhaps the boldest attempt yet to present the 12-Step method as being biblical -- it is intended for those involved in or considering a 12-Step program -- which the authors believe should include all of us. As Hemfelt and Fowler explain: "All of us can benefit from the truths that emerge from 12-Step recovery, because all of us are, to some degree, codependent. ... Dysfunctional families, whether they involve open or veiled abuse, may be the original source or our codependent pain. This early codependence vacuum becomes the root of our later adult addictions" (p. 14). (Emphasis added.)

-  Following a brief history of the AA movement, Serenity presents and explains each of the Twelve Steps. These in turn are followed by the page numbers of various "recovery meditations" which are found interleaved throughout the New Testament on the page facing the corresponding "recovery Scripture." Some of the comments made within the meditations are outright alarming. For example, the description of Step 2 ("a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity") includes the incredible statement that "Before we can welcome in a new Power to restore us to wellness, we will probably have to engage in some emotional and spiritual 'house-cleaning'" (p. 30). Does a person really need to get "cleaned up" before he can come to Christ? (assuming that Christ in his "Power," an assumption that is not always valid) (cf. Matt. 12:43-45; Lk. 11:24-26). Does it really benefit a person to help him clean up his life in order to eventually introduce him to his new Power?

- Another equally alarming example -- Step 12 refers to one's "spiritual awakening." What type of spiritual awakening is being referred to here? Certainly it is naive to assume that this is synonymous with what Jesus referred to as being "born again." Hemfelt and Fowler seek to get around this ambiguity by explaining:

"We must remember that this growth is a process. ... We may start as agnostics. We may then come to view the group or recovery process as our higher power, looking to other people for strength. Gradually we accept a vague notion of god, which grows to a more specific monotheistic god. We may even begin to pray to and dialogue with this god. Eventually, we come to know the one true God" (p. 78). (Emphasis added.)

Once again, the reasoning seems to be, "while practicing idolatry, trust in yourself and others, get over your problem, and then you may come to know God."

-  Another Step 12 meditation ("having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps") focuses on the cause of the so-called "awakening." Allegedly based on Psalm 92:1-4 ("It is good to give thanks to the Lord"), the authors refer to "the discovery that all the sacrifices of the first eleven steps have purchased a gift beyond measure -- our spiritual awakening to the God of our understanding" (p. 460). (Emphasis added.) Even if Hemfelt and Fowler assume that this awakening is equivalent to regeneration, surely no evangelical would teach that salvation could be "purchased," would he? And that "purchase" from God as each defines and understands Him?

-  The message of Serenity seems to be that the 12-Steps are more than just another theoretical viewpoint, another attempt by man to solve his problems. They are viewed as being necessary, without which one would be destined to a life of bondage. Thus, it is not surprising that the focus of the meditations clearly place one's recovery group on the same level as the local church. The order given below is not insignificant:

"But for the grace of God, we might not have sound support groups, Twelve Step recovery organizations, and the church community, which have ministered to our area of dependency" (a meditation on "the Grace of God," based on 1 Cor. 15:10, p. 249).

-  "Serenity's implication that the 12-Steps emerge from the Scripture is dangerous. Its application of the 12-Step process is potentially quite harmful. If you know of someone with a problem who is willing to read the Scripture, give them a good study Bible. If you need help in locating passages that address certain subjects, get a topical concordance. But don't give them a copy of Serenity. Why? It is not merely because of the fashion in which Hemfelt and Fowler apply the 12-Steps. It is because the 12-Step method and the recovery movement of which they are part are both unbiblical" (Mazak, Biblical Viewpoint, p. 116).

The "Twelve Steps" of Alcoholics Anonymous are as follows:

(1) We admitted we were powerless over alcohol ... that our lives had become unmanageable.

(2) Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

(3) Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care or God as we understood Him.

(4) Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

(5) Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

(6) Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

(7) Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

(8) Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

(9) Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

(10) Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

(11) Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

(12) Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

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*The majority of the information in this report has been adapted from a review written by Gregory Mazak (Biblical Viewpoint, The Critics' Corner, November, 1992, pp. 113-121). This report should be read along with our companion report titled "Codependency: Disease or Idolatry?"

Biblical Discernment Ministries - 2/93