An Analysis of Celebrate Recovery Addictions Program


Eric Davis of The Cripplegate analyzes the popular packaged addiction program, Celebrate Recovery (CR) that many churches have adopted.  The program, created by John Baker and Rick Warren, is supposedly based on biblical principles. In his review, Davis informs us that “CR is founded on eight principles taken from the Beatitudes and has similarities to the twelve steps of Alcoholic’s Anonymous.”

The question we must ask ourselves is, should Christians get involved in a program that stems from A.A.’s twelve steps?   Absolutely not says researcher John Lanagan. Lanagan has done a massive amount of research on A.A., and what his research has turned up is that A.A. co-founders Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith were deeply involved in the occult aka spiritualism. “Alcoholics Anonymous has served its purpose,” says Lanagan.  “That purpose has been to weaken the church, dilute the theology of Christians exposed to the 12 Step religion, and to point unbelievers away from Christ.” Discover the “spiritual” truth behind A.A. here.

So now to part 1 of Eric Davis’  2 part series…

ContextEnslaving behaviors are as old, and common to humanity, as sin itself. Since our fall at the dawn of time, we have been naturally enslavement to every destructive behavior possible. In response, various efforts have been made to deal with the problem.

One such effort is a packaged addictions program called Celebrate Recovery (CR). John Baker and Rick Warren of Saddleback Church created the program in 1991 to help people with various addictions. Rick Warren writes, “[D]uring the ten-week series that I preached to kick off this program, our attendance grew by over 1500!” (John Baker, Celebrate Recovery Leader’s Guide, 12). During the past 25 years, some 20,000 churches in the United States have reportedly used CR, with some 2.5 million people having completed the program. Needless to say, CR has had a major influence on the church.

CR’s stated purpose is “to encourage fellowship and to celebrate God’s healing power in our lives as we work our way along the road to recovery” (21). Further, Warren claims that CR is “more effective in helping people change than anything else I’ve seen or heard of” (12).

Generally, the program runs on a one-year repeating schedule. Participants are taken through the material in 25 lessons and testimonies, meeting once per week for 52 weeks. Rick Warren writes that CR was born when “I began an intense study of the Scriptures to discover what God had to say about ‘recovery.’ To my amazement, I found the principles of recovery—in their logical order—given by Christ in His most famous message, the Sermon on the Mount” (12). More specifically, CR teaches that the Beatitudes (Matt. 5:3-12), which are said to be “eight ways to be happy,” contain the progressive path to addiction recovery.

The eight principles upon which CR is derived are as follows (the principle is stated, followed by the corresponding Beatitude):

The Road to Recovery

  1. Realize I’m not God; I admit that I am powerless to control my tendency to do the wrong thing and that my life is unmanageable. (Step 1) “Happy are those who know that they are spiritually poor” (Matt. 5:3, though the CR manual cites these verses as the NIV, they are all taken from the GNT). 
  1. Earnestly believe that God exists, that I matter to Him and that He has the power to help me recover. (Step 2) “Happy are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matt. 5:4). 
  1. Consciously choose to commit all my life and will to Christ’s care and control. (Step 3)“Happy are the meek” (Matt. 5:5). 
  1. Openly examine and confess my faults to myself, to God, and to someone I trust. (Steps 4 and 5) “Happy are the pure in heart” (Matt. 5:8). 
  1. .

    Voluntarily submit to any and all changes God wants to make in my life and humbly ask Him to remove my character defects. (Steps 6 and 7) “Happy are those whose greatest desire is to do what God requires” (Matt. 5:6). 

  1. Evaluate all my relationships. Offer forgiveness to those who have hurt me and make amends for harm I’ve done to others when possible, except when to do so would harm them or others. (Steps 8 and 9)“Happy are the merciful” (Matt. 5:7). “Happy are the peacemakers” (Matt. 5:9). 
  1. Reserve a time with God for self-examination, Bible reading, and prayer in order to know God and His will for my life and to gain the power to follow His will. (Steps 10 and 11) (no verse cited).
  1. Yield myself to God to be used to bring this Good News to others, both by my example and my words. (Step 12) “Happy are those who are persecuted because they do what God requires” (Matt. 5:10).

Clever readers will notice that the first letter from each of the eight steps forms the acronym, “recovery.” CR’s approach takes each of the eight principles and expounds them with a few lessons, forming the 25 lessons in which participants are guided through how to deal with their “hurts, hang-ups, and habits” (the oft-used phrase in CR to describe our problems which need recovery).

Since CR claims to be Christian in nature, “biblical” (13), grounded in God’s word (12), and[b]ased on the actual words of Jesus rather than on psychological theory” (12), it deserves to be evaluated as such. This review is based upon the program’s teaching as stated in the CR Leadership Guide only (pages cited are from this guide) and is not a critique of every person who has participated in the program. Further, the purpose of this review is not to question whether the 2.5 million participants have felt that they were assisted with enslaving behaviors, nor to doubt the sincerity of individuals seeking to help, but, instead, to examine CR’s claim to be biblically based.

Having said that, this review (completed largely with the help of Matthew Mumma) will demonstrate that CR contains two major problems: (1) Though claiming to be biblically based, its teachings are often constructed from a misuse of Scripture and an erroneous hermeneutic. (2) Though claiming to be Christian based, its theology often clashes with sound Christian theology. In today’s post, this first problem will be demonstrated.

  1. Many of CR’s teachings are constructed from a misuse of Scripture and an erroneous hermeneutic.

The clearest instance of this occurs in the principles upon which CR is founded. CR’s “Road to Recovery” begins with the “Eight Principles Based on the Beatitudes” (12), stated above. Thus, CR claims that the Beatitudes are principles for addiction recovery.

This interpretation, however, incorrectly understands the Beatitudes by removing them out of their context and interpreting them in an eisegetical manner. As such, CR imposes a meaning other than the authorial intent upon the text. When Christ preached the Beatitudes, he did not intend for them to be a protocol for recovery. Neither are they “ways to be happy” (12). Instead, the Beatitudes are descriptions of kingdom citizens; of individuals having been saved by God’s grace. Commentators agree that the Beatitudes describe the common characteristics of true believers (e.g. John Blanchard, 54; James Boice, 74; D.A. Carson, 128, 132; D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, 1:24; Charles Quarles, 39). Jesus begins this great sermon by turning the common understanding of those in God’s favor on its head. The Pharisees, who largely set the religious/spiritual tone of the day, would have propagated the photo-negative of the Beatitudes, and, thus, an incorrect understanding of the believer. For this reason, Jesus brings clarity to the scene with these corrections. 

Specifically, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (Matt. 5:3) is not a recovery principle, teaching that “I’m not God…powerless to control my tendency to do the wrong thing and that my life is unmanageable” (9). Instead, Jesus teaches that one certain evidence of the true believer is a poverty of spirit. The word “poor” was used to describe abject poverty and a raggedly covered (if covered at all) beggar, cowered over with head down and hand out (TDNT, 6:886), while “in spirit” refers to our moral/spiritual state. The idea is that the sinner has come to terms with God’s towering moral standards for humanity; absolute perfection (cf.Matt. 5:48). Further, he understands that, having rebelliously and flagrantly violated God’s holy law, he deserves to endure the righteous wrath of God in hell for eternity. Thus, he comes to God, as nothing more than a head down, hand out, moral beggar, with zero moral/spiritual contribution to God except sin. Being morally filthy, the sinner depends entirely on God’s mercy if he is going to be acceptable to God. So, Matthew 5:3 does not teach a principle for recovering from addictions, but that true believers understand that they cannot earn God’s favor from their impressive moral wealth, but have only earned his wrath by their offensive moral filth.  Continue reading

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13 Responses to An Analysis of Celebrate Recovery Addictions Program

  1. Friend March 3, 2016 at 8:39 pm #

    They make merchandise of God’s Word. How very sad I feel for them (RW and co-authors).

  2. Russell Cronk March 4, 2016 at 6:32 pm #

    Is there an alternative that is more Biblically based version of Celebrate Recovery? A man invited me to it, and some things I liked about it. However, anytime there is Rick Warren and his Saddleback congregation involved, I balk at getting more into it due to the history of twisting scripture.

    • josh March 5, 2016 at 9:36 pm #

      Check out Recovery Reformation.

  3. Rauk March 5, 2016 at 12:39 am #

    I desperately tried to find Jesus in the recovery steps but could not find him. Oh yes, they mentioned “God” but even Mormons and Jehova witness mention “God”

  4. Jerry Hutcheson March 5, 2016 at 5:56 pm #

    I have had totally different results from Celebrate Recovery and would recommend it to any one. I have seen addictions brought under control, have seen fathers helped with addictions then start going to church and bring their whole families and the whole family get saved. I don’t agree with Rick Warren on a lot of things but this program works and the HolybSpirit uses those scriptures to deal with people. It is very easy to hide behind sanctimonious pomp and Pharisiac hearts and judge programs and people but why not tell what you are doing to help.

    • Darrel March 6, 2016 at 12:17 pm #

      Sorry to see you caught up in this unbiblical nonsense. The one thing that Rick Warren, CR, and even Mr. Davis have left out is genuine repentance and an explanation of the effects it has on the one who was given the repentance as a gift from God in the first place. Here’s a nut shell result of genuine repentance: if your sin is not now repugnant to you then you have not really repented, but are only caught up in some sort of remorse for being “busted” and the fear you MAY feel is that of it’s consequences and not a fear of God whom you have sinned against. 2 Cor. 7:10-12 gives very specific evidence of genuine repentance and the effects it has on a believer. It produces ‘diligence’ to be sure no sin is left still covered by a ‘fig leaf’ of denial; ‘clearing of yourselves’ is round two of being sure nothing remains of any known sin; ‘indignation’ toward yourself for having sinned against God; ‘fear’ that you may return to your favorite sin out of rebellion; ‘vehement desire’ to please God in all things and lay down your sins and the pleasure of them before your Savior; ‘zeal’ so as to always keep yourself in check, away from sin and it’s pleasures; and ‘vindication’ not of yourself, but on God’s behalf because He is once again proven to be right and righteous in all that He does.
      People are “addicted” to things because they like it, and refuse to seek God for His help to remove their illicit desires forever—-they would rather have the pleasure of their sin, no matter the cost. This is where RW, and his CR have failed—miserably. They have NEVER presented the Gospel, only their own convoluted fantasies of how things ought to be in their make believe world. And that is what makes RW and all his co-hearts the consummate Pharisees of our day, hypocrites, pretenders, and frauds.

      In answer to your last statement “why not tell what you are doing to help”, I’m telling you the truth as found in the Scriptures. You gave such a positive outlook on CR, almost as if there are few if any failures. But the Scriptures teach that all man’s efforts will fail and the result of the failure will be worse for the man that depends upon his own efforts. Luke 12:43-45. If the Gospel of Christ is left out of any “program” you can be assured that program DID NOT originate with God, nor will it be ‘blessed’ by Him. RW and CR go to great lengths to exclude the Gospel of Christ and the power of His resurrection despite their prolific use of “Christian-ese” speech and the quoting/misuse of Scripture. Have you ever heard him or anyone connected to RW/CR say “For sin shall not have dominion over you…”? The Holy Spirit said it through Paul—Rom. 6;14, but RW and company would rather make merchandise of the masses and have them play the “victim card” and be FOREVER subservient to their programs and dictates*****************no thank you. Warren would have a man wallow in self pity (be a victim) and call it a boast to his self-esteem rather than point him to the only One who can not only forgive a man’s sin, but DELIVER him from the power of those sins (Rom. 6:6 and Col. 1:13). Those who are saved know these things from day one of their regeneration. Those that are pretenders have no clue.

      • Lyn March 8, 2016 at 1:55 pm #

        Amen Darrel, it is all unbiblical nonsense. As if man can free someone from the bondage of sin. To state that addictions have been ‘brought under control’ is utter foolishness. Sin cannot be tamed or brought under control by mortal men.

        As for whole families being saved, most churches in this country do not even preach the true gospel. They tell sinners Jesus loves them, invite Him into your heart, make your decision, choose Jesus, get baptized, etc. They present a works-based gospel, which is no gospel at all. The fundamental truths of scripture are no longer taught, therefore we have superficial Christians who spew out they’re saved because they say they are and have NO clue what it means to be born again by God! There has never been an inward change that manifests itself by good fruit.

        If you speak out bibically against this type of nonsense, you are labeled ‘pharisee’, or ‘judgmental’. These types of Christians that like to point their fingers at others and label are the very ones who’ve made a profession of Christ but do NOT possess Him. They defend this unbiblical nonsense because they have no discernment. God have mercy on America, a nation seeped in false religiosity where everybody is a ‘Christian’ because they say they are! We are in desperate need of an Elijah, Apostle Paul, John the Baptist, or Jonah type of man that truly has been regenerated by God, empowered by the Spirit, trembles at His word, and will stand up and proclaim the whole counsel of God as well as speak out biblically against nonsense like celebrate recovery!

      • PHILIP LEWIS April 20, 2017 at 5:43 am #

        Have you actually read all the material? RW does speak of repentance, and the Jesus is the only higher power. But I do agree that the message is watered down. But the steps that are put together still have biblical basis, though the Gospel and the delivering power of Christ would need to be much more emphasized. A vehicle is only as good as its driver, so I would not recommend this program be used unless by someone thoroughly grounded in Scripture, and who would emphasize repentance and faith in Christ alone. I don’t care for what RW has become, and the direction he has taken. But perhaps one should not be so quick to “throw out the baby with the bath water”. Having said all that, I led a man who had been a drunk for 12yrs to the Lord and prayed with him for deliverance; he was delivered, and never touched the stuff again! He was instantly changed! No 12-step program needed. People really need to get back to believing in the transforming power of Christ through true repentance and faith. However, in working with a lot of people, a structured program might be needed to help “walk out” that healing and recovery.

      • betty October 30, 2020 at 5:20 pm #

        celebrate recovery is a cult, and slavery. try to leave it and see what happens. you will be branded as one who has gone back to alchohal or drugs even though you havent. they will send out emails to all the members to not have anything to do with you because you are not attending cr. you will be shunned.

  5. Lyn March 8, 2016 at 1:18 pm #

    Why do so many need a step based recovery program? ALL sin is a bondage, including addictions. There is NO man made program that can free a sinner from his/her bondage to sin, there’s only ONE who can set us free from the grasp of sin, for sin overpowers all sinners.
    What program should be recommended? None. Repent and believe in the Gospel, cry out for mercy and forgiveness. Stop wasting time and money on man made programs that cannot free sinners from their bondages.

    “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin.” John 8:34

    If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.” John 8:36

    ” Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?” Romans 6:16

    Sin dominates the sinner and overpowers all. Only a omnipotent, omniscient God has the power to free the sinner. How do I know? Because He freed me of my sins, including drunkenness.

  6. Ricky December 22, 2016 at 1:21 am #

    The most dangerous thing I’ve read on this subject is some people claiming they know who is saved for eternity and who isn’t. Luke 15:11-32 (NIV) , Jesus clearly said the father had two sons. One that walked the walk and one that fell to sin. The son repented and the father ran to meet his son and helped him heal. The lost son was the fathers son before he fell and remained his son while he lived in sin. The father never disowned his fallen son. Jesus was clearly teaching that once saved always saved. Both sons remained his sons no matter what.
    No one can judge who is saved and who isn’t because the person has fallen in life or the person is attending a program that others interpret as not biblical. The sinner on the cross, beside Jesus , wasn’t taught all the scripture that some say church’s don’t teach. The sinner simply asked Jesus to save him and Jesus said your faith has made you whole.
    Anything that’s not biblical in the CR program should be pointed out and discussed but to claim you know who Jesus has not saved is very dangerous. These kind of statements turn away so many non believers.
    Any CR program should teach that only Jesus can heal someone from addiction or any other sin. We also know that God can and does work through others to help us. Wouldnt it be wise for these people to attend meetings like CR and have a program to help them learn how to live a life free of sins that destroy lives and family’s ? To learn how to forgive themselves , to love themselves as Christ loves them. The step programs are not about earning any kind of grace or favor (works) in Gods eyes. They are all about getting help from the sins that are destroying us. We go to Sunday school class to learn and share what God has taught us.
    The bottom line / Get help from other Christians / Jesus told us to help others find the narrow way. And we should learn and be taught how to forgive ourselves. Many saved people have been forgiven by Jesus but never learned to free themselves of their past. Secrets grow in the dark and die by the light. Get help and get the past out of the dark and let Gods light shine. I know , I was the saved son that fell into darkness and through other Christians and prayer I found my way back to Jesus. God The Father took me in and helped me heal through others that he had waiting on me. I left God but he never left me. And this I know.

  7. David April 1, 2020 at 9:24 pm #

    I’m 54 years old . I basically drank everyday for 40 years. I go to Cr and agree some scripture is not spot on. But not to the point where it is unpleaseing to our lord. Addictions are not an easy thing to overcome. For those who have never experienced a hang up or addiction should not even be speaking!!! It’s called fellowship!!! It’s a place knowing your not alone and cannot be done on your own…. I’ve been six months dry today. I give all the praise and glory to the spirit which moved that mountain for me. And am a big believer in Cr and the fellowship that broke the chains that shackled me for so long. I am a sinner like everyone else walking this rock we live on.

  8. Ben April 19, 2021 at 10:11 am #

    I attended CR for a while and found it excruciatingly annoying. I cringed whenever I’d hear someone say, “I’m (insert name), and I’m a grateful follower of Jesus Christ!!” The “worship music” was embarrassing, to say the very least. If I want to hear horrid music, I’ll search out Captain Beefheart on YouTube. Besides that, the “pick and choose” usage of Bible verses made the whole thing pretty disingenuous and cheesy. If it involves anything “Purpose-Driven”, you should avoid it like a sexually transmitted disease.