Addiction. Lust. Guilt. Doubt. Anger. Shame. Fear.
The problems that plague the human condition are legion, stubborn, and often overwhelming. Is there really hope for change? we wonder, terrified of the answer.
Matt Chandler’s new book intends to address these besetting struggles and unsettling questions. Co-authored with Michael Snetzer, recovery groups pastor at The Village Church in Texas, Recovering Redemption: A Gospel-Saturated Perspective on How to Change (B&H) is a manual for life change that offers a refreshing alternative to the kind of “become a better you” drivel available on a self-help shelf near you.
I corresponded with Chandler, lead pastor of The Village and president of Acts 29, about the how his church has used this material, how it’s personally affected him, and more.
What is Recovering Redemption about?
We wrote the book because of what we saw in the lives of people here at The Village—which has been confirmed through my experience as I’ve traveled and interacted with others—that there seems to be a disjunction between people’s external struggles and their ability to track them back to heart-level issues. So Recovering Redemption is about creating a biblical pathway to help people see that the issues they struggle with almost always have heart-level roots that need to be addressed.
We’ve found people tend to spend all their energy and strength working on external issues rather than internal ones. In reality, though, it’s internal issues getting solved through the person and work of Jesus that leads to victory over those external issues.
What sorts of struggles does the book address?
In the book and in the curriculum we address fear, anxiety, anger, lust, guilt, shame, and doubt. We tackle a gamut of issues, even explaining the process of forgiveness and reconciliation (for example, when to forgive but not necessarily to reconcile).
What is your biblical–theological approach in the book?
Biblically and theologically what we want to show in the book—which is what we aim to practice at The Village—is that we all start at the same common ground because we’re all broken and struggling in a broken world. Regardless of whether our struggle is anger, anxiety, sexual sin, drugs and alcohol, or something else, it all comes from being in a broken world in desperate need of a salvation we can’t bring about ourselves. In fact, the more we try to create our own salvation through our efforts and works, the more we smear the mess rather than allowing someone more capable than we are to actually clean the mess.
Recovering Redemption explains that the gospel, through the person and work of Jesus Christ, is the only way that the mess of our hearts can be ultimately repaired. From there we lean into the ongoing work of sanctification in our hearts, where we repeatedly remember the finished work of Jesus in order to seek internal transformation for our external struggles.
How has The Village Church used Recovering Redemption?
When I first got to The Village I had in mind a specific type of church I wanted us to be. I come from a background where there was some abuse and some neglect, so I always found a lot of Christian circles unsettling. It seemed like the church lacked an ability to be honest about weakness, and wasn’t a safe place to be honest about struggle. So, as best I could by the power of the Holy Spirit, I wanted to show from the Word of God that the people of God should be open and honest in their struggles. Our weaknesses are so often part of how God chisels and moves and grows our confidence in him.
When I started preaching on the confession of sin and the safety found in confession, I realized the overwhleming amount of hurt, fear, anxiety, shame, and addiction in our church. In those little moments of confession, after church or even during a service, we found countless men and women who had deep, systemic struggles. So we set out to create a discipleship program specifically for the person stuck in the cycles of what we used to call “secret sin.”
From there, we built out our Recovery ministry. We actually started with Celebrate Recovery, a ministry of Saddleback Church. Their curriculum showed up in my inbox one day, and we decided to run with it. As we updated and adjusted the content to fit our ministry, we decided to move away from calling it Celebrate Recovery. So, we just called it Recovery, which eventually birthed this book. That’s been our history, and it’s been a gritty one. I’m grateful to God for the number of men and women who’ve found freedom from issues the secular world says there’s no freedom from outside of death.
Many churches seem to have difficulty helping people recover from substance abuse, divorce, anger, and so on. How does Recovering Redemption address this struggle?
Some churches struggle with helping people because those situations are difficult; they take time and are messy. I don’t know where it came from—maybe even the pit of hell—but at some point there began this idea that the church was to be this really pretty group of people. True, we should always be moving toward maturity, but if the church continues to see converts to Christianity, then that means there are always babies around, and anyone with children knows that a house full of children is not always neat and orderly. There’s almost always a mess somewhere that needs to be addressed, training that needs to take place, conversations that need to be initiated. When you’re dealing with men and women who are struggling, there’s an inherent messiness. I think some churches find it easier to pretend the mess isn’t there, but that’s not helpful for anyone. It’s not helpful for the people in that church who think they’re clean, and it’s not helpful for those who need to hear the good news of Christ—forgiveness and grace.
I hope Recovering Redemption helps churches create environments where it’s okay to not be okay, while simultaneously saying it’s not okay to stay there.
How did this message affect you personally as you taught it?
The message started affecting me at the moment of my conversion. I come from a background where my father was abusive in just about every way you could be abusive, and my mother was religious in just about any way you could be religious. I believe the freedom I’ve found in and over lust, in and over anger—in and over stuff that’s haunted Chandler men going back as far as we can trace it—just makes me come alive when I get to preach these things. I want to plead with people to trust the Lord in the midst of them. I’ve been encouraged over and over by the truths in this book. In fact, they’re the bedrock on which I’m trying to live out my Christian faith.