Celebrate Recovery Founder John Baker, Who Shifted Evangelicals’ Approach to Addiction, Dies at 72

Celebrate Recovery founder John Baker, who turned his testimony recovering from alcoholism into a biblical 12-step program used by more than 7 million people, died unexpectedly on Tuesday at age 72.

Baker’s ministry began in 1991 at Saddleback Church in California and has spread to 35,000 churches nationwide over the decades. Celebrate Recovery is credited with helping destigmatize addiction among evangelicals and opening the church up as a safer place for recovery.

“Thirty years ago John Baker turned the ruins of his life over to Jesus Christ and God transformed him from a driven businessman with an addiction to alcohol, a failing marriage, and alienated children to a Christ-follower with a passion to help others with their ‘hurts, habits, and hang-ups’ through the principles of recovery,” wrote Kay Warren, cofounder of Saddleback Church and a mental health advocate. “There is simply no way to put into words how I love John and will miss this kind, creative, brilliant and faithful man.”

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Evangelical leader Johnnie Moore, whose family previously belonged to Saddleback Church when living in California, remembered Baker’s commitment to “saving the lives of the people whom God loves.”

“He became a doctor of hope for those whose lives were caught in vicious cycles of guilt, shame, and failure. With God’s help, he showed again and again that those cycles can be broken,” he said. “Pastor John was never content just to save souls. He wanted to also save lives, now. It isn’t just the impact he had on individual lives but on all of those who loved those who decided to walk into a Celebrate Recovery meeting.”

Baker was raised in Collinsville, Illinois. He shares in his testimony that he grew up a believer in a Baptist church but struggled with feelings of unworthiness. He partied in college at the University of Missouri and as an officer in the air force, and his drinking habit grew as his career in business took off in his 30s.

Eventually Baker considered himself a “functioning alcoholic,” turning his back on God and separating from his wife. When he hit his bottom, he began attending daily AA meetings, working through the steps, and finding hope in a God who loved him unconditionally.

His efforts to make amends to his wife, Cheryl, as part of the 12 steps led to him attending Saddleback Church with her, hearing Rick Warren preach, and renewing their marriage vows in a span of months.

Baker immediately saw the need to connect the gospel with the recovery program he had gone through. “In my men’s small group I couldn’t talk about my struggle, and at AA, I couldn’t talk about my Savior,” since the program speaks in more secular terms about a Higher Power, he told CT in 2016.

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Source: Christianity Today


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