Monday, October 17, 2011

Dr. William D. Silkworth, His Advice about the “Great Physician,” Bill W.’s Decision for Jesus Christ, and the Oxford Group

Dick B.

© 2011 Anonymous. All rights reserved

 Excerpt from forthcoming The Dick B. Christian Recovery Guide, 4th ed.

Many do not know a number of important facts about Rowland Hazard, Dr. William D. Silkworth, Ebby Thacher, and Bill Wilson. It has now been researched and documented, that a decision for Jesus Christ was part and parcel of the solution that was tendered to Bill before his “white light” experience at Towns Hospital. And Bill had responded by going to Calvary Mission in New York, making a decision for Jesus Christ, and writing that, for sure, he had been “born again.” Bill soon staggered on drunk to Towns Hospital and – after calling on the “Great Physician”—had the well-known “white light experience” that gave rise to the A.A. “Solution.”

We now know from the writings of T. Willard Hunter and also Jay S. that: (1) After consulting with Dr. Carl G. Jung, Rowland Hazard returned to the United States and made a decision for Jesus Christ. (2) He evidently passed this solution along to Ebby Thacher—in addition to teaching Ebby the Oxford Group’s principles and practices. Ebby was then lodged in Calvary Mission. And there, Ebby made a decision for Jesus Christ that preceded Ebby’s witnessing visit to Bill W. This series of events caused Bill to conclude and say that Ebby had been “reborn.”

Just before Ebby visited Bill, Dr. William D. Silkworth (a devout Christian) had told Bill Wilson on his third visit to Towns Hospital that if he did not quit drinking, Bill would die or go insane.

Silkworth also told Bill that the “Great Physician” Jesus Christ could cure Bill. And Silkworth was known to have given this same prescription about the “Great Physician” to at least one other patient, known to Dr. Norman Vincent Peale.

Acting on the information about the decisions made by Rowland and by Ebby, and the information received from Dr. Silkworth, Bill came to believe that the “Great Physician” Jesus Christ could cure him too. Bill went to the same Calvary Mission where Ebby had been reborn; and Bill there made a decision for Jesus Christ also. Bill wrote that he had been born again for sure.

[The full details, with documented footnotes, are set forth in the forthcoming Christian Recovery Guide, 4th edition, which is now a work in progress]

There was also an undeniable Oxford Group component in the information Bill had been receiving from Rowland Hazard, and two other Oxford Group members Cebra Graves and Shep Cornell. And he then, or soon, heard extensive Oxford Group details from Rev. Sam Shoemaker, who was to become, in Bill’s words, a “co-founder” of A.A.

It was from Rowland Hazard, Ebby Thacher, Reverend Sam Shoemaker, Jr., and the Oxford Group meetings in New York that Bill was regularly hearing the Oxford Group life-changing principles. However, he was also learning from Rowland Hazard, Dr. William D. Silkworth, and Ebby Thacher the necessary importance of a decision for Jesus Christ—whom Silkworth frequently called “the Great Physician.” And this historical observation was made by the author of Silkworth’s biography who said:

Silkworth has not been given the appropriate credit for his position on a spiritual conversion, particularly as it may relate to true Christian benefits. Several sources, including Norman Vincent Peale in his book The Positive Power of Jesus Christ, agree that it was Dr. Silkworth who used the term “The Great Physician” to explain the need in recovery for a relationship with Jesus Christ. If true, this reference to Jesus has all but been eliminated from the Alcoholics Anonymous history. In the formation of AA, Wilson initially insisted on references to God and Jesus, as well as the Great Physician. As the AA fellowship grew, however, other members persuaded Bill that a purely Christian format would alienate many, keeping potential members from joining the group. Silkworth challenged the alcoholic with an ultimatum. Once hopeless, the alcoholic would grasp hold of any chance of sobriety. Silkworth, a medical doctor, challenged the alcoholic with a spiritual conversion and a relationship with God as part of a program of recovery. His approach with Bill Wilson was no different.[1]

It is now not surprising to see, from Bill Wilson’s own autobiography, how Bill Wilson picked up on the “Great Physician” language and solution. Bill mentioned the “Great Physician” three different times.[2] And this was in company with remarks about religious conversion and religious experience, conversion experience, being born again, and cure.[3]

The Oxford Group had no “steps.”[4] It had no “old fashioned prayer meetings” such as those the original Akron A.A. “Christian Fellowship” conducted.[5] It had no major focus on Bible study, hospitalization, and outreach to drunks such as that which was required in Akron.[6] While it originally spoke frequently about Jesus Christ, it shied away from the idea of “conversion” and adopted the idea that a person was “changed” when he followed Oxford Group precepts. He must “change.”[7]

On the other hand, when Bill Wilson actually wrote his Big Book and Twelve Steps, he used many Oxford Group words and phrases; codified many of the Oxford Group life-changing techniques; and often referred to the Oxford Group contributions to A.A. ideas.[8] In short, as he fashioned his Big Book ideas and Steps, Bill W. seemingly returned to Bill’s earliest sober days and the East Coast Oxford Group ideas he had heard with daily frequency before he met Dr. Bob in the summer of 1935.

And there were, in fact, some 28 Oxford Group ideas that impacted on the A.A. of 1939.[9]

[1] Dale Mitchel, Silkworth: The Little Doctor Who Loved Drunks (Center City, MN: Hazelden, 2002), 50.
[2] Bill W.: My First 40 Years (Center City, MN: Hazelden, 2000), 139, 145.
[3] Bill W.: My First 40 Years, 125, 138, 147. 148.
[4] “According to Bill, their word of mouth program had thus far been a pretty consistent procedure, containing six steps to achieve and maintain their sobriety. There is no evidence that the Oxford Group had such a specific program.” “Pass It On,” 197. “In later years, some A.A. members referred to this procedure as the six steps of the Oxford Group. Reverend T. Willard Hunter, who spent 18 years in full time staff positions for the Oxford Group and M.R.A., said, ‘I never once saw or heard anything like the Six Tenets. It would be impossible to find them in any Oxford Group-M.R.A. literature.’” “Pass It On,” 206.
[5] See the characterization of the meetings by Clarence Snyder’s wife Dorothy as “a regular old-fashioned prayer meeting.” DR. BOB, 101.
[6] See Dick B., The Oxford Group & Alcoholics Anonymous: A Design for Living That Works, 3rd ed. (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 1998).
[7]  See Dick B., Turning Point: A History of Early A.A.’s Spiritual Roots and Successes (San Rafael, CA: Paradise Research Publications, 1997), 56, 334,-35, 403.
[8] See the comments of Jared C. Lobdell, This Strange Illness: Alcoholism and Bill W. (New York, NY: Aldine DeGruyter, 2004), 271, 75.
[9] See Dick B., The Oxford Group & Alcoholics Anonymous, 3rd ed.

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