A Letter Asking about the Relationship of A.A. to the Oxford Group & A.A.’s Roots
Copyright 2012. Anonymous. All rights reserved
Thank you for writing. Your question is an important one. And the answer is clouded by years of countervailing opinions (not facts). The opinions that mean the least are those found in the “wisdom of the rooms”—where people have picked up this statement or that, failed to research it, or discarded any quest at all. Next in order are the opinions of religious people motivated more by their prejudices than by any substantial knowledge of or research on the subject facts. Next are the atheists and humanists who would rather throw rocks at Bill and Bob and Frank Buchman than they would to get the facts and report them correctly. Oddly, one highly prejudiced atheist pulls Bill apart at the seams, but recommends my Akron Genesis book as being well researched and accurate. But twenty-six years of continuous active participation in and sobriety through A.A., plus about twenty-three years of research, writing, reading, visits, interviews, and gathering of books and papers have enabled a respectable, helpful picture to be portrayed. Once again, however, a religious historian who says frankly he never read the Oxford Group books and never went to Akron misses no chance to call me a hobbyist, an amateur, and one or two other less complimentary names. But ad hominem name calling doesn’t fill in the factual void. And I believe this reply will let you see the elements involved.
I would be glad to have you phone me here in Maui and I can fill in some of the blanks. But I do not like making statements to people concerning certain facts when they have not read my books, articles, footnotes, and bibliographies or visited the archives, libraries, and repositories as I have been doing.
My own quest began in 1990 when I went to the Seattle Convention with only one question in mind: “Did A.A. come from the Bible?” A young man who belonged to my Bible fellowship said it had and referred me to DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers where the biblical roots are clearly stated—although there are many threads underlying those roots. At Seattle, I went to the archives meeting and quickly learned that the panelists had no significant information. But I did meet Frank Mauser, who was GSO archivist and who soon helped me immeasurably as I pieced the puzzle together through the years—one subject at a time. And then I realized how many different AAs there were, that there was and is no “monolithic” A.A., and that one must not have “contempt prior to investigation.”
Here are several points that can be helpful to you and are thoroughly documented in my published titles and articles as well as the historical materials I have donated to the Wilson House, North Congregational Church in St. Johnsbury, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Akron, Calvary Episcopal Church in Pittsburgh, the archivist at Dr. Bob’s Home in Akron, and the newly refurbished Gate Lodge on the Seiberling Estate in Akron (where Bill and Bob were introduced to each other by Henrietta Seiberling).
First, the seeds of A.A. ideas grew long before there was an A.A. or an Oxford Group. And the best and most simple document on that is The Co-Founders of Alcoholics Anonymous: Biographical Sketches Their Last Major Talks. And I’m not talking about the “Washingtonians,” the “Emanuel Movement,” Courtney Baylor, or Emmet Fox. In the 1850’s there was a dearth of Christian devotion in Vermont where both Bob and Bill were born and raised. At the same time, the Temperance Movement had appeared on the scene; and there were several Christian events and organizations which laid out various aspects of First Century Christianity (as laid out in the Book of Acts) and used them to help drunks get well). In very very brief form, they were: (1) The Great Evangelists like Dwight L. Moody, Ira Sankey, F. B. Meyer, Henry Drummond, Robert E. Speer, Allen Folger, and others. And they tended to flow toward Moody’s Mount Hermon acreage in Northfield, Mass—very near the Vermont border. Almost all these men had interlocking interests in the Young Men’s Christian Association, United Christian Endeavor Society, Salvation Army, and Gospel Rescue Missions. And they healed drunks—often in the streets and with a simple technique that was to personify the later A.A.—qualifying the suffering soul as convinced he was licked, insisting that he believe in God and come to Him through Jesus Christ, using the Bible as authority for religious truth. He was to grow spiritually through prayer meetings, Bible study, Quiet Time, and r eading Christ ian literature. Once healed, he was t o go out and help others get well by the same means. See, for example, DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers, page 131. (2) Because of the dead religious action in Vermont about 1860, the YMCA brethren and Christian churches put together The Great Awakening of 1875 in St. Johnsbury. Dr. Bob’s parents were married at this time. Bob was born shortly thereafter. And the entire community was transformed, with churches springing up all over the little village. (3) Meanwhile Jerry McAuley and S.H. Hadley were helping drunks get well at the altar by t he thousands; and Bill himself went t o a successor (Sam Shoemaker’s Calvary Mission) in New York and was born again, said so, and sought God’s help shortly thereafter at Towns Hospital. (4) The Salvation Army under General Booth worked in the streets at first . A burly Salvationist would approach a drunk in the gutter, offer him salvation, the Bible, and a helping hand, and—when he was healed—insist that he join “God’s Army” and help others the same way. (5) In 1881, United Christian Endeavor Society was founded in a Congregational Church in Maine. It was denominational and designed to bring the young people back into the church. The techniques were: Conversion meetings, prayer meetings, Bible study meetings, topical discussion of Christian literature, social comradeship, and affiliation with the church itself. There was some interest in Temperance as well.
Second, those were t he diverse seeds; and they were directed at helping drunks. No Washingtonians (they didn’t believe in God). No Oxford Group (It didn’t exist). No A.A. at all. Reliance on God. Conversion to Him through Christ. Bible. Prayer. Quiet Hour. Sermons. Parental Influence. Hymns. Sunday school. Collaborative YMCA activity. And rigid Congregational church training at St. Johnsbury Academy (for Dr. Bob), Burr and Burton Academy in Manchester (for Bill and his friend Ebby), and Norwich Military Academy (for Bill and Ebby—Norwich allowed attendance at one of several churches. Daily chapel with Scripture reading, prayer, hymns and sermons was required. YMCA affiliation at the Academy was required ( Bill was President at Burr and Burton) (Dr Bob’s father was President in St. Johnsbury). Bill was required to take a four year Bible study at Burr and Burton. Bill’s girl friend was YWCA President; and the two went to “Y” activities hand-in-hand. Dr. Bob specifically stated that he had had excellent training in the Bible as a youngster in Vermont. And he, like Bill, got it from his parents, his Sunday school, his church, the sermons, the creed and confession, the hymns, prayer meetings, Bible studies, Christian Endeavor, YMCA events, and the emphasis in the Congregational Churches on the authority of the Bible and the necessity for salvation through a new birth
Third, there is an important event which heavily influenced the required acceptance of Christ in later A.A. Bill’s grandfather Willie Wilson had a severe drinking problem. He went to the top of Mount Aeolus in East Dorset Vermont; cried out to God for help; was saved; ran down to the pulpit of t he little church; told them all of the event. And never drank again for the rest of his life.
You may know that both Rev. Samuel M. Shoemaker, Jr., Rector of Calvary Episcopal Church in New York and much involved in the later Oxford Group; as well as Dr. Frank N. D. Buchman (who founded the Oxford Group about 1919) had extensive work with students in the Young Men’s Christian Association. And in those days, Y was synonymous with Bible, Quiet Time, prayer meetings, conversions, revivals, and healings.
If you’ve wondered why the Big Book contains so many biblical words and phrases such as God, Creator, Maker, Heavenly Father, Father, Father of Lights, Love thy neighbor, Faith without works Is dead, and Thy will be done, there should be no mystery as to why Bob and Bill used such language.
Fourth, when Bill met Bob, Bill had been going to Oxford Group meetings in New York, and Dr. Bob had joined a little group on Wednesdays at the T. Henry Williams Home in Akron. These groups did not much resemble Oxford Group story telling, witnessing, and the like. They f ocused on helping drunks. And many Oxford Group people felt that this was a distraction.
Fifth, finally the Akron Christian Fellowship program was founded in 1935. No Big Book. No Steps. No drunkalogs. No Traditions. No Oxford Group (except for the Wednesday nite meeting). Hospitalizaton. Working with drunks, prayer meetings, Quiet Time, Bible studies, morning teachings by Anne Smith at the Smith Home each morning. And t hey had a claimed 75 % success rate by November of 1937.
Bill had gone back to New York in 1935, been active with the Oxford Group, teamed up with Hank Parkhurst to make money on a book, and got permission from Akron to write it. The personal stories were the Akron program. And the non-existent steps were the focus of the front portion of the book.
Who wrote the Big Book? Dr. Bob did not write the Big Book or the Steps. And he said so. Bill dictated most of it to his secretary Ruth Hock. Bill holed up with Rev. Sam Shoemaker and worked out a program that much resembled the Oxford Group’s life-changing program.
Later, Bill wrote in an article found today in The Language of the Heart that there were three sources: (1) Dr. Silkworth on the 1st Step. (2) Professor William James on the 12t h step’s “vital religious experience.” (3) Shoemaker on the rest of the Steps. Dr. Bob said the basic idea (which can be construed as those in the personal stories) came from the Bible with particular emphasis on the Book of James, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, and 1 Corinthians 13. Bill and Bob both said that Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount contained the underlying spiritual philosophy of A.A.
Much of the language in the Big Book and Steps can be found in Anne Smith’s Journal.
There is much much more. And I would appreciate your doing the following:
1) Obtaining Pamphlet P-53 and reading it.
2) Obtaining DR. BOB and the Good Old timers and reading it.
3) Obtaining Dover Publications reprint of the First Edition of the Big Book with a lengthy introduction written by me, and the personal stories there before GSO later removed almost all of them
4) Obtaining The Good Book and the Big Book www.dickb.com/goodbook.shtml.
5) Obtaining The Oxford Group & Alcoholics Anonymous www.dickb.com/Oxford.shtml
6) Obtaining Good Morning: Quiet Time, Morning Watch, Meditation, and Early A.A. www.dickb.com/goodmorn.shtml
7) Obtaining New Light on Alcoholism: God, Sam Shoemaker, and A.A. www.dickb.com/newlight.shtml
8) Obtaining Dr. Bob of Alcoholics Anonymous: His Excellent Training in the Good Book as a Youngster in Vermont www.dickb.com/drbobofaa.shtml
9) Obtaining The Conversion of Bill W.: More on the Creator’s Role in Early A.A. www.dickb.com/conversion.shtml
10) Obtaining The Dick B. Christian Recovery Guide, 3rd ed., 2010
Sending me your name, address, phone, background info, and any URL.
Author, 46 titles & over 1,200 articles on A.A. History and the Christian Recovery Movement
Exec. Dir., International Christian Recovery Coalition
Christian Recovery Resource Centers - Worldwide
Christian Recovery Radio
PO Box 837, Kihei, HI 96753-0837
Ps 118:17 (NJB):
I shall not die, I shall live to recount the great deeds of Yahweh.
From: Dave H Sent: Monday, October 15, 2012 5:47 AM
Subject: The Oxford Group
I am looking for 1 book that will help me understand the Oxford Group and its intended or unintended effect upon Alcoholics Anonymous. As a sober memebr of AA for 21 years I am frustrated by what I see as alot of watered-down recovery. Hence I am on a quest to get to the roots of AA so i can help others with the same effectiveness as the First 100.
Thanks In Advance,