Thursday, July 17, 2014

Important Conversation about A.A. History and the Christian Beliefs of Bill W. and Dr. Bob

An Important Exchange of Questions and Answers Between Ken B. and “Paul” who is a major, active, recovered AA member in the Southwest USA. About Bill W., Dr. Bob, and their Christian beliefs.


Thank you for the quick, preliminary response. I look forward to your thoughts after you have had time to reflect on the information more fully. My dad (Dick B.--www. and I really appreciate your ongoing love and support for our work. Benefactors continue to make possible our ongoing research and publications of books, video classes, audio talks, conferences, etc.

In GOD's love,

Dick B.'s son, Ken

On Jul 15, 2014 7:00 AM, "paul  Oh my gosh thank you! This is awesome! In between meetings in soon


To: paul

Cc: Dick B.

Sent: Tuesday, July 15, 2014 7:02 AM

Subject: Paul

Aloha, Paul!

Thank you for your email message below.

I heard two surprising things on my trips with my dad to Founders Day in Akron, Ohio, in 1992 and 1993:

1. In Akron during Founders Day, it was very common to hear people being asked: "Are you a friend of Dr. Bob?"

2. Dr. Bob's daughter, Sue Smith Windows, liked to be at Dr. Bob's Home on 855 Ardmore Avenue in Akron during the Founders Day weekend in June. And she would say to people there: "There are two founders of A.A., you know."

As I believe you know, my dad's and my research and travels and interviews over the past 25 years--starting before A.A.'s International Convention in Seattle in 1990--began with the attempt to answer the question put to my dad: "Dick, did you know that A.A. came from the Bible?" By 1997, and with 10 books already published, we were able to answer "Yes" to that question based on thorough research. Our ongoing research of A.A.'s early history--mainly up to the publication of the first edition of Alcoholics Anonymous (the "Big Book") in April 1939--then began to move toward identifying and publishing the roles played by God, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Bible in early A.A.'s astonishing success among "seemingly-hopeless," "medically-incurable" alcoholics who thoroughly followed the early A.A. path. And today, we are focusing on sharing with interested people "the rest of the story" of A.A.'s early history so that they can carry an accurate message to alcoholics and addicts who still suffer today.

Over the years, my dad and I have come across many, many surprising pieces of information--particularly about the roles played by God, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Bible in early A.A.'s astonishing success--after having studied the two A.A. General Service Conference-approved books you mentioned in your email message (i.e., DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers and 'PASS IT ON').

I would like to expand on that thought through my responses interleaved with your comments below.

In GOD's love,

Dick B.'s son, Ken

On Mon, Jul 14, 2014 at 1:13 AM, paul

The AA Founders biographical books are amazing. Anyone in a 12 Step Recovery program, or anyone associated with members of that "Fellowship of the Spirit", (as it is so aptly named in the last sentence of the Book Alcoholics Anonymous on p 164) should take the time to read Dr Bob and the Good Old Timers, and Pass It On.

[Ken: You are absolutely right, Paul.

The A.A. General Service Conference-approved biography of A.A. cofounder Bill W.--'PASS IT ON': The Story of Bill Wilson and How the A.A. Message Reached the World--contains some gems. For example, we read of promises Bill wrote to Lois ". . . in the family Bible, the most sacred place he [Bill W.] knew . . ." on four separate occasions:

1.            October 20, 1928 [p. 81];

2.            Thanksgiving Day of 1928 (November 29) [p. 81];

3.            January 1929 [p. 81]; and

4.            September 3, 1930 [p. 86]

The A.A. General Service Conference-approved biography of A.A. cofounder Dr. Bob--DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers: A Biography, with Recollections of Early A.A. in the Midwest--contains many gems as well. You referred to one great example further down in your email message; i.e.:

"(Dr. Bob was always positive about his faith, Clarence [S., Dr. Bob's sponsee who founded the third A.A. group in the world in Cleveland on May 11, 1939] said. If someone asked him a question about the program, his usual response was: 'What does it say in the Good Book?' Suppose he was asked, 'What's all this "First Things First"?' Dr. Bob would be ready with the appropriate quotation: '"Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you."'" [p. 144]

Another example occurs on the very next page, on which Clarence's wife Dorothy is speaking about the wife of AA Number Three, Akron attorney Bill D. and is quoted as follows:

"I remember Henrietta D--------- talking about faith. The words were like a hammer, striking away all the fears when she said, 'God had a plan.'

        "I was never so exhilarated in all my life. I went home from that meeting, and for the first time in years, I got down on my knees. And I said, 'God, if you have a plan for me, I want that. I don't want any of my own plans.'" [p. 145]

Interestingly, on the web site, which continues to be periodically "beefed up" when it comes to A.A.'s history, we now find mention of four (4) A.A. General Service Conference-approved books in the "Archives and History" area (, in the "History and Resources" section (

1.            'PASS IT ON';

2.            DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers;

3.            Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age; and

4.            As Bill Sees It

Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age also contains many historical gems. For example, after Bill W. is quoted as saying that he ". . . had seen some kind of light . . ." at Calvary Mission; and that he had ". . . kept pondering that mission experience"; he is quoted as follows:

So if there was  a great Physician who could cure the alcoholic sickness, I had better seek Him now, at once. I had better find what my friend [Ebby] had found. [p. 61]

Even As Bill Sees It has an historical gem. On the page titled "No Personal Power," Bill W. speaks of the six-month period between his release from Towns Hospital in New York on December 18, 1934, and his meeting with Dr. Bob on Mother's Day, May 12, 1935, in Akron, Ohio. During this period, he very actively sought out drunks to help, with a Bible under his arm, with the message that the drunks needed to give their lives to God in order to be cured of their alcoholism, but without any lasting results. But here is Bill's view of that period:

"At first, the remedy for my personal difficulties seemed so obvious that I could not imagine any alcoholic turning the proposition down were it properly presented to him. Believing so firmly that Christ can do anything, I had the unconscious conceit to suppose that He would do everything through me--right then and in the manner I chose. After six months, I had to admit that not a soul had surely laid hold of the Master--not excepting myself." [p. 114; letter, 1940]

The Language of the Heart: Bill W.'s Grapevine Writings--which, although not an A.A. General Service Conference-approved publication, is published by the AA Grapevine, Inc.--also contains a number of historical gems. For example, note the exact language Bill uses in describing part of what happened during his final stay at Towns Hospital December 11-18, 1934, when his hospital room "blazed with an indescribably white light":

". . . then the great thought burst upon me: 'Bill, you are a free man! This is the God of the Scriptures.' And then I was filled with a consciousness of a presence. A great peace fell over me, and I was with this I don't know how long." [p. 184]

Could the words "Bill, you are a free man! This is the God of the Scriptures" have been revelation from God to Bill W.? Food for thought.]

These books, which are published by AA, contain the actual stories of the founders, the progression of their disease, and then the progression of their faith and recovery.

[Ken: The two A.A. General Service Conference-approved books you mentioned, Paul--'PASS IT ON' and DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers--do contain biographies of A.A.'s cofounders. But what about "the rest of the story"--the roles played by God, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Bible in early A.A.'s astonishing success among "seemingly-hopeless," "medically-incurable" alcoholics who thoroughly followed the early A.A. path? Here are some points to consider as to how thoroughly the two A.A. books you mentioned actually present the full picture of A.A.'s cofounders, Bill W. and Dr. Bob:

1.            DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers was published in 1980, about 30 years after A.A. cofounder Dr. Bob died on November 16, 1950. Just one observation--with several parts(!)--on this book for now. The book devotes eight (8) pages--i.e., from the middle of page 9 to the top of page 17 (with one of the pages being a full-page picture of Dr. Bob with no accompanying text)--to Dr. Bob's upbringing in St. Johnsbury from his birth on August 8, 1879 (page 9) to his graduation from St. Johnsbury Academy in mid-1898 and subsequent departure for Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, that fall (top of page 17). In contrast, my dad's and my 2008 biography of Dr. Bob during his childhood years--Dr. Bob of Alcoholics Anonymous: His Excellent Training in the Good Book as a Youngster in Vermont ( more than 300 pages to Dr. Bob's strong Christian upbringing in St. Johnsbury. Note the following statement by Dr. Bob in his last major talk given in Detroit, Michigan, in December 1948, of which a transcript is provided in the A.A. General Service Conference-approved pamphlet The Co-Founders of Alcoholics Anonymous (item # P-53: "I [Dr. Bob] had refreshed my memory of the Good Book [since joining A First Century Christian Fellowship (aka: "the Oxford Group") in 1933], and I had had excellent training in that as a youngster." [pp. 11-12]

2.            'PASS IT ON' was published in 1984, about 13 years after A.A. cofounder Bill W. died on January 24, 1971. Again, just one observation--with several parts(!)--on this book for now. The book devotes 24 pages--i.e., from the middle of page 13 to the middle of page 37 (with four pages and part of a fifth in that chapter being comprised of pictures with almost no explanatory text)--to Bill W.'s upbringing in Vermont from his birth on November 26, 1895, to his failure to graduate from Burr and Burton Seminary in the late spring/early summer of 1913. And yet there is no specific reference to East Dorset Congregational Church situated on the lawn between the Wilson House and the Griffith House. Nor of the relationships of his paternal and maternal grandparents, and of his parents, to that church. And there is no mention of Bill's perfect attendance at Sunday school in that church for the final quarter of the year in 1906. Nor of his having to take a required, four-year Bible course at Burr and Burton Seminary. Nor of his being president of the Young Men's Christian Association at Burr and Burton Seminary. And the list goes on. Those facts and others led to my dad's writing his biography of 2006 biography of Bill W., titled The Conversion of Bill W.: More on the Creator's Role in Early A.A. ( To provide further details that we learned about A.A.'s cofounders, we published Bill W. and Dr. Bob, the Green Mountain Men of Vermont: The Roots of Early A.A.'s Original Program in 2012.]

Dr Bob is quite clear about the spiritual foundation of the fellowship being the Bible,

[Ken: Absolutely, Paul. As Dr. Bob put it in The Co-Founders of Alcoholics Anonymous: "In early A.A. days, . . . our stories didn't amount to anything to speak of. When we [Bill W. and Dr. Bob] started in on Bill D. [AA Number Three, Akron attorney Bill D.], we had no Twelve Steps, either; we had no Traditions. But we were convinced that the answer to our problems was in the Good Book. To some of us older ones, the parts we found absolutely essential were the Sermon on the Mount, the thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians, and the Book of James." [page 13] ]

and his common response to anyone inquiring about living problems or seeking guidance in sobriety was "What does the Good Book say?"

[Ken: Again, Paul, right on the money. The following is stated about Dr. Bob in DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers: "(Dr. Bob was always positive about his faith, Clarence [S., Dr. Bob's sponsee who founded the third A.A. group in the world in Cleveland on May 11, 1939] said. If someone asked him a question about the program, his usual response was: 'What does it say in the Good Book?' [page 144] ]

Bill's recount of his spiritual experience is inedible and a very compelling testimony  about his life long assertion about the importance of  "total ego deflation"(hitting bottom in modern day fellowship lingo) in order to let God into their lives completely.

[Ken: I agree, Paul, if by "Bill's recount {sic} of his spiritual experience . . ." we include the whole 1934 sequence of "spiritual events":

1. "During his [Bill W.'s] third visit to Towns Hospital [in September 1934], Bill had a discussion with Dr. Silkworth on the subject of the 'Great Physician.' . . . Bill Wilson himself wrote that he had thought about this discussion before he decided to check himself into Towns for the last time, . . . In Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age: A Brief History of A.A., Wilson wrote: 'Alcoholism took longer to do its killing, but the result was the same. So if there was a great Physician who could cure the alcoholic sickness, I had better seek Him now, at once.'" [Dale Mitchel, Silkworth: The Little Doctor Who Loved Drunks, 44--which I quoted correctly from Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age, 61]. This is so important because people are only aware of Silkworth's conversation with Bill's wife Lois, in which Silkworth told Lois that "[s]he would soon have to give . . . [Bill] over to the undertaker or the asylum" [Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., 7];


2. Ebby T.'s visit with Bill W. at 182 Clinton Street in late November 1934 during which Ebby told Bill:

a. "I've got religion" [Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., 9. These were Oxford Group "code words" meaning that Ebby had accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior, and had become born again];

b. "[T]wo men . . . had told of a simple religious idea and a practical program of action." [Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., 9]; and

c. ". . . God had done for him [Ebby] what he could not do for himself." [Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., 11]

3. Ebby T.'s return visit a few days later, accompanied by Shep C. of the Oxford Group, to see Bill W. at 182 Clinton Street. (This was the same Shep, who along with Cebra G., had told Ebby in July 1934 in Vermont that ". . . they had run into the Oxford Group and had gotten some pretty sensible things out of it based on the life of Christ, Biblical times." ['PASS IT ON,' 113]. Shep presented the Oxford Group message to Bill W. at this meeting with Ebby and himself.

4. On the evening before he went to Calvary Mission in early December 1934, Bill ". . . had been at Calvary Church . . . [and had seen] Ebby T. get up in the pulpit and give witness to the fact that with the help of God he had been sober a number of months. Bill said that if Ebby T. could get help here, he was sure he needed help and could get it at the mission also." ['PASS IT ON,' 119]

5. Bill W. went to Calvary Mission the next day. And Bill reported that "John Geroldsek . . . was on the platform and in charge of the meeting. The brotherhood took turns at conducting the meetings, selecting the Bible lesson, the hymns, and then leading off with their own testimony. Geroldsek had just finished the Bible . . . There were hymns and prayers. Tex, the leader, exhorted us. Only Jesus could save, he said. Certain men got up and made testimonials. . . . Then came the call. Penitents starting marching forward to the rail. Unaccountably impelled, I started, too, . . . Soon I knelt among the sweating, stinking penitents. Maybe then and there, for the very first time, I was penitent, too. Something touched me. I guess it was more than that. I was hit. I felt a wild impulse to talk. . . .Afterward, Ebby, . . . told me with relief that I had . . . had given my life to God." ['PASS IT ON,' 117-18]

6. "He [Bill W.] drank on for another two or three days. However, going to the mission had been more than a drunken impulse, and he pondered the experience. In the charged atmosphere of the meeting room, he had been aware of deep feelings." ['PASS IT ON,' 119]

7. "On the morning of the third day [which was December 11, 1934, the day on which Bill W. entered Towns Hospital for his fourth and final stay] my wandering thoughts gathered into a sharp focus. . . . [I]f there was a great Physician who could cure the alcoholic sickness, I had better seek Him now, at once. I had better find what my friend [Ebby T.] had found." [Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age, 61]

8. Then, finally, comes Bill W.'s vital religious experience in Towns Hospital. This was when Bill thought: "But what of the Great Physician?" [Bill W., My First 40 Years, 145] And this was when Bill remembered ". . . saying to . . . [himself], 'I'll do anything, anything at all. If there be a Great Physician, I'll call on him.' Then, with neither faith nor hope I cried out, 'If there be a God, let him show himself.' The effect was instant, electric. Suddenly my room blazed with an indescribably white light. I was seized with an ecstasy beyond description. . . . Then, seen in the mind's eye, there was a mountain. I stood upon its summit where a great wind blew. A wind, not of air, but of spirit. . . . Then came the blazing thought, 'You're a free man.' . . . As I became more quiet a great peace stole over me, . . . I became acutely conscious of a presence which seemed like a veritable sea of living spirit. I lay on the shores of a new world. 'This,' I thought, 'must be the great reality. The God of the preachers.' . . . I thanked my God who had given me a glimpse of His absolute Self." [Bill W., My First 40 Years, 145-46]

Both Bob and Bill's story directly tie their own sobriety and salvation,  to their personal experience and daily relationship with Jesus Christ.

[Ken: To see more clearly the similarities and differences between the Christian upbringings of A.A. cofounders Bill W. and Dr. Bob, I would suggest a careful study of: (1) Dick B., The Conversion of Bill W.; (2) Dick B. and Ken B., Dr. Bob of Alcoholics Anonymous; and (3) Dick B. and Ken B., Bill W. and Dr. Bob, the Green Mountain Men of Vermont. And for a better understanding of how "the first three" (i.e., Bill W., Dr. Bob, and Bill D.] got sober, I suggest: Dick B. and Ken B., The Dick B. Christian Recovery Guide, 3rd ed.]

They say the method in which they received that message was through the Oxford Group, the members of which claimed no affiliation to traditional sectarian or organized religion, but modeled their lives directly after Jesus as described and directed in the Holy Bible.

[Ken: This is where details my dad uncovered during his research on the Oxford Group--as set forth in Dick B., The Oxford Group and Alcoholics Anonymous: A Design for Living That Works, 3rd ed.--come in. For example: (1) The group was not originally known as "the Oxford Group." When Lutheran minister Dr. Frank N. D. Buchman cofounded the group in the autumn of 1922, its original name was "A First Century Christian Fellowship." It was not until September 1928 that a newspaper in South Africa first applied the label of "the Oxford Group" to a small bunch of students from Oxford University in England who were traveling by train in South Africa. The original name, "A First Century Christian Fellowship," was still being used when Dr. Buchman and a group of associates came to Akron in January 1933 at the behest of Harvey Firestone, Sr., to do a series of meetings in Akron. Dr. Bob's wife Anne and Henrietta Seiberling (who introduced Bill W. and Dr. Bob) attended those January 1933 meetings in Akron.]

This is our heritage as members of the fellowship.

In light of these facts about The Fellowship of the Spirit, the following quotes from the Big Book Chapter Five How It Works describe a specific and critically important message : "Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path."...."Our stories disclose in a general way, what we were like, what happened and was we are like now"......" we must be willing to go to any length"...and "Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs".

[Ken: Paul, you certainly raised a key point in speaking of "our path." I'm so glad that my dad encourages people to "master the Big Book." As you probably know, there were 29 personal testimonies in the "Personal Stories" section of the first printing of the first edition of Alcoholics Anonymous (published in April 1939). 22 of those personal testimonies from the first edition were not included in the second edition of Alcoholics Anonymous (published in 1955). And another four of the original personal testimonies in the first edition were not included in the fourth edition (published in 2001). Why are those facts important? Because Bill W. and Dr. Bob began developing a "program" immediately after Dr. Bob took his last drink in June 1935. As stated in DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers: "Smitty [Dr. Bob's son] remembered how his father and Bill Wilson worked hard during that period to 'formulate a little talk or scheme that would interest the other drunks." [page 96]. And see the use of the word "plan" and especially of the word "program" by AA Number Three, Bill D., in his personal story in the Big Book as he discusses his interactions with Bill W. and Dr. Bob while he was hospitalized in late June-early July 1935. [Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., 185-92] A seven-point summary of the original Akron A.A. "program," as it looked in late-February 1938, is given on page 131 of DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers. Mitchell K., in his biography of Dr. Bob's sponsee Clarence S., discusses that "old program" as follows: "Two years after the publication of the book [Alcoholics Anonymous in April 1939], Clarence made a survey of all of the members in Cleveland. He concluded that, by keeping most of the 'old program,' including the Four Absolutes and the Bible, ninety-three percent of those surveyed had maintained uninterrupted sobriety. Clarence opined that even with New York's 'moral psychology' approach to recovery 'had nowhere near our recovery rate.'" [Mitchell K., How It Worked: The Story of Clarence H. Snyder and the Early Days of Alcoholics Anonymous in Cleveland, Ohio, 108]. 18 of the original 29 personal testimonies in the "Personal Stories" section of the first printing of the first edition of Alcoholics Anonymous came from people in the Akron-Cleveland area. And they spoke in their personal testimonies of the original Akron A.A. program as described on page 131 of DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers. (And Mitchell K. described that Akron program--i.e., the "original" A.A. program--as the "old program.") And the seven-point summary of the original Akron A.A. program did not speak of a "higher Power," of"a Power greater than ourselves," or of "God as we understood Him."  It spoke of "God." Period. And it used the same unmodified, unqualified word "God" that the writer of the 12 Steps, Bill W., said he had consistently used in the original draft of the 12 Steps. [Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age, 166]. The other key point to note here is that the primary writer of the Big Book, Bill W., made it clear that he had not included the original Akron A.A. "Christian fellowship" program (DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers, 118) in the Big Book. As Bill W. stated in Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age: "I was greatly pleased with what I had written, and I read them the new version of the program, now the 'Twelve Steps.'" [page 162; emphasis added]. So when one speaks of ". . . thoroughly followed our path," it is vital to know what "path" we are speaking about.]

The message is clear to me. Follow Jesus Christ  and help other do the same, period. No asterisks or further explanations or  appendixes needed. Amen

[Ken: Let's hear it for the messages carried by A.A.'s cofounders Bill W. and Dr. Bob, as stated in the "Basic Text" of Alcoholics Anonymous, the Big Book--and as seen, for example, in all 608 pages of the fourth edition:

[As AA Number Three, Akron attorney Bill D., stated in his personal testimony (which was not included in the first edition):

Bill [W.] looked across at my wife and said to her, 'Henrietta, the Lord has been so wonderful to me, curing me of this terrible disease, that I just want to keep talking about it and telling people.'" [Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., 191]

[As A.A. cofounder Dr. Bob stated in the last line of his personal testimony in the Big Book]:

Your Heavenly Father will never let you down! [Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., 181

In GOD's love, Dick B.'s son, Ken]


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