Your Questions Accurately and Definitely
At A.A.’s Seattle Convention in 1990, I first heard mention
of the Oxford Group and Alcoholics Anonymous. I had come
there to learn A.A.’s Bible roots, but heard nothing about
that. I did notice that one oldtimer on the archives panel
had a book about the Oxford Group. It was called What
is the Oxford Group? It had an anonymous author, who
I was later to learn was not an Oxford Group "member."
But his book sure bore some remarkable resemblance's to
A.A. ideas and language. My later research unearthed the
fact that Dr. Bob had owned and circulated several copies
of the book among Akron AAs and that Oxford Group Founder
Dr. Frank Buchman had also circulated the book.
Then Hazelden historian Bill P. and A.A.’s second archivist
at GSO Frank M. referred me to Rev. Leslie D. Weatherhead’s
Discipleship. As Frank M. pointed out to me, the
content was directly relevant to A.A. ideas, and the language
had the cadence of the Oxford Group. What I observed was
that, if I were to know much about the spiritual ideas
of Alcoholics Anonymous, I was going to have to do some
heavy digging because you couldn’t directly or indirectly
find much of anything about the Group either in A.A. publications
or in the extant writings by A.A. historians. Sure, you
could find mention of the "Four Absolutes" with
Bill W. criticizing them and Dr. Bob approving them. But
what were they? Where did they come from? What did they
really require or suggest? And how did they get into A.A.?
Bill P.’s book AA The Way It Began (now published
by Hazelden) contained a storehouse of Oxford Group literature.
Some was written by Group activists; some by "scholars;"
and some by critics. There was enough in the Bibliography
to keep me searching libraries, seminaries, and A.A. collections;
and the more I searched, the more questions I had and
the more A.A. language I saw. Then I was able to visit
two of the oldest (in age and participation) Oxford Group
people in America. James Draper Newton and his wife Eleanor
Forde Newton, who lived in Florida and had participated
since the early 1920's, knew both Frank Buchman and Rev.
Sam Shoemaker (an American leader) very well. They generously
gave me facts, books, and the names and addresses of other
Oxford Group leaders here and abroad. This, in turn, put
me in touch with Garth Lean in England who is the principal
biographer of Frank Buchman’s life.
Without describing in detail all the Oxford Group dinosaurs
who became a part of my research, friendship circle, and
resources,. I would nonetheless mention Garth Lean, Charles
Haines, Parks Shipley, Sr., Michael Hutchinson (England),
Robin Mowat (England), Kenneth Belden (England), Rev.
Harry Almond, George Vondermuhll, Jr., James Houck, T.
Willard Hunter, Mrs. W. Irving Harris, and several other
writers and activists. With these fine guides and the
literature they supplied, the answers began to come.
Places to Look
I would like to believe that four of my own titles answer
most of the questions about the Oxford Group origins,
principles, practices, and life-changing program that
became an integral part of A.A.’s program. My first book
is The Oxford Group and Alcoholics Anonymous: A Design
for Living That Works, 2d Edition. The Foreword is
by T. Willard Hunter, the foremost Oxford Group speaker
and writer today, who knew Frank Buchman and Sam Shoemaker,
and worked for the Group in earlier years. My Oxford
Group book covers the sources of Oxford Group ideas, the
mentors of the Group, the history of the group, the role
of Founder Frank Buchman, the twenty-eight Oxford Group
ideas that impacted on Alcoholics Anonymous. The traces
in our Twelve Steps, and dozens of Oxford Group phrases
that found their way into our A.A. language and literature.
Good Morning!: Quiet Time, Morning Watch, Meditation,
and Early A.A. deals with all the elements of the
new birth, guidance, quiet time, Bible study, prayer,
listening, and journaling that were part of daily Oxford
Group practices and became thoroughly embedded in A.A.,
particularly in its Eleventh Step. Courage to Change,
which I wrote with Bill P., examined each of the Twelve
Steps and some other historical matter in terms of Oxford
Group leader, Sam Shoemaker’s contribution to the Christian
roots of A.A. Finally, because so much of Sam Shoemaker’s
writings, became difficult to obtain, I wrote New Light
on Alcoholism: God, Sam Shoemaker, and A.A. In over
600 pages of material, with twelve appendices, and a huge
bibliography, this history gives specifics about Shoemaker’s
life, his A.A. role, his friendship with Bill W. The contents
of his pre-1939 books and pamphlets, his impact on the
Twelve Steps, and almost 200 words and phrases in his
writings that can be found in A.A. literature and language.
There is no body of work like that contained in the four
books mentioned above.
However, I have always believed–perhaps because of my
thirty years of law practice–that the best evidence is
the raw material itself. This means the correspondence,
manuscripts, pamphlets, pictures, and books on the subject
matter. And when it comes to the Oxford Group, we are
blessed with hundreds, if not thousands. Most of these
were not discussed or available for view until I began
my research, travel, and writing. Today they are becoming
more and more available at the Griffith House Library,
operated by the non-profit Wilson House Foundation at
East Dorset, Vermont. We had and are now distributing
23,000 historical books and materials at the Frederick
Robert Johnston Recovery Resource Center here on Maui.
And in the last day or so, we arranged to place key materials
at Dr. Bob’s church in Akron–St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.
We expect to have more in New England, the Midwest, and
Already there are three sets of 15 TV segments running
on community television on three of the Hawaiian Islands
including Maui and Oahu. Others are planned for central
and southern California. The films depict our entire 23,000
item collection with explanations of the various books,
certainly including the Oxford Group books.
What are the Oxford Group books?
If you want to get definitive information, some of the
original Oxford Group books are becoming more and more
available–not only at our proposed resource centers, but
also through purchase on the internet and in used bookstores.
They will also become available at some 12 Step Fellowship
Conferences, just as they were at Archives 2000 in Minneapolis
this year. Now, what are those Oxford Group books?
The answer is that there are hundreds of them. But some
books and pamphlets are far more important than others,
particularly those published in the period from 1919 to
1939–the latter being the date A.A.’s Big Book was published.
And the core books are listed here for your use or acquisition.
Most fall into categories which tell you what they are
about and what you can learn from them.
Oxford Group ideas that counted in early A.A.
From the key books mentioned below and which will be referred
to in later articles, you can get the meat and meaning
of Oxford Group ideas that influenced and survived in
A.A., though AAs may not always realize it. All the ideas
came from the Bible; and the Bible was daily fare among
Oxford Group people. These ideas number twenty-eight;
and, at the suggestion and with the approval of the Oxford
Group writers such as Garth Lean and Willard Hunter who
helped me, I have grouped them in certain categories to
make them easier to identify. They focus around the need
for man to find God and change his life to harmonize with
God’s will. Frank Buchman simplified this life-changing
program by using the expression: Sin is the problem. Jesus
Christ is the solution. The result is a miracle.
The ideas and brief bibliographic Oxford Group references
are as follows, and a listing of the literature follows
in the next portion You find the full titles, precise
quotes, complete footnotes, and page references in my
book, "The Oxford Group and Alcoholics Anonymous:
A Design for Living That Works".
about God: God is our Creator as the Bible says
(See Streeter, The God Who Speaks and Brown,
The Venture of Belief)! God has a plan (See Buchman,
Remaking the World). Man’s chief end is to do God’s
will and conform to God’s plan (See Streeter, The God
Who Speaks). You start by believing that God is (See
Weatherhead, How Can I Find God?). And check out
blockage of self–is a reality and estranges us
from God and our fellow man (See Foot, Life Began Yesterday).
God: Surrender (of self to God) is the required
turning point (See Benson, The Eight Points).
Soul Surgery (cutting out sin) is the art or way (See
Walter, Soul Surgery). A life-change is
the needed and anticipated result (See Begbie, Life
path to elimination of sin and establishing a relationship
with God: Decision to surrender (See What is
the Oxford Group?). Examining your self for sins (See
Rose, When Man Listens). Confession of those sins
to God and another (See Thornton-Duesbury, Sharing).
Conviction that these sins must go (See Begbie, Life-Changers);
Conversion so that a new birth occurs and man is a new
creature (See Buchman, Remaking the World); Restitution
to right the wrongs caused by the sins (See Russell, For
Christ: The way to God, to power, and to change
is through Christ (See Almond, Foundations for Faith
and Phillimore, Just for Today).
of the change is required for spiritual growth
(For the so-called 5 C’s–Confidence, Confession, Conviction,
Conversion, and Conservation–see Walter, Soul Surgery).
Conservation of the life-change is essential; Daily surrender
is the need (See What is the Oxford Group?). Guidance–walking
by faith is essential (See Forde, The Guidance of God).
The Four Absolutes–honesty, purity, unselfishness, and
love–are the perfect standards for measuring the walk
as Christ defined it (See Russell, For Sinners Only).
Quiet Time is an important part of daily surrender. Bible
study is the first element; Prayer is next; Listening
for God’s voice and journalizing the thoughts is next;
Checking the thoughts against self-deception by seeing
that they conform to the Bible is part of the process
(See H. J. Rose, The Quiet Time).
Spiritual Experience of Awakening (See Buchman’s
Remaking the World and Shoemaker’s National
Awakening): These phrases were Oxford Group phrases
used commonly by Dr. Frank Buchman and Rev. Sam Shoemaker
in their writings and speech. Following on the heels of
the foregoing life-changing steps, they promised a knowledge
of God’s will and "God-consciousness"–an expression
still found in A.A. literature.
and Witness (See Benson’s Eight Points
as to Fellowship and Buchman’s Remaking the World
as to Witness). Calling itself A First Century Christian
Fellowship, the Oxford Group sought fellowship with God
and one another as a teams meeting in fellowship, working
in groups, and sharing their experiences with others.
Buchman himself used the expression "Pass it On"
(later an AA phrase)
materials on Founder Dr. Frank Buchman
H. W. "Bunny". Frank Buchman as I Knew Him,
London: Grosvenor, 1975
Harold. Life Changers. New York: G. P. Putnam’s
Buchman-80. Compiled by His Friends. London: Blandford
Peter. Frank Buchman’s Secret. New York: Doubleday,
Garth. Frank Buchman: A Life: London: Constable,
version: On the Tail of a Comet. Colorado: Helmers
& Howard, 1988
Theophil. Dynamic out of Silence: Frank Buchman’s
Relevance Today. London: Grosvenor Books, 1976
Allen. The Significance of the Life of Frank Buchman.
London; Moral Re-Armament, 1952.
by AA's prior to publication of their Big Book)
Geoffrey Francis. He That Cometh. New York: The
Macmillan Company, 1933
Harold. Twice Born Men. New York: Fleming H. Revell,
Clarence Irving. The Eight Points of the Oxford Group.
London: Oxford University Press, 1936.
Stephen. Life Began Yesterday. New York: Harper
Eleanor Napier. The Guidance of God. London: The
Oxford Group, 1927
A.S. Loudon. Description of the First Century Christian
Fellowship. Vol 2. The Messenger, June, 1923.
V.C. I Was a Pagan. New York. Harper & Brothers,
7, The South African Adventure. A Miracle Working God
Abroad. Oxford: The Groups, A First Century Christian
Frank D. and Leslie Weatherhead. The Finger of God.
London: Group Publications, 1934
A. J. For Sinners Only. London: Hodder & Stoughton,
Hallen. How do I Begin? The Oxford Group, 61 Gramercy
Park, New York, 1937
Howard A. Soul-Surgery: Some Thought on Incisive Personal
Work. Oxford: The Oxford Group, 1928.
Summaries of Oxford Group Principles
Harry J. Foundations for Faith. 2d ed., London:
Grosvenor Books, 1980
Kenneth D. Meeting Moral Re-Armament. London: Grosvenor
Philip Marshall. The Venture of Belief. New York:
Fleming H. Revell, 1935
Frank N. D. Remaking the World. London: Blandford
Sherwood Sunderland. The Principles of the Group.
Oxford: University Press, circa 1923
T. Willard. World Changing through Life Changing.
Thesis. Newton Center, Mass: Andover-Newton Theological
Garth. Cast Out Your Nets. London: Grosvenor, 1990
Philip. The Philosophy of Courage or the Oxford Group
Way. New York: Oxford University Press, 1939
Miles. Just for Today. Privately published pamphlet,
Cecil. When Man Listens. New York: Oxford University
Howard J. The Quiet Time. New York: Oxford Group
at 61 Gramercy Park, North, 1937
Burnett Hillman. The God Who Speaks. London: Macmillan
& Co., 1936
Layman with a Notebook. What is the Oxford Group?
London: Oxford University Press, 1933
Leslie D. Discipleship. London: Student Christian
Movement Press, 1934
Can I Find God?New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1934.
Jack. When I Awake. London: Hodder & Stoughton,
I Believe in the Oxford Group. London: Hodder &
You can come to our centers where the actual information
can be seen–particularly The Wilson House at Bill W.’s
birthplace. You can listen to audio tapes and view video
segments on public television. You can run to used bookstores
and surf the net. You can go to seminaries, libraries,
and archives. You can borrow a book. Or you can read the
details in The Oxford Group and Alcoholics Anonymous.
However you choose to learn about the Oxford Group
and its impact on Alcoholics Anonymous in the 1930's,
I predict a surprise for you. You’ll see ideas, principles,
and practices–often citing the sources in the Bible. You’ll
recognize words, phrases, and ideas that appear in A.A.
literature, are used in meetings, and underlie the Steps.
And I believe if you want to know and understand and help
others with our spiritual program of recovery, you will
be surprised at the benefits derived from knowing and
understanding its sources such as the Oxford Group.
© 2003 Dick B.. All Rights Reserved.
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Dick B. is a retired attorney, living in Hawaii and student
of the Bible. He has more than 15 published titles
to his name. e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
In accordance to our Traditions, names of known AA members
have been edited for anonymity.