People in A.A. who are enthusiasts about the Twelve Steps
of recovery are fond of rejecting the "smorgasbord
approach." They rail against those who select for
"taking" and/or "practice" those of
the twelve which appeal to them and leave the others alone.
I’m not convinced that many do this. Those who are timid
about the program are more likely, I believe, to "balk"
at the Fourth Step, "lie" in the Fifth Step,
misunderstand the idea behind Steps Six and Seven, fail
to complete Steps Eight and Nine, and somehow misinterpret
the "continuing" requirements of Steps Ten,
Eleven, and Twelve. In other words, they probably don’t
ignore any of the Steps. The timid ones just don’t do
the hard work that is necessary to complete all twelve
The same thing applies as to our spiritual roots. There
are at least six major spiritual roots: (1) The Bible.
(2) Quiet Time. (3) The teachings of Rev. Sam Shoemaker.
(4) The life-changing program of the Oxford Group. (5)
The writings of Dr. Bob’s wife Anne Ripley S. (6) The
Christian literature they read. Added to these six roots
are (7) some of the ideas of Professor William James (whose
very words were adopted by Sam Shoemaker in his writings,
and whose book The
Varieties of Religious Experience was read by
A.A.’s founders. (8) Some of the ideas of Dr. Carl Jung
about conversion. (9) Some of the new thought phrases
of Ralph Waldo Trine, Emmet Fox, and other transcendentalists.
And then (10) Some of the fall-out from Dr. William Silkworth
on the "disease" and (11) Richard Peabody on
some of the regimen of "treatment" as covered
in his title The
Common Sense of Drinking.
The more you research the more you find that our official,
"reported" history has cluttered up the facts.
Thus a failure even to explore and detail Dr. Bob’s work
in Christian Endeavor as a youngster leaves this root
of Akron "old fashioned prayer meetings" ignored
as a major Bible root. A failure to understand Lois W’s
Swedenborgian Church membership and Bill’s exposure to
those ideas leaves this "spiritualist" influence
out of the earliest times and ignores Lois’s opposition
to "conversion," to "soul surgery,"
and possibly even to the Bible itself
The problem arises with a "smorgasbord" approach
to these roots and parts of roots. If you pick at some,
pick out some, and push out others, you don’t have the
"Program." By "Program," we mean whatever
Frank Amos meant when he came to Akron and thoroughly
investigated Dr. Bob and those features which had produced
such astonishing successes. Worse, you don’t attain an
understanding of the "Program." You may overlook
the Bible because it is so little mentioned today. You
may not appreciate the importance of Quiet Time because
it has been so hacked up by later "meditation"
and "reflection" and "twenty-four"
hour books. You may ignore the immense influence of Rev.
Sam Shoemaker because the details of his impact have been
lacking until recently. You may decline to look at the
Oxford Group principles because of ancient religious and
other opposition to Dr. Buchman and his work. You may
just plain miss the work of Anne S. because her "journal"
has been so long on the shelf–in fact, virtually banned
from the history scene at her home in Akron today. And
you may omit the Christian literature because it is voluminous
and, for some, controversial. You may, as I did, fail
to appreciate or study the effect on A.A. theology of
the writings of Emmet Fox, Trine, and others; and, in
doing so, you may not realize the confusion and conflict
fostered by putting some of the sources in your thinking,
ignoring others, and believing everything was and is divinely
inspired and just hunky dory.
You won’t spend much time digging in our early "Program"
without realizing that, at its peak percentage of success
period which commenced in 1935, there were no Steps. No
steps? No steps!" For that point, let’s look at the
Bob, noting that there were no Twelve Steps at the time
and that ‘our stories didn’t amount to anything to speak
of,’ later said they were convinced that the answer
to their problems was in the Good Book" (DR
BOB and the Good Oldtimers, p. 96).
Dr. Bob recalled: ‘I didn’t write the Twelve Steps.
I had nothing to do with the writing of them. . . .
We already had the basic ideas, though not in terse
and tangible form. We got them. . . as a result of our
study of the Good Book’." (DR. BOB and the Good
Oldtimers, p. 97).
[S. M.] recalled the 1937 meetings when ‘the men would
all disappear upstairs. . . After about half an hour
or so, down would come the new man, shaking, white,
serious, and grim. And all the people who were already
in A.A. would come trooping down after him. They were
pretty reluctant to talk about what had happened, but
after a while, they would tell us they had had a
real surrender. I often wonder how many people that
come in now would survive an experience like that–a
regular old fashioned prayer meeting’." (DR.
BOB and the Good Oldtimers, p. 101).
Bill did get to see John D. Rockefeller, Jr., who dispatched
Frank Amos out to Akron to investigate what was going
on. Mr. Amos, who was soon to become one of A.A.’s first
non-alcoholic trustees, did a thorough job of investigating
what he referred to as the ‘self-styled Alcoholic Group
of Akron, Ohio.’ He called on Dr. Bob and attended meetings.
He questioned members and nonmembers, including professional
associates of Dr. Bob. . . . In his report to MR. Rockefeller
in February, 1938, Mr. Amos said. . . . ‘they [the stories
of the men, their wives, and in some cases there mothers].
. . were all remarkably alike in ‘the technique used
and the system followed.’ He described the ‘Program’
as follows: ‘1. An alcoholic must realize that he is
an alcoholic, incurable from a medical standpoint, and
that he must never again drink anything with alcohol
in it. 2. He must surrender himself absolutely to God,
realizing that in himself there is no hope. 3. Not only
must he want to stop drinking permanently, he must remove
from his life other sins such as hatred, adultery, and
others which frequently accompany alcoholism. Unless
he will do this absolutely, Dr. Bob and his associates
refuse to work with him. 4. He must have devotions every
morning–a ‘quiet time’ of prayer and some reading from
the Bible and other religious literature. Unless this
is faithfully followed, there is grave danger of backsliding.
5. He must be willing to help other alcoholics get straightened
out. This throws up a protective barrier and strengthens
his own willpower and convictions. 6. It is important,
but not vital, that he meet frequently with other reformed
alcoholics and form both a social and religious comradeship.
7. Important, but not vital, that he attend some religious
service at least once weekly’." (DR. BOB
and the Good Oldtimers, pp. 128-31).
I remember sitting in the home of an experienced AA in
Wisconsin several years ago. We listened to the interrogation
of Ed A., an A.A. oldtimer from Lorain, Ohio. Ed A. is
dead now. But at the time, he was questioned again and
again as to how he "took the Steps." Most of
the time, he simply talked about other things they did
in the old days. But he often said, "There were no
Steps." I really don’t think his interrogators understood
him because they were not that conversant with the "Program"
that Frank Amos and Dr. Bob explained as set forth above,
and they seemed not to believe that this old duffer had
been sober so many years without taking "the Steps."
There were no steps! The "Program" was described
by Frank Amos. And that’s what they did. They renounced
alcohol. They surrendered absolutely to their Creator
for help. They worked at removing "sins" from
their lives. They had devotions in the form of prayer,
Bible study, use of religious literature such as The
Upper Room, and sought revelation from God in what
was commonly called a "Quiet Time." They helped
alcoholics get straightened out. They fellowshipped with
other believers. And they often attended a weekly religious
service. No steps! No Oxford Group program. Just the simple
acts described above. All influenced to a greater and
greater degree by what was in the Bible, in Oxford Group
writings, in Anne S’s journal, and in the religious literature.
And they followed much the same prayer, Bible study, quiet
time, and witnessing ideas Dr. Bob had learned in his
youth in Christian Endeavor in St. Johnsbury, Vermont.
Some–unduly impressed, or disturbed by the Oxford Group
influence–have asserted that the Oxford Group had six
steps. It didn’t. I have talked with, corresponded with,
and studied the literature read by almost every significant
Oxford Group survivor in the United States and also several
abroad. Most have seen and in fact helped critique my
title The Oxford Group and Alcoholics Anonymous.
That title documents my finding that there really
were about twenty-eight Oxford Group ideas that
impacted on A.A.
You will see from my title Anne S’s Journal, 1933-1939,
that Dr. Bob’s wife covered all of the twelve step ideas
Bill eventually put in A.A.’s basic text, the Big Book
You’ll see from my title The Good Book and The Big
Book that all of the twelve step ideas stem from Bible
principles, just as Dr. Bob said they did. And you’ll
see from New Light on Alcoholism that the same
type of parallels can be found in the writings and speeches
of Rev. Sam Shoemaker, just as Bill W. suggested.
If you look at one of earliest Oxford Group pamphlets–written
by Sam Shoemaker’s good friend Rev. Sherwood Sunderland
Day about 1922–the statement on page one "The principles
of ‘The Oxford Group’ are the principles of the Bible.
And whether you are reading Sam Shoemaker’s work, Oxford
Group writings, Anne S’s Journal, The Upper Room,
or even the new thought ideas of Emmet Fox, you’ll find
the Bible cited and at the core of the thinking.
From all this, you will see that neither the Bible, nor
the Oxford Group, nor the writings of Rev. Sam Shoemaker,
nor the Quiet Time literature, nor Anne S’s Journal, nor
the other religious writings studied by A.A. pioneers
said anything about "six steps" or "twelve
steps" or any formalized step program at all. As
A.A.’s Conference Approved Pass It On correctly
In later years, some A.A. members referred to this procedure
an alleged six word-of-mouth steps Bill said had been
employed] 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. I think they must have been written by someone
else under some sort of misapprehension (Pass It On,
page 197 and footnote 2 on page 206).
The fact is that Bill W. himself described his word-of-mouth
"six steps" in several different ways (See Dick
B., The Akron Genesis of Alcoholics Anonymous,
pp. 256). How he referred to our Creator seemed to depend
upon the time and the circumstances and the audience.
The description I believe is most accurate can be found
in The Language of the Heart at page 200, where
Bill describes 6 as "We prayed to God to help us
to do these things as best we could." If Bill felt
there were six steps (not Oxford Group steps, certainly),
referring to "God" as "God" is consistent
with the wording of the very first draft of the Twelve
Steps where "God" is also referred to as "God"–not
some "power" or "higher power" or
"God as we understood Him." See Pass It On,
Twelve Steps "appeared" in 1934
If you read pages 12 to 15 of the Third Edition, you may
be puzzled at seeing all of the Twelve Step ideas on those
pages and seemingly propounded by Ebby T. to Bill W. at
Towns Hospital in 1934. This situation prompted me, during
my visit to Stepping Stones, to give special attention
to three different early manuscripts written by Bill W.
And the startling fact is that Bill relates in detail
almost all of the Twelve Step ideas and the explanation
of those Steps in specific terms of what Ebby taught him
in 1934 that you can assume that the ideas of the
Twelve Steps–biblical in nature as Dr. Bob and Rev. Sherwood
Day said–were floating around in rather concrete form
in 1934. In fact, they could well have been passed to
Ebby by either Rowland H. or Rev. Sam Shoemaker himself.
You can see the remarkable detail in the early pages of
my title, Turning Point: A History of Early A.A.’s
Spiritual Roots and Successes.
And where might the alleged "six steps" that
preceded the Twelve have come from if they weren’t in
the Bible, Quiet Time, Shoemaker, the Oxford Group, Anne
S’s Journal, or the Christian literature AAs read? Floating
around the various analyses of Oxford Group ideas were
an alleged "six basic assumptions" of the Group:
(1) Men are sinners. (2) Men can be changed. (3) Confession
is prerequisite to change. (4) The changed soul has direct
access to God. (5) The Age of Miracles has returned. (6)
Those who have been "changed" must "change"
others. See Kurtz, Not-God: A History of Alcoholics
Anonymous, 1979, p. 49). Also, Lois W. had described
"the Oxford Group precepts" as: (1) Surrender
your life to God. (2) Take a moral inventory. (3) Confess
your sins to God and another human being. (4) Make restitution.
(5) Give of yourself to others with no demand for return.
(6) Pray to God for help to carry out these principles.
Unfortunately, neither approach adequately reflect complete
Oxford Group thinking.
The "assumptions" are, in no sense, biblical;
yet the Oxford Group principles were. Lois’s "precepts"
were also not biblical; yet Dr. Bob said A.A.’s basic
step ideas were.
In sum, it is very doubtful that Dr. Bob would have subscribed
to the idea that the original A.A. "Program"
had four steps, six steps, eight steps, or twelve. His
own Christian Endeavor background and deep study of the
Bible led him to the simple program Frank Amos described;
and there is no particular evidence to indicate he did
not use it on the 5000 alcoholics he personally helped
What of the Oxford Group and OUR Steps
I believe it might be fair to say that A.A. had three
approaches to recovery in its earliest days: (1) An approach
directly related to recovery and based primarily on the
Bible and reliance on our Creator–applied by Dr. Bob and
the Akron pioneers (See The Good Book and The Big Book:
A.A.’s Roots in the Bible). (2) An approach that was
not directly related to recovery but involved a "life-changing"
program whose principles were biblical and were applied
for recovery–applied primarily in the East, prior to,
and then in, early A.A. (See The Oxford Group and Alcoholics
Anonymous: A Design for Living That Works). (3) An
experiment by Bill W. and Dr. Bob utilizing both approaches
and culminating in the Big Book text whose (a) "Steps"
were based primarily on the Oxford Group’s aim at attaining
a life-changing experience of God and continuing in that
experience, and whose (b) Big Book "text" was
possibly much more influenced than the Steps by the Bible
and yet propounded several inconsistent and even conflicting
theories on alcoholism as an "incurable" mental,
physical, and spiritual malady; required a "conversion"
that was more "change" than a "born again"
rebirth;" and "action" seemingly focused
more on doing things than on believing that simply stood
on what the Bible promised (See Turning Point: A History
of Early A.A.’s Spiritual Roots and Successes).
As to the Steps, however, and even as to many explicit
phrases in the Big Book, you can’t ignore the Oxford Group’s
immense influence on A.A.–coming from the Oxford Group’s
twenty-eight principles such as: (a) God; (b) His Plan;
(c) Our Obedience, (d) Initial belief that God is; (e)
Surrender of your "will" to God; (f) A "turning
point"--leading to "steps" embodied in
the OG’s 5 C’s, (g) Confidence, (h) Confession, (i) Conviction,
(j) Conversion, (k) Continuance)–"steps" that
would eliminate "sin" "blocking" one
from God and others; (l) Making restitution for harms
caused by sins; (m) Making "daily" surrender
that continued to apply the "steps;" (n) "Growing"
spiritually through Bible study, prayer, and Quiet Time
observances enabling receipt of God’s revelation; (o)
Becoming "God conscious" as the result of such
obedience; (p) Witnessing to what God had done that the
person could not do for himself; (q) Fellowshipping; (r)
Serving. (s) Practicing Christian principles, enabled
by the new-found power of God in Christ mentioned in 2
This article is simply a synopsis of what I believe is
the practical result of A.A.’s Oxford Group exposure from
1934 through approximately 1941. Much more as to the Oxford
Group and also the other spiritual roots is covered in
my fifteen titles listed and described at www.dickb.com/titles.shtml
© 2003 Dick B.. All Rights Reserved.
1 | Part 2 |
4 | Part
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.