review a few things before we proceed: This is the fourth
article in a continuing series detailing the story of
the Oxford Group and Alcoholics Anonymous. The Oxford
Group ideas are certainly not the only source of the principles
of A.A.ís "spiritual" program. But the Bible
is the primary source of both Oxford Group and A.A.
ideas. And, if you want to see the "original"
A.A. program, as it was described by an objective observer,
you need to read the Frank Amos report to John D. Rockefeller,
Jr., quoted at some length in DR. BOB and the Good
Oldtimers (AA World Services, Inc., 1980), pp. 128-36.
In 1938, Frank Amos was soon to become one of A.A.ís first
non-alcoholic trustees. He went to Akron only after the
pioneer A.A. program had been established as highly successful
and had been developed primarily by Dr. Bob and the Akron
pioneers. Prior to Bill Wís writing of the earliest Big
Book drafts, Amos spent a week in Akron and interviewed
physicians, a judge, the AAs, their families, and others
to get the facts. As you will see from the Amos report,
the "Program," as Amos found and described it,
contained no Steps, and focused primarily on the Bible,
Quiet Time, and Dr. Bob as the leader to whom pioneers
were looking for guidance. Interestingly, Amos did not
mention the Oxford Group.
To understand the Oxford Groupís importance in
A.A., you need to look primarily not at Akron, but rather
at what Rev. Sam Shoemaker was teaching Bill W. and a
couple of others on the New York scene. You need also
to see the remarkable resemblance between the earliest
A.A. program in New York and what the Oxford Group--on
the East Coast--was reading, writing, teaching, and doing.
Note at the outset that East Coast Oxford Group activities,
including inter-continental teams, house-parties, and
large meetings--in which Bill W. himself briefly participated--were
far different from the single "clandestine lodge"
with an "old fashioned prayer meeting" conducted
by the "alcoholic squad of the Oxford Group"
that was the Akron focus. [Cp. Dr. Morris Martinís
Always a Little Further, (2001), pp. 102-03, 92-93,
88-89, 71, 61, 51; and DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers,
pp. 121, 101, 117]. The Oxford Group program in the East
and abroad was simply not the "old fashioned prayer
meeting" for drunks that was held at the T. Henry
W.'s home in Akron.
Yet the twenty-eight ideas of the Oxford Group (of which
I wrote at some length in The Oxford Group and
Alcoholics Anonymous) did become the primary content
of the "spiritual program of recovery" Bill
incorporated in the "basic text" of the First
Edition of the Big Book in 1939. For that Oxford
Group program--fashioned by Dr. Frank Buchman, articulated
in the East by Rev. Sam Shoemaker, and as Bill fleshed
it out in the Big Book and the Twelve Steps in 1939--look
then to the Oxford Group as the primary source.
Actually, A.A.ís own literature has thoroughly documented
this point about the New York approach. [See Pass It
On (AA World Services, Inc., 1984)]: (1) ". .
. Lois and Bill did not become immediately disillusioned
with the Oxford Group or with its principles, from which
Bill borrowed freely," Pass It On, p. 169;
(2) "Bill was about to write the famous fifth chapter,
ĎHow It Works.í . . . It was heavy with Oxford Group principles.
. . ." Pass It On, pp. 196-97; (3) "Billís
first three steps were culled from his reading of James,
the teachings of Sam Shoemaker, and those of the Oxford
Group." Pass It On, p. 199; (4) See also Pass
It On, pp. 167, 197-99, 264-65, 284-85, 352-53, 211;
(5) Later, Alcoholics Anonymous recorded, in Alcoholics
Anonymous Comes of Age and The Language of
the Heart, Billís increasingly open acknowledgments
that almost all the material in Billís Twelve Steps had
come from the Oxford Group. Compare Dr. Bobís statement:
"I didnít 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, pp. 96-97).
In addition, I established three important facts during
my eleven years of research: (1) Bill actually asked Rev.
Sam Shoemaker, Jr., to write the Twelve Steps, but Sam
declined. (2) There are at least twenty-eight Oxford Group
principles that impacted on the Big Book, the Steps, and
the A.A. Fellowship. (3) Both in Sam Shoemakerís writings
and in those of other Oxford Group activists of the 1930's
and before, you can find dozens of expressions that closely
parallel those in many pieces of A.A. literature including
the Big Book. In sum, then, if you want to understand
the Big Book, the Twelve Steps, the "Slogans,"
and the A.A. Fellowship, as Bill W. and Dr. Bob understood
them when the Big Book was published in 1939, you need
to know the Oxford Group-Shoemaker writings as well as
their sources in the Bible itself. And I firmly believe
that the most authentic and comprehensive study and detailing
of those topics can be found in my two titles, The
Oxford Group and Alcoholics Anonymous: A Design for Living
That Works, 2d ed. (www.dickb.com/Oxford.shtml)
and New Light on Alcoholism: God, Sam Shoemaker, and
A.A., 2d ed.
Oxford Group Parallels Bill Adopted in A.A.ís Writings
In the previous Oxford Group article (Part Three), we
began a review of some of the remarkable instances where
language Bill W. used in his Big Book, Twelve Steps, talks,
and slogans very closely resembles language used by a
host of Oxford Group writers in a host of Oxford Group
writings. Again, for many additional specifics, you should
look at my Oxford Group and Shoemaker titles mentioned
above. This article will continue with examples of the
parallels in language to whet your appetite for a thorough
Oxford Group quest. Your search can be much aided by using
the bibliographies found in my titles.
to the Fourth Step:
"The root problems in the world today are dishonesty,
selfishness and fear--in men, and consequently in nations"
(Buchman, Remaking the World, p. 24).
"Moral recovery starts when everyone admits his own
faults instead of spot-lighting the other fellowís"
(Buchman, Remaking the World, p. 46).
"To win the soul, the physician must Ďmake the moral
testí which requires the lost soul to make Ďentire self
disclosureí" (Walter, Soul Surgery, pp. 41-48).
Oxford Group writings used (as does the A.A. Big Book)
the imagery of a businessmanís taking an inventory--checking
the financial position by having "taken stock"
(Benson, The Eight Points of the Oxford Group,
pp. 44, 162, 18, 7) and getting involved in "this
business of looking into the books" with a pencil
and paper and notes (Cecil Rose, When Man Listens,
"It would be a very good thing if you took a piece
of foolscap paper and wrote down the sins you feel guilty
of. . . . One of the simplest and best rules for self-examination
that I know is to use the summary of the Sermon on the
Mount--Absolute Honesty, Absolute Purity, Absolute Unselfishness,
and Absolute Love. Review your life in their light. Put
down everything that doesnít measure up. Be ruthlessly,
realistically honest" (Shoemaker, How to Become
a Christian, pp. 56-57).
to the Fifth Step:
"Take the four standards of ChristĖabsolute honesty,
absolute purity, absolute unselfishness, and absolute
love. When peopleís lives are wrong, they are usually
wrong on one or more of these standards. Many quite respectable
people have hidden things in their past and their present
that need to come out in confidence with some one. . .
. The only release and hope for many bound and imprisoned
and defeated people lies in frank sharing. . . . If the
person is honest with himself and with God, he will be
honest also with us and be ready to take the next step,
which is a decision to surrender these sins, with himself
wholly to God" (Shoemaker, The Church Can Save
the World, pp. 110-12).
to the Sixth Step:
"Christian revolution begins when a man is really
willing for God to displace everything but Himself from
a share in the control of life" (Cecil Rose, When
Man Listens, pp. 62, 74-78).
"By Ďconvictioní two things are meant: conviction
first of sin, and then a growing assurance that Christ
can meet the need" (Shoemaker, Realizing Religion,
"The heart of that problem is that many of us are
wrong with God and wrong with each other. . . . The first
step is not resurrection, it is crucifixion. . . . It
is the crucifixion of pride, narrowness, stupidity, ignorant
prejudice, intolerance. . . . There is no resurrection
without crucifixion. . . . either Godís will is crucified
on it [the Cross] or our will is crucified on it so that
Godís will may prevail. Christ died to show us the everlasting
victory and effectiveness of dying to self, that God might
make His will prevail" (Shoemaker, National Awakening,
to the Seventh Step:
"Except a man be born again, he cannot see the Kingdom
of God. Nicodemus saith unto him [Jesus], How . . . ?
(John 3:3-4). . . . If the Christian Church is to be effective
again in the affairs of men, it must begin by once more
illuminating this great truth of rebirth. . . . The how
of getting rid of sin, if you are in earnest about doing
it at all: face it, share it, surrender it. Hate it, forsake
it, confess it, and restore for it" (Shoemaker,
National Awakening, pp. 55, 57, 58).
"Conversion can be viewed from two sides: On manís
side, it is an act of faith in which the sinner deliberately
and finally turns from all known sin and identifies himself
with Christ, for the future, in a saving, victorious moral
unity and fellowship. On Godís side, it is an act of Godís
free grace by which God is able, through bearing human
sinĖin suffering and redemptive loveĖto forgive the sinner
and so to effect in Christ a new relationship in which
the barrier of sin no longer remains" (Walter, Soul
Surgery, p. 79).
to the Eighth Step:
"ĎIf thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there
rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee,
first go and be reconciled unto thy brother, and then
come and offer thy giftí [Matthew 5:23-24 in the sermon
on the mount]. It is idle for us to try to be in touch
with God or keep in touch with Him, so long as there are
human relationships which must be righted at the same
time" (Shoemaker, The Conversion of the Church,
"Nothing is clearer in the gospels than the direct
teaching that our relation to God cannot be right unless
our relations with men are as right as we can make them"
(Weatherhead, Discipleship, p. 113).
MissionĖShould You Choose to Accept It
If our spiritual history is to be meaningful for you,
there is work to do. That history enables those who care
about it to avoid the pitfalls of making up their own
program, their own religion, and their own recovery through
the Twelve Steps. You donít just "take" the
Steps. You "study" them. You come to "understand"
them. And you endeavor to "apply" them. Thatís
why the number of A.A. Big Book studies has, thankfully,
proliferated in the last two decades. Groups, discussions,
and speakers were getting so far afield from the Bible,
the Oxford Group, the early A.A. "Program,"
and even the Big Bookís summary of that "Program"
that the A.A. door was opened to a social, "relationship"-oriented,
involuntary-commitment-fed, "self-help" service
club. And thatís not a "spiritual" program at
all. Nor does it resemble pioneer A.A.
Many of the foregoing quotes will have no meaning for
you if you donít open and study the Big Book. Most will
have little meaning if you donít acquaint yourself with
the portions of the Bible from which they were drawn.
A strong inclination to "keep it simple," "just
go to meetings," and not "think" has often
superseded the work that needs to accompany our program.
There are many additional quotes, and documentation of
the quotes, in the Oxford Group and Shoemaker books Iíve
written and in those Iíve quoted. You will only know whether
they are accurate if you read my books or their books.
That also takes work.
The next article will conclude my discussion of the Steps
from their Oxford Group context, and you are reminded
that these articles present just the tip of the iceberg.
The "basic text" of the Big Book was only 164
pages long. Many have never absorbed even those pages.
And those pages have been sanitized to the point where
neither the Bible, nor Quiet Time, nor Shoemaker, nor
Anne S., nor the Oxford Group, nor the literature of the
1930's can be compared or even found in them. The accomplishments
of the 1930's Program were first rate and astonishing.
They can be achieved again today by taking the same path
the pioneers took--if we place our reliance on our Creator,
come to Him through His Son Jesus Christ, and learn about
the whole relationship and fellowship process by learning
more about the Good Book! Thatís exactly what those who
worked with Sam Shoemaker, Frank Buchman, and the Oxford
Group activists were doing every day. And the ones Iíve
met from that early cadre are still doing it!
feel free to contact me by phone, fax, email, or regular
mail via the addresses on my website: www.dickb.com/index.shtml
© 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: email@example.com
In accordance to our Traditions, names of known AA members
have been edited for anonymity.