Series on A.A.’s Biblical Roots
2001) Part Four
was an AA History seminar/ conference
By Dick B.
Bible in the A. A. Program Yesterday
have discussed the verses and segments
of the Bible to which early AAs were
most assuredly exposed. The pioneers
heard passages from the Good Book
in their daily Bible study. They saw
them as they read The Runner’s
Bible. They were told about them
in they extensive amount of Christian
literature they were given. They were
taught them by Dr. Bob, Anne Smith,
Henrietta Seiberling, and Mr. and
Mrs. T. Henry Williams. We’ve also
discussed the deep roots of the Bible
in Dr. Bob’s childhood; its continued
emphasis in his personal studies;
and its omnipresence in the writings
of Rev. Sam Shoemaker, Oxford Group
authors, and a host of other Christians
like authors like Henry Drummond,
Oswald Chambers, and Glenn Clark.
Then we discussed the real guts of
the Akron program which A.A. trustee-to-be
Frank Amos reported to John D. Rockefeller,
Jr. Now it is time to see if all of
this has forever been discarded in
recovery. Or if it offers today, to
those in and out of A.A., the same
assurance of Christian deliverance
that electrified the A. A. pioneers
in Akron between the summer of 1935
and the early days of 1939. We mention
this period because it was the time
when the real A.A. program was developed;
and that program began to change even
before Bill published his version
of that program in the Big Book in
the Spring of 1939.
the Message from History in Today’s
A.A.’s Real Problem and the Real Solution
the Early Program Presented.
alcoholic’s problem–yesterday and
today–is not merely the cessation
of his drinking. Yes, many AAs can
be heard to say: Anyone can stop drinking
and often add: The problem is how
to stay stopped. One of A.A.’s Oxford
Group mentors, Charles Clapp, Jr.,
wrote a book about his drinking
(The Big Bender). His later
book was titled, Drinking’s Not
the Problem. Dr. Bob read them
both (See Dick B., Dr. Bob and
His Library). Clapp’s two book
titles make this point. The battle
does not begin when we try to stop
drinking. It begins when the alcoholic
has to face the world without a drink.
There’s much more to the problem than
drinking. One old saw that has made
the rounds in A.A. for years says:
If you sober up a horse thief, what
do you then have? The answer
is–a sober horse thief! There’s more
to the problem than drinking. And
I’d go much much further than that
based on my own real experience..
walked in the doors of Alcoholics
Anonymous about April 23, 1986. I
had taken my last drink on April 21,
1986–two days before. I can barely
remember either event. But then
my problems really began:
Seizures, shakes, sleeplessness, anxiety,
numbness, vague pains, a tongue bitten
almost in half, confusion, and forgetfulness.
These were accompanied and followed
by much larger problems: Legal entanglements,
tax audits, criminal charges, financial
disasters, adverse newspaper publicity,
divorce problems, and difficulties
with the State Bar. But the big ones
were still lurking in the wings: Chilling
terror; shame; guilt; anxiety; depression,
uncontrolled chatter, bewilderment,
worthlessness, and despair.
point here is that these are not uncommon
experiences for an alcoholic who quits
drinking or an addict who stops drugging.
I have sponsored over eighty men in
their recovery. Truly, "some
are sicker than others." But
I’ve seen most of my own former problems
predictably crop up in the early sobriety
of those in A.A. I’ve helped or tried
this leads to two important questions
any "sober" alcoholic needs,
as I did, to ask himself. First, how’s
your life today? Second, what’s the message
you will carry to the next fellow down
the line in order to help him overcome
all his difficulties, drinking and otherwise?
I go up to a newcomer at a meeting
and ask him if he has any troubles,
he often gives the brave answer: "Everything
is just fine." Then I look at
him trembling. I ask him if he is
in trouble with the law. With the
IRS. With his wife or kids or girl
friend. With his debts. And as soon
as I tell him my early story, he spills
the beans: "Life is awful. Nothing
but trouble. I’m miserable."
And he just quit drinking! The battle
begins when the bottle is gone.
A.A. wanted to call its textbook "The
Way Out." Jesus said: "I am
the way, the truth, and the life: no man
cometh unto the Father, but by me"
(John 14:6). And it is no surprise that
his first century followers were said
to be of the "way" (See Acts
9:2, 19:23). The phrases of John 14:6
can be found sprinkled in many parts of
the literature of early A.A. And, when
Dr. Bob and his pioneers said they were
a "Christian Fellowship," they
were adopting the solution that Jesus
offered to all people.
look at the message early AAs were
in a position to carry
has done for us what we could not do for
ourselves." In one form or another,
that idea can be found quite often in
A.A.’s basic text: ". . . there is
no doubt in my mind that you were100%
hopeless, apart from Divine Help."
"Who are you to say there is no God?"
And "That probably no human power
could have relieved our alcoholism. .
. That God could and would if He were
sought." And many more. These pioneer
expressions in the Big Book are founded
on the fundamentalist talk of Oxford Group
Founder Dr. Frank Buchman: "Sin,
the problem. Jesus Christ, the cure. The
result, a miracle." Thus early AAs
often heard of "sin" in their
Message Bill W. Tried to shape in
Wilson began his approach to sobriety
as a self-acknowledged "conservative
atheist." About November,1934, Bill
hosted a visit from his old drinking buddy
Ebby Thacher. Ebby was then about two
months sober. And Ebby came to Bill with
a message. In the Big Book, Bill described
Ebby and his visit as follows: Ebby appeared
"fresh-skinned and glowing. . . .
He was inexplicably different. . . . Simply,
but smilingly, he said, ‘I’ve got religion’."
(Alcoholics Anonymous, 3rd
ed., p. 9). Ebby had previously been rescued
from a judge’s plan to institutionalize
him. His rescuers were Oxford Group people.
He had learned their Christian principles.
And he had been Calvary Rescue Mission
(run by Rev. Sam Shoemaker’s Calvary Episcopal
Church in New York). There as all penitents
did, he accepted Christ.
first, during the long talk with Ebby,
Bill voiced objections against and
questioned ministers, world religions,
a personal God, the shortcomings of
Christians, the power of God, and
religiously facilitated wars. In response,
Ebby "made the point-blank declaration
that God had done for him what he
could not do for himself." "That
floored me," said Bill. "It
began to look as though religious
people were right after all"
(Alcoholics Anonymous, supra,
p. 11). Bill soon followed Ebby’s
example and went to Calvary Mission.
He went there drunk. He inquired how
he could get what Ebby had received.
He attended a mission service drunk.
He answered the altar call drunk;
and he made a decision for Christ
drunk. Soon he went to Towns Hospital
drunk, was visited by Ebby again,
and had what Bill sometimes called
his "hot flash" experience.
That experience forever marked the
end of his drinking problem. From
1934 to 1939, Bill carried tried to
fashion a message for drunks, and
he took them into his home, just as
Dr. Bob had done for him. But not
one got sober. From late 1934 to late
Spring of 1935, Bill had worked to
help drunks, but not one got sober.
Later in 1935, and, after returning
from his stay with Dr. Bob in Akron
in the summer of 1935, he went around
visiting drunks at Towns Hospital,
at the Rescue Mission, and at Oxford
Group meetings in the East. Yet by
his own admission and as confirmed
by the statements of his wife Lois,
he had little success in helping anyone
but himself. At the suggestion of
his doctor (William D. Silkworth,
M.D.), he had modified his message
by slamming drunks with the deadly
facts about alcoholism. But, as time
went on, he acknowledged that it was
in Akron that Dr. Bob was having unusual
success and that the success was due
to Akron’s emphasis on "the spiritual."
Bill also said that the failures in
New York were due to their "pussyfooting"
on the spiritual.
Message Bill and Dr. Bob first put
together and that Dr. Bob developed
Bill, Dr. Bob began his approach to
sobriety as a Christian believer,
a long-time Bible student, and a reader
of Christian materials. He did develop
an aversion, during his drinking years,
to churches and ministers. But the
"spiritual" program he developed
in Akron involved a totally different
technique from that which Bill was
using in New York. It was not Oxford
Group in character. It was not led
by clergy. It was focused on helping
the alcoholic. And Bill had found
himself in awe of Dr. Bob’s religious
training and background as he got
to know Bob in the summer of 1935.
Bill returned to New York and became
involved for a time in business ventures
and Oxford Group work. But Dr. Bob
continued leading and establishing
a simple, effective program and message
which he said had come from the Bible.
He usually called that Bible the "Good
Book." He had had excellent training
in the Bible as a youngster. He had
refreshed his knowledge of the Bible
and read it in full three times before
he had met Bill. Then some Oxford
Group people in Akron had invited
him to pray with them for his deliverance.
And, in a few short weeks, Bill Wilson
emerged to help him.
simple Akron program that was in place by
mid-1938 involved these features:
for about a week, with only a Bible
as reading matter, with visits from,
and stories of victory by, recovered
drunks; daily visits by Dr. Bob himself;
and then the final day with Dr. Bob’s
events characterized Dr. Bob’s last
visit with the alcoholic patient.
He asked if they believed in God.
If the answer was positive, he asked
them to get out of bed, get down on
their knees and pray, and surrender
their lives to Jesus Christ.
fellowshipped together daily, sometimes
even living with Dr. Bob and his wife
or other recovered families. In the
morning, they had Bible study, prayer,
the seeking of guidance from God,
listening to excerpts Anne Smith read
from her spiritual journal, and engaging
in discussion of these and other biblical
broke, they reportedly continued their
fellowship throughout each day, with
meetings, discussions with Anne Smith,
Dr. Bob, Henrietta Seiberling, and
each other. They broke bread together,
studied the Bible, read literature
that was recommended and circulated
by Dr. Bob. And they utilized daily
Bible devotionals such as The Upper
Room and The Runner’s Bible.
the beginning of each week, the leaders
held a set-up meeting in which they
asked God’s guidance as to who should
lead the Wednesday night meeting,
what its topic should be, and what
should be discussed.
Wednesday before the Big Book was
published in 1939, they met at the
home of T. Henry and Clarace Williams
where about fifty percent of those
attending were Oxford Group people
and fifty percent were alcoholics
and their family members. As detailed,
these meetings involved opening prayer,
Bible, group prayer, a discussion
of Bible or other biblical topics,
seeking guidance of God, surrender
by those who had not done so in the
hospital, arrangements for visits
to newcomers at the hospital, and
as they were urged to do so, attended
a church of their choosing. Some pursued
the reading of Christian books and
literature. Some worked with Dr. Bob
on how their lives were measuring
up to the Four Absolutes ("yardsticks"
as Bob called them) of the Oxford
Group. And all took Quiet Times very
seriously, whether at the Wednesday
meeting, at group meetings, or as
already quoted and discussed the foregoing
program as Frank Amos viewed, summarized,
and reported it. That program, we believe,
provided the answer to the two questions
we posed. The lives of the incoming Akron
pioneers, of the Wilsons in New York,
and of many of us today are hardly the
picture of happiness, joyousness, freedom,
or peace as we quit our drinking. They
are rarely the epitome of success. Most
of us then, and most of us now, start
our sobriety from some sort of bottom
of the well. When we stopped drinking,
rehabilitation and life-change were hardly
a priority, an acknowledged need, or a
mission. But life catches up with the
sober alcoholic. "Welcome to reality,"
is what they say to lots of us. "Acceptance
is the answer," some add. But neither
reality nor acceptance provide answers
to withdrawal problems, to legal and financial
problems, or to haunting fears and guilt
road to recovery involves lots more than
quitting the booze and attending meetings.
To those who have sought and received
God’s help, it can and should mean an
abundant life based on sonship with God
and obedience to His commandments. It
also means work! "Faith without works
is dead," says the Scripture AAs
so often quoted from the Book of James.
The work meant the very things Frank Amos
specified about the "program":
(1) Staying away from the bottle. (2)
Seeking God’s help. (3) Finding His will
in His Word. (4) Talking with Him and
listening to Him in quiet. (5) Changing
behavior to conform to His commandments.
(6) Fellowshipping with Him, His Son,
and his children to implement His will,
receive His promises, be released from
our prisons, and enjoy an abundant and
later an everlasting life.
the message if we "do" the early
the Big Book declares, and as the
leading Oxford Group writer Eleanor
Forde said in the 1920's, as Sam Shoemaker
wrote so often in the 1930's, and
as Anne Smith stated in her journal:
(1) You can’t give away something
that you do not have. (2) You have
to give it away to keep it. And whether
such expressions are biblical, they
do flow from God’s own declarations
about His will.
Good Book says His desire is that we become
His children by being born again of His
Spirit. When that happens, we have a relationship
with Him–a relationship coming directly
from our being born again and having become
His children–when we do what He says we
must do to accomplish that. Here’s what
the Good Book says:
not that I [Jesus] said unto thee,
Ye must be born again (John 3:8)
God so loved the world, that he gave his
only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth
in him should not perish, but have everlasting
life. For God sent not his Son into the
world to condemn the world; but that the
world through him might be saved (John
it known unto you all, and to all
the people of Israel, that by the
name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth,
whom ye crucified, whom God raised
from the dead, even by him
doth this man stand before you whole.
. . . Neither is there salvation in
any other; for there is none other
name under heaven given among men,
whereby we must be saved (Acts 4:10,
if thou shalt confess with thy mouth
the Lord Jesus and shalt believe in
thine heart that God hath raised him
from the dead, thou shalt be saved
born again, not of corruptible seed,
but of incorruptible, by the word
of God which liveth and abideth forever
(1 Peter 1:23)
believeth that Jesus is the Christ
is born of God. . . (1 John 5:1)
new birth from above, from being born
again, being born of God, being "saved"
or made whole by receipt of the spirit
of God, is the relationship early
AAs sought, obtained, and had. That
is what they had.
what was the message they were to
learn and pass on so that others could
receive the spirit of God? They were
to tell others what God had done for
them and how the others could receive
that same sonship, fellowship, power,
love, sanity, forgiveness, and deliverance
by becoming God’s children through
a new birth and by then obeying His
Bible to Big Book
the original "program" in Akron
take its basic ideas from the Good Book?
Bob said that the basic ideas were
taken from the Bible. He said the
oldtimers found the answers to their
problems in the Bible. When he was
asked a question about the program,
he would ask: What does the Good Book
say? He and Bill both said the Sermon
on the Mount contained the underlying
philosophy of A.A. And Dr. Bob cited
Matthew 5 to 7, 1 Corinthians 13,
and the Book of James as being "absolutely
essential" to success in the
"program." Bill confirmed
their study of "Corinthians"
and said that James was their favorite.
The Bible roots can be found in Anne
Smith’s Journal, in the AA of Akron
pamphlets, and in the very words and
phrases pioneers used–"Creator"
(Genesis 1:1); "Faith without
works is dead" (James 2:20);
"Love thy neighbor as thyself"
(Matthew 5:43; 22:30; Leviticus 19:18);
and the "kindness, honesty, love,
and patience" principles in the
Big Book (1 Corinthians 13:4-6; James
1:3-4, 5:7-8). We have identified
many more in The Good Book and
The Big Book: A.A.’s Roots in the
Bible and in Appendix Three of
Why Early A.A. Succeeded: The Good
Book in Alcoholics Anonymous Yesterday
and Today. The Bible sources of
A.A. are overwhelmingly confirmed
by the statements of its founders
and the language used in its Big Book.
But few in A.A. today know the facts
or can find the facts in their Big
Book or literature or even consider
those facts important.
those two questions again: First, "How
is your life now that you have stopped drinking?"
Second, "What message are you able
to carry to the alcoholic who still suffers?"
Is the message merely that you should not
pick up the first drink? Is it just about
going to meetings? Is it just about making
the coffee, pushing the broom, or counting
the money? The original answer from Ebby
Thacher–conveyed by his very presence and
his firm talk–to Bill Wilson was that he
(Ebby) was inexplicably different and a
happy man–one who had "found religion."
Ebby’s message to Bill also communicated
that he had gone to Calvary Rescue Mission,
surrendered his life to Jesus Christ, and
found that God had done for him what he
was unable to do for himself. The message
was straight from the Oxford Group and Calvary
Mission’s Bible roots.
Akron, neither Dr. Bob nor Bill Dotson
(A.A. Number Three) needed to accept
Christ. They were already Christians.
But a new life for them hinged on
the decision to obey the words of
God. In the words of the sermon on
the mount, they would only enter into
the kingdom of heaven if they did
the will of their Father who was in
heaven (Matthew 7:21) It would not
happen, said Dr. Bob in his personal
story, if they merely stood on atheist,
agnostic, or skeptical ground. If
they followed the words of the Good
Book as they were embodied in the
early program, said he: "Your
Heavenly Father will never let you
down!" (Big Book, 3rd
ed., p. 181).
happened to that program and where
can you find it in the Big Book and
can take Bill and Bob at their word.
The program in Akron–the program developed
by the "older ones" as Dr.
Bob spoke of them–found its ideas and
answers in the Bible. As you can see
from the Frank Amos report to Rockefeller,
this Biblical program was still intact,
working, and highly successful in May,
1938–about the time Bill secured approval
for starting the Big Book drafts (Lois
Remembers, p. 111). But what happened?
We don’t really know how the elements
of the original program disappeared.
But we do today have some well-established
facts about what happened in the period
from 1938 to the Spring of 1939 when
the Big Book was first published. Here’s
what we do know about what happened?
Wilson said this: "Finally it
was agreed that the book should present
a universal spiritual program, not
a specific religious one, since all
drunks were not Christian" (Lois
Remembers, p. 113).
said this of the next step away from
the original program: Bill had finished
writing his draft of the Big Book.
Then, said Lois: "But when he
showed them to the group, the old
discussion was resumed. There was
‘too much God,’ it was said; and ‘For
pete’s sake, take out that bit in
Step Seven about getting down on your
knees.’ . . . Finally they hit upon
the phrases ‘God as we understood
Him’ and ‘a Power greater than ourselves.’
These expressions were ten-strikes;
they could be used by anyone anywhere"
(Lois Remembers, p.
Big Book drafts continued in their
march away from the Bible, adding
New Age and New Thought concepts about
a "fourth dimension," "Creative
Intelligence," "Spirit of
the Universe," "Higher Power,"
and the like.
Sam Shoemaker himself suggested that
people go to an "open" meeting
of A.A. and listen to what recovered
men and women say of what life is
like now that they look to the Higher
Power, which AA calls God so as to
include all in their program. . .
. AA often calls God or Christ a "power
greater than ourselves" (Dick
B., Turning Point: A History of
Early A.A.’s Spiritual Roots
and Successes, p. 166; Shoemaker,
The Twelve Steps of AA: What they
Can Mean to the Rest of Us)
next step seems to have born much
fruit after Dr. Bob’s death? Bill
Wilson said: "You can, if you
wish, make A.A. itself your "higher
power" (Twelve Steps and Twelve
Traditions, pp. 27-28).
final step has led to a lightbulb,
a doorknob, a chair, a radiator, and
all the rest of what Shoemaker called
"absurd names for God.."
In The Spirituality of Imperfection,
the authors claim: "The most
basic understanding of the concept
"Higher Power" within Alcoholics
Anonymous is that is that which keeps
me sober," (p. 208).
you want to know where God went–how
AAs lost their Creator–just consider
the historical facts related above.
There is no place in the Bible for
"that which keeps me sober"
or "higher power" or lightbulbs.
And there is no place for believers
today in an interpretation of A.A.
that is in flagrant contradiction
to the Bible, to the early history,
and to the program that won the support
for a Big Book.
where do you go? The choice is yours!
is no ban on the Bible in A.A., either
in the original program or in today’s
fellowship. There are those who don’t
like the Bible, who don’t read it,
who criticize it, and who raise all
kinds of fuss when it is mentioned.
But they have no more standing than
a mouse in a cat’s mouth as far as
speaking for A.A. is concerned.
is no ban on the Creator or on Jesus
Christ in Alcoholics Anonymous. The
Creator is part and parcel of the
language of every edition of the Big
Book. Jesus Christ is part of the
history.. There are those who don’t
like the Creator or Jesus Christ,
who denounce them, who establish idols
in their place, and who raise all
kinds of fuss when they are mentioned.
These people also have no more standing
than our mouse.
is no ban on learning the history
of early A.A. and using it. I did.
So did more than 80 men I have sponsored.
So are thousands around the world
today. There are those who treat any
document that is not "Conference
Approved" as somehow being contrary
to A.A. Traditions, likely to produce
drinking, and not fit for A.A. consumption.
But A.A.’s own Box 459 put
the lie to such talk many years ago.
People who want an index of forbidden
books in A.A. don’t know their history,
their own literature, or the harm
they do. They also have no standing,
but they are loud in their protests.
can, if you choose, go where the early
AAs went and can be delivered as they
may start where Henrietta Seiberling,
Bill and Bob, and Frank Amos started.
They certainly did declare the necessity
for abstinence: Don’t take a drink,
no matter what–not a drop. You can’t
do much with God, Jesus Christ, or
the Bible if you are a practicing
alcoholic. Even ministers and priests
have tried and often wound up in our
may partake of the great support and
understanding A.A. provides to those
who seem to have no home and no welcome
elsewhere. And you may learn from
those who have researched our history
exactly how early AAs recovered and
the tools they used.
may read the Big Book and the Twelve
Steps so that you know what A.A. offers
today. If you don’t abandon God, His
Son, or His Word, you may study and
use the A.A. tools. There is no need
to revise the language of the 12 Steps.
There is no need to form an outside
fellowship. There is no need to hold
your tongue about your own experience
although there is little value in
speaking publically to those who refuse
to listen and learn.
may go from spiritual birth to youth
to maturity if you choose. And the
Bible provides God’s plan as to how
you can do that as His child and in
obedience to His will. The early Akron
pioneers gave it a try and succeeded.
Why not you!