A.A.’s Two Major Sources of Ideas
Some Brief Points on the Bible and on A First Century Christian Fellowship
© 2014 Anonymous. All Rights Reserved
For reasons not very clear to me today, those who write and speak on A.A. sources seldom focus on the Bible. And that is wrong. They also frequently focus on, but denigrate, the “Oxford Group” (first known as A First Century Christian Fellowship). That is not wrong; but, if the historical context and disassociation with the Oxford Group are ignored, it is very wrong. So in this brief starting point, let’s look at the two identifiable major sources of A.A. ideas. And where they can be found manifested.
The Bible is the Number One Sourc
The Bible (also called the Good Book by most early AAs) was clearly stated as the major source of A.A. program ideas starting in 1935. The best and most reliable authority that confirms this source is in A.A. General Service Conference-approved literature. And the succinct summaries are in The Co-Founders of Alcoholics Anonymous: Biographical Sketches Their Last Major Talks and in DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers, page 131—where the Akron Christian Fellowship program is summarized in seven points.
In The Co-Founders, Dr. Bob’s remarks in his last major talk are these:
I had refreshed my memory of the Good Book, and I had had excellent training in that as a youngster (pp. 11-12) . . . I felt that I should continue to increase my familiarity with the Good Book (p. 13)
. . . we were convinced that the answer to our problems was in the Good Book. To some of us older ones, the parts that we found absolutely essential were the Sermon on the Mount [Matthew Chapters 5-7], the thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians, and the Book of James (p. 13)
It wasn’t until 1938 that the teachings and efforts and studies that had been going on were crystallized in the form of the Twelve Steps. 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 I said, as a result of our study of the Good Book (p. 14)
The “Oxford Group” Was a Detoured Source
In succession, the names for the group founded by Dr. Frank Buchman about 1922 were: (1) A First Century Christian Fellowship. (2) the Oxford Group—about 1928. (3) Moral Re-Armament—about 1938; and Initiatives of Change—long after AAs had left the Oxford Group.
This A First Century Christian Fellowship source of A.A. ideas can be summarized in three groups:
(1) The twenty-eight Oxford Group ideas that constituted their original life-changing art. See Dick B., The Oxford Group & Alcoholics Anonymous: A Design for Living That Works! (pp. 249-297)
(2) The more than 187 parallels between Oxford Group and Big Book Language, which we will detail in the next article. And see Dick B., The Oxford Group & Alcoholics Anonymous (pp. 340-364)
(3) The period which Dr. Bob described as follows:
Now the interesting part of all this is not the sordid details, but the situation that we two fellows were in. We had both been associated with the Oxford Group, Bill in New York, for five months, and I in Akron, for two and a half years. Bill had acquired their idea of service. I had not, but I had done an immense amount of reading they had recommended. See The Co-Founders (p. 11).
In Akron A.A., the meetings at T. Henry Williams’s house on Wednesday were regarded as a “clandestine lodge of the Oxford Group.” We believe it was for two reasons: (1) The once-a-week gatherings were not at all like Oxford Group meetings being held world-wide. (2) Many of the Akron AAs did not like them; and sometimes held meetings in separate rooms—one for the Oxford Group people, and one for the drunks and their families.
This period ended in 1939 when the Akron people left the Oxford Group meetings.
(4) The association between A.A. and the Group in New York was quite different: (a) Bill Wilson had received some indoctrination in Oxford Group ideas from Oxford Groupers Rowland Hazard, F. Shepard Cornell, Cebra Graves, and Ebby Thacher (b) Both Bill and his wife attended Oxford Group meetings very frequently from the date of Bill’s discharge from Towns Hospital in 1934 until—as Lois Wilson described it—“they kind of kicked us out.” And that was in August of 1937 (c) After he received authorization from Akronites to write a book, Bill worked with Rev. Sam Shoemaker on the manuscripts and later asked Sam to write the Twelve Steps, but Shoemaker declined. Nonetheless, Shoemaker—who distanced himself totally from the Oxford Group in 1941—continued as a friend, adviser, speaker, and “co-founder” of A.A. through his friendship with Wilson. See Dick B., New Light on Alcoholism: God, Sam Shoemaker, and A.A., Pittsburgh ed.
In short, the Bible influence on A.A. ideas was frequently acknowledged by Dr. Bob, Bill W., Anne Smith, and Henrietta Seiberling. And the practices of early Akron A.A. Group Number One were Bible to the core. On the other hand, the Oxford Group influence was very much confined to the Oxford Group language and Shoemaker language that Bill used in the “new version of the program the Twelve Steps”—which were not published until 1939. That situation itself also changed when Bill and the “committee of four” gave in to atheists and agnostics and opened the “Broad Highway” of membership for all—regardless of their belief or lack thereof.