Oxford Group and Alcoholics Anonymous
By Dick B.
Answering Your Questions Accurately and
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 resemblances 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 Pittman and
A.A.’s second archivist at GSO Frank Mauser referred me to Rev.
Leslie D. Weatherhead’s Discipleship. As Frank Mauser
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.?
Pittman’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, and 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 veterans 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 Pittman, 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
Wilson, 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
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
the Southwest. 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.
And 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
The Oxford Group Ideas That Counted in Early
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.
Ideas 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 Hebrews 11:6
Sin–the blockage of self–is a reality and
estranges us from God and our fellow man (See Foot, Life Began
Finding God: Surrender (of self to God) is the
required turning point (See Benson, The Eight Points of the
Oxford Group). 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 Changers).
The 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 Sinners Only).
Jesus Christ: The way to God, to power, and to
change is through Christ (See Almond, Foundations for Faith;
and Phillimore, Just for Today).
Continuance 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 journaling 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
The Spiritual Experience or 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.
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)
Biographical Materials on Founder Dr. Frank
Austin, H. W. “Bunny”. Frank Buchman As
I Knew Him, London: Grosvenor, 1975.
Begbie, Harold. Life Changers. New York:
G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1927.
Frank Buchman-80. Compiled by His Friends.
London: Blandford Press, 1958.
Howard, Peter. Frank Buchman’s Secret.
New York: Doubleday, 1961.
Lean, Garth. Frank Buchman: A Life.
London: Constable, 1985.
(American version: On the Tail of a Comet.
Colorado: Helmers & Howard, 1988.)
Spoerri, Theophil. Dynamic out of Silence:
Frank Buchman’s Relevance Today. London: Grosvenor Books,
Thornhill, Allen. The Significance of the
Life of Frank Buchman. London; Moral Re-Armament, 1952.
Early Literature (read by AAs prior to
publication of their Big Book)
Allen, Geoffrey Francis. He That Cometh.
New York: The Macmillan Company, 1933.
Begbie, Harold. Twice Born Men. New
York: Fleming H. Revell, 1909.
Benson, Clarence Irving. The Eight Points of
the Oxford Group. London: Oxford University Press, 1936.
Foot, Stephen. Life Began Yesterday. New
York: Harper Brothers, 1935.
Forde, Eleanor Napier. The Guidance of God.
London: The Oxford Group, 1927.
Hamilton, A.S. Loudon. "Description of the
First Century Christian Fellowship." Vol 2. The Messenger,
Kitchen, V.C. I Was a Pagan. New York.
Harper & Brothers, 1934.
"Letter 7, The South African Adventure. A
Miracle Working God Abroad." Oxford: The Groups, A First
Century Christian Fellowship, 1930.
Raynor, Frank D. and Leslie Weatherhead. The
Finger of God. London: Group Publications, 1934.
Russell, A. J. For Sinners Only. London:
Hodder & Stoughton, 1932.
Viney, Hallen. How Do I Begin? The
Oxford Group, 61 Gramercy Park, New York, 1937.
Walter, Howard A. Soul-Surgery: Some Thought
on Incisive Personal Work. Oxford: The Oxford Group, 1928.
Informative Summaries of Oxford Group
Almond, Harry J. Foundations for Faith.
2d ed., London: Grosvenor Books, 1980.
Belden, Kenneth D. Meeting Moral Re-Armament.
London: Grosvenor Books, 1979.
Brown, Philip Marshall. The Venture of
Belief. New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1935.
Buchman, Frank N. D. Remaking the World.
London: Blandford Press, 1961.
Day, Sherwood Sunderland. The Principles of
the Group. Oxford: University Press, circa 1923.
Hunter, T. Willard. World Changing through
Life Changing. Thesis. Newton Center, Mass: Andover-Newton
Theological School, 1977.
Lean, Garth. Cast Out Your Nets. London:
Leon, Philip. The Philosophy of Courage or
the Oxford Group Way. New York: Oxford University Press, 1939.
Phillimore, Miles. Just for Today.
Privately published pamphlet, 1940.
Rose, Cecil. When Man Listens. New York:
Oxford University Press, 1937.
Rose, Howard J. The Quiet Time. New
York: Oxford Group at 61 Gramercy Park, North, 1937.
Streeter, Burnett Hillman. The God Who
Speaks. London: Macmillan & Co., 1936.
The Layman with a Notebook. What is the
Oxford Group? London: Oxford University Press, 1933.
Weatherhead, Leslie D. Discipleship.
London: Student Christian Movement Press, 1934.
Weatherhead, Leslie D. How Can I Find God?
New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1934.
Winslow, Jack. When I Awake. London:
Hodder & Stoughton, 1938.
Winslow, Jack. Why I Believe in the Oxford
Group. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1934.
The Pleasant Surprise
You can come to our centers where the actual
information can be seen–particularly The Wilson House at Bill
Wilson’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.
to AA History