The Oxford Group and Alcoholics Anonymous

The Oxford Group and Alcoholics Anonymous by Dick B via

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 resemblance’s 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 P. and A.A.’s second archivist at GSO Frank M. referred me to Rev. Leslie D. Weatherhead’s Discipleship. As Frank M. 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.?

     Bill P.’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. They 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.

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     Without describing in detail all the Oxford Group dinosaurs 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.

The 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 P., 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 W. 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 mentioned above.

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