Oxford Group and Alcoholics Anonymous
Dick B. Part One
Your Questions Accurately and Definitely
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.
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
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.
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
Places to Look
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 mentioned above.
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
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
What are the Oxford Group books?
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
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 them.
Oxford Group ideas that counted
in early A.A.
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.
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.
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
blockage of self–is a reality and
estranges us from God and our fellow
man (See Foot, Life Began Yesterday).
God: Surrender (of self to God)
is the required turning point (See
Benson, The Eight Points).
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).
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).
Christ: The way to God,
to power, and to change is through
Christ (See Almond, Foundations
for Faith and Phillimore,
Just for Today).
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 Quiet Time).
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
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)
materials on Founder Dr. Frank
H. W. "Bunny".
Frank Buchman as I Knew Him,
London: Grosvenor, 1975
Harold. Life Changers. New
York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1927
Buchman-80. Compiled by His
Friends. London: Blandford Press,
Peter. Frank Buchman’s Secret.
New York: Doubleday, 1961
Garth. Frank Buchman: A Life:
London: Constable, 1985
version: On the Tail of a Comet.
Colorado: Helmers & Howard,
Theophil. Dynamic out of Silence:
Frank Buchman’s Relevance Today.
London: Grosvenor Books, 1976
Allen. The Significance of the
Life of Frank Buchman. London;
Moral Re-Armament, 1952.
Literature (read by AAs prior
to publication of their Big Book)
Geoffrey Francis. He That Cometh.
New York: The Macmillan Company,
Harold. Twice Born Men. New
York: Fleming H. Revell, 1909
Clarence Irving. The Eight Points
of the Oxford Group. London:
Oxford University Press, 1936.
Stephen. Life Began Yesterday.
New York: Harper Brothers, 1935
Eleanor Napier. The Guidance
of God. London: The Oxford Group,
A.S. Loudon. Description of the
First Century Christian Fellowship.
Vol 2. The Messenger, June, 1923.
V.C. I Was a Pagan. New York.
Harper & Brothers, 1934
7, The South African Adventure.
A Miracle Working God Abroad.
Oxford: The Groups, A First Century
Christian Fellowship, 1930
Frank D. and Leslie Weatherhead.
The Finger of God. London:
Group Publications, 1934
A. J. For Sinners Only. London:
Hodder & Stoughton, 1932
Hallen. How do I Begin? The
Oxford Group, 61 Gramercy Park,
New York, 1937
Howard A. Soul-Surgery: Some
Thought on Incisive Personal Work.
Oxford: The Oxford Group, 1928.
Summaries of Oxford Group Principles
Harry J. Foundations for Faith.
2d ed., London: Grosvenor Books,
Kenneth D. Meeting Moral Re-Armament.
London: Grosvenor Books, 1979
Philip Marshall. The Venture
of Belief. New York: Fleming
H. Revell, 1935
Frank N. D. Remaking the World.
London: Blandford Press, 1961
Sherwood Sunderland. The Principles
of the Group. Oxford: University
Press, circa 1923
T. Willard. World Changing through
Life Changing. Thesis. Newton
Center, Mass: Andover-Newton Theological
Garth. Cast Out Your Nets.
London: Grosvenor, 1990
Philip. The Philosophy of Courage
or the Oxford Group Way. New
York: Oxford University Press, 1939
Miles. Just for Today. Privately
published pamphlet, 1940
Cecil. When Man Listens.
New York: Oxford University Press,
Howard J. The Quiet Time.
New York: Oxford Group at 61 Gramercy
Park, North, 1937
Burnett Hillman. The God Who
Speaks. London: Macmillan &
Layman with a Notebook. What
is the Oxford Group? London:
Oxford University Press, 1933
Leslie D. Discipleship. London:
Student Christian Movement Press,
How Can I Find God? New York:
Fleming H. Revell, 1934.
Jack. When I Awake. London:
Hodder & Stoughton, 1938.
Why I Believe in the Oxford Group.
London: Hodder & Stoughton,
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.
B., PO Box 837, Kihei, HI 96753-0837; 808
874 4876; email@example.com