The Seven Basic Christian Roots of Early A.A.

A.A. cofounders William Griffith Wilson (“Bill W.”) and Robert Holbrook Smith, M.D. (“Dr. Bob”) both were born and raised in Vermont, had a Congregational Christian upbringing, were much involved in Bible study, knew of conversions, attended church at least once a week, and attended chapel every school day as required at the Academies in which they were “scholars” (i.e., students). Each was steeped in the seven basic Christian roots of early A.A.

Christian Root Number One: Evangelists and Revivalists: These strong Christian men included such well-known figures as Dwight L. Moody, Ira Sankey, and the English evangelist Henry Moorhouse, all of whom visited St. Johnsbury, Vermont, not many years before Dr. Bob was born on August 8, 1879. These and other evangelists and revivalists had direct and/or indirect impact on St. Johnsbury, Vermont (where Dr. Bob was born) and East Dorset, Vermont (where Bill W. was born) both through meetings and through their public talks being written up in newspapers of the day—such as The New York Times. These Christian men preached salvation and God’s Word.

Christian Root Number Two: The Young Men’s Christian Associations (YMCA): Christian laymen involved with the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA)—such as Henry Martyn (“H. M.”) Moore (who later became president of Northfield Seminary founded by Dwight L. Moody), K. A. Burnell, Allen Folger, Russell Sturgis, Jr., and others, were largely responsible for the “Great Awakening” of 1875 in St. Johnsbury, Vermont, which took place just before Dr. Bob was born. The YMCA’s orientation was undenominational and featured outreach by Christian laypeople. They conducted gospel and revival meetings, and stressed conversion to Christ and Bible study.

Christian Root Number Three: (Gospel) Rescue Missions: These missions served derelicts and drunks; gave them “soup, soap, and salvation”; opened services with “Jesus Saves”; and had featured hymns, Bible reading, and an altar call. Both Bill W.’s former drinking buddy, Ebby Thacher [who told Bill that he (Ebby) had “found religion”], and Bill W. himself, made their “decisions for Christ” at Calvary Rescue Mission in New York.

Christian Root Number Four: The Salvation Army: The Salvation Army’s fundamental outreach involved one recovered alcoholic reaching out to another alcoholic, bringing that alcoholic to Christ by sharing the good news of the Bible with him, and then encouraging that alcoholic (as he got sober and on track with God) to serve others in “God’s Army.”

Christian Root Number Five: The Young People’s Society of Christian Endeavor (“For Christ and for Church”): Dr. Bob said in his personal story in Alcoholics Anonymous (the “Big Book”) that he was active in Christian Endeavor in his North Congregational Church in St. Johnsbury. The Christian Endeavor program Bob was involved in as a youth was almost identical to that of the original Akron A.A. “Christian fellowship” program which he and Bill W. developed beginning in the summer of 1935. It involved confession of Christ, conversion meetings, prayer meetings, Bible study meetings, “Quiet Hour,” reading and discussion of Christian literature, and the slogan “love and service”—which popped up in Dr. Bob’s A.A. talks.

Christian Root Number Six: The Oxford Group: This group was formed about 1919 and espoused a Christian life-changing program with 28 principles that impacted upon A.A. Bill W. incorporated many of these principles into the Big Book (first published in April 1939) and its Twelve Step program.

Christian Root Number Seven: Rev. Samuel M. Shoemaker, Jr., Rector of Calvary Episcopal Church in New York. An American Oxford Group leader, prolific writer, and a man who taught Bill W. the ideas behind all of the Twelve Steps, particularly Steps Three through Twelve.

Resources: Dick B., Dr. Bob of Alcoholics Anonymous; Dick B., The Conversion of Bill W; Dick B., The Oxford Group & Alcoholics Anonymous; Dick B., New Light on Alcoholism: God, Sam Shoemaker, and A.A.; Dick B., Real Twelve Step Fellowship History.