Previously in part one of this article, we looked at Alcoholics Anonymous co-founder Bill Wilson. In this final installment we’ll look at others whose influence will give crucial insight into the substance of AA.
Lois Wilson, Bill’s wife, played an important part in starting Al-Anon, which was aimed at helping the spouses and family members of alcoholics. Al-Anon uses the same 12-step literature and program as Alcoholics Anonymous.
Mrs. Wilson was a professing Swedenborgian. Swedenborgianism, also known as a The New Church and The New Church of Jerusalem, is cult that was started by Emmanuel Swedenborg in the 1700’s. They are not Christian because they reject the Trinity, they do not believe the Holy Spirit is God, Jesus’ death did not atone for sin, and that salvation comes by practicing what you believe regardless of your religion.
Dr. Bob Smith:
Dr. Bob Smith, known amongst AA circles simply as Dr. Bob, was co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous with Bill Wilson. Less is known about his beliefs and thoughts on God than that of Wilson, but we do know that he was given a very religious upbringing by his parents at their Congregationalist church. Many Congregationalist churches during the late 19th century were ravaged from all sides by heresy, with many succumbing to Unitarianism, the Social Gospel movement, liberalism, ecumenism, and universalism.[4, 5] Despite the turning of many churches to apostasy, some remained faithful to God’s word. The state of the church his parents attended during his childhood currently remains unknown, but further research may reveal this in the future. In either case, Smith described his upbringing this way:
From childhood through high school I was more or less forced to go to church, Sunday School, and evening service, Monday night Christian Endeavor and sometimes to Wednesday evening prayer meeting. This had the effect of making me resolve that when I was free from parental domination, I would never darken the doors of a church. This resolution I kept steadfastly for the next forty years, except when circumstances made it seem unwise to absent myself.
Clearly, he rejected whatever he learned in his religious upbringing, resolving not to go to church again unless it was advantageous to him somehow. This he did for forty years.
Smith was likely the one who introduced Wilson to the occult practices he was involved in for years. Dr. Bob and the Good Oldtimers records Smith’s son as saying, “He felt that in far distant centuries, the science of the mind would be so developed as to make possible contact between the living and the dead.” The text goes on to say that mystical experiences were a particular interest that he pursued for some time and recounts tales of séances, vanishing beards, and the like. One early AA member made the claim that at one point things became too intense for Doc’s involvement in the occult, saying that “Doc backed off, too.” This is particularly interesting because there really is no mention of repentance from this sin, merely a “backing off” from the practice out of fear because it was getting too spooky.
Even more concerning for Smith is that he also embraced and promoted Emmet Fox’s heretical work Sermon on the Mount. One early AA member claims that, “The first thing he did was get me Emmet Fox’s ‘The Sermon on the Mount’”. This is problematic for all the same reasons mentioned in part one of this article relating to Bill Wilson. Along with his gravitation toward Fox’s heresy, he also made regular visits to a Catholic retreat in Cleveland for weekend stays. He was also an avid reader and studied all sorts of various philosophies and religions. His son remarks that, “he read about every religion.” Disturbingly, Smith’s study of various religions, including Christianity, did not lead him to truth, for he landed on the heresies of Fox, the Roman Catholic church, and the false religion he co-founded as his preferred avenues for spiritual concentration. There is no indication that his views of Jesus and God were anything but heretical.
Harry Emerson Fosdick:
Harry Emerson Fosdick was a pastor who enjoyed wide popularity during the time Alcoholics Anonymous was formed. His efforts propelled liberal theology and attacked historic fundamental Christianity, leading to the downfall of many churches. He rejected the idea that the Bible is the Word of God, the virgin birth of Jesus, God’s wrath against sin and the necessity of the substitutionary atonement of Jesus, the bodily resurrection of Christ, his physical ascension to heaven, and doubted whether Jesus ever even thought of himself as the Messiah.
When AA began to have early success he apparently reviewed the program with approval. For many, this is seen as evidence of AA’s Christian roots and serves to ease the conscience of any who may suspect that AA isn’t Christian. What many do not realize is that Fosdick was not a Christian, but a false teacher. One only has to ask the question to know its answer: should anyone be encouraged that a false teacher found nothing objectionable in the AA program and thus gave a good review? More information on Fosdick can be found by following the link below.
The False Teachers: Harry Emerson Fosdick
The founders of AA certainly had some knowledge of the Bible. Unfortunately, that knowledge didn't lead to sound doctrine or to a saving faith in the only begotten Son of God, Jesus Christ. This is most clearly reflected in the ideas expressed in AA literature and the resulting doctrines found that are contradictory to the clear gospel presented in Scripture. Dick B. even makes the open admission that AA is not Christian, but continues to endorse it by attempting to compare AA with the Red Cross, the Armed Forces and even the U.S. Constitution. Of course none of these are actively attempting to teach their own spiritual doctrines or a path to God, so the comparison is meaningless. A truer comparison would be like encouraging a Christian to join a cult like Mormonism or the Jehovah Witnesses. Several articles addressing the false teachings of the AA program can be found on this site and will not be referenced as part of this article.
Much more could be said of many others who had influences on the early AA movement. Men such as Fulton Oursler, who rejected his Baptist upbringing to become agnostic at age 15 only to later convert to Roman Catholicism. The false teacher Norman Vincent Peale whose influence can be found in terms like “higher power”.[19, 20] Even the humanist philosophies of Carl Jung and William James can be found in the 12-steps. There is a wealth of information to be put forth on these and others which would further expose the ungodly streams that flow into the murky waters of AA philosophy, theology, and practice. At this moment, what has been laid out in this article is sufficient evidence to conclude that the major components of AA were derived from unregenerate minds and anti-biblical worldviews that twist and distort truth in the name of God.
By looking at AA literature and the beliefs and practices of early AA supporters, it should be clear that they were not Christians nor was the work they produced Christian. One might wonder why take such a critical look at the beliefs of these men. Let the reader be reminded of the warnings given by Jesus himself about false teachers who would come in his name (Matthew 24:5). Tragically, there are some such as Dick B. who continue to vigorously defend AA based on what they wish it could have been, but never was, and in doing so severely harm the body of Christ. These would have us believe that the Holy Spirit regenerated the AA co-founders, gave them a supposedly remarkable spiritual insight to help alcoholics, but never brought them to a clear and enduring conviction to worship the true God of the Bible. This is utterly inconceivable. God’s Word simply does not allow for that possibility.
Thankfully, there is a better way. Instead of relying upon the testimony, teachings, and methods birthed from darkened minds, believers have God’s written word and the Holy Spirit living in them. We would do well to remember the Apostle Paul’s words:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2)
The one true God has revealed himself as a Trinity of persons (Deuteronomy 6:4, Isaiah 44:8, Matthew 28:19, John 1:1-3, Galatians 1:1, Acts 5:3-4). Consequently, there is only one Jesus Christ who is worthy of anyone’s devotion, time, worship and prayer. This Jesus came to earth and took on human flesh, lived a sinless life, died on the cross as a wrath bearing substitute for all believers, was physically raised on the third day, and ascended to heaven to reign as King of kings and Lord of lords (Acts 1:9-11, 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, 2 Corinthians 5:21, Philippians 2:5-11, Revelation 17:14, 19:16).
Dear reader, God’s word truly is sufficient and His power truly infinite. He has gone to great lengths to secure salvation for all who would call on his name (Romans 10:9-13). Turn to him, forsake the burden of AA and this world, and follow Christ alone.
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)
1. Dick B., My Search for the Curious Nonsense "gods" Floating Around Recovery Talk, (2011), http://dickb.com/articles/AA-Higher-Powers.shtml, quoting Lois Wilson, Lois Remembers: Memoirs of the Co-Founder of Al-Anon and Wife of the Co-Founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, (New York: Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc., 1987), 26.
2. What is Swedenborgianism?, https://gotquestions.org/Swedenborgianism.html
3. Dick B., Introduction: The Challenge and Direction of the Dr. Bob Resource Volumes, (2007), http://www.drbob.info/newsletters/Introduction.htm
4. The Congregational Christian Tradition, (Congregational Library & Archives, 2013), http://www.congregationallibrary.org/researchers/congregational-christian-tradition
5. Daniel T. Jenkins, Congregationalism, (2015), https://www.britannica.com/topic/Congregationalism
6. Alcoholics Anonymous, Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th Edition (New York: A.A. World Services, 2001), 172.
7. Alcoholics Anonymous, Pass it On, (New York: A.A. World Services, 1984), 275.
8. Alcoholics Anonymous, Dr. Bob and the Good Oldtimers: A biography, with recollections of early A.A. in the Midwest, (New York: A.A. World Services, 1986), 311.
9. Ibid., 311-312.
10. Ibid., 312.
11. Ibid., 311-312.
12. Ibid., 310.
13. Ibid., 311.
14. Ibid., 309-310.
15. David Pultz, Theological Influences and Beliefs of Harry Emerson Fosdick, (Christian Education Committee, 1995-1996), http://www.fpcnyc.org/about-us/history/harry-emerson-fosdick/theological-influences.html - sthash.Llm4h98T.dpbs
16. Alcoholics Anonymous, Alcoholics Anonymous, xvii.
17. Dick B., My Search for the Curious Nonsense “gods” Floating Around Recovery Talk
18. Lorene Hanley Duquen, A Century of Catholic Converts, (Huntington, Indiana: Our Sunday Visitor, 2003), 129 & 131.
19. Dick B., A.A., Dr. William D. Silkworth, and the “Great Physician”, (2013), http://www.dickb.com/articles/AA-Dr-William-D-Silkworth-and-the-Great-Physician.shtml
20. Tim Challies, The False Teachers: Norman Vincent Peale, (2014), http://www.challies.com/articles/the-false-teachers-norman-vincent-peale
21. Alcoholics Anonymous, Alcoholics Anonymous, 26-28.
Chad Prigmore is Pastor and President of The Way Ministry Church USA & Kenya.