Alcoholics Anonymous History
A.A.’s Experiment of Faith
and Cofounder Sam Shoemaker
(The rector whose teachings were
the foundation of Bill W.’s 12-Steps)
By Dick B.
© 2012 Anonymous. All rights reserved
The Quandary of Faith
I’m not one who talks much about “faith” because the word comes from a Greek root that can be defined either as “faith” or “belief.” And I prefer the position that A.A.’s Dr. Bob took and required of all the early AAs he helped. It really came from the Book of Hebrews:
Heb 11:6 (KJV):
But without faith, it is impossible to please him; for he that cometh to God must believe that he is and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.
As was his manner, Dr. Bob made it real simple. It was a “Do you or don’t you” approach. And it is spelled out in the account on page 144 of DR. Bob and the Good Oldtimers (NY: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1980). Dr. Bob visited Clarence Snyder on the last day of Clarence’s hospitalization. Dr. Bob asked Clarence flat out: “Do you believe in God, young fella? Not a god, God?” Clarence waffled and said he “guessed so.” But Dr. Bob would have none of that. He said: “Either you do or you don’t.” And when Clarence said, “I do;” Bob said “Now we are getting some place.” And they prayed together. Clarence was healed!
Bill Wilson and Sam Shoemaker preferred the open door approach. Both of them wrote that “God either is, or He isn’t.” And they suggested there was a choice. But the choice was a dire one. Believe and be victorious. Or don’t believe and die! And Shoemaker, as was his manner, suggested an experiment of faith. In effect, Shoemaker said that if you obeyed God’s will, you’d realize from the results that it was the genuine thing. Shoemaker fudged a bit in his reliance on John 7:17. Here is what that verse said:
John 7:17 (KJV):
If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine whether it be of God, or whether I [Jesus] speak of myself.
Oxford Group author A. J. Russell said that John 7:17 was Sam’s favorite verse. And Sam certainly quoted it innumerable times. But the verse, even as Shoemaker had learned it and used it, came from Shoemaker’s thought: “Do and know.” This idea became Shoemaker’s experiment of faith—a subject about which Shoemaker wrote a book. Shoemaker thought that if you did God’s will, the willed result would occur, and you would know. The concept gave rise to Shoemaker’s talk of “willingness” and to the incorporation of that idea in A.A.’s Steps 2, 6, and 8: Be willing to act—to believe, to ask, and to make amends—and, when you do, you’ll realize its effectiveness. Presumably because you were acting on God’s will—as Shoemaker saw it.
See Dick B., New Path—Familiar Road Signs—Our Creator’s Guidance (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 2006), 1-21. (This title covers all sources of the ideas): the Bible; the United Christian Endeavor Society; the Salvation Army; rescue missions; the Young Men’s Christian Association (the YMCA); the Oxford Group; Rev. Samuel M. Shoemaker; Dr. Bob’s wife—Anne Ripley Smith; conversion and Dr. Carl Jung; William James and his Varieties of Religious Experience; William D. Silkworth; “Quiet Time” and Christian “devotionals”; non-Oxford Group literature by leading Christian writers such as E. Stanley Jones, Oswald Chambers, Glenn Clark, Toyohiko Kagawa, and Streeter; lay therapist Richard Peabody; New Thought writers; the great evangelists like Moody, Sankey, Meyer, Folger, Moorehouse, Burnell, Moore, and Sunday; and the “hands-on” “personal work” of recovered alcoholics with newcomers.
Let’s look at the statements about John 7:17:
John 7:14-16 (KJV):
Now about the midst of the feast Jesus went up into the temple, and taught.
And the Jews marvelled, saying, How knoweth this man letters, having never learned?
Jesus answered them, and said, My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me.
Jesus was rejecting the claims of others that he (Jesus) wasn’t speaking of God’s doctrine, but rather of his own ideas. Jesus said, in John 7:16: “My doctrine is not mine but his that sent me.” Centuries later, religious writers began to speak of “obedience as the organ of spiritual knowledge.” In other words, act in accordance with what God says, and you will know that the instructions came from God.
If you take all that complicated reasoning, you may conclude, as did Bill Wilson, that it applies to taking A.A.’s steps and then finding out they work. And Bill was building on Shoemaker’s other idea that if you “surrender as much of yourself as you understand to as much of God as you understand,” you’ll come to know God. “Act as if” said Shoemaker, and then you’ll find and know.
The Choice is Ours
We can go along with Dr. Bob. We can say, “Yes,” I do believe in God. Then come to Him by accepting Jesus as Lord, obeying God’s will, growing in understanding, and looking to God’s Word and His revelations to us. Or we can go along with Shoemaker and his pupil Bill Wilson, and go the “come to believe” route which is embodied in the Twelve Steps and begins with Step Two—as it was originally worded—“Came to believe that God could restore us to sanity.”
I didn’t “come to believe.” I believed. I didn’t know what sanity meant. But I did know what 2 Timothy 1: 7 said:
2 Tim 1:7 (KJV):
For God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power and of love, and of a sound mind.
As directed in Romans 12:2, I renewed my mind. I kept saying what God said and believing it to the best of my ability.
I didn’t blame God for my fears or my excessive drinking and disasters. I just believed in God. I just believed that God was not the author of confusion or the author of those troubles. I believed that God was a God of power and of love. And I believed that whatever crazy thinking and behavior had led me to seemingly hopeless alcoholism, God could take care of that too.
Call it restoring me to a sound mind. Even Bill Wilson wrote in the Big Book that God has restored us to sanity. And He did! There was no quandary of faith. There was proof that believing God produces results.
See Dick B., New Light on Alcoholism: God, Sam Shoemaker, and A.A. (www.dickb.com/newlight.shtml).