How Heretics Shaped Alcoholics Anonymous :: By John Lanagan

You won’t ever hear this in an AA meeting, but many, many people have gotten sober without 12 Step spirituality. When it comes to AA’s alleged “Christian” roots, God’s people have been—to use a technical term—snookered.

Scripture is clear. We were never meant to be part of an all-gods religion. It is not “legalism” to point out that the Lord will absolutely not be seen as one higher power among many (Isaiah 42:8, Galatians 1:6-9; 2 Corinthians 6:14-17).

AA’s murky history can seem very confusing. Prolific pro-AA author Dick B. continues to present AA’s origin as biblically rooted. But Alcoholics Anonymous is like a pie. One can claim it is made with lemon meringue ingredients, but if tar, rat poison, and glass shards are also in the mix, was it ever really a lemon meringue pie? A little leaven… (1 Corinthians 5:6)

AA’s origin must include AA co-founders Bill Wilson’s and Dr. Bob Smith’s biblically forbidden spiritualism, Dr. Bob’s freemasonry, the meditative Silence/spirit communication learned from the Oxford Group,[1] and the anti-biblical teachings of William James.

It doesn’t stop there. Many other influences helped give birth to AA, including Carl Jung, Emanuel Swedenborg, and the New Thought heresy of Emmet Fox.

Those who have heard early AA’s “roots” were biblically pure might want to investigate Emmet Fox and AA’s use of his heretical book, The Sermon on the Mount. This text was actually used as a teaching manual in AA until AA’s own instructional Big Book was completed.

As pro-AA author Dick B. himself acknowledges, Fox’s “writings were favored by [AA co-founders] Bill W. and Dr. Bob.” [2] (emphasis added)

That is correct. And the AA co-founders could not have been Christians if they “favored” and used these writings in AA.

Why? In The Sermon on the Mount, Emmet Fox teaches: “The ‘Plan of Salvation’ which figured so prominently in the evangelical sermons and divinity books of a past generation is as completely unknown to the Bible as the Koran. There never was any such an arrangement in the universe, and the Bible does not teach it at all.” [3]

“But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:33).

Fox’s book bristles with “teachings” that sincere Christians would not share with alcoholics.

Like the Gnostics, Fox was a purveyor of “secret knowledge.” He writes, “Wonderful as the ‘outer’ Bible is, it is far less than one percent of the ‘inner’ Bible—the Bible that is hidden behind the symbols. If you have been reading the Bible without the spiritual interpretation, you have not found the real message of the Bible, for that lies below the surface.” [4]

Fox’s influence should always be considered when one hears of references to the Bible in early AA. People assume, logically enough, that if the co-founders were mentioning the Word of God, this must mean they were Christians. But the unsaved Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith viewed the Bible along the lines of Fox’s esoteric spiritual wisdom, rather than believing it to be the literal Word of God. One cannot, after all, promote anti-Biblical heresy and simultaneously believe and obey the Word of God.

And, like many in AA, they looked to the Bible for generic spiritual principles—love your neighbor, help your fellow man, and so on.

Interestingly, Bill Wilson had already been exposed to those who greatly admired the Bible, yet still didn’t believe it to be the Word of God. He married into a Swedenborgian family, and became very familiar with this religion’s Christ-rejecting interpretation of God’s Word.

Fox’s new thought teachings likely strengthened what Bill already believed—the Bible was indeed a book of spiritual wisdom, although not the inerrant Holy Book of the fundamentalist Christians.

It is important to understand Fox’s book was not some casual read by early AA. According to author Mel B., Fox’s “1934 book The Sermon on the Mount became one of the society’s most useful guides until the publication of Alcoholics Anonymous in 1939.” [5]

New Thought adherents believe that Jesus was just a man who tapped into the source of Divine Power, and that we too can accomplish this. According to Fox, man has “essential Divine Self-hood.” [6]

Since Dr. Bob Smith has been portrayed for years as a Biblical Christian, just how strongly, then, did Dr. Bob oppose Fox’s heretical book? He didn’t. He recommended it.

According to a woman quotedin AA’s official biography of Dr. Bob, “The first thing [Dr. Bob] did was get me Emmet Fox’sThe Sermon on the Mount.” [7](emphasis added)

That seems pretty enthusiastic. What else was in this book Dr. Bob was so eager to share? This book that Bill Wilson claimed was so important to AA? Well, as it turns out, more heretical stuff. According to Fox’s Sermon on the Mount, p.124:

“[In] the Bible the term ‘Christ’ is not identical with Jesus, the individual. It is a technical term which may be briefly defined as the Absolute Spiritual Truth about anything.”

“The plain fact is that Jesus taught no theology whatever.” (p.3)

“There is absolutely no system of theology found in the Bible; it simply is not there.” (p.3)

p.13: Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden “was never intended by its author to be taken as history, but literal-minded people did so take it, with all sorts of absurd consequences.” (p.13)

Imagine a hurting alcoholic, a man or woman who does not know Christ. Now, imagine an AA member as prestigious as Bill or Dr. Bobsaying that this CHRIST-DENYING book will help.

“You may, as I did for quite some time, fail to appreciate or study the effect on AA ‘theology’ of the ideas of William James, Ralph Waldo Trine, Emmet Fox, and others,” writes Dick B. [8] (emphasis mine)

Indeed. Even after conceding this,Dick B.’s books promoting the biblical roots of AA and the 12 Steps have justkept coming.

Yet I alerted this author about Dr. Bob’s promotion of the Emmet Fox book back in August of 2002. I stated:

“Dick, there is no way a Bible believing Christian would recommend such a book. No more than you or I would place the Muslim Holy Book in the hands of a hurting alcoholic. …If early AA was solely Christian, why was Fox’s book used? Was not early AA syncretistic?” [9]

Fox felt “helpful teaching” was fine wherever one got it, but “You do not owe an atom of loyalty to anyone or anything in the universe except your own Indwelling Christ, your own personal integrity.”[10] (emphasis added)

There is simply no way to justify promotion of this Christ-denying book. It means thousands of alcoholics were encouraged to read a new thought teaching that states there is no Plan of Salvation and that Christ is not Savior.

“For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and man, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all…” (1 Timothy 2:5)

When reading about the use of the Bible in the history and development of AA, please consider the influence of Emmet Fox’s new thought heresy.

Okay, you sigh, so what is the big whopping deal over ancient history? Well, with people churning out books that portray the origin of AA as this wonderful Biblical occurrence, and Christians being deceived by these books, it is time to get the record straight.



[1] Alcoholics Anonymous and Contemplative Spirituality and Meditating Upon AA.

[2] Alcoholics Anonymous History and the Bible: Dick B.’s Early AA Resources.

[3] Emmet Fox, The Sermon on the Mount, pp.4-5.

[4] Herman Wolhorn, Emmet Fox’s Golden Keys To Successful Living, p.59.

[5] Mel B., New Wine, p.111 [6] Emmet Fox, The Sermon on the Mount, p.124

[7] Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., Dr. Bob and the good old timers, p. 310

[8] The Oxford Group and Alcoholics Anonymous: Part 2, Dick B.

[9] Dick B. email August, 2002.

[10] Emmet Fox, The Sermon on the Mount, p.149.