God as You Conceive Him/Her/It :: by Dave Hunt

The devastation wrought by Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.), founded in 1935, and the spread of its 12 Steps has been enormous. One can scarcely keep track of the many 12-step groups A.A. has spawned: Adult Children of Alcoholics, Debtors Anonymous, Emotions Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, Sex Addicts Anonymous, Shoplifters Anonymous (to name a few)-and even Fundamentalists Anonymous for “recovery” from fundamentalism. In a book that every Christian ought to read, 12 Steps to Destruction (see book list), Martin and Deidre Bobgan point out, “Thousands of groups across America. ..and most codependency/recovery programs utilize the Twelve Steps in one way or another….”

New Age psychiatrist M. Scott Peck (a pseudo-Christian endorsed by many church leaders) has called the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous “the greatest event of the twentieth century.”(1) Christianity Today says, “The 12-Step movement has tapped a profound need in people.(2) Bestselling Christian author Keith Miller calls the 12-Step Program “a way of spiritual healing and growth that may well be the most important spiritual model of any age for many contemporary Christians.”(3)

In fact, the 12 Steps of A.A. came by direct inspiration from the demonic world and they open the door to the occult by introducing members to a false god. Step 2 says, “Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” Step 3 continues, “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to God as we [Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, Mormon, shaman, agnostic, et al.] understood Him.” In Christianity Today, Tim Stafford says, “The 12 Steps are Christian.”(4) Yet they contain no mention of Jesus Christ, much less of the gospel. In fact, they are anti-Christian. An official A.A. publication says, “You can, if you wish, make A.A. itself your ‘Higher Power.'”(5) Stafford admits that A.A. founder Bill Wilson “never pledged his loyalty to Christ, never was baptized, never joined a Christian church…”(6) Instead, the Christian church has joined A.A!

Stafford and CT are pleased with A.A. to the point of suggesting that Episcopalian pastor Sam Shoemaker (who mentored Wilson) “may have made his greatest contribution through Wilson.”(7) Yet Stafford also writes, “A.A. is pluralistic, recognizing as many gods as there may be religions….”(8) This is a great contribution?

The Willow Creek Community Church of South Barrington, Illinois, pastored by Bill Hybels, is one of thousands of churches sponsoring 12-step programs. Willow Creek has been called “the most influential church in North America”(9) and a model of the church for the twenty-first century. In an exhaustive study of Willow Creek, G.A. Pritchard writes,

One of the first staff members I spoke with proudly told me how more than five hundred individuals met at the church each week in various self-help groups (e.g., Alcoholics Anonymous, Emotions Anonymous, Sexual Anonymous [etc. ])…. One of the requirements of these organizations was that individuals could not evangelize or otherwise teach other participants about God.(10)

Stafford commends 12-step groups for being “tolerant.”(11) Should we commend a tolerance for false gods that denies the difference between God’s truth and Satan’s lie? Note the “tolerant” rules for the 12step programs at Willow Creek:

The Steps suggest a belief in a Power greater than ourselves, “God as we understand Him.” The Program does not attempt to tell us what our Higher Power must be.

It can be whatever we choose. For example, human love, a force for good, the group itself, nature, the universe, or the traditional God (Deity).

The code instructs, We never discuss religion.”(12)

We are commanded to “earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). How, then, can Willow Creek sponsor the promotion of false gods and false gospels? Stafford says, “Christians [in A.A. groups] can express their convictions.” Yet he notes that A.A. does not allow Christians to say anything that would suggest “that others’ views of God are misguided.”(13) So actually a Christian (like a Mason) is free to say that Jesus is a or his Higher Power, but not “the way, the truth, the life” (Jn 14:6). Why commend this intolerantly anti-Christian “tolerance”?

The truth is that the false gospel of A.A. suppresses the true gospel of Jesus Christ; and the tolerance it professes is only of error, while it remains intolerant of truth. Pritchard comments,

Even church members could not talk about Christian truth in these meetings…. Although the programs give lip service to a “Higher Power,” they function as practical atheism, teaching the categories of the contemporary psychological worldview….

That Willow Creek would sponsor and advertise these programs illustrates the church’s lack of priority for educating its members in Christian truth(14)

Nevertheless. Stafford writes with approval, “The 12 Steps penetrate every level of American society.” That fact is all the more reason to sound the alarm against A.A.’s false god and gospel. Referring to Bill Wilson, Stafford admits that after deliverance from alcohol, “the rest of his life was morally erratic.” Yet CT declares, “The 12 Steps are a package of Christian practices and nothing is compromised in using them.”(15)

Founder of A.A. Bill Wilson was what the Bible calls a “drunkard” (Prv 23:21; I cor 5:11, etc ). Martin and Deidre Bobgan pick up the story: “After years of struggling with the guilt and condemnation that came from thinking that his drinking was his own fault and that it stemmed from a moral defect in his character, Wilson was relieved to learn from a medical doctor that his drinking was due to an ‘allergy.'”(16) A.A.’s official biography of Wilson relates,

Bill listened, entranced. as [Dr.] Silkworth explained his theory. For the first time in his life, Bill was hearing about alcoholism not as a lack of will power, not as a moral defect. but as a legitimate illness….Bill’s relief was immense.(17)

Dr. Silkworth’s theory might have remained in obscurity had not Bill Wilson founded Alcoholics Anonymous upon it, and millions of drunks, as happy as Wilson to be relieved of accountability to God, turned that theory into a universally accepted axiom. What a relief to exchange the God who judges man’s sin for a higher power that judges no one! The fact is, however, that the theory that alcoholism is a disease is false. A leading authority in this field, University of California professor Herbert Fingarette, has written an entire book(18) as well as numerous articles disproving this delusion.

Writing for Harvard Medical School, Fingarette refers to “a mass of scientific evidence…which radically challenges every major belief generally associated with the phrase ‘alcoholism is a disease….”(19) Stanton Peele, author of Diseasing of America: Addiction Treatment Out of Control, offers research to show that multitudes have been “brainwashed” to believe they have the disease of alcoholism -and that the result has been to impede the normal recovery which otherwise takes place.(20)

The facts refute Stafford’s and CT’s false assurance: “We [Christians] ought to use them [12-step programs] gladly. They belong to us originally. They are doing tremendous good”(21) In fact, 12-step programs are doing great harm by turning people away from the true God to a false higher power, and by denying the sufficiency of God’s Word and robbing multitudes of its transforming power. It is reprehensible for Christianity Today, Willow Creek, or anyone, to encourage participation in 12-step programs.

Furthermore, A.A. with its higher-power-as-you-understand-it opens the door to occultism. The official A.A. biography of Wilson reveals that for years after A.A’s founding, regular seances were still being held in the Wilsons’ home, and other occult activities were being pursued:

[T]here are references to seances and other psychic events….

Bill would…”get” these things [from the spirit world]…long sentences, word by word would come through….” (22)

[A]s he started to write [the A.A. manual], he asked for guidance….The words began tumbling out with astonishing speed….(23)

So A.A.’s 12 Steps were actually received verbatim from the demonic world. It is not surprising, then, that the effect of A.A. upon many of its members is to lead them into occult involvement. In 1958, Wilson wrote to Sam Shoemaker,

Throughout A.A., we find a large amount of psychic phenomena, nearly all of it spontaneous. Alcoholic after alcoholic tells me of such experiences…[which] run nearly the full gamut of everything we see in the books.

In addition to my original mystical experience, I’ve had a lot of such phenomenalism myself.(24)

Wilson’s “original mystical experience” was his alleged “conversion” –a classic occult encounter: “Suddenly the room lit up with a great white light. I was caught up into an ecstasy…it burst upon me that I was a free man…a wonderful feeling of Presence, and I thought to myself, ‘So this is the God of the preachers! ‘ A great peace stole over me….”(25)

This was not the “God of the preachers” but the one who transforms himself “into an angel of light” (2 Cor 1l:l4)-a light that often transforms those involved in the occult. The experience was so profound that Wilson never touched alcohol again. Satan would he more than willing to deliver a man from alcoholism in this life if thereby he could ensnare him for eternity and inspire him to lead millions to the same destruction!

Wilson joined the Oxford Group and regularly attended its meetings at Calvary Church (NY), pastored by Episcopalian Sam Shoemaker. Shoemaker urged his hearers to “accept God however they might conceive of him….”(26) Here was the origin of Step 3’s “God as we understood him.” God does not respond to those who call upon false gods. Jesus said, “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (Jn 17:3). God’s judgment comes upon them “that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Thes 1:8).

The Oxford Group had been founded by Frank Buchman (a Lutheran minister). It later became Moral Re-Armament (MRA) through the mystical “guidance” that was a large part of Buchman’s life and which carried over both into MRA and A.A.

MRA emphasized a mystical reception of “guidance from God,” which recipients would write down and follow as though their thoughts were God’s Word to be obeyed. This unbiblical and dangerous procedure is widely practiced even by evangelicals today. British author and former MRA member Roy Livesey writes, “MRA had been a stepping stone for me into the occult.”(27) Vineyard members have been trained in much the same way by John Wimber to receive alleged words of knowledge and to prophesy.

The influence of this concept of receiving direct communication from the spirit realm (kept alive in the church today through Richard Foster and others) can be seen in A.A.’s Step 11, which calls for “meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him….” This MRA/AA relationship is acknowledged by Dick B. one of the biographers of the movement.(28)

A.A.’s emphasis is upon the “experience” of recovery. In contrast, Christ emphasized truth as revealed in His Word: “If ye continue in my word…ye shall know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (Jn 8:31-32). Satan insidiously uses mystical experiences for turning men from God’s truth to his lies. Tragically, experience and emotion more than the Word of God seem to fuel the latest “revival” centered at the Brownsville Assembly of God in Pensacola, Florida.

MRA founder Frank Buchman compromised the gospel and embraced new revelations through occult guidance. As a result, MRA helped to set the stage for the New Age movement. One of Buchman’s close associates during the ’40s and ’50s writes,

MRA was est and TM. It was consciousness raising and sensitivity. It was encounter and confrontation. Frank Buchman was drying out drunks before A.A’s Bill W had his first cocktail He was moving hundreds of people in hotel ballrooms to “share” with each other before Werner Erhard was born. He inspired thousands on all continents to meditate…decades before Maharishi Mahesh Yogi left India. He was indeed Mr. Human Potential. ahead of his time….Paul Tournier…has frequently expressed his debt to Buchman for much of his own approach to counseling….”(29)

MRA became active in more than 50 countries and achieved NGO (NonGovernmental Organization) status with the United Nations, which it enjoys today. Its principal conference center, located in Caux, Switzerland, is a mecca to which world leaders are drawn. The setting, high above Lake Geneva, is exceptionally magnificent even for Switzerland.

While living in the area, our family made several visits to Caux in 1966 and 1967. We met Gandhi’s grandson, who was there with an “Up With People” (an MRA offshoot) singing group from India. We spoke with many whose lives had been “transtormed” through impressive spiritual experiences and who had a compelling zeal to “change the world” and used “Christian” phrases, yet didn’t seem to know Christ or His Word. MRA and A.A. are tragic reminders of the necessity of adhering to sound doctrine and the need for daily washing in God’s Word (Jn 15:3; Eph 5:26). TBC

(Condensed and adapted from Chapter 15 of Occult Invasion) (Fall ’97 release)


1) Tim Stafford, “The Hidden Gospel of the 12 steps: Understanding the origins of the recover movement can help Christians know how to relate to it today”(Christianity Tody, July22,1991),14.

2) Michael G. Maudlin, “Addicts in the Pew” (Christianity Today, July22, 1991),19-21

3) Ibid.

4) Stafford, 14-21

5) Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions (Alcoholic Anonymous World Service, Ind. 1953),26-27

6) Stafford, 18.

7) Ibid., 15

8) Ibid., 18

9) G.A.Pritchard, Willow Creek Seeker Services (BakerBooks, 1996), inside front cover; quotation of author Lyle E. Schaller

10) Pritchard, 273

11) Stafford, 18.

12) Pritchard, 273

13) Stafford, 18

14) Pritchard, 273

15) Stafford, 18

16) Martin & Deidre Bobgan, 12Steps to Destruction: Codependency Recovery Heresies (EastGate Publishers,1991),72

17) Kurtz, Pass It On; The Story of Bill Wilson and how the A.A.message reached the world (Alcoholics Anonymous World Service,Inc.,1984),102;cited in Bobgan,72.

18) Herbert Fingarette, Heavy Drinking: The Myth of Alcoholism as a Disease (University of California Press,1988)

19) Herber Fingarette, “We Should Reject the Disease Concept of Alcoholism” (The Harvard Medical School Mental Health Letter, Feb.1990),4

20) Stanton Peel, Deseasing of America: Addiction Treatment Out of Control (Heath and Company,1989),27

21) Stafford,19

22) Kurtz,276-79

23) Ibid.,198

24) Ibid.,374

25) Stafford, 14; see also Kurtz,121

26) Stafford, 16

27) Roy Livesey, Twelve Steps to the New Age (Bury House Books, 1995; unpublished manuscript),21-22

28) Dick B. Anne Smith’s Spiritual Workbook (Good Book Publishing Co.,1992),45

29) Willard Hunter, The Man Who Would Change the World: Frank Buchman and Moral ReArmament (unpublished manuscript,1977),110-111; cited in Livesey,88-89