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  • Marty Lythgoe

12-Step Recovery and Christianity


Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and the 12 Steps were birthed by Dr. Bob Smith and Bill Wilson, who were deeply involved with the Oxford Group movement (a faith-based organization). The Oxford Group was base on the Four Absolutes:

  • Absolute honesty

  • Absolute purity

  • Absolute unselfishness

  • Absolute love

In addition, the development of the 12 Steps was aided by six precepts relayed to Bill Wilson by Ebby Thacher, a former drinking partner of Bill's and his sponsor. Here are the six precepts:

  1. We admitted we were licked.

  2. We got honest with ourselves.

  3. We talked it over with another person.

  4. We made amends to those we had harmed.

  5. We tried to carry the message to others with no thought of reward.

  6. We prayed to whatever God we thought there was.

The three portions of Scripture identified as foundational in the development of the 12 Steps were the Sermon on the Mount (which included the Beatitudes); the book of James (which focuses on several 12-Step fundamentals, such as confession); and 1 Corinthians 13 (also known as the "love chapter").


In the early days of AA, when conservative Christian values and truths were openly used to help others recovery, the success rate was quite amazing. The book, Dr. Bob and the Good Old Timers, tells how Dr. Bob took every newcomer in the Akron group to what was called "the surrender room," and where they were urged to surrender their lives to Jesus Christ at the very beginning of their recoveries. Nearly 93% of those in the Akron group never relapsed!


In his book, If you work it, It Works! (Nowinski, J. (2015). If you work it, it works! The science behind 12-Step Recovery. Hazelden Publishing, Center City, MN.), Joseph Nowinski researched factors leading to successful recovery and he found four:

  1. Four meetings per week, instead of three, made a significant difference.

  2. Success often reported was related to whether or not a person had a sponsor.

  3. Getting outside of one's self in order to help others -- being of service.

  4. Development of a personal relationship with God.

One other factor that I have observed as critical to recovery maintenance is the importance of maintaining an attitude of gratitude. In my professional experience, and in my own recovery experience, those who stay thankful stay clean. With that thought, I wish you a happy Thanksgiving. Take a moment to write a Gratitude List, thanking God for the gift of recovery. It truly is a gift worth hanging on to.


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