The Gospel of Bill: Lessons for Christians and Churches from the 12 Step Programs

Theologian Richard Rohr has written that the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous are America’s distinctive contribution to spirituality.  I would go farther than that and say that for those of us with eyes to see, the 12 Steps could be America’s distinctive contribution to Christianity.  For, counter-intuitive though it may be, these recovery programs can teach Christians much about the Christian faith. Not because the 12 Step Programs are fundamentally, or secretly, Christian. They are not, decades of wild-eyed speculation notwithstanding. Alcoholics Anonymous, for example, as anyone who has ever gone to even one AA meeting will attest, is a program and fellowship of recovery that begins with the simple idea that there is a Higher Power in the Universe, that I am not it, and that I can be healed from my brokenness and addiction if I will but turn my will and my life over to the care of my Higher Power.   So, the point is not that the 12 Step Programs are essentially Christian.  It is that, in their principles and practices, these fellowships can serve as an example to Christians of how to do the hard work of self-examination, how to get honest about our shortcomings, how to form a fellowship of integrity and love, how to trust God in the midst of our brokenness.  In short, the point of this blog is that Christians would do well to open our eyes and see a powerful spiritual fellowship at work, and to learn from it. For here is surely good news (“gospel”) for Christians: not specifically about Jesus, to be sure, and not brought not by Matthew, Mark, Luke or John in First Century Palestine; but rather good news brought to us in 1935 by a washed out American stockbroker named Bill Wilson, good news about the fact of our brokenness and about new life in God in the midst of a fellowship of honesty and unconditional love.  So welcome to the Gospel of Bill.

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About Kelly Clark

I am a convinced, if not very virtuous, Christian, recovering from alcohol abuse and many other addictions, and have been working a program of recovery consistently for over nineteen years-- since I blew my life up with chaos and crimes and hurt many people I loved. I am active in 12 Step Fellowships, sponsoring several men and attending several meetings each week. I expect to finish a Masters of Divinity in the Fall of 2011, and soon will begin a discernment process in my church about possible ordained ministry. In my day job, I am a trial attorney, representing adult victims of childhood sexual abuse.
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2 Responses to The Gospel of Bill: Lessons for Christians and Churches from the 12 Step Programs

  1. David says:

    The power of AA is in it’s assertion that the Higher Power is always ready and willing to do business with us. “He” doesn’t accumulate resentments, or create a timetable or “score” our recovery. “He” wants us to be whole, have integrity and to repair the many things we have broken. “He” is not concerned if that takes a lifetime.
    I did not find that sense of God in my Christian walk as an Evangelical…even though I still am, an Evangelical.

  2. Jason says:

    I myself have found so many people in life stuck in life with their addictions. They either didn’t think that they had a problem or they they thought they could do it on their own. As time went on nothing changed, which was so sad. The Christian principles of accountability and honesty are so well placed into the 12 Steps program that it delivers people the answers that people are looking for. If only more would take the first step.

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