The Higher Power of the
Twelve-Step Program

Glenn F. Chesnut

Glenn Chesnut, Higher Power of the Twelve-Step Program
Glenn F. Chesnut, The Higher Power of the Twelve-StepProgram: For Believers & Non-believers, September 2001, ISBN 0-595-19918-6, xii + 260 pp., $19.95.

The author has spent a number of years talking with oldtimers in the twelve-step program, as well as reading the writings and listening to tape recordings of early figures from the 1940's, 50's and 60's in the upper midwest. In this book, he explains how men and women who join Alcoholics Anonymous, Al-Anon, Narcotics Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, and other twelve step groups discover a higher power of their own understanding in real practice.

What did the oldtimers actually do? He discusses how those who were atheists, or were bitterly hostile towards all organized religion, found practical starting points which would put them on the path towards a spirituality of their own devising.

He talks about how they learned to pray effectively, and how they learned to self- monitor their own spiritual growth, so that they could continue to make progress towards ever-greater peace, serenity, and a deep feeling of satisfaction with life and of being in harmony with the universe.

Glenn Chesnut, Summer 2001, South Bend, Indiana
THE AUTHOR, a professor at Indiana University, is an ordained Methodist minister with a doctorate in theology from Oxford University. From a long-established reputation as a historian of ancient and medieval philosophy and spirituality, he has now turned his hand to writing his second book about the modern twelve-step program.

For the author's résumé click here

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To read chapters from the book

Discovering a Higher Power  Chapter 1 of the book, originally given as a lecture to the Northern Indiana Counselors Association on October 21, 1999 at Quiet Care in South Bend, Indiana. All of the forty or so counselors and psychotherapists there agreed that this material correctly and accurately stated what actually went on when they were working with alcoholics, and the issues that these men and women had to learn how to deal with in order to get sober and stay sober. It was originally published as a pamphlet, and large numbers of good oldtime A.A. sponsors found that it was ideal for giving to the people whom they sponsored, to use as a basis for discussing the areas where these newcomers were having difficulties with the spiritual aspects of the program. It was the overwhelming success of this pamphlet (which you can read here) which convinced the author to write additional material and turn it into a book.

Being at Home:  Agapê Love and the Goal of Twelve-Step Spirituality  Chapter 8 of the book. The twelve step program is one of the most powerful spiritual tools ever developed. We know how the goal of the spiritual life was described in a number of earlier great spiritual movements:  Zen Buddhism, American frontier revivalism, philosophical Hinduism, the Hasidic Judaism of the Baal Shem Tov, the life of the early followers of St. Francis of Assisi, the Carmelite spirituality of St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross, the ancient Stoic philosophy, the Native American spirituality of tribes like the Navajo and the Potawatomi, the hesychastic spirituality of the Eastern Orthodox monks of Mt. Athos, and so on.

So what is the "flavor" of twelve step spirituality, and what are the people like who truly live it, and attain the great heights of serenity and peace? When you are trying to work the twelve steps, this is where you are trying to go.


Great for non-believers,
informative for believers as well

I strongly recommend this book to interested members of all 12-step groups, particularly non-believers having trouble with their Higher Power. I have 13 years in A.A. and N.A. and I would rate it a must-have for sponsors. The book is easy to read, has many anecdotes and has been used successfully at A.A. book studies in Southern California. The material is entirely consistent with the A.A. Big Book and the Twelve and Twelve (quotes them a lot) and draws on a deep and broad knowledge of 12-step groups, religions and history. The author is a professor at Indiana University, a Methodist minister and a doctor of theology from Oxford University but the book is written for regular 12-step members. A wonderful book on a difficult subject!

Alan P. (Simi Valley, California), review for

Good medicine for a
host of problems

As an old hard-bitten, somewhat cynical surgeon I started reading it with a very critical attitude which quickly evaporated and I found much to admire and practically nothing to criticize. His discussion of higher power, God, spirituality and grace were very meaningful and not at all religious. I wish the book had been available for the many questions that my alcoholic sailors had that I could not answer. He makes the Twelve Steps good medicine for a host of problems. I hope the physicians of today will come to learn how many of their patients could benefit by sharing in the fellowship.

Captain Joseph Zuska, M.D., founder in 1965 of the Navy's first pilot program for the treatment of alcoholism at the Naval Station at Long Beach, California. His program became world-renowned later when Betty Ford, wife of President Ford, and Billy Carter, brother of President Carter, were sent there for treatment.

He has put down in writing
the A.A. oral tradition from the
days of the good old-timers

Glenn Chesnut has described in great detail the sorts of approaches which were used by the A.A. old-timers in bringing hostile and skeptical newcomers to a better understanding of real spirituality, where reading traditional religious books and feeling constrained to use traditional doctrines and dogmas was, more often than not, of little use for beginners. This book was designed to gently lead people who are antagonistic toward traditional religious language into a deeper understanding of what those spiritual concepts are actually about, and how they help the everyday working of a good twelve-step program. It is built on traditional A.A. teachings, and is especially useful for the way in which he put down in writing, for the first time, a good deal of oral A.A. tradition passed down from the good old-timers of my own younger days.

From the recent book by Sgt. Bill S., On the Military Firing Line in the Alcoholism Treatment Program. A survivor of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Sgt. Bill is one of the real old-timers himself, with 56 years of sobriety. He was friends with Sister Ignatia and Mrs. Marty Mann and founded the first officially sponsored military alcoholism treatment program in 1948.