Gothard’s Biblical Inoculation

25 July 2011, 04:00

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a set of syringesQuestion: How do you insure that your children don’t catch a deadly disease? Simple…inoculate them. In the 1700s, it was discovered that dipping a needle into the pus of a smallpox blister and then inserting that same needle into a healthy person prevented them from getting the disease. The infected dose was large enough for the body to create a defense against the disease, but small enough for the healthy person not to catch it.

Question: If you are the leader of a cult-like sect of Christianity, how do you inoculate your followers from the teachings of “outsiders?” Simple…give them a heads up of what the “outsiders” will try to say and why the “outsiders” are wrong. Bill Gothard is a master at inoculating his followers from anyone who would poke holes in his teaching. Allow me to present a case for four of his “inoculations” which combined are extremely enslaving.

1. “Disagreement is a Sign of Hidden Sin”

On the first night of the Basic Seminar, Bill quips that “A man’s morality will dictate his theology.”1 True, because of our fallen nature, we tend to justify our sin rather than repent of it. However, this statement is quoted again in the section of the Men’s Manual calling fathers to discern false teachings. He goes on to say, “If they [“outsiders”] want to argue over heresy, listen for clues to their moral problems.”2

Heresy is a word to be used with caution. Certain doctrines of Christianity are non-negotiable, but many have a little wiggle room for disagreement (if not a lot). That’s why we have so many denominations within Christendom. However, Bill “inoculates” his followers from “outsiders” by suggesting their theology is formed to justify indulgence in some type of sinful behavior. This seems a little below the belt…especially if the issue contested is something like rock music or blue jeans.

One page later, Bill brings a railing indictment upon any spiritual leader who makes a move to synthesize Biblical standards (i.e. Bill’s standards) with culture. “The clear teachings of Christ, Paul, and Peter are of particular embarrassment to religious leaders who want to be friends with the world.”3 This kind of theological bullying works to prevent any genuine biblical dialogue as no one wants to be a caught fraternizing with “world lovers.”

2. “Scholarship is Misleading”

Over and over, Gothard presents scholarship as the opposite of the illumination of the Holy Spirit. Logic is presented as humanly opposed to God’s wisdom. “Neither the inspiration or the true meaning of scripture will be understood intellectually, but will be discerned spiritually.”4 Yes, God’s ways are higher than ours and go against our natural desires, but to go so far as to suggest they are not logical or intellectually incomprehensible goes too far.

“…rules of scholarship were designed to avoid error, but these same rules in the hands of false teachers can be misused to make a verse give an opposite meaning or no meaning at all. This is why true interpretation goes beyond human scholarship to the teaching ministry of the Holy Spirit.”5 Gothard dismisses the reality of legitimate issues of scholarship which are vital to the correct understanding of a biblical passage.

For example, Paul’s letters were written to real people, with real problems, in a real historical culture. Ancient words and phrases could have several possible meanings depending on context. Scholarship is crucial to properly interpreting these texts. I’m not denying the need for the illumination of the Holy Spirit; it is very much needed. But our intellect is part of God’s good creation. Logic and knowledge can be used for good or evil; it was tainted by the fall of Adam, but can and is redeemed by the work of Christ’s cross. (Besides, most of the scholars I know who would disagree with Bill’s teachings are born-again Christians who have the Holy Spirit indwelling in them).

3. “Scripture is Subjective”

This point follows from the last one. Since Bill doesn’t recognize logical, intellectual, or scholarly critique as valid, he is free to interpret the scriptures as he feels led by the Spirit. “God’s Spirit is the author and interpreter of Scripture. Once He enters our spirit, He is able to rebuild our thoughts, emotions and will around a comprehension of His Word.”6 The only problem is wecannot measure the Spirit’s illumination in one believer vs. another. If two believers claim a verse means two different things (A regular occurrence in church history), apart from scholarship, it turns into a glorified “my gut feeling is more spiritual than yours” argument.

Bill claims, “There is only one interpretation of Scripture, but there are many applications. These open up worlds of meaning in life.”7 While multiple applications can be made from a text, not all applications are equally authoritative for the church as a whole. We ought to take great caution before holding other believers up to our applications (See Paul’s exhortations in Romans 14:1-10). However, these “applications” are the meat of Gothard’s teachings.

“After…we put related passages together, we begin to see underlying principles within that Scripture which can be applied to our lives.”8 Once Bill has given himself the authority to invoke the Spirit’s illumination and established the authority of multiple applications, he then urges his followers to buy into “hidden” principles which he has discovered (Literally, a canon within a canon). To Bill’s followers, these secret principles are much more enticing than the plain meaning of the Biblical text. This is why you will rarely see Bill exegete an entire chapter of the Bible and teach the historical, grammatical, and cultural point of the passage (the point which the original author actually meant).

4. “Dissenters are to be Shunned”

The final inoculation, designed to protect his followers from the truth, is really rather childish: Avoid theological dialogue. There is a whole section in the Advanced Seminar Textbook dedicated to teaching your family to “Stand Alone”. In fact Gothard urges“Do not argue about theology” and then follows it with the command that “if they (“outsiders”) ask a foolish or unlearned question, avoid it.”9 He claims 2 Timothy 2:15-17 & 2:24-25 as his basis for this principle.

Yes, Christians should not be quarrelsome, but this does not mean they should never discuss and defend the accuracy of doctrine, in fact the same passage teaches the opposite. “Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth”10 (See also 1 Tim 1:3, 4:6, 4:11, 6:2 & 2 Tim 4:2). Alas, Bill makes it all too easy for one who simply doesn’t see things his way to be labeled a scorning fool who “has rejected truth and delights in mocking Christians and their standards…Remove yourself from him…He is the victim of his own passions. He is committed to teaching you. We should reject his teachings and have no association with him.”11

1. Also found in Men’s Manual One, p.78, Eighth Printing
2. Men’s Manual One, p.79
3. Men’s Manual One, p.80
4. Advanced Seminar Textbook, p.67, Fifth Printing
5. Men’s Manual One, p.80
6. Basic Seminar Textbook, p. 144, Eleventh Printing
7. Basic Seminar Textbook, p. 3
8. Basic Seminar Textbook, p. 3
9. Men’s Manual One, p.79
10. 2 Tim 2:25 NIV
11. Advanced Seminar Textbook, p.270-271

Bruce has spent several years in Christian ministry as a senior pastor, worship pastor, & youth pastor. He is working on a Masters in Divinity from one of the countries largest seminaries. He is happily married and has three children.
All articles on this site reflect the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of other Recovering Grace contributors or the leadership of the site. Students who have survived Gothardism tend to end up at a wide variety of places on the spiritual and theological spectrum, thus the diversity of opinions expressed on this website reflects that. For our official statement of beliefs, click here.

11 Comments

  1. Another Hannah July 4, 2012 Reply

    How come there are no comments on this post from so many months back?

    I personally found this very interesting, intriguing and eye-opening. Especially as I grew up "inoculated" in this way, in a very "ATI-ish" ATI family.

    Thanks for taking the time to write this. Gives me food for thought.

  2. Esbee July 4, 2012 Reply

    I will leave my 1.6395802 cents worth of comment!)

    I just had a second hip replacement (due to some sin or rebellion in my life that led to my being born with deformed hips) Ok, the part in () is my way of thumbing my nose at Mr. Bill. I was born with deformed hips and only recently discovered from xrays how bad they were. Pain and stiffness I had all my life had increased to unbearable and unable to walk. Had the first surgery in March and second one in June and am currently healing and rehabbing which at first involves lots of down time and being home bound.

    Amazingly, I found this site at this particular time and have learned SO MUCH! The flawed dogma of Mr. Bill is actually what I had suspected all along. (Perhaps that is the reason I had those deformed hips.)

    Reading the many stories of those hurt and damaged in this so called ministry and seeing how they coped has been spiritually healing for me, and freeing in many ways and reminding me my walk with the Lord is based in faith.

    Over the years I have studied Mormonism, 7th day adventism (my brother became a very vocal strict one) and what I have found with all 3 (Mormonism, SDA and Mr.Bill) is they all have a certain style of writing. Those who read a lot can usually recognize a certain author by the way they word or phrase or construct their sentences. I have found with reading Ellen White -found of SDA, Mormon rules and laws and Mr. Bill's stuff is they all sound like they were written by the same person. Any one care to guess who?

    The best way I can explain this certain style of writing is when presenting a certain "truths" it is uber-explained to the nth degree then relating it all back to "what God wants" or "what God showed me" and implying that anything else is "falling short of the mark our glorious Lord. I could do nothing else but to blah blah blah....".

    So when I read anything, even secular stuff in this style the hair on the back of my neck raises and cult alarms sound off..."warning, will robinson, warning, warning!"

    I have come to a conclusion that any truth or spiritual advice from the bible that is truly true on how to live a christian life is truly true when it can be practiced, employed and be successful in any time, era, place, culture, gender, season, etc.

    Many of Mr. Bill's rules apply easily to blond Americans who want to be stuck in the 1950's but would be hard to follow if that person was African, East Indian, Chinese or American Indian. And quiverful rules for poverty stricken families in 3rd world countries is down-right ludicrous.

    (Of course, my 1.239586723 cents (value went down fast) is always open to comment and discussion.)

    • MatthewS July 5, 2012 Reply

      Interesting comment about writing style. I am pursuing a masters degree and I've read piles of papers and books along the way. On one hand, I had to learn from the ground up how to actually read a text for what an author is saying, not what I wanted them to say. Yet, I think my experience with ATI/IBLP's writing gave me a real appreciation for writing that is balanced and able to weigh evidence rather than writing that is essentially propaganda (I don't mean in the pejorative sense but in the more formal sense of writing that lacks aesthetic distance and aims to control your opinion).

  3. John Doe March 14, 2013 Reply

    What this thread is theorizing and what Mr. G. Teaches isn't the same in many areas

    • Grace March 14, 2013 Reply

      Which areas are theorizing? Which many areas aren't the same? You make these statements but don't back them up. Many of us have seen these play out in our daily lives. So, back up your statement please!I would like nothing better than to feel like I didn't waste my life at the training center. I would love to know that what was foundational to my life wasn't a sham. So prove to me it wasn't because I sure see things differently now.

    • MatthewS March 14, 2013 Reply

      Unfortunately, bare assertions like this stir up angst but do not contribute to the conversation.

      If you have an opinion that you can support with content related to this article, you should feel free to express that. Otherwise, I'd encourage you to obey Eph 4:29-32 (http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Ephesians%204:29-32&version=NIV) and refrain from posting.

    • David M March 14, 2013 Reply

      Can you be specific about one thing where you believe this to be true? If not, I refer you to Matthews post above.

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  6. Guy Cooksey April 23, 2014 Reply

    I think perhaps the best refutation to BG is the book of Job. Their simply inn't any easy answers to Job's misery and his tormenting-friends remind me a lot of BG. They have all the right answers--even ackowledging the truth of God's person and character, and yet they are condemned in the end for assuming things about Job (and God) that were not true. We have to be careful "having all the answers." I am a pastor of 25 years and the older I get the ore people I allow into heaven. We need to be careful with human souls for whom Christ died. Easy, pat answers, no matter how biblical or spiritual they sound, can be, in fact, wrong, and cause undo harm and guilt.

    • rob war September 7, 2014 Reply

      when one follows Gothardism, you become like Job's friends and come up with "answers" to problems and that there will be answers to problems. Look at his medical advice. I knew people that were really into it and much of it came from a book "None of these diseases" which claims medical issues are caused by spiritual. So if one has arthritis, then one much have some kind of bitterness or anger in them. The problem is that there are over 100 different kinds of arthritis and their causes. Rheumatoid is differenct and it's causes from Osteo. Yet, if you follow BG, it is just all lumped in together.

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