In the Advanced Training Institute (ATI), your spiritual gift often became part of your identity. “I am a mercy,” or “I am a prophet,” became commonplace statements which people used to identify and explain themselves. I still vividly remember encountering Mr. Gothard’s teachings on spiritual gifts in the Advanced Seminar. I really latched onto this section of the seminar because I had always felt different, and here was a teaching that being different was good and a reflection of a spiritual gift. That I totally fit the description of a “teacher” only reinforced my attachment to this teaching. Even the fact that the ATI teaching on spiritual gifts was so often used to excuse wrong practices (eg. Mr. Gothard is just being a exhorter when he took that verse out of context) or to belittle others and put them in their place (eg. You disagree with this teaching because you are a teacher and teachers are weak in faith) didn’t dim my enthusiasm for this teaching. But when I began to look more closely at some of Mr. Gothard’s teachings, I found that he consistently abused Scripture. So I also reexamined his teaching on spiritual gifts and, sure enough, I found that he abused Scripture in supporting this teaching as well.
Before going into how Mr. Gothard’s teachings on spiritual gifts represents an abuse of Scripture, let me state a few things up front. First of all, let me be clear that Scripture clearly teaches that there are spiritual gifts given to believers. My critique of Mr. Gothard’s teachings should not be seen as an argument that there are no spiritual gifts. There are spritual gifts, but Mr. Gothard’s system of spiritual gifts is not scripturally sound. Secondly, I want to recognize that there are some good things about Mr. Gothard’s teaching on spiritual gifts. There is good in that it helps people to recognize that people are different, that they have differing motivations and outlooks, and that these differences are good.
So what are the problems with Mr. Gothard’s teaching on spiritual gifts? Mr. Gothard makes arbitrary distinctions without scriptural support, and then twists or ignores what Scripture does say.
One of the key verses in Mr. Gothard’s teachings on spiritual gifts is I Corinthians 12:4-6:
“Now there are diversities of gifts (charisma), but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations (diakonia), but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations (energema), but it is the same God which worketh all in all.”,
Mr. Gothard uses this verse to separate spiritual gifts into three categories – each of which are said to be identified by a specific Greek word:
a) charisma = motivational gifts (the seven gifts you hear the most about in ATI)
b) diakonia = ministry gifts
c) energema = manifestations
This proposed distinction is not a problem in itself since Paul does state things in such a way that it could be taken as a listing of three different things. But it’s also just as possible that Paul is emphasizing his point by restating the same basic idea in three different ways. But, for the sake of discussion, let’s assume that Mr. Gothard is correct in seeing this passage as denoting three different categories of gifts. If he is correct, we should find evidence for it elsewhere in Scripture since the topic of spiritual gifts pops up in various places throughout the New Testament. So, as Mr. Gothard expounds on his system and brings in other verses, we can see if his system at least remains consistent with itself and with Scripture.
Two problems become apparent once a closer look is taken. First, if there are three different types of gifts, how are we to know which gifts go in which category? Well, there are three passages Mr. Gothard cites where different spiritual gifts are listed. Three different lists1, and three different categories of gifts–what could be simpler? Just match up the appropriate list with the appropriate type of gift, right? And this is what Gothard attempts to do–the list in Romans 12 he says are motivational gifts2 (charisma), the list in Ephesians 4 are ministry gifts3 (diakonia, and the list in I Corinthians 12 are manifestations4 (energema). It seems his claim of three distinct categories of gifts must be accurate, right? Well there is the slight problem that there is no indication in these passages that Mr. Gothard has made the correct match. Sure Romans 12 talks about the list being charisma (motivational gifts according to Gothard), but the list in I Cor. 12 is also introduced with the idea of charisma.5 Additionally, the list in Ephesians 4 makes no mention of being related to energema. So, it seems that the match-up proposed by Mr. Gothard is largely arbitrary. And, of course, that’s even assuming the three distinct categories he creates are valid to begin with.
And what of the three different lists? Well first, it should be noted that these three lists are not really that distinct – there are many similarities between the lists with some gifts showing on multiple lists. Secondly, there is no reason to see any of these lists as complete. The point of the list in each passages seems to be that there are many different gifts which can be given to a believer and that each is a benefit to the Body, not that this is an exhaustive list. Thus it would be perfectly reasonable and consistent (certainly more consistent than Mr. Gothard’s system) to see each list as a partial list of the same general category.
The second problem with Mr. Gothard’s proposed distinction is that it leads to clear inconsistencies with Scripture. For example, Mr. Gothard goes on to teach:
“Ministry gifts are confirmed by ordination, as when Paul said to Timothy, ‘Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery.’ (I Timothy 4:14)”
Remember that, according to Gothard’s classification, ministry gifts are identified by the Greek word diakonia. So if his classifications are accurate and consistent with Scripture, then we would expect that the word for “gift” in I Tim 4:14 would be diakonia. After all, diakonia = ministry gifts and ministry gifts are confirmed by ordination, right? Well, contrary to what Mr. Gothard claims, the type of gift Paul says is confirmed by ordination is, in fact, charisma. So, either Mr. Gothard never bothered to look up I Tim 4:14 in the Greek, or else he is just hoping no one else will do so.6
If Mr. Gothard were to keep his system consistent with Scripture he would have to teach that motivational gifts are the ones confirmed by ordination. But doing so would lead to all sorts of other inconsistencies within his system of spiritual gifts: “Sorry, you aren’t a mercy because you haven’t been ordained.” It should be obvious by now that Mr. Gothard’s system of spiritual gifts is arbitrary in its distinctions and inconsistent with the rest of Scripture.7
But not only does Mr. Gothard make three distinct categories of gifts, he also gives a detailed listing of characteristics and abuses of each of the “motivational” gifts. How does he comes up with this detailed list? Did he search Scripture to find these characteristics/abuses for each gift? No he doesn’t. The list he created came by having people in a meeting group together based on what gift they thought they had and then come up with a list of characteristics/abuses they all agree on. So, not only are his categories of gifts arbitrary and inconsistent with Scripture, the characteristics/abuses are not even determined scripturally.
In the end, Mr. Gothard’s system of spiritual gifts is nothing more than a personality system with spiritual and scriptural twists added on. It’s not sufficient that he teaches about people being differently motivated and with different personalities, he has to turn a good message about personalities into scripturally-unsound teaching about spiritual gifts. It is therefore no wonder that his system can so often become a means to excuse wrong teaching and/or belittle and intimidate those who disagree with his teachings.
1 Actually there are 4 lists. See I Pet 4.
2 prophecy, service, teaching; exhortation, giving, leadership, mercy
3 apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers
4 utterance of wisdom, utterance of knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discerning of spirits, tongues, interpretation of tongues
5 In fact, in the I Cor 12 list of spiritual gifts, Paul specifically says the charisma of healings. Then he ends the list by saying that we should desire the best charisma, thus indicating that the preceding list all falls under the heading of charisma.
6 2 Timothy 1:6 repeats this same thought while again using the word charisma to describe the gift.
7 Referring back to I Pet 4 we find another inconsistency for Gothard’s system. Peter says in vs. 10: “As each one has received a gift (charisma), minister (diakoneo, the verb form of diakonia) it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” So Peter seems to lump together the idea of charisma and diakonia, thus providing further confirmation that I Cor 12:4-6 should not be seen as Paul creating 3 distinct categories.