When I look back at my parents’ decision to join the Advanced Training Institute (ATI), I think I can understand many of the reasons behind their choice. They first encountered Bill Gothard and the Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP) when their friends attended the Basic Seminar in the 1970s. A few years later, my parents attended their first Basic Seminar. As young believers, they found many exciting ideas, since the Christian life seemed to be broken down into understandable, achievable principles. Bill Gothard’s “new approach to life” presented a great alternative to my parents’ childhood experiences.
What did the world look like when my parents were growing up? We’re quite familiar with the culture of the 1960s — the Baby Boomers came seeking freedom in the form of counterculture and complete social revolution. Their rebellion towards society was characterized by rock music, long hair, free love, drug experimentation, and radical beliefs. Mini-skirts, bikinis, Beatle boots, tie-dye, bell-bottom jeans, and sideburns all became associated with this counterculture. It seemed to those not caught up in the hippie movement that the generation was headed straight for destruction. In terms of a pendulum, could it possibly swing any further?
Enter Bill Gothard. His seminar began as a means of reaching out to troubled youth, and it quickly grew into an event that attracted thousands in attendance over the next two decades. He advocated a return to Scripture and the principles he found within its pages. It was time for the pendulum to swing back. Instead of rebellion, he taught submission to authority. Instead of scandalous dress, he advocated modesty. His alternative to free love? Biblical dating, which he eventually renamed biblical courtship. To a generation of young believers, seeking an alternative to the extreme changes in their culture, his teachings were refreshing and new, desperately needed in a world that seemed upside down.
And so the pendulum swung — and continued to swing.
When my parents first attended the Basic Seminar, they saw the need for balance to what was clearly unscriptural in their surroundings. They were excited to discover principles that, if properly applied, would lead to guaranteed success. Several years later, after they had begun homeschooling, they learned about ATI and chose to join. Again, they saw happy families with perfect children, and they wanted the same results. My parents wholeheartedly embraced the seven principles and all of the associated teachings.
How far would the pendulum swing?
Among my ATI friends and family, I saw many extremes. Dress resembling clothing from prairie days. Rebellion prevented by establishing strict parental control. Formulas replacing relationships. Well-supervised courtship apparently eliminating free sex. Contemporary music destroyed and replaced with hymns in 19th century style. Our parents wanted to do things “right.” They wanted to protect us from the extremes they’d seen while growing up. As a result, they withdrew us almost entirely from our culture and created their own subculture. In response to the extremes, they allowed the pendulum to swing far in the opposite direction.
Now it’s my turn. I’m faced with the pendulum. What will I do?
- I’ve observed the disintegration that comes from a lack of rules and structure. I’ve also watched formulas destroy relationships. It’s time to build real, genuine relationships with others, especially in parent-child relationships. I will not rely on steps, principles, or formulas to guarantee a picture-perfect “successful” family. Instead, I will trust in the Lord to direct me as I live out my faith in honest relationships before the world.
- I’ve witnessed the tragic results of the philosophy of free love as I now live in world filled with broken families. I’ve also personally experienced the problems with a parent-controlled courtship. I will teach my children early to make responsible decisions in choosing friends, so that when the time comes for them to date, I will be able to trust them to make wise decisions and to seek counsel if they feel they need it.
- I’ve seen a broad spectrum of clothing choices. I believe that clothing should be modest and appropriate. Therefore, I will dress in a way that does not draw undue attention. In other words, I will choose clothing that suits the occasion and the context within my culture, and I will teach my children to do the same.
- I will teach my children to think for themselves and to make wise, informed decisions. I will seek to influence their values through building genuine relationships within the family, and I will trust the Lord for the results.
- I’m ready to drop the façade of perfection and accept that all humans are imperfect. When I make mistakes, I will seek forgiveness and move on. When my children make mistakes, I will lovingly correct them, seek restoration, and move on.
- I will wholeheartedly embrace God’s grace as favor I cannot earn, and I will quit trying to win His favor by following a list of steps.
Because of my childhood in ATI, I’m aware of both of the extremes to which the pendulum can swing. By God’s grace, I choose to live with confidence and faith instead of fearfully overreacting to either extreme. It’s time for the pendulum to stop.