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A few months ago, Recovering Grace posted an article entitled Reprobation or Christian Liberty? in which the author pointed out how Bill Gothard’s teachings on the “Development of Reprobation” can be used to prevent young people from discovering how to walk in the freedom God intended for us to have as we walk in the Spirit. This article reminded me of something I once learned called the “experience to action” cycle, which is another simple way of describing the phenomenon that this author was describing.
In a nutshell, the cycle consists of four steps:
(1) We experience something in the physical world through our senses.
(2) We then take that information, and assign meaning to it.
(3) This meaning we attach to the information triggers an emotion, and
(4) That emotion triggers an action/set of actions that affect how we interact with the information.
As an example, imagine if you were to walk down the street and see freshly chewed gum on the sidewalk. You’re probably going to think, “I don’t want to have to clean it off my shoe.” You may even be irritated that someone would be so irresponsible. Inevitably, you irritably walk around the gum to avoid the problem.
Notice the experience to action points in our example:
(1) We see the gum through our sense of sight.
(2) We process what we saw, concluding that the gum was there because someone left it there.
(3) This interpretation of the situation results in our emotions of annoyance and fear of gum sticking to our shoe.
(4) This interpretation causes us to scowl and walk around the gum.
Notice that the motive force in the example was not what we saw, but how we interpreted and how we felt about what we saw. This very phenomenon is what causes those who suffer from PTSD [Post Traumatic Stress Disorder] to experience “triggers” that cause emotions and actions unrelated to a stimulus (loud noises triggering flashbacks; certain colognes reminding one of their abuser, etc.). The triggered emotion was the cause of action, not the actual sight or sound.
I believe that Gothard’s system manipulates the experience to action cycle, resulting in the scenario the author presented in the aforementioned article. First, Gothard has always presented a simple, dogmatic, easily understood and clearly defined set of meanings to ideas, spiritual principles, and life in general. For example, in Gothard’s system, a young person who questions the teachings and principles of Gothard is only doing so because he is a rebel. Or, all negative events in our lives are caused because we violated one of God’s non-optional principles. This self-limiting set of meaning is particularly attractive to those who lack confidence in their own spiritual discernment, or refuse to accept responsibility for own faith.
In corrupting the meaning of events and actions, Gothard creates negative emotions that will often result in his followers making the choices/vows/commitments that he wants. This is a powerful method of spiritual manipulation. In the case of the “rebel,” when ATI parents attach Gothard’s terminology to their son or daughter, then the resulting emotions will like be that of fear—fear that they have failed as parents, or fear that their wandering child will corrupt their other children. This fear then leads to an action of punishment or shunning, rather than nurturing and guiding with love and grace.
While the experience to action concept is only one way of looking at the flaws in Gothard’s system, I believe that it is an important one. The ONLY answer to Gothard’s twisting of these God-given cognitive processes is to understand that one day we will stand before Christ and give an answer for the thoughts we accepted as truth, the emotions which drove us to actions, and the deeds we chose to perform.
Truly, we worship our Creator in spirit and in truth. Due to the desperately wicked nature of our hearts, our only hope in this endeavor is to throw ourselves at the mercy of God who waits patiently to see us repent and turn from our wicked ways, and to guide us through the valley of the shadow of death so that He and He alone can be glorified—not the cleverness of our thoughts, the self-control of our emotions, or the works of our hands.