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You wanted us to grow up strong and mature and capable and effective Christians, above all else.
You wanted us to love Jesus more than the world, you wanted to protect us from the failures your experienced at our age.
You wanted the absolute best for us and were willing to put up with the scorn and sidewise glances of your family, your friends, and fellow Christians in order to pursue that better way of life.
You heard of a program that promised all these things, and more, and you listened to a man who cited scripture after scripture and story after story supporting his teachings which, he promised, if followed, would raise up your children in the way they should go, and ensure that we would not depart from it.
Now it turns out you and so many, many others, were deceived.
Being deceived isn’t a particularly horrible thing. Lots and lots of people are deceived every day: Even good people, especially well-meaning people.
Right now what matters most isn’t that you were deceived, what matters most is what you do about it, right now, and going forward.
I was deceived too. I bought into the falsely applied scriptures and the trite stories even harder than my parents did. I had moral volition, a mind and will of my own, and the responsibility to live and die by my own choices, and I, the child, made the choice just as surely as you, the parents, did.
Please don’t beat yourself up over this. It is good to feel responsible, but let that responsibility drive you to reexamine, to reassess, to dig deeper into those things you were taught and believed and compare them honestly against a true interpretation of scripture rather than the stretched, abused, and tortured definitions used to support the deception. Use the responsibility to progress, to live and learn. Thank God you learned it was a lie before it was too late. After all, now you still have a chance to do what you can to retrain yourself, your own heart, your own mind, and our minds and hearts as well. That is grace. That is a gift from God.
But wait, you say, I was not deceived. There are people who are out to smear and slander God’s anointed, and they are crawling out from under the rocks of their own sin to do so.
Yes, yes you were.
There are many different problems surrounding Bill Gothard, IBLP, and ATI. There are theological issues born out of Bill Gothard’s misinterpretation of the scriptures, misapplied reasoning, and apparent interest more in preserving his own authority and correctness than in actually knowing Christ more. There are organizational issues caused, apparently, by the same concern for his own authority and gain as the theological issues. There are relational issues, repeated emotional abuse of people under their authority, a complete lack of accountability (who does Gothard answer to, who can speak wisdom into his life?), silencing of any and all questions and dissent of any sort within the leadership and workers of the ministry, blackballing of those who left the ministry. The list goes on, and most of these items are specifically and explicitly proven and documented, and not just by malcontents and rebels.
I won’t bore you with details of each and every offense when others have done so more thoroughly than I ever could. Instead, I will focus on the theological issues because I believe these are closer to the root of the problem than some of the other issues might.
First, Gothard has a crippled definition of grace that requires him to work out his own salvation, through his own effort, and by his own goodness. While the specific wording has changed over the years, Gothard still defines grace primarily as the “desire and power to do God’s will.” This makes grace into an impersonal force, a resource, something of God’s that we take (Gothard uses the verb “appropriate”), and nothing could be further from the truth. Grace is not a resource we take, but a characteristic of God that He gives us as evidence of His great love for us. When it is something we take, the onus and the glory are ours (Freudian or not, themes running subtly towards personal glory reveal themselves repeatedly in Gothard’s teachings), but when it is something God gives, the glory is His, as it ever ought to be.
Second, Gothard’s twisted conception of authority, the second of his foundational “seven basic principles”, is used to prop up his own unquestionable person, to blackball those who question or criticize him or those he favors, and interestingly enough, when applied completely, claims that Jesus was a sinner. Gothard teaches the principle of authority as one of the most important aspects of proper Christian living, necessary for experiencing any blessing. This is also the very first of the principles I began to question, and it began while I lived and worked at the IBLP HQ. Bill Gothard puts huge importance and weight into authority. It may be the second basic principle, but among those he lives closest to, the staff and workers at the various training centers, it is THE primary principle governing all aspects of their lives, down to a ridiculous level of minutiae. While working at the IBLP HQ I was rather oblivious to many things, but I did notice that Gothard does not attend any one church with any regularity. He regularly travels on the weekends, which accounts for some of his absence, but not all of it. He was ordained many years ago by La Grange Bible Church, just a few miles from HQ, and I believe his membership is still technically there, but from my observation, he was hardly ever there. When the Midwest Christian Outreach, a cult awareness ministry that has researched IBLP and ATI extensively, sought a meeting to resolve issues they had with Gothard’s teachings and requested that his pastor attend as a counselor to him, the pastor of La Grange Bible refused stating that Mr Gothard had not been under the authority of that church for many years.
Even before I lived at IBLP headquarters I’d been aware that in previous scandals, when the IBLP Board had requested that Gothard step down due to his involvement in the scandals, he’d been able to effectively disband the board and resume absolute control of the ministry. He had no pastor investing wisdom and counsel in his personal life, and no board that could invest wisdom and counsel into the ministry, so whose authority was he under? God did not design humans to function well outside an interdependent structure of authority. Where there is no accountability small problems become big problems, and big problems become scandals, and people are hurt, physically and spiritually. Mr Gothard was not under authority himself, refused to submit himself to any authority besides himself, and I knew very quickly that this particular teaching was suspect.
Gothard’s teaching on authority sounds good. Umbrellas, protection, concern for the protection and good outcomes of those under the authority, all these are laudable goals. But the substance is wrong because the interpretation is wrong, and the result is damage to children you sought to raise into productive and healthy Christ-loving people. Disagreement with an authority is not rebellion. People in authority are just as prone to sin and wrong as people under authority. Gothard makes no allowance for this fact, and so when a father or a pastor who subscribes to his authoritarian ideas finds themselves struggling with sin, they have no mechanism for coping with it, and the sin, unchecked by counselors or wisdom, and in the absence of real grace, explodes into horrible things.
If disagreement with an authority were sin, Jesus, remaining in the temple after the passover while his parents (his authorities) began the trip home unknowingly without him, would have been sinning. We know that Jesus did not sin. Not ever. And yet Gothard even uses the story in Luke 2 as proof of his teachings, ignoring the obvious problems with that specific story. Authoritarian control is a way to get people to obey on the outside, but it does nothing about the heart issue, and this concern for the outside is apparent over and over in the IBLP and ATI ministries, even despite Gothard’s apparent focus on the inner “character qualities”.
Gothard’s view of grace is wrong, and his authoritarian teachings magnify sin, destroy family relationships, and are completely unbiblical. These two key aspects of his teachings are used to support his works-based message of salvation and his absolute control over all aspects of his ministry and the lives of those inside it.
Yes, you have been deceived, but now you know just a small part of the truth. I urge you not to reject what you’ve learned because once you know, you can never really un-know, and the truth unheeded will fester and will not let you continue your life as it was in peace.
What do you do now?
Read more. This was just a taste of the depths of deception and depravity that surround Bill Gothard and his ministries. They are not shining examples of goodness and light, they are white washed sepulchers filled with dead bones.
The elders and pastor of Calvary Bible Church in Fort Worth Texas saw the teachings of Gothard and wrote a response and critique that you should read: A Call For Discernment.
The Midwest Christian Outreach has a long history of exhaustive research of Gothard’s teachings and is working together with a community of people coming out of IBLP and ATI to confront Mr Gothard under the instructions of 1 Timothy 5:20: Bill Gothard and the 1 Timothy Project.
Midwest Christian Outreach has also published a book-length compilation of all their research into and communication with Gothard, IBLP, and ATI titled, A Matter of Basic Principles.
Recovering Grace itself has a section of its site dedicated to addressing Gothard’s teachings. While not as scholarly as other critiques, it is an in-the-trenches level series that is worth looking into: Upon Further Review, Twisted Scriptures.
The Apologetics Index has a selection of linked articles for further study of the problems found in Gothard’s many teachings.
The Personal Freedom Outreach has a lengthy analysis and criticism of Gothard’s teachings, calling them Evolving Fadism.
All this was possible because people gave too much reverence and authority to a man, instead of to the Man he claimed to be teaching about. I remember hearing Bill say at the end of each of his seminars that we shouldn’t take his word for it, but that we should, like the Christians of Berea, verify these things for ourselves against the scripture. I, me, myself, I am guilty of not doing this. I, me, myself, I did not look up in the Bible to see if what Bill taught was right. I, me, myself, not my parents, ME. I did not follow the exhortation to be a Berean Christian. Me, a child of ATI parents, am guilty. I am grateful that God’s grace, nothing I have taken for myself but something that was given to me, showed me the way out. Showed me a way out of worshiping Gothard as an infallible hero of Christianity. Showed me a way out of the haughty conceit of being part of a “better way of life.” Showed me out of the pride and sinful failures that go along with trying to do it myself.
The worst thing you can do is nothing. Please do not continue on as you were before, but now in knowing collusion with a deceiver, placing yourself purposefully under the authority and teaching of a man who is not under authority himself, neither of man or God.
Thank you for trying so very hard to do what was right for us. Nothing will ever take that away or change that.
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