YeHaveHeard has been branching out.
Late last month my feature column Bill Gothard and Patriarchy: Re-routed Feminism? appeared on Quivering Daughters. That prompted much discussion about Christian homeschooling/ “character first” teacher Bill Gothard’s public pronouncement that Jesus’ the-greatest-among-you-must-be-the-servant-of-all statement means “that makes the woman the greatest of all because she has served every single person in the world by being in her womb.”
An excerpt, before getting to a few responses to critics (most of them from anonymous):
Perhaps [Gothard] said more, which isn’t shown, about Christ being the greatest Servant, Whom both men and women honor in the ways they serve one another. But if not, he rejected a prime opportunity to point to the Savior his organization claims to follow. Instead he pointed to humans, and to women in particular as in effect the world’s secret rulers — something Christ never meant whenever He taught on true servanthood.
Three passages in Scripture contain Jesus’ reminder that if one wishes to be truly great, he must become the servant of all: Matthew 18: 1-4, Mark 9:33-37 and Luke 9: 46-48.
In each account, of apparently the same dialogue about seeking servanthood as true greatness, Christ was speaking to His disciples. They were men. Women aren’t mentioned. He used a trusting child’s conduct as an example of true humility. Mark 9:37: “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.” And in Luke 9:48 He adds, “For he who is least among you all is the one who is great.”
What are the contexts here? Not gender roles. Not family. Not which gender should serve the most in a human way and thus be greatest. Jesus is pointing to Himself. These passages are about Him. And later, from the minor gift of washing His followers’ dirty feet to His earth-shaking, epic death on a cross for the salvation of His people, to be the ultimate sacrifice for our sin — He proved Himself the One Who saves us, changes us, the Servant of all.
This exegesis shows Gothard’s view to be in flagrant error. But unfortunately this is not unusual for him — Gothard has often proved that salvaging Scripture verses and principles, out of context, is certainly not a practice limited to liberals or emergents.
What might have been equally disappointing, though, is that his defenders in the column didn’t even try to prove he was right.
Instead I read some of the same defense mechanisms I’d heard before, such as:
- He’s a nice guy.
- Have you tried to talk with him personally? (Implied: that is required, before you say anything negative.)
- We’ve followed his teachings and we’re doing find (therefore our Anecdote simply surpasses yours).
- Various ad hominem attacks against other Gothard critics, either real or perceived.
- Gothard uses Bible verses in his teachings; therefore he’s touching Base and shouldn’t be questioned.
- (Implied) Hmm, you must be one of those Christians who doesn’t believe in trying to live a holy life.
- A derivative of the Gamaliel Game, a frequent (and fatalistic!) defense, based on Acts 5: 33-40, which in essence says “if he’s a bad guy, just ignore him and let God handle it.” Scripture neither condemns nor endorses Gamaliel’s specific advice in that passage, but certainly does elsewhere contradict the notion that Christians should just ignore false teachers!
Part 1 will consist of my response to Anonymous’ second batch of well-written questions. Part 2 will show my response to his/her actual first portion of questions and responses, which had initially been hidden by the site’s spam filter.
Responses to Anonymous
Thanks for stopping by, yet-another-Anonymous. Like most online-only conversations in which I engage, I wish we had the time and ability to add some semblance of relationship as the basis of our interactions, rather than the drive-by-debating common to the internet. Shall we imagine a brief visit between you, and my wife and I, in our living room with coffee or your beverage of choice, as I try to address your concerns?
6. Simply because the author of the article “Taliban Dan…” omits any reference to Bill Gothard teaching about walking in the good works God has created us for or honoring God with our lives does not mean that Bill Gothard (just a sinful, fallible instrument) omits them in his teaching.
From my experience with Gothard’s programs, I recall very little Gospel. This error is not unique to Gothard, but to many Christian leaders: they simply assume their followers/disciples will get that Gospel-of-Grace stuff out there somewhere, and can now move on to the “walking in good works” stuff without emphasis in the work Christ accomplished for us.
I don’t share that (often well-intentioned) perspective. A lover of Christ will be doing all he can (knowing God is at work in him — Philippians 2: 12-13) to preach the Gospel to Himself, living in light of what Christ has done and will do, not keeping that in the past and moving on to the supposedly more-important truth of walking in good works. Grace, as Gothard defines it, does include the power to obey God, but that is not the most important definition. Gothard in practice acts as thought it is.
We used the ATI curriculum for 12 years, and chose to get out—not with some personal vendetta against Bill Gothard and the program—but simply because God was leading us to other things—further training for His Kingdom.
Neither do I have a personal vendetta. But those who purport to teach the Bible should be held to high standards. While quoting verses, setting up systems purported to be based on truth, etc., are they applying right hermeneutics? Respecting God the Author of Scripture by reading and understanding it rightly?
The curriculum was full of scripture, and full of teaching about honoring God, His established authorities, and our fellow man.
I’ve shown above how Gothard severely twisted a single Scripture to make it man- (or woman-) centered, instead of echoing the deeper truth Christ was clearly teaching. Unless the reporter was making up that quote, Gothard is guilty of abusing the Word of God, not like a naive “baby Christian” but as a Christian leader.
In saying this, I take what he said at face value: he believes women are the greatest because they “serve” the most. That’s just not Biblical. Jesus was talking not to women, but to His own (male) disciples, saying they should strive to be the servant of all — and He Himself showed them how, and became the Servant of All, exalted over all: men and women.
Gothard is guilty of salvaging other Scriptures to further other goals, and that is wrong, no matter how Biblical those goals might be (such as Opposing Rebellion or Reminded us of Authority). Gothard’s woefully wrong reading of the account of Jesus healing the centurion’s son, for example, is a flagrant violation of how Scripture should be read: emphasizing Christ, as the narrative does, and not simply the Human Authority Structure.
The program was, as accused, full of steps, also, toward success in various aspects of Christian living. Some view this approach to problem solving as legalistic
Some might, but that’s not what I argued above. Similarly, Jesus faulted the Pharisees not merely for solving moral problems in step-by-step ways, but for making up laws and calling them God’s Law, and rejecting the point of the Law anyway: Christ Himself.
but others (and it’s just as valid a perspective) view the step method (merely breaking a problem into bite-sized pieces) as helpful.
Ordinarily I would agree. This would simply be seen as optional methods for doing our part, as Christians, to work out our salvation. But again, two issues:
a) Gothard doesn’t see these steps as optional. He calls them “life principles” and has continued to do this day to say they’re not optional.
b) The steps are often not only extra-Biblical (optional) but anti-Biblical. And adding to what Scripture says and calling it Scripture is just as bad as ignoring what Scripture does say.
Grace-oriented individuals should be careful not to condemn those who prefer a more structured approach.
Whether structured or not, all Christians are called to be grace-oriented individuals. That part is indeed not optional!
And whether or not a parent/person has a specific “structured approach,” if it’s not based in grace, it’s not Gospel-minded — and would warrant a Galatians-style letter from the Apostle Paul asking with love but passion: “Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:3). Or he would write a letter repeating what he told the Colossians (in 3: 20-23) about wrong, anti-Biblical “structures”:
“If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations—’Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch’ (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.”
Neither is more righteous as long as both look to Christ as THE problem-solver and THE SOLUTION.
Which, as I’ve argued above, Gothard in-practice and even in-writing does not do.
However, perhaps you, most excellent Anonymous, were able to take what you found good about Gothard’s materials and see them through the lenses of God’s grace. If so, I rejoice! Yet I would ask that you recognize that others have not been so blessed, and are trapped on a graceless treadmill, trying to earn their sanctification through Gothard’s anti-Biblical materials. IBLP does not seem their whole System of beliefs as optional as you and I might see them, free to choose which ones to follow — or even to depart the whole thing and find better curriculum elsewhere.
7. It is simply Ungodly to undermine parents in trying to “rescue” daughters from what we perceive to be an oppressive lifestyle.
I don’t oppose that. Are you referring to something I wrote?
In fact, it’s a main mission of Quivering Daughters here to help carry out such rescues, of daughters who are trapped in not only what’s “perceived” to be an oppressive lifestyle, but what is — according to the Gospel, aided by sanctified common sense! — oppressive and grace-rejecting lifestyles. To see this further, I encourage you to look more on the site, and perhaps read Hillary’s book Quivering Daughters and Don Veinot’s book A Matter of Basic Principle: Bill Gothard and the Christian Life.
You see, the God of the universe gave each daughter her parents and each wife her husband. If we are willing to cease trying to give God and Ishmael, and trust Him (Jer. 29:11), He will complete his unstoppable plan of mercy and grace in the ultimate manner.
But the sovereign God works through means, Anonymous. He has given and encouraged (nay required) Christians to practice discernment, rather than being more passive (a la Gamaliel in Acts) and simply let things happen. Should we also apply the more-passive mindset to the pressing issues of our day, such as sex trafficking, racism or abortion? Surely not. Scripture doesn’t leave Christians with that option — though some of us may have different callings in this.
As an aside, I hear Jeremiah 29:11 quoted a lot, but out of context: that promise God made to the Israelites then is weakened when we apply it straight to ourselves without the background that He fulfilled it for them. Furthermore His perfect plans for them also involved plenty of hardship and learning from the ways they had rejected Him — only through better discernment and growth did they have “hope and a future.”
When we interfere in order to help him, we just mess things up.
Again, the point here is not simply reaching out to women (or anyone) who’s in a merely “perceived” oppressive lifestyle, but showing how this lifestyle is not only dangerous, but flagrantly anti-Biblical and not actually honoring to Christ and the Gospel.
8. When we are on the outside looking in to a situation, we make a lot of assumptions. My old English teacher used to say “To ASSUME makes an ASS out of U and ME.” Wouldn’t the Christian way be to spend our hours and days spreading the good news of the gospel and discipling young believers in a God-honoring way to aid in their sanctification instead of devoting entire ministries to breaking down or attacking the ministries of those we don’t understand (and thereby are suspicious of)?
Again, if you are referring to Quivering Daughters, I would ask:
a) Then why are you trying to oppose this ministry? Perhaps you don’t yourself understand what they see, what they know, and to whom they’re reaching. The problem with a Gamaliel-like “if it’s of God you can’t stop it anyway” notion is that it can’t be suggested consistently without self-refuting, and it’s not what Scripture says to follow anyway.
b) Yet again, these are about whether a professed Christian and supposedly Biblical organization is actually following Christ and the Bible. I’ve shown above how Gothard has violated both (as is a proven pattern in how he salvages other Scriptures to fit into moralism machines). If you’d like to engage my ideas in that area, Anonymous, I’d love to listen and reply.
Where is the glory for God in a ministry like this?
The glory to God is the same as Paul gave when he publicly opposed Peter for sucking up to legalistic Judaizers (Galatians 2) or called out a professing Christian for anti-Biblical behavior (1 Corinthians 5) or, in love, warned believers to avoid false doctrine and grow to be like Christ with all truth and discernment (Philippians 1, many other epistles). The God of love is also a God of truth, and a Christian’s discernment can be practiced with love and hope that the deceptive teacher will repent and correct his false teaching.
I know God has used others to correct my own wrong notions about “perfect” families, and even what the future eternal existence of a Christian will be (hint: it’s not just a spiritual nonphysical realm!). Thus I hope also that those professing to believe the Gospel of grace will speak and listen to one another accordingly, not making or hearing arguments based on man-made logic or inference from Scripture, but based on Scripture rightly applied, pointing to the Gospel.
Grace and peace!