A Matter of Basic Principles: Bill Gothard & the Christian Life. Don Veinot, Joy Veinot, & Ron Henzel. Springfield, MO: 21st Century Press, 2002. 383 pp. Paper. $15.99.
I came to faith in the Lord Jesus for eternal life in the fall of 1972. Around a year later I attended Bill Gothard’s Institute of Basic Youth Conflicts (now called The Institute in Basic Life Principles, IBLP) conference. A year after that I attended the advanced conference he offered. While I didn’t agree with all he said, especially on the gospel (he appeared to me to be mildly in the Lordship Salvation camp), I did think his great respect for parents was helpful. Indeed, I waited a year to go into Christian work because my parents were against it.
The back jacket of the book features impressive endorsements by Drs. Earl Radmacher (Western), Ron Allen (DTS), Jay Adams (Westminster), and Samuel Schultz (Wheaton).
Rarely have I read a Christian book that is such a page turner. If you have any knowledge of Bill Gothard and his organization, this book is fascinating. Even if you don’t, you will find much powerful information. This book is more than a critique of a particular man and his ministry. It is a warning to all of us. For, whether we are in the leadership of a church, parachurch organization, or even a secular business, we must all beware of the dangers that come with success.
Gothard received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Wheaton College in 1957 and 1961 respectively.
In 1966, Gothard presented his first seminar in Chicago . In 1968 he had his first out of town seminar (in Seattle). The ministry really took off in 1972, with total seminar attendance around the country numbering 128,000, up from 12,000 just one year earlier. And those numbers just kept on climbing.
In Chapter 1 the authors recount the scandal that rocked the ministry, resulting in Gothard’s resignation in July 1980 (p. 60). During the next week, 31 of the 76 staff we fired, dismissed, or resigned (p. 61). By the end of the 1980, only 26 of the 76 staff remained. Gothard’s brother was shown to have been involved in affairs with seven of the Institute’s secretaries (p. 49). Fifteen people in the ministry were involved in sexual immorality. According to the authors, for at least four years Gothard actually knew of the immorality going on and instead of rooting it out, he covered it up and violated his own principles (pp. 50, 52-62).
Gothard’s departure was quite brief. Within about a week, he returned and began running things once again. This was facilitated by the resignation of the board chairman (p. 61).
The book goes on to document the following: 1) Gothard’s pattern of not submitting to authority (particularly to his board); 2) His use of Scripture to make it support a point he believes to be true; 3) Gothard’s proofs of his principles are anecdotal, not biblical. He loves to tell of people who applied his principles and got excellent results. Unfortunately people are all too quick to accept such stories as proofs that the principles are from God; and 4) Gothard’s approach to marriage, family, and the Christian life is legalistic and while many people report excellent success following his principles, many more have been hurt deeply as a result of trying to follow his teaching. See especially Chapter 4, “Institute in Basic Legalistic Practices.”
The authors contrast Gothard’s view of what one must do to have eternal life with that of D. Martyn Lloyd Jones and Steve Brown, two Reformed pastors known for advocating simple faith as the sole condition of eternal life (pp. 180-82).
In the epilogue the authors give a brief appeal to unbelieving readers to come to faith in Christ. There they indicate the sole condition is faith in Christ. They say, “It’s a free gift, with no strings attached, and we receive it by faith in Christ alone (Ephesians 2:8-9)” (pp. 336-37; see also 325-26). While some may not like the way in which they then explain faith as “trusting in” Jesus like one who gets on board a plane even if he is fearful (p. 337), they will appreciate the fact that the authors advocate justification by faith in Jesus Christ with no strings attached.
Clearly the authors feel that Gothard believes in justification by faith plus works. Unfortunately, while they are very careful to give much evidence on other points, they don’t give many clear statements of Gothard’s teaching on what one must do to have eternal life. For the clearest statements of Gothard’s position, see pp. 143-44, 147-49, 151-55, and 285.
Two final points bear mentioning. First, Gothard is highly suspicious of doctors, to the point of establishing The Medical Training Institute of America to educate Christians about medical matters. The authors’ presentation and critique of what Gothard suggests is truly amazing. See Chapter 10, “Bill Gothard—Medicine Man,” pp. 279-311.
Second, having been in a cult myself (from 1958 through 1972), I found the author’s discussion of how hard it is for “Gothardites” to leave the movement to be excellent. Here are some of the hurdles one must overcome to leave and stay away from a cult: fear of ridicule from those still in the cult, fear of making a mistake that could cost you your life or even your eternal life, feeling the cult must be right since some very intelligent and highly educated people remain active, and wondering how the cult could possibly be wrong since it contains so many nice and godly people (pp. 319-25).
I highly recommend this book. It not only informs about Bill Gothard and his ministry, but it also warns all of us to be accountable, humble, teachable, discerning, and submissive to the authority of the Word of God.
Robert N. Wilkin
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society
Irving , TX