A couple of different things…
First off, Whatever Happened to Bill Gothard? on Internet Monk. Now, I enjoy Internet Monk; I’ve mentioned that in past, and have made no secrets about it. I think the IM community is a tremendous resource and very important voice in the “post-evangelical wasteland”. It does the Church no credit to not listen to them soberly. But do I think they are right on everything? No more than anyone else.
But they do make some compelling arguments. And when certain keyphrases are thrown out, all the red flags in my head are suddenly raised by the Holy Spirit, and I stand up and take more notice. Now, I don’t have any issue with Bill Gothard personally; perhaps I was too young, but I can’t isolate anything in my life or upbringing that was distinctly from him. But I can point to many things that are very similar to the points Chaplain Mike brings up, as well as all the commentors. The title “Bill Gothard’s Evangelical Talmud” is particularly damning, from one of the links that was posted.
There are two important things I’m pulling out of this article, besides a general need to educate myself a bit more on Gothard teachings and their implications in the modern church (for instance, who wants to wager part of the mass exodus of young people from the Church owes something to Gothard principles?). The first is the constant chasing of the mountain top experience. I’ve been a victim of it, more willing than not at times. That’s why I don’t hold it against young believers when they get caught up in it as well; I’ve put in my share of time encouraging people to enjoy what they are going through but to also remember to breathe, stop and listen to God, and get into His word. Where I’m not willing to cut any slack though is ministries that pander to the mountain top experience and trump it up as THE Christian life, the higher level, the forerunners, “the grandest adventure”, the new wine, the new wave, the new movement…whatever. Ministries that are built entirely around the mountain top experience tend to be cultish, heretical, and destructive to the Church and Christian lives.
The second is the idea that the Christian life is one of principles that must be followed. Here’s the list that Chaplain Mike pulls out:
What Are Basic Life Principles?
1. Design: Understanding the specific purposes for which God created each person, object, and relationship in my life and living in harmony with them. Thanking God for my design brings Self-Acceptance.
2. Authority: Honoring the responsibilities of parents, church leaders, government, and other authorities and learning how God works through them to provide direction and protection. Honoring my authorities brings Inward Peace.
3. Responsibility: Realizing I am accountable to God for every thought, word, action, and motive. Asking forgiveness of those I offend brings a Clear Conscience.
4. Suffering: Allowing the hurts from offenders to reveal “blind spots” in my own life, and then seeing how I can benefit their lives. Fully forgiving offenders brings Genuine Joy.
5. Ownership: Understanding that everything I have has been entrusted to me by God, and wisely using it for His purposes. Yielding my rights to God brings True Security.
6. Freedom: Enjoying the desire and power to do what is right, rather than claiming the privilege to do what I want. Regaining ground surrendered to sin brings Moral Purity.
7. Success: Discovering God’s purpose for my life by engrafting Scripture in my heart and mind, and using it to “think God’s thoughts” and make wise decisions. Meditating on Scripture brings Life Purpose.
Yeah, I don’t see most of those in Scripture either. This is another one of this areas where something good, like life principles, can be corrupted and twisted into something legalistic and evil. As many of the commentors on Internet Monk said, what started as a good Bible course slowly twisted into something worse. But the end result with this and seemingly so many other systems of Christian living/worldview is that it becomes works based sanctification after a while. “Have problems in your life? Well, why didn’t you spend more time in the Word?” Deceitful lies like that.
And the deception is subtle, so subtle young believers probably won’t pick up on it. For instance, point #3 above. Looks good, doesn’t it? The truth is the opposite though. You are not responsible for every word, thought, and deed before God. If you are a Christian, God has already forgiven you for every word, thought, and deed; He has totally forgotten them, cast them into the farthest ocean. IF God is our Father, then our Father would not hold it against us if we said something wrong and forgot, or thought something wrong and don’t regret it, or committed some deed when we were 12 and never asked forgiveness of it before we died on our death bed at 65. That type of truth and teaching from Bill Gothard is pure evil and pure death.
This brings me to my second item of business for today. The Resurgence posted an article a day or two ago that was hard for me to read…very painfully at least: Accountability Groups: The Tyranny of Do More, Try Harder.
I’ll let some of the words express the feelings and thoughts I have:
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in “accountability groups” where there has been little to no attention given to the gospel whatsoever. There’s no reminder of what Christ has done for our sin—“cleansing us from its guilt and power”—and the resources that are already ours by virtue of our union with him. These groups produce a “do more, try harder” moralism that robs us of the joy and freedom Jesus paid dearly to secure for us.
The Puritans used to say that far too many Christians live beneath the level of their privileges. Therefore, I need to be told by those around me that every time I sin I’m momentarily suffering from an identity crisis: forgetting who I actually belong to, what I really want at my remade core, and all that is already mine in Christ. The only way to deal with remaining sin long-term is to develop a distaste for it in light of the glorious riches we already possess in Christ. I need my real friends to remind me of this—every day. Please tell me again and again that God doesn’t love me more when I obey or less when I disobey. Knowing this actually enlarges my heart for God and therefore shrinks my hunger for sin. So, don’t let me forget it. My life depends on it!
The bottom line is this, Christian: because of Christ’s work on your behalf, God does not dwell on your sin the way you do. So, relax and rejoice…and you’ll actually start to get better. The irony, of course, is that it’s only when we stop obsessing over our own need to be holy and focus instead on the beauty of Christ’s holiness, that we actually become more holy! Not to mention, we start to become a lot easier to live with!
This was painful for me to read. This was a truth that slowly, painfully dawned on me a few years ago. I’ve been in the position of utter vulnerability and naked need, and while the “try harder, do better, you can do it, buck up soldier” mentality may work for certain types of people, it just makes other people more miserable, depressed, and sometimes suicidal. It in fact drives you even deeper into sin, and throws on a heaping helping of apathy, and while you are desperate to climb out and put your sin to death (whatever the fuck that means; there is no “future perfect” with that sense, just a “present” ‘continually putting to death’, because it will never, ever be dead in this lifetime), you are either greeted with the message to “try harder, do more” or are told by certain parties that nothing will improve unless God miraculously intervenes through some second work of grace…or worse, are told that since you already fell back into sin you can never find your way out…or possibly, were never saved to begin with, and there is nothing you can do to change that.
Look. I’ve forgiven many people a long time ago. I’ve dealt with it. I’m still dealing with it. I hold no grudges, but I bare the scars of well-intentioned, godly people. And I’m not gonna say things like this haven’t caused me to buck off so much of Christianity, really question and look hard at everything in the Christian walk, and on occassion, make me not want to have anything to do with Christianity. I’m not joking when I say I’ve prayed through tears and shouts for God to give up on me.
I’ve just never wanted to give up on God. Just all his children. Let’s face it – I’m happiest when I’m not involved with a Church. To twist Scripture, Christ set me free, why I should I voluntarily put myself under a yoke of slavery and bondage? His burden is increasingly heavy and tiresome to carry. There is no rest for the weary. Such joy in that one hymn we seldom sing anymore…
“And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.”
I’m so tired of hearing people say “why do so many Christians want to smile and wink and nod at sin?” No one does. That’s not the point. You are missing the point. Do you even understand the gospel? Why it’s called good news? It’s cause it’s the opposite of the law. It’s grace. Pure and simple. If Christianity is in any way a works based sanctification experience, then I want nothing to do with it. Nothing. I’m an agnostic. I’m an atheist.
But relaxing and rejoicing…and getting better…that sounds so farfetched to be true. And yet it has to be, because nothing else works.
And it is true, too! The more I relax, the more I just forget it all, the more I simply pray and trust in God, the easier life is. The easier sin management is. The easier sin killing is. The easier…joy is.
But whatever. We all still have a lot of ways to go. And I’m weary and have written enough on this topic. I’m still working to exorcise the voices in my head, but they are stubornly clinging to the dead flesh and philosophies of man…
All this to sum up – I lost Jesus through accountability, found lots of religion and flesh, and now I’m reorienting. He’ll either find me or I’ll keep walking.
Take, my soul, thy full salvation;Rise o’er sin and fear and care;Joy to find in every station,Something still to do or bear.Think what Spirit dwells within thee,Think what Fathers smiles are thine,Think that Jesus died to win thee;Child of heaven, canst thou repine?