Friday, December 12, 2008

The Layers of Extra-biblical Belief Underneath Multigenerational Faithfulness and the 200 Year Plan

Part of an ongoing discussion on multigenerational faithfulness...

The “200 Year Plan” promoted by Vision Forum derives from some goal setting that Geoff Botkin did with his children to help them have a “vision” and plan for their lives. **Please link here to read more about Geoff Botkin's background** and his long tenure with one of the most well documented Shepherding Discipleship Bible-based cults, the Great Commission Ministries group.

This process of goal setting and planning is not new, as many people and many disciplines practice a very goal oriented and objective planning process, complete with measurable goals. (Most don't extend the planning to 200 years, however.) I cannot speak highly enough about this, having been trained in objective planning like this in my own profession as a nurse. For a hospitalized surgical patient, for example, my long-term goal for them will be to ambulate unassisted for 100 feet without assistance upon discharge, but while in my care, I must set specific, measurable goals for each day. For post-op day one, my goal may be to get out of bed six hours after returning from the OR. On post-op day three, my goal will be “Patient will ambulate three times around the clinical area four times per day.” I can’t wait until 10PM to encourage that patient to make all twelve 12 laps by midnight! You eat an elephant by disciplining yourself to eat one bite at a time, and I know well the many benefits and wisdom of this type of planning process.

Mr. Botkin describes sitting down with his sons to communicate what he would like to see each of them accomplish. He collaborated with his sons regarding their comprehensive life goals for themselves, and they mapped out all of these specifics together. When the worked everything out to see all their desires accomplished, the plan extended to 200 years. He states quite admirable goals: he hopes to carry "disciple-making principles found in the Word of God over into his family." He states his desire to “train his sons in how to fight, how to resist lies, how to resist disinformation, and how to be champions of what is true.” These are fine and laudable goals that all believers in Christ should strive to rest within. How could one pursue anything more noble than conquering falsehood through championing and teaching God’s truth? If we could only agree on our interpretations about what the Bible communicates to us as truth, for these goals should be shared by all committed Christians.

As is so true of Vision Forum material as was true of Bill Gothard’s training or other such programs, on the surface of things and when considering the veneer, their ideas sound reasonable. In an interview with Kevin Swanson, Botkin states many principles that just make my heart sing, but these things are limited to the surface layer. If you’ve not read the specifics of Geoff Botkin’s ideology in his daughters’ book, if you have not heard his sermons or you never saw the “Return of the Daughters” video, when you listen to his interview with Swanson, you would never suspect any problems with the concept. You might even desire to purchase the audio of the conference that Vision Forum presented because of the window dressing of the plan, impressed with the very good aspects of the general idea. Having studied this material, heard my brethren at church in San Antonio discuss the practical and problematic aspects of these belief systems and having been through the mill of a formulaic and legalistic system personally, some of the problems become quite obvious to me.

Botkin made several comments that I found admirable, statements that would otherwise lead me to believe in the sound principles that this approach to good stewardship conveys. Botkin explains that these efforts are about the great commission and that the plan helps fathers model faithfulness in the home from the times that their sons are young so that “their sons do not have to get spoon-fed from their dads the rest of their life.” I think this is wonderful, but I know well that this is not the absolute that Vision Forum teaches, and these statements mislead the listener because they contrast many of the foundational principles upon which Vision Forum ideology operates. The fathers of adult sons govern and guide sons well into their adulthood, and the great commission does not refer to sharing the Gospel with the lost, but primarily through birthing godly seed. Unless you understood that about Vision Forum, you would not suspect that anything was amiss in this message. Botkin also says that this process revolves around training sons to “take their marching orders from the Word of God.” Without knowledge of the disparagement between how creatively they interpret and apply the Word of God, I would never suspect any inconsistencies. Based on the veneer, it all sounds legitimate.

Botkin states that he uses an Excel spreadsheet, assigning a row for each year and assigns columns to each “initiative” in life. Among these initiatives, he lists the categories of personal, practical goals, legislative, marital, how many children, and even speculates about his death. He does state that this is not presumptive upon the Lord, and the plan can be amended as necessary to accommodate for these changes. And then it gets a bit weird, if you are familiar with some of the more rigid teachings of the Botkin family.

Consider again the presuppositional belief in a particular eschatology followed by Vision Forum, an idea that is certainly within the pale of orthodoxy but one that I believe the group takes to an extreme, excluding other directives and mandates in Scripture (such as showing love and forebearance to fellow brethren). Though I intend to come back to address this in greater detail, consider that Vision Forum follows a post-millennial understanding of eschatology, therefore anticipating that the church will continue to persevere here on earth for many more years until Christ and the Church establishes dominion in the earth, permeating every realm of society with Christian governance. These believers see the Church as the primary means that God will accomplish dominion, and this group believes that the primary means of the expansion of the church comes through the birthing of godly seed through their own families as opposed to evangelizing the lost in the secular culture. The concept of “Replacement Theology” encourages the identification of the Church today with the fulfillment of the Old Covenant mandates, so there is a greater importance placed upon the tribal aspects of the commands to the nation of Israel when the purity of the spiritual Israel was still dependent upon their nationality. (Those who embrace New Covenant Theology and Dispensational Theology identify Christ’s ascension at Pentecost as the event that called the New Testament Church into being, so there is not the strong identification with the Abrahamic and Mosaic Covenants perceived by those who follow these extreme forms of Covenant Theology. The distinction seems subtle, but the ramifications of it become quite powerful.)

Multigenerational faithfulness rests upon two primary passages of Scripture from Deuteronomy, Chapters Five and Six, as well as Genesis Chapter 18, identifying with the Old Covenant mandates, blessings and cursings. For that reason, they believe that they fulfill God’s physical representation of Israel today (replacing those of Jewish descent as God’s chosen), and they must faithfully birth godly seed just as Abraham and the other Old Testament Patriarchs did in the natural. Though evangelism offered to the lost is not avoided, the primary means of advancing the kingdom follows the Old Covenant model. I also find it quite telling that in every discourse on the subject I've listened to or read thus far, the speaker or writer venerates the Puritans and their separatist piety, serving to intensify the elitist and exclusionary tendencies of this contemporary group.

What issues do I find in the Vision Forum 200 Year Plan and why does this matter? In general, there is nothing wrong with these pursuits of planning, however combined with the concept of the Vision Forum teaching that grown sons still must submit to the wisdom and guidance of their fathers, grown adults actually follow a plan that belongs to their fathers (or is strongly influenced) and not themselves. A man must leave his parents and cleave unto his new wife, following God’s plan for his life, not his earthly father’s plan. There are indications of this in Geoff Botkin's statements, though they are quite subtle. These plans are very specific and I find the authoritarianism and feudalism inherent in the belief system of submission to one’s oldest living patriarch quite evident in these statements:
If my son is 57 or 56, if my son is serving as prime minister of New Zealand, what does he need to do now to be preparing himself to be adequate, just, righteous, well-educated ruler, so that he can administer justice in the way that it must be done?

And so we guide them in the areas where they are truly gifted, we give them reading material, we help train them in the areas where they are strong, we give them access to tutors and others that are great for them to be around that will sharpen them in these areas, and we adjust this 200 Year Plan accordingly.
The Vision Forum system is one of hierarchy and submission. Those who have participated in such a system recognize the attention placed upon the chain of command within the ideology. There are clear rulers and clear followers, following what many describe as neo-feudalism which gives way to sacerdotalism and the abuse of power. Though these groups profess Reformed Theology, in practice, the gnostic levels of higher spirituality and the priesthood of both patriarchs and church elders prove more consistent with Roman Catholic Theology in this respect. For this reason, I found the references made to discipleship and governance, such as found in the comment about New Zealand to be some cause for concern. The ruling class in the group seeks to advance their rule through their progeny. Here is another comment that piques my concern about this mindset of the patriarchal ruling class (definitely not enjoyed by all in the group):
Teach them to be fathers, churchmen and leaders in the church to be shepherds of other men. The church is integral in this whole aspect, so they see themselves as preparing themselves to be shepherds of their children and also their spiritual children in churches.
And finally, there are subtle comments made that downplay the significance of daughters, comments that I found disturbing. This belief system places men in a position of priority, and women are not seen as those who need to discern difficult matters (they are filtered by their "federal head" who teaches them privately while they are safely governed and protected in the home). I don’t believe that it’s honest to say that women are not valued, but they are the “non-normative” gender, and as some teach, they are the "derivative" and "indirect" Image of God. Throughout these discussions of vision, these teachings address men nearly exclusively. (Women do not have independent visions, missions or callings apart from their male counterpart, be that father or husband, as their callings are limited to home and childbearing.) They bear God’s image but not as fully as a man does. I believe that these subtle comments bear out my point as well as the presumed and primary purpose of women to bear children in support of the male priority in multigenerational faithfulness.
When he’s 57 and he can look across and see if he’s met those goals. Plot out your death and the death of your sons to see the result of your efforts. Each one of my children has roughly 156,000 male descendants. And that’s a lot of people to be applied to the works of righteousness we have laid out today.

Why not note how many female descendants you will have in addition to sons? Does not the seed of the man **(transmited to the daughter by virtue of genetics) also transmit to the posterity of his daughters? If you did not realize the status assigned to women within this system by drawing from other knowledge of Vision Forum’s teachings, I doubt that the unsuspecting listener to just this one radio show would note this subtle factor. I noted it quite well. This system is a works-based system of legalism and has little to do with Christ Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit within our lives, and the unmerited favor God extends to us, especially when sin abounds in our lives. Grace becomes like unto that which Gothard teaches: a spiritual essence that it earned and dispensed based upon one’s obedience. Faith also corresponds to Bill Gothard’s model where one does not trust God regardless of sight and circumstances, but faith is reduced to “having a vision for God’s plan for your life” akin to a motivational, sales and self-help message.

[** Addendum note 12Dec08: My original wording of this statement did not capture the meaning I meant to convey, so two words were replaced and an adverbial phrase added to clarify.]