Monday, December 12, 2011

Gothard on Grace in his Thanksgiving Letter to Alumni

In a recent letter to alumni of his Advanced Training Institute (ATI, the homeschooling program offered by Gothard since the early eighties), Gothard gives out a personal phone number and an email, inviting students to contact him directly. He states at the close of the letter:

“I rejoice in all that God has taught us since ATI began twenty-six years ago. However, in the process I know various ones have been offended in different ways. Over the years, I have made my personal contacts or phone calls to ask forgiveness, yet I know there are others whom I have missed. Therefore, I would be extremely grateful if you would contact me directly if you have been offended."

There's no note about specific factors that prompted this letter. Some have suggested that shootings in recent years by ATI alumni like Michael Murray needed to be addressed. Others have suggested that Gothard feels quite threatened by the Recovering Grace website in particular and other such support groups and resources that offer help to those who have suffered because of his teachings and advice. It sounds as though Gothard wants to strengthen his reputation in the eyes of those who he views as his most devoted and most elite of students. I'm an IBLP alumna, but I received no letter in the mail.

Dr. Ronald Allen, a Professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, has been trying to set up a meeting with Bill since he first attended one of Bill's seminar's in the early 1970s. I've also heard Don Veinot of Midwest Christian Outreach speak on the subject and have discussed with him personally about his attempts to address doctrinal concerns directly with Gothard. “Brother Bill” first behaved with a gracious attitude but then suddenly stopped showing up for regular meetings that the two had planned to set aside for regular discussion of the issues that many had with IBLP teachings.

I think that before Bill Gothard preys on the emotions of the participants of ATI, he should show himself accountable to these men, vetted Christian apologists who want to see all believers come to an orthodox understanding of the Gospel. Unfortunately, in this letter sent to others, Gothard continues to come out swinging at his critics, accusing them of being deceivers and those who promote lascivious behavior. As Battered Sheep describes in their review of the Midwest Christian Outreach book about Gothard: “The authors have demonstrated charity and forbearance towards Mr. Gothard and his staff, both in personal meetings and in their correspondence. Gothard on the other hand, has broken promises, resorted to stonewalling, spread misinformation, threatened lawsuits, and generally not acted in a biblical and loving manner.” Nothing has changed, it seems.

Gothard's Mystical Reinterpretation of Grace

I must admit that I enjoyed a hearty laugh over his faithful scapegoating by mentioning music, passing the burden of responsibility for the deficiencies in his system on to people who fail to adequately perform.

But more disturbing to read as he switches in and out of plural references to himself, Gothard staunchly defends his aberrant version of grace. As has been discussed here on this blog in the past, Gothard reverses the true meaning of grace which means nothing more than God's pleasant disposition towards us when we repent and turn to Him, turning it into something we must earn. Read this section from Gothard's letter:

The definition of God's grace has always been a major battlefield. There is no way that we can live the Christian life, keep the commands of Christ, or do the great works that Jesus speaks of in our own energy. But this is the special purpose of God's grace. Paul declared, “Sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law but under grace” (Romans 6:14). The power of this grace is explained in Romans 5:21: “That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Many who do not choose to live by God's standards twist the definition of grace so that it simply means an attitude of God's unmerited favor when we sin but leaves out the power to keep us from sin. This interpretation turns grace into a license tat God warns against: “For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ” (Jude 1:4).

Even the Westminster Confession affirms the definition of grace that we have been using for nearly fifty years – it is not only God's unmerited favor, but it also the desire and power to do God's will: “When God converts a sinner, and translates him into the state of grace, he frees him from his natural bondage under sin; and by His grace alone, enables him freely to will and to do that which is spiritually good.”

Because the definition of grace is such a critical point for Godly living, we have done a study on grace and found that every time it is used, it is in connection with the power of God in one of nine categories. This is explained in the book The Exceeding Great Power of God's Grace. I would be happy to send a copy of this to you as a gift.

Paul explains that grace is given to every person to receive Christ as Savior and to live a Godly life: “For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should liver soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world” (Titus 2:11). He also describes the power of grace in his own life: “By the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10).

The Westminster Confession (and the quote that lifted from Chapter IX entitled “Of Free Will”) does not teach anywhere that after initial faith which translates a person into the Kingdom of God, a person must do good works to merit and maintain a certain degree of grace with God, and Gothard grossly misrepresents the document when he makes this claim. The Westminster Confession teaches the opposite. God's grace is not merited through willing and doing good, it is God's spirit that works in us through faith to will and do that which is good. Gothard deems grace, God's willingness to forgive us, and the work of the Holy Spirit which is given to us through faith as one and the same.

He fails to mention in this letter that he makes a point of repeating in his materials that “God gives grace to the humble” as a formula for success in the Christian life. He teaches that through the seeking out of acts of humility and submission that we earn grace from God. Through performing acts of humility and submission, we gain grace which gives us power to live so that we can do more good works. This is the opposite of grace!

Gothard confuses good works (that which he believes that the individual wills and does of his own volition) with the outward effects of God's ongoing work of sanctifying us, the process of changing us to make us more and more holy in character over time. We don't do good works to “work” grace into our lives. God works in us to bring about the change in our hearts that that change in us results in good works. Gothard misses the point that we are freed from working to will and do good works, because God works it into us through the miracle of what the process does in us.

I commend Bill Gothard for his sober concern about Christians who are insensitive about their conduct and those who carelessly show no concern about their behavior. When we sin, we show a lack of regard and tread upon the Blood that Jesus shed for us, that very Blood that purchases our ransom. Though we sin every day, we should feel remorse over our sins and failure. (When we approach God in humility after we sin, God offers us grace. When we are too proud to repent, God resists us. It's not a formula, about how to become powerful.)

What I don't appreciate is the way Gothard very childishly paints all those who disagree with his theology as deceivers who promote lasciviousness without cause to do so. This is black and white thinking, a logical fallacy that makes people seem like they are entirely against a principle if they oppose only an element of it. Don Veinot has opposed Gothard's definition of grace in his book. Is Gothard claiming that Veinot encourages people to disregard good standards of Christian conduct? One can understand God as gracious and forgiving while also noting with all seriousness that we are responsible to abide by the principles of the Word. As the Apostle Paul writes in chapter that Gothard likes to quote, “Shall we go on sinning that grace may increase? God forbid!”

It is not sinful to note that when we become God's own through faith in Christ, we shift away from following a list of rules into what is described to us Hebrews 10, a working of the law into our hearts. Gothard misses the point, failing to realize that we are forever freed from earning and meriting grace when Jesus justifies us before the Father. We become stewards of our hearts instead of those who are consumed with following rules and lists, and it is our attitude of our new heart which is shaped by the Holy Spirit that will govern our behavior. We do right because we love and seek to please God as opposed to doing good works because we have a quota and a minimum competency to meet in order to stay in a state of grace with God. Our act of faith allows us to receive God's grace, and grace is entirely independent of anything we do.

Gothard says that his critics (like me) leave out the element of grace, a power that keeps us from sin. That power is not Gothard's conception of “grace” through good works. The power that keeps us from sin is something that we cannot conjure up through good works in order to get grace. It is the work of the Holy Spirit alone, He who is alive in us through faith. Our faith in God which the Holy Spirit works into us motivates our choice to resist evil. That keeps us from sin. It's not magic or anything we bank up through acts of humility. Making choices and standing in the faith which God births in us allows us to resist evil. We move our faith away from our own works or our preoccupation with whatever temptation we face, and we make radical choices to put our faith in God alone to bring about the best outcome. All of that begins with the prompting of the Holy Spirit in our inner man, not the following of rules or seeking after rituals that Hebrews Chapter 10 tells us has past away with the Old Covenant. Love, power and a sound mind which follows wisdom comes from the spirit that God puts in us, that which he freely gives us.

I pray that the aging Bill Gothard experiences something before the end of his days that causes him to take some real responsibility for the things he has taught. I pray that he becomes honest with God about the things he's winked and the things that he's done. He didn't need to be so cruel in his letter, accusing his critics of being ungodly men who deny and reject the Lord Jesus, ordained unto their status.

Read more about Gothard on Grace at UnderMuchGrace: