A Matter of Basic Principles: Bill Gothard & the Christian Life
Don Venoit, Joy Venoit, and Ron Henzel
Midwest Christian Outreach, 2003, 384 pp.
I think I first became aware of Bill Gothard (1934- ) and his Institute of Basic Life Principles (IBLP) when I began watching the cable television show “17 Kids and Counting” featuring independent fundamental Baptists, Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, and their large brood of children. The Duggars were disciples of Gothard and IBLP. The institute is a para-church organization founded by Gothard back in 1961. Its goal is to train Christians to live an increasingly sanctified and obedient life according to the principles spelled out by Gothard. Among other things, disciples are taught strict obedience to authority, proper hair length for men and women, no pants for women, no secular entertainment, no contraceptives, no alcoholic beverages, and wariness of all medical professionals. Circumcision and other Mosaic Law tenets are taught as being obligatory for obedient Christians. This type of rigorous legalism is extreme even for most independent fundamental Baptist (IFB) congregations, however, Gothard and the IBLP attracted many followers within the IFB movement.
I was perusing Amazon and stumbled across this Kindle ebook and gave it a whirl. The Venoits and Henzel of Midwest Christian Outreach wrote this informative exposé of Gothard and IBLP back in 2003. One new item I learned about Gothard from this book was his twisting of the doctrine of grace. Gothard taught that those who received God’s grace necessarily possessed qualities that merited God’s favor. Hence, Gothard’s legalistic doctrine of grace was similar to Romanism’s teaching that grace is merited.
The authors get into the weeds a bit with some overextended personal accounts by former-IBLP associates. Also, there’s little mention of examples of the specific legalities mandated by Gothard until the mid-point of the book, so the reader is wondering what all of the fuss is about for an unnecessarily long period of time.
As a former-IFBer, this book brought back a lot of cringe-worthy memories. Gothard and the IBLP had many cultish, controlling qualities. Disciples marched to the beat of IBLP’s training seminar manuals rather than following God’s Word. The authors reported that a number of fundamentalist churches split because of the militancy of those members who were also Gothardites.
“A Matter of Basic Principles” was published eleven years before Gothard was forced to relinquish leadership of the IBLP in 2014. Wikipedia relates that Gothard “stepped down from the IBLP after 34 women accused him of sexual harassment and molestation, with some incidents allegedly occurring when the victims were minors.” The Duggars followed another homeschooling para-church svengali, Doug Phillips, president of Vision Forum, who was forced to resign in 2013 because of a scandal involving alleged predatorial grooming and sexual abuse of the family’s babysitter/nanny beginning when she was 15YO.