Bill Gothard and the Institute of Basic Life Principles

A Matter of Basic Principles: Bill Gothard & the Christian Life
Don Venoit, Joy Venoit, and Ron Henzel
Midwest Christian Outreach, 2003, 384 pp.

4 Stars

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.

Bill Gothard in 2002, age 67.

30 thoughts on “Bill Gothard and the Institute of Basic Life Principles

  1. IBLP is an abusive cult. Between Bill Gothard and Michael & Debi Pearl it’s just a mess. I did know the Duggars were a part of that but I also met in college several IFB who were coming out of IBLP and I couldn’t believe some of their experiences.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for the comments, Katherine. Believers must be wary of putting pastors and para-church leaders on pedestals. Leadership idolatry is prevalent in some Christian circles, especially within the IFB movement where pastors exert an unhealthy degree of control over church members. I can’t help but think that the unbending legalism of Gothardism played a part in the Josh Duggar tragedy.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. I definitely think it did. That boy was too sheltered and not given true accountability for his behaviors early on. I feel so sorry for his wife and all those kids. She feels like she has no options I’m sure. How she can continue to support him I will never understand.

        Liked by 3 people

  2. Horrible, frightening, sickening!
    People have made these leaders into “Protestant “Popes”. It’s so important to be grounded in the Scriptures. There’s safety there. When my grandchildren were younger I would tell them to know the Word of God for themselves so that they wouldn’t be deceived by what some pastor would tell them that wasn’t true.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Thank you for this!
    Acts 5:29 came to me while reading your post:

    29 Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for the verse, Beth! Yup, there are many churches and para-church organizations that become leader focused instead of Jesus focused. No surprise because pride is the #1 sin.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. I attended a week-long Bill Gothard seminar in 1977. In following his recommended ‘line of authority’ principles, I married someone I did not want to marry, because my ‘authorities’ told me it was God’s will for me to do so. Several years later, this husband almost killed me, after taking out a $250,000 life insurance policy on me. This shattered me to the point that I lost my faith in God for many years.

    I now understand that my old faith was in man, not in the true Lord Jesus Christ. I am a Christian now, and I keep my focus and my faith solely on Him.

    By the way, the name I blog under, Linda Lee Adams, is a pen name. It is not my legal name. I mention this, because I don’t want you to worry about an ex-husband of mine coming after you for posting a comment that tells the truth about his most evil deed.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thanks for sharing, LL, and I’m sorry you had that horrific experience.
      My wife and I began attending an IFB church shortly after we were saved and stayed for 8 years until I couldn’t stand it any more. After we left, I was so disgusted with churchianity legalism that I fell away from the Lord for 23 years.

      Liked by 3 people

  5. Will have to read this in a bit! Anssering your question: Today I have to get things with car taken care of, car issues. Argh. Also I have to write the agenda for a parents meeting this upcoming Sunday after service

    Liked by 1 person

  6. My in laws use to be influenced by Gothard’s teachings.
    Surprised that this book was published concerning the problems of Gothard’s teaching. Grateful for Midwest Christian outreach for their counter-cult ministries. Thanks for this review!

    Liked by 2 people

      1. I just watched a video blog where Jinger was interviewed about this book. I am glad she was able to disentangle herself from the Gothard cult like stuff, yet keep her faith in the Lord.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yes, as Jinger mentioned in one video I saw, so many people she knew dropped away from Christianity because of discouragement with IBLP or fundamentalism in general. I walked away from the Lord for 23 years after I exited IFB-ism.

        Liked by 1 person

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