Interview with Don Veinot, Part II

As promised, here is the second half of the interview with Don Veinot, one of the authors of A Matter of Basic Principles. Links, as well as an introduction, can be found with the first half. ATI stands for Advanced Training Institute, a Gothard organization that provides curriculum, conferences, training, etc.

Q: Another important subject you bring up is how Bill Gothard interprets the Bible. What are your views on that?

A: He is really quite subjective on this issue. Gothard does little study of the historical/grammatical context of Scripture but instead seems to land on an idea he likes and then goes in search of Bible passages that might sound like they support his contention. He writes that historical/grammatical study is fairly fruitless since two teachers could engage in this and come to different conclusions. Instead, he claims to pray over large sections of Scripture for the proper interpretation. So, in essence, he is claiming the inspired understanding of the inspired word of God. Therefore, one cannot disagree because they are not disagreeing with Gothard but with God Himself. It doesn’t seem to cross his mind that if someone else prays over large sections of Scripture and comes to personal interpretation they also claim are from God that he hasn’t solved the problem but only expanded out to any and all who engage in feeling-oriented interpretations of God’s word.

Q: Some people say that Gothard advocates circumcision only for medical reasons, and his website says that it is “not required of believers for salvation” or for “the sanctification of the believer”. Does this satisfy your criticism that he is legalistic on the issue?

A: It doesn’t for a few reasons. First, his original booklet claimed that this issue is so strongly commanded and reinforced in Scripture that there is no question what decision a Christian parent will make. With this wording, to decide against circumcision as a parent is to violate God’s commandment which is reinforced in Scripture. He has never publicly retracted this and so either is still holding to it and adding that it is not necessary for salvation or is concealing his false teaching. Both are a problem. Second, at our August 20, 2002 meeting, he stated that circumcision will prevent cervical cancer in the infant boy’s future wife, and if we know the right thing to do and don’t do it then for us it is sin. Again, circumcision was a moral issue for Gothard, not simply a medical one. I am not particularly interested in the medical question but think each parent needs to look at and decide that issue. Third, although he writes now that it is not a salvation issue he misrepresents Paul’s writing in Galatians on this. The Galatians were saved as can be seen by Paul’s question, “Did you receive the spirit by the works of the law or the hearing of faith? Are you so foolish, having begun in the spirit will you now be perfected in the flesh?” Like Gothard, the false teachers were claiming that circumcision was morally required. It was part of sanctification and a way of meriting God’s favor. He would fare better if he publicly repented of his false teachings, pointed out where he is changing them and the apologetics community would work with him in his work in other areas.

Q: It’s been eight years since A Matter of Basic Principles was published. Has anything about Gothard or the ATI changed since then?

A: As far as I can tell, any changes are largely cosmetic. There is no real accountability for Bill and little if any honest repentance on his part.

Q: In your book, you write about families and individuals who have been damaged by ATI teachings. Can you give us an example and explain why it is a direct, logical consequence of Gothard’s teaching?

A: As you know, we provide several examples in the book but, I have recently been contacted by a counselor who has a female client in Gothardism and can’t quite get at the core issue. The woman is 45, high school educated, no college allowed by her father. She has never held a job but is still living at home because she is under her father’s authority and has not been allowed to court or be married. I wish I could say this is the only such call but it is not. His patriocentric teachings can have long lasting and detrimental effects on his followers and their children. At some point children should be encouraged to have an individual relationship with God directly instead of through their parent. There is the obvious fear that children will make mistakes. They will. But, God uses us in spite of our mistakes and grows us into a greater dependency on Him through those mistakes.

Q: Do you believe the God portrayed in ATI literature is consistent with the God revealed to us in Scripture?

A: The short answer is no. The long answer is too long:D

Q: I have read in more than one place that Gothard has a mechanistic approach to life, that he believes doing the right things guarantees success. It reminds me a little of the “health and wealth Gospel”. What similarity, or lack thereof, do you see between the ideas?

A: They are very similar and I think the basis stems from an anthropocentric (man centered) theology rather than a Christocentric (Christ centered) theology. If we start with the premise that the Bible is about us and what we can get from or deserve to get from God, we will fall into any number of heresies including those which emanate from the Word Faith camp and Gothard. If we begin with a Christocentric view of Scripture we quickly realize that although God cares for us and provides as He sees fit that does not guarantee a life free from suffering. The heroes of faith in Hebrews chapter 11 are great examples of this principle. As the writer lays out the persecutions and suffering they underwent what may be a moment of sheer emotion when he penned the words, “men of who the world is not worthy.” We are not guaranteed financial prosperity, physical health or protection from life’s ills if we are under some mythical “umbrella of protection.” That is magical thinking, not anything approaching a biblical understanding of God or His interactions with and provisions for mankind.

Q: You obviously disagree with a great deal of what Bill Gothard teaches. What danger do you think his ideas pose and why?

A: His teachings at their core take the focus off of God and put it on other humans. It takes accountability away from those in positions of authority and gives them the ability to abuse those they are supposed to be serving. In reality, those of us in high positions of authority are more highly accountable to a larger number of people. We live in glass houses and everyone around us has Windex. This should be fear inspiring to public teachers but too many have no fear of God and little respect for His word. In my opinion, Bill Gothard and the leaders who use his material fall into this category.

Interview with Don Veinot, Part I

Ronald Allen once called Bill Gothard “a living Christian institution”. Some would find this a bit of an overstatement. Some would ask, “If he’s a living Christian institution, how come I never heard of him?”

But others would understand what Dr. Allen means. Bill Gothard’s organization has existed, under some name, for fifty years. The number of people who have attended at least one of his seminars is estimated to be well over two million. Gothard’s programs have been supported – and sometimes actually mandated – by government officials in Russia, Dallas, Oklahoma City, Indianapolis, and Arkansas. And this is only a partial list.

But it hasn’t been all praise for Bill Gothard. He has his share of critics, among them the Midwest Christian Outreach, an organization dedicated to countering cults and false teachings within the church. The founders of MCO, Don and Joy Veinot, together with Ron Henzel, wrote A Matter of Basic Principles: Bill Gothard and the Christian Life. It reflects a deep knowledge of Christianity and its history; its tone and arguments are very reasoned. After reviewing the book earlier this year, I decided to seek an interview with Don Veinot. He graciously agreed, and I am posting it here. As Gothard continues to influence Christians across America, it is important that the church be knowledgeable and discerning about his teachings. I hope this helps.

[Note: This interview will be posted in two parts. Tomorrow I will add the second half. You can buy, or just look into, A Matter of Basic Principles on the MCO’s website or on Amazon.]

Q: First, can you tell us a little about your ministry and your work?

A: I was an atheist growing up, adopting the beliefs of my father. My wife, Joy, grew up in a Christian home and accepted the Lord when she was 12. As is often the case, she was not walking closely with the Lord in her teenage years when we met and we dated and married. After we had our son, she regained interest, recommitted her life to Christ and persuaded me to do some research as to the claims and validity of Christianity. I moved from atheism to agnosticism since I couldn’t honestly claim that God does not exist. I have no way to prove that. As I came to realize that God exists I moved from agnosticism to a sort of theism and then concluded that the Bible is fundamentally reliable and the resurrection is true. I accepted Christ in my early 20s.

A few years later my wife met and became friends with some Jehovah’s Witnesses. Our church didn’t seem to have answers other than “stay away,” so we began doing research on our own. Not only did we discover what they believed and their history of false teaching but we learned to understand and defend fundamental Christian doctrine. Sadly, this kind of training is not common in the church as most churches seem to assume that since one attends and even signs a doctrinal statement they actually understand what they are agreeing to uphold. Most often they don’t.

As we began learning about and witnessing to her friends we started helping others and the ministry just sort of grew out of that experience. We began getting calls about other groups, issues and questions. This included questions about groups, teachers and teachings in the church as well as cults and other religious movements. Bill Gothard was one of those we received a lot of requests about since we were geographically close to his headquarters. We didn’t want to deal with these issues but as we prayed about it I think God impressed me that if we didn’t have the integrity to address false teaching within the church we didn’t have the right to address false teaching outside of the church. In 1995 we formed Midwest Christian Outreach, Inc. to provide answers, teaching and assistance to those inside and outside the church on issues of essential Christianity, cultural apologetics, cults and false religions. Since we are home missionaries, all of us are bi-vocational and address false teachers in the church, raising support is a very difficult task but we have tried to not let finances get in the way of ministry.

Q: If I had to choose just one chapter of your book for anyone to read, it would be the chapter on grace. Can you explain what, exactly, Gothard teaches about grace?>

In a nut shell he holds a view similar to the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Roman Catholic Church. As an old time commercial might have said, “Grace is given the old fashioned way, you earn it.” Like the JWs, Gothard is pretty clear that God gives grace to those who merit it, as is seen in his 2000 document “Definition of Grace.” He writes, “In the Old Testament, certain individuals ‘found grace’ in the eyes of the Lord” and “those who found grace possessed qualities that merited God’s favor.” Grace by definition means “unmerited favor.” So, if God gives “unmerited favor” to those who merit it, isn’t it actually merited favor? But that is absurd. That is also what the JWs teach when they write that they are to go out to give the message of God’s undeserved kindness to deserving ones.

Gothard, like Rome, views grace as a sort of substance. You get some, perform good works and get more, “Those in the New Testament are to act upon the grace that is given to them so that more grace can be received.” Bill Gothard also defines grace as “the desire and the power God gives us to do his will-joyfully.” Unfortunately, this does not come anywhere near the meaning of the ancient Greek word charis, either in secular or biblical usage.

Some time after our book came out, we met with Bill for about 6 weeks in what we might call, “Mondays with Bill.” We demonstrated all of this to him and his response was interesting and disheartening when he said, “Jehovah’s Witnesses and Roman Catholics aren’t wrong on everything.” Even though that is true it doesn’t mean they are right on this. I did notice that in more recent years he has modified his written material on this to at least appear more orthodox on this but even that is dishonest. In our book, on page 86, one of the questions we asked of Bill was:

If a Christian leader changes a significant teaching which was shown to be unbiblical, should he not make a public retraction before his followers?

In our August 20, 2002 meeting with Bill (which we mentioned in our 2nd edition on page 338), his ministry leaders, Dr. Norman Geisler and Modern Reformation Magazine, Bill Gothard agreed that this was necessary. There is an obvious change in his teaching since that time and he has never publicly retracted or repented of his previous false teaching. This demonstrates that he is a false teacher and dishonest as well.

Q: Gothard departs from evangelical Protestants’ traditional understanding of grace, yet it is mainly evangelical Protestants that he appeals to. What do you think accounts for that?

A: I think there are several things that may account for this. First, since there is so little discernment within the church and a general lack of teaching on essentials, many do not really know what grace is. Second, of those who do know, since Gothard is accepted in the church as a good teacher, they often don’t listen to his definition but instead when they hear “grace” automatically define it biblically. I have found that when I point out his definition in his own writings and teaching they are horrified. It is really a matter of listening to what a teacher is teaching carefully and applying the definitions they provide to weigh it out and accept or reject it on the basis of their claims.

Insolent Ignorance

Last Saturday I rented a Denise Austen DVD from the library, and today I finally did its second workout: Yoga Sculpt. Basically you spend thirty minutes doing yoga exercises, only with a five-pound weight in each hand. This is why I need to post today. Tomorrow I might not be able to move my arms.

Independence Day is coming up, and my current reading is appropriate to it. Normally, when I read nonfiction it centers around modern events and people. Sometimes, however, I delve farther back. Right now I’m reading The Life of James Otis of Massachusetts, by William Tudor. James Otis is one of the most influential, least regarded leaders of the American Revolution. For example, when I mentioned his name you probably did not know who he was.

I’m just starting to learn. The biography I got from the library was published in 1823. It’s fascinating to read something written that long ago, to know how a man of that time thought and wrote. I’m only on Chapter Three, but already the author has paused twice to explain puritan customs to his readers. (He did not capitalize “puritan”.) Tudor and his audience were so much closer to the puritans than we are – yet even to them it was history.

In the Preface I found this comment: “When a well known foreign journal in all the triumph of insolent ignorance, asked, ‘Who Patrick Henry was?’ we only smiled at its impertinence.”

This is beautiful, and I’ll be remembering it for a long time – the triumph of insolent ignorance: Who is Patrick Henry?

CSFF Blog Tour: Standing Firm (and Jumping)

[Warning: Spoilers Ahead]

I had planned on writing about darkness in fiction once again, but after looking around the blog tour I decided to switch topics. Becky LuElla Miller and Thomas Clayton Booher both offered interesting thoughts about what, exactly, afflicted Sam Travis, his brother Tommy, and Captain Whiting. Booher wonders if there is an “insanity complex” passing through the family line; Becky debates the murky line – in fiction and reality – between mental disorders and demonic possession or influence.

I was intrigued by their commentary, in part because mental illness was never an explanation that occurred to me. Oh, those men were sick all right, but I assumed it was moral or spiritual. I didn’t buy for a second Sam’s fretting about losing his mind. As a rule in SF, the crazy person is the one who knows something everyone else doesn’t.

Having dismissed the insanity theory without waiting for much in the way of proof, I interpreted the story this way: Captain Whiting and the Travis brothers were caught in a pincer – the darkness without and the darkness within.

At multiple points in the story they attributed to the “darkness” desires, will, thoughts – in other words, sentience. The talk of the occult confirmed that there were demonic forces at work. That was the darkness without, driving its victims to fulfill its evil desires.

But though they were victims, they weren’t really innocent ones. What is it, after all, that allows us to be conquered by the darkness without? The darkness within.

Samuel Whiting is said to have “given himself” to the darkness, and I’d wager it was his despair and rage that led him to it. But Darkness Follows is not his story, so it’s hard to speak with certainty on his descent – and impossible to speak with certainty on Tommy’s. So I will concentrate on Sam.

He was “vulnerable”, we are told, and it’s easy to see why: unemployed, disabled, unsure about himself and his future. But by far his greatest vulnerability was in his faith, which had apparently wilted in hardship. “Stand firm in your faith,” Isaiah told the king, “or you will not stand at all.”

Sam was not standing firm in his faith, and it’s no wonder he was in danger of falling. Right at the beginning we are told that his faith is not strong, and throughout the story it’s almost nonexistent. If he ever prayed, I don’t remember it. As Sam struggled against the darkness he thought about his family, but he didn’t think about God. He never took into account what satisfying the darkness would mean – grieving God, disobeying Him, maybe even alienating Him. After all, a man can only serve one master, and if you’re serving the darkness you can’t be serving God.

Succumbing to the darkness is always a choice. As God warned Cain, “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.”

And as G. K. Chesterton put it:

Christendom has excelled in the narrative romance exactly because it has insisted on the theological free-will. It is a large matter and too much to one side of the road to be discussed adequately here; but this is the real objection to that torrent of modern talk about treating crime as disease, about making a prison merely a hygienic environment like a hospital, of healing sin by slow scientific methods. The fallacy of the whole thing is that evil is a matter of active choice whereas disease is not. If you say that you are going to cure a profligate as you cure an asthmatic, my cheap and obvious answer is, “Produce the people who want to be asthmatics as many people want to be profligates.” A man may lie still and be cured of a malady. But he must not lie still if he wants to be cured of a sin; on the contrary, he must get up and jump about violently. The whole point indeed is perfectly expressed in the very word which we use for a man in a hospital; “patient” is in the passive; “sinner” is in the active.

CSFF Blog Tour: Buyer Beware

I was thinking of doing a post on religion today, but then I decided to gripe about the publisher instead.

When I looked through the Amazon reviews for The Ale Boy’s Feast, I saw comments by people who started the book without realizing it was part of a series. And I felt their pain. I have had my share of trouble on this front. I can’t recount the number of times I’ve stood in an aisle examining a novel, trying to determine if it was (1) part of a series, and (2) if so, which part.

This is important information, and publishers used to be upfront about it. “Volume 2 of a Three-Book Cycle,” declares Dark Force Rising, right beneath the title. “Sequel to Oxygen,” says The Fifth Man, right above the title. Crown of Fire proclaims its status on the front and back covers – prominently.

But these days publishers are getting furtive. The buyer who is beware will look carefully for any sign that a vital number has been omitted from the front cover. Take The Ale Boy’s Feast as an example. It is the complicated last book of a complicated series, and people deserve a fair warning.

And they don’t get one. Sure, some readers might take a hint from the two-page introduction. They might make a deductive leap that Auralia’s Colors is, in fact, a prequel; they might notice that that word, WHITE, has little grey words around it, read them – probably with the help of a magnifying glass – and wonder what “Auralia Thread” is supposed to be. They might even read the author’s bio.

That, as far as I know, is the only part of the book that made it clear it was a continuation. This is a sneaky place to squirrel away such a pertinent fact, because countless people never bother with the author’s biography. After all, there is usually nothing there that is useful in assessing a novel, let alone compelling. (“The author lives in California? I gotta read this book!”)

I concede that if you really examined The Ale Boy’s Feast, you would be able to learn its Number Four status. Doubtless the same is true of other books people have, in ignorance of their number, bought (or read, or rented).

But you know something? We readers don’t want to really examine every novel that interests us. And we don’t think we should have to. We think all you publishers should just let us know. We don’t like getting a book only to be sandbagged by the revelation that it is #2 (3, 4, 5 …) in a series, nor do we like to be made to parody Edgar Allan Poe’s detectives, searching for the missing number, so GIVE US A FRIENDLY TIP-OFF, OK?

I think I know why publishers do this. I think it springs from the same motive that leads them to label borderline-YA books as “good for all ages”: the profit motive. After all, haven’t most of us shelved a book – maybe a good one – because it was a sequel in a series we had not been reading? Naturally publishers don’t want to narrow their market. And I sympathize with the desire for more sales. I really do. But I still want the tip-off.

Great Openings

Note: This is a totally subjective list, comprised of openings I found most amusing, intriguing, or arresting. You will not find “Call me Ishmael” here, largely because I never read the book. It’s a fine sentence, but it’s all I need. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” is also excluded, even though I read A Tale of Two Cities and liked it. It’s a good opening, but the appeal has worn thin. Maybe it’s just been quoted one too many times for me.

The universe is infinite but bounded, and therefore a beam of light, in whatever direction it may travel, will after billions of centuries return – if powerful enough – to the point of its departure; and it is no different with rumor, that flies about from star to star and makes the rounds of every planet. Stanislaw Lem, The Seventh Sally (technically, a short story – but who said that wasn’t allowed?)

The only possible excuse for this book is that it is an answer to a challenge. Even a bad shot is dignified when he accepts a duel. G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it. C. S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

You don’t know me yet, so there is no reason you should care that I’m stuck on a highway with a blowout. But maybe we can relate to each other. Cheryl Mckay and Rene Gutteridge, Never the Bride

Marley was dead: to begin with. There was no doubt whatever about that. Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

These tales concern the doing of things recognized as impossible to do; impossible to believe; and, as the weary reader may well cry aloud, impossible to read about. G. K. Chesterton, Tales of the Long Bow

Technically, the cucumber came first. Phil Vischer, Me, Myself & Bob

I am old now and have not much to fear from the anger of gods. I have no husband nor child, nor hardly a friend, through whom they can hurt me. My body, this learn carrion that still has to be washed and fed and have clothes hung about it daily with so many changes, they may kill as soon as they please. The succession is provided for. My crown passes to my nephew. C. S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces

In a hole in a ground there lived a hobbit. J. R. R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

Liberals have a preternatural gift for striking a position on the side of treason. You could be talking about Scrabble and they would instantly leap to the anti-American position. Ann Coulter, Treason

I don’t remember one thing about the day I was born. It hasn’t been for lack of trying either. I’ve set for hours trying to go back as far as I could, but the earliest thing I remember is riding in the back of Floyd’s wagon and looking at myself in a looking glass. Jonathan Rogers, The Charlatan’s Boy

Had he but known that before the day was over he would discover the hidden dimensions of the universe, Kit might have been better prepared. At least, he would have brought an umbrella. Stephen Lawhead, The Skin Map

And now a drum roll, please, for our final winner, the mother of all memorable first lines, never forgotten to this day, an irreducible part of Western culture …

It was a dark and stormy night. (I don’t know, and neither do you)

I was going to research the name of the author and novel – I saw it somewhere once – but that would just ruin the mystique. Nearly everyone knows this line, and yet they haven’t the faintest idea where it came from. It has not only outlived its author, it has outlived its book. That deserves recognition.