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.

Review: A Matter of Basic Principles

I wondered whether posting a review of this book would be a good idea. As much as I appreciated it, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to burden my blog with so heavy and disagreeable a topic as Bill Gothard.

A Matter of Basic Principles is worth it, however. When I began to research Gothard’s teachings, I wanted a calm, biblical critique. This book outdid my expectations. It is scrupulously documented, referencing books, articles, and interviewees (usually by name).

The authors test Gothard’s views with the Bible. They are clearly knowledgeable of the Scriptures and how to interpret them. They are also well-versed in Christian theology and its points of dispute. They compare, for example, Gothard’s view on grace to that of the Roman Catholic Church, citing the Council of Trent.

They also contrast Gothard’s teaching on the Mosiac Law with traditional Protestant views (Reformed, Lutherans and Dispensationalists, and Theonomists). Gothard goes beyond all these groups in applying the Mosiac Code to Christians. He regulates when husbands and wives can have relations based on OT ceremonial laws. Gothard preaches circumcision, too, in defiance of the Bible’s teaching that circumcision has no spiritual value (Gal. 5:5). His legalism also shows itself in numerous smaller ways – such as his strange animosity for Cabbage Patch dolls, store-bought white bread, beards …

The things I was most surprised to learn are these:

  1. The pervasive weirdness of Bill Gothard’s teachings. The man believes that the presence of Cabbage Patch and troll dolls can make women unable to give birth. He also asserts that uncircumcised men are more promiscuous than circumcised men, connects a person’s health to the meaning of his name, teaches that the Flood was caused by dating, holds up Samson as someone “most qualified” to choose a wife …
  2. Bill Gothard’s unprincipled behavior. The book recounts several stories – including the authors’ own experience – about Gothard’s dealings with others. I was startled at what they showed him doing – lying, slandering, making false promises, violating his own teaching, and treating others with a lack of kindness that was, at times, truly remarkable. At one point he attempted to extort property from one of his followers. This is the man with the “Institute for Basic Life Principles”.
  3. Bill Gothard’s distortion of grace. I can’t do justice here to the authors’ excellent exposition. I will, however, quote one of their conclusions: “For Gothard, the primary purpose of grace is to assist Christians in keeping the Law.”

I realize this last borders on a charge of heresy. You could get a copy of the book to see it proven, but it would be easier just to go to Bill Gothard’s website and read his page on grace. His essential definition of grace is easy to find – it’s the sentence in a font two or three times bigger than anything else on the page: “Grace is the desire and the power that God gives us to do His will.”

Roll that over in your mind, Christian. It doesn’t come within a thousand miles of being right. Grace is not about God enabling us to do His will, but about God saving us when we didn’t do His will. Grace is about God’s love – “Not because of who I am, but because of what You’ve done; Not because of what I’ve done, but because of who You are.”

Equally disturbing is this comment from Gothard’s website:

Circumcision is not required of believers for salvation. … Neither is circumcision required for achieving the righteousness of the Law or the sanctification of the believer.

It’s amazing that Gothard would list “achieving the righteousness of the Law” along with salvation and sanctification. The righteousness of the Law has nothing to do with either. As Paul writes in the first chapter of Romans, “For in the Gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’ “

We can no more achieve the righteousness of the Law than we can walk to the sun and roast marshmallows in its atmosphere. That is why we need Jesus. Just as He took our sins at the Cross, so He gives us His righteousness. That is grace, and it’s a beautiful thing.

It’s a thing that Bill Gothard apparently doesn’t understand.

In A Matter of Basic Principles, the authors give a severe verdict on Gothard’s teachings, and they get in a few sharp barbs along the way. But the tone of the book is calm and measured. The authors do not take cheap shots, and unlike Joseph’s brothers, they can say something good. Their even-handedness gives credibility to their final judgment. Anyone wishing to understand Bill Gothard’s teachings and their popularity would do well to start with A Matter of Basic Principles.