Reformation Resources

Basic and Advanced Concerns Regarding Bill Gothard's Teachings
(Critical Reflections on Bill Gothard's Advanced Seminar)

Gregg Strawbridge, Ph.D.

The Advanced Seminar
I have known of brother Bill Gothard's Seminars and teachings for many years now. I have had significant discussions, ministry experience, and personal friendships with those who have imbibed deeply into the Basic Life Principle ministry (forgive the wine metaphor). I had attended the Basic Seminar and the Pastor's  Seminar in the early 1990s. Thankfully, I have been able to advance to the highest level. I attended the Advanced Seminar for 3 hours on a Thursday evening and a Friday evening and all day Saturday (4/24-26/97). Candidly, part of my motivation for going to the seminar was more a matter of gaining a fuller view of the ministry than to gain application of Mr. Gothard's teaching in my life. Still, I knew that there would be good points, as well as areas I would question. In my previous experience with the Basic Seminar (1991 Hattiesburg, MS) and the Minister's Seminar (1995 Memphis), I can say that much of what was taught was beneficial to me and I thank the Lord for it.  From the Advanced Seminar, I believe that I came away with applications that are truly valuable. Among other things at the Seminar, Mr. Gothard gave some outstanding practical suggestions on being a disciplined person and on working well on the job. More questionable, his insights regarding spiritual gifts were useful, though rather overstated. It was as though his teachings on spiritual gifts were the key to the Christian life, family, and ministry. I might observe parenthetically, the emphasis on the use of his spiritual gifts teaching, was done very much the way he appeals to his diagram on "strongholds" and "taking back the ground given to the enemy" -- not outright wrong or bad, but, in smy estimation, not nearly as central to living the Biblical faith as made out to be.

This leads me to conclude that insights without exegesis are only as good as one's systematic theology. Consequently, without being able or even, it seems, willing to show that his main thought comes from a proper interpretation of the Bible, the best means of demonstrating the truth of his teaching is with an anecdote -- a testimony. In fact, I don't think it's too much to say, the punch line in Mr. Gothard's teaching is virtually always anecdotal. Now this being said, it is also clear that this is quite winsome to those untrained in the analysis of the truth of material presented. Certainly, it is not illegitimate to refer to the product of a teaching or to illustrate a point with someone's experience. Doing this is rhetorically powerful and quite convincing. However, Mr. Gothard's testimonials and anecdotes of his teachings seem to function as the ultimate and unchallengeable proof of their truth. When experience is the judge of truth, we have yielded the gavel of the sure Word of truth and the objective processes by which we know it. It follows nicely from the appeal to experience (again, not always wrong) that the best and most universally acceptable aspects of his teaching are his emphasis on character development. He has a multitude of resources which promote a kind of scrupulous character development, though it is noticeable that there is little emphasis on intellectual disciplines (e.g., reading weighty books, logic, etc.). Beyond these few observations presently on my mind, as I see it now, there are a few central issues which prohibit my full endorsement of the ministry.

Significant Areas of Concern


Having had a little experience in discussing these things with those deeply involved in the Institute, I have often felt that there was simply no openness to even a consideration of an evaluation of Mr. Gothard's teachings. I have many teachers and am willing to hear criticism of (and have given criticism) of all of their teachings. But with many of those heavily involved in the ministry, it seems that there is an uncritical acceptance of Mr. Gothard's teachings. It seems that such individuals are unwilling to scrutinize these teachings because of the "godliness" of the individuals involved and their own "spiritual perception" of the truth of Mr. Gothard's material. Because of Mr. Gothard's teachings on spiritual gifts and the subjectivity of knowing the truth, one could read all of this, only to dismiss it as a misuse of my spiritual gift, or as "intellectual" rather than "spiritual." Such an attitude is nothing more than relativism shrouded in spiritual words. But we must depend on the sure Word of truth. I pray that those tempted to conclude this would turn from an unwillingness to "examine(1) everything carefully" (1Th 5:21).

1. This term, dokimazo, according to Thayer's Lexicon is "to test, examine, prove, scrutinise" (see also 1Jo 4:10, "test the spirits").