Gothard Replaced The Covenant Of Grace With A Covenant Of Works

One of the formative experiences of the earliest part of my Christian life was my exposure to Bill Gothard and the Institute of Basic Youth Conflicts. Each night for several nights we piled into the church bus (it was a Southern Baptist Church, after all) and off we went to watch Gothard appear, by video, in the Omaha Civic Auditorium. There were thousands present. There he was, bigger than life, with his overhead projector, his chalk talk, his charts, and his principles. It has been a very long time (this was about 1977) since I heard Gothard and what I did not understand then but what I know now is that Gothard was offering to save families from the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 70s not by offering to parents and children free salvation by grace alone, through faith alone but by law. Gothard was going to save the family by putting young people on a legal footing with God. As the documentary points out, according to Gothard, if something goes wrong it is because you did something wrong: Christianity as quid pro quo. A Chicago-area magazine observed of Gothard’s program,

Strict, sometimes draconian, moral codes find purchase in virtually all fundamentalist Christian groups. In the case of IBLP, however, some of the tenets seem downright bizarre: Cabbage Patch Kids are idolatrous, syncopated music is “the antithesis of what God desires in the life of a Christian,” blue jeans are ungodly, circumcised men are morally purer than uncircumcised men. One IBLP article suggests that failing to “render to the Lord” can lead to miscarriage. Another, titled “How Are Eyelids Used for Seductive Purposes?,” rails against the “whoredom” of the female wink: Such an act by “an attractive, but immoral woman” can be used to “communicate lustful desires and sensual entrapments.”

The Apostle Paul warns us in Colossians about this sort of religion:

Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God. If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh (Col 2:16–23; ESV).

Gothard resigned from the organization in 2014 in the midst of a scandal. The documentary below appeared in 2017, as a lawsuit against Gothard was in process. The charges were of the most serious sort. For a variety of reasons, including the statute of limitations, the plaintiffs dismissed their suit in 2018. In 2020 Gothard countersued but that suit was dismissed twice and then dropped. Strangely, news coverage of the suit is sparse, e.g., Christianity Today coverage ends in 2016.


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    Post authored by:

  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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3 comments

  1. Never attended but picked up enough second-hand to know that he was preaching law, law, law and no Gospel.

  2. I’ve come out of a cult church.I have one question.
    What does it mean scripture for wife’s to submit to your husband or in Genesis that Adam will rule over eve?
    I’m thankful I’m not in a cult,I was in one for 28 years.
    Christ is good and your articles have helped me on my journey on Knowing the gospel and law difference.
    I truly feel free as a Christian in Christ.
    Keep up the good work.

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