Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Will you be joining ATI?
Several months ago, X-er was asked by an interesting question by an acquaintance who happened to be an ATI mother. "Since you were raised in ATI, worked for IBLP, and are now a grown adult, will you put your own children in ATI?" she asked.

My immediate, horrified (and unspoken) response was, "Good Lord, no!" but I took some time to think before replying. At that point in my life I hadn't considered the question very carefully. I knew that I wouldn't--that Christianity is possible without Bill Gothard--but I could not articulate why. In fact, her question was some of the motivation behind starting this blog.

While I am grateful for some things I learned in my ATI years (discipline and love of Scripture, for instance), in no way do I believe that the program is necessary to produce good children. Which is one of the major selling points of ATI: "do things this way and you'll have children who are mighty in spirit!" Unfortunately, this is not always the case.

The emphasis on performance--on outward behavior and appearance--does not produce holiness. Rather, it produces those who are very good at looking the part, pretending they are in line with all the standards rather than risk going against the tide. Not that all ATI students are fakes; that is not the point. But the system produces more than its share of young people who go along with things outwardly without having an inner commitment to the standards and convictions that are taught. And sadly, many students resist the outward "standards" as being phony, and in the process reject Christ.

There are usually three sorts of ATI students: those who blindly agree with all that is taught, those who disagree and express their disagreement from time to time, only to comply for the most part, and the silent dissenters. The silent dissenters are the ones who violently disagree with the flavor of Christianity with which they are presented, but they know it will do little good to object while under their parents' roof. So they think to themselves "I can endure this for several years," and live in silent rebellion until they are out on their own. At which point all efforts to conform to the ATI ideal are discarded.

And we've seen so many "good" ATI students wash out on their own because they were never taught how to make wise decisions. Their parents demanded only obedience, without proper training in WHY they should obey or believe. Without that personal element, ex-ATI students often turn out as bitter agnostics.

Christianity is freeing because of the grace Christ has bestowed on us. ATI, however, is made up of a list of rules, commitments, standards and behavioral guidelines. The emphasis on outward appearance, on listening to good music, and on exhibiting character distracts young people from the true essence of Christianity: a relationship with Christ. There is nothing wrong with "rules," but if the rules are followed in order to improve one's relationship with God, Christ's sacrifice is in vain.

ATI tends to produce stilted, boring people. This is a gross generalization, but the tendency is there because of the emphasis for all families to live up to a pre-determined standard of behavior. And I don't mean the program produces non-creative people, because there are some incredibly creative people within the program; someone had to write all those Children's Institute songs! My point is more fundamental: that ATI folks approach life and think of God in a restricted fashion. Life is organized neatly into categories, steps of action, and principles. Instead of living life freely, many ATIers spend all their time thinking about what they "ought" to do. Conforming to an outward standard instead of experiencing Christ's transformation reduces the variety and uniqueness of the individual. Perhaps some parents want their children to be well-behaved clones, but that's not my desire.

Bill Gothard overemphasizes the human spirit. Those in ATI are encouraged to repress their physical desires, to not yield to their emotions. But the spirit is expressed through physical desires and emotional outlets. Our beings are not so easily divided between spirit, soul and body. To eliminate any part of our being is to suffocate the spirit. Of course, there is a need for self-control and balance. I am not advocating the uncontrolled gratification of every whim. But our physical desires and emotions are God-made and can be enjoyed within the boundaries he has created. As C.S. Lewis might say, these are folks without chests: all head and no heart.

Families in ATI tend to be over-sheltered. It's an insular community. ATI folks seek to associate with those of like mind, and they often have difficulty fellowshiping with other Christians--rejecting those with different convictions as being "worldly." It's the nature of a subculture to seek out and fellowship with those who talk the same talk and share the same standards, but combined with the self-righteous piety of the ATI program, the ATI subculture seems especially aloof.

Which produces children who are over-sheltered and incapable of functioning in the real world. As laudable as it is for ATI parents to want to shelter their kids from sin, at some point they have to grow up. Not that it's a parent's responsibility to expose a child to sinfulness, but ignoring sin does not make it go away and makes it all the more shocking when the student finally has to get a job or move out on his own.

When the woman asked me if I would raise my family in ATI, these were some of the reasons I listed for why I would not. My perspective, of course, is based on personal experience. There are other, better, more theological explanations of the short-comings of the program.


Blogger joy said...

What an excellent post. I think your comments show a very carefully thought-out position; one that does not attack an institution or person but identifies the faulty ideas and concepts.

7:31 AM  
Blogger Rugger said...

Beautifully and very articulatly put. Oh that the world could taste the freedom of knowing Christ and having Him as Lord of our life.

8:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amen, brother, amen.

8:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with about 99% of this article. ... One thing I wd like to say is that I don't think all those who agree with Gothard are "boring" or "stilted." There are some interesting (and creative) people in the ranks of those who agree with Gothard, including young students.

I wouldn't join ATI if I had any children, but I would homeschool them.

"The emphasis on performance--on outward behavior and appearance--does not produce holiness. Rather, it produces those who are very good at looking the part" - Yes, this is the general tendency of the ATI program! - And by the way, nobody can "produce" holiness, and especially not with a program. God is the source of holiness. We can't "produce" it like from a factory (which is what Gothard seems to think we *can* do).

"And we've seen so many "good" ATI students wash out on their own because they were never taught how to make wise decisions. " Exactly right! I've seen it too!

"but if the rules are followed in order to improve one's relationship with God" - True, this is not a good idea. That is where it begins to be legalism.

"distracts young people from the true essence of Christianity: a relationship with Christ." Absolutely right!

"Bill Gothard overemphasizes the spirit. " heyyyy.... wait a minute.... No he doesn't. If he were to emphasize the spirit and the *Holy Spirit* as much as he ought, then ATI would be a program of liberty. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

"and they often have difficulty fellowshiping with other Christians" - Yes, this is bad. Not only that, it tends to discourage missions, street ministry, or some kinds of witnessing / friendships with unbelievers - which is bad because we are suppose' to be a *light* to the world.

8:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great "serious" post, it's good to know others have the same feelings as I do. Coming from a first year family I have seen ATI grow and evolve from a small clan of committed people into a huge corporation type ministry that has a cult like membership. When it started out I truly think it was meant for good and it did a lot of good for a lot of people. I think my parents, as Godly Christians, truly were seeking and needed an alternative to the 60's and 70's socialistic thinking that the government could teach our kids whatever they wanted, that we shouldn't discipline and morality is old fashioned. It provided a refreshing look at living life. I don't think Bill Gothard or his staff planned it so they would have families doing their every bidding and living in a legalistic world. ATI was effective as a tool for Godly living but slid down the slope into a lifestyle and farther down into an isolated community. I think people wanted structure and it was given to them. I do think leadership should have realized after a while that the masses practically worshiped them and their broad generic statements were causing many families to create insane interpretations and rules. What started out as good intentions and proceeded into jumping on the bandwagon of the home schooling fad, has turned into an ineffective organization and lacking ministry. Like most of today’s large corporations, ATI grew to large for itself and became impersonal and ineffective. God created us to serve and interact with others of all backgrounds and origins. The attitude we all got as ATI students was one of aloofness and superiority. Is that right? As I have said to others in discussions about this exact topic, by the time my children are at the stage to enroll in ATI, I don't think there will even be much of it left. With current enrollment dropping, more money being thrown out the door at all kinds of properties and the sparkly newness of the ministry now faded, why would I even think about following my parents footsteps and signing up for this? Forgetting a host of major doctrinal issues I have with ATI and only focusing on the simple fact that the fad is old, I will cast a resounding NO vote when the time comes for my children to be educated. ATI was a good tool for our generation, but its time has passed and we are in desperate need of something to look to for in future.

Maybe we can start a XATI group for our kids... hey I'll be the leader, who wants to be my staff? : )

4:56 PM  
Blogger doublettap said...


Very well articulated! You sound like a guy who has run down a long road and then found your way back. And you probably did it with out Bill.

2:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ATI does not cultivate a relationship with God. It cultivates a relationship with rules. The "if you do ____, then ______ will happen" concept. If you take these seven steps, you will be completely free of bitterness, guaranteed, and your life will be 100% better. It almost removes the sovereignty of God. No matter how hard you pray for something to change, if He wants it to stay the same, it will. The seven steps won't help, fasting won't help. Instead of trying to manipulate God with our actions (like we were encouraged to do)...we should have spent way more time asking Him to reveal His plans. Not telling Him, "Okay, here...I've done these seven things and now you need to come through on your end of the bargain." I'm not saying that God promises things He doesn't fulfill. Not at all. Just that instead of doing things in my Christian walk out of fear of punishment...doing them because I loved Christ alone.

Have I ever done something for no other reason besides that I loved Him?...

-Jane Doe.

10:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with X-er that Gothard over-emphasizes the spirit. Not the Spirit... no, He's relegated to a back chair in the auditorium. But the human spirit, which is presented as far superior to the emotional and physical parts of a person. It's almost Gnostic: flesh is bad, spirit is good, deny and ignore the flesh as much as possible.

We are not spirits housed in flesh. We *are* flesh. Our bodies are as eternal as our spirits -- they will be resurrected at the end. And our spirits are subject to the same warping that sours our emotional and physical life. But this exalted view of man's spirit leads to such strange teachings as "rhythm = body," therefore it's bad; and "sex is recreation, and you should take a break every now and then." -- Mairzy

10:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Right on X-er! You said so many things that are right along with my thinking.

And it seems to the resounding consensus of the recent generation raised in ATI...that they will not be putting their kids through it.

~Cioccolata Grace

12:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The past few weeks several friends and I have been talking exactly what this post is about! Excellent! I couldn't have said it any better myself! Thank you!

8:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My thoughts exactly- My family was a 2nd year family (I think... I was very young) and I would never put my children through it. I will probably homeschool, but ATI? No thank you!
I liked your three types of ATI students. I think I was a mixture of the last two types except that I was also very rebellious.
Such a good entry- I didn't know that there were other X-ATIers who thought like me.

7:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think ATI is like kayaking above a waterfall. It can be an awesome ride if you know what is going on and remember to get out before you go over the edge. I think that if anyone got screwed- and a lot of people did- it is really their own fault. I got a lot of good out of ATI because I never sucked it in ALL the B.S. (Basic Seminar):) or anything else. A person that eats every dish on a buffet line shouldn't blame the management if he gets a stomache ache. Just because a cow pie is on the desert line doesn't mean I have to eat it.
There is definitely truth and good people involved in ATI- a lot actually. And they- IBLP- do have a caveat for anyone who wants to shift the blame totally on them. Scripture always was held forth as the final authority. The problem arose when people were too lazy, or timid to dig into the Word and stick with it- even to the extent of going against ATI dogma.
Not that I'm saying IBLP doesn't deserve a boatload of blame for what they do. That is a totally different-and extensive- subject. The fact is, gullible people get screwed. If it wasn't ATI, it would be something else.
Some of these people might have found something a lot worse.
People need to realize that, if they got sucked over the waterfall, its not like they didn't have any warning.
Is it possible that God was speaking through some of the the less spiritual naysayers?

8:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a "good ATI student" in the process of washing out, it's comforting to know that some people caught themselves before they hit rock bottom.

6:23 AM  
Blogger Princess Leia said...

I was the third kind of ATI-er you described. Im not terribly sorry about that. Interesting thoughts. Thanks for sharing them.

12:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In response to the one post that referred to home schooling as a "fad"....home schooling is not a "fad", it is an option that has been graciousely provided by God, as our culture and school systems go down the tubes! I know there are some schools, private or public, that may be an exception, that is why we have the options! Be careful to not "throw the baby out with the bath water".

Also, when my children were young, I was drawn to ATI, out of a sincere heart to be a good parent and raise them biblically. I had not seen many christian families that were living out Biblical principles, but rather buying in to humanistic thinking and it was evident in thier families and children, resulting in a bad testimony. They weren't much different than the world, except they went to church! When we were exposed to ATI we saw a difference. We learned a few things, but then felt uncomfortable with the "following" mentality, and some of the teachings, so we backed away, and I am grateful for that. But, I want to encourage you to remember that these are people that are sincere, yet somewhat decieved!

God has given us His Word, and we need to soak ourselves in it and pray for wisdom and mercy that we would not become decieved....and that we would see others through eyes of grace!

3:03 AM  
Anonymous VeganHunter said...

Anonymous 8:53 AM claims that anyone who "got screwed" by ATI is at fault for being gullible. But s/he overlooks kids whose very survival is dependent on their gullible parents' decisions. Sure, if my parents hadn't used IBYC/ATI as their drug, they'd have used something else - and they did, when they left the core bits of the Program. They latched onto Jonathan Lindvall and others. None of it's good.

11:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am grieving terribly right now over some friends involved with ATI who have eight children, six of whom were adopted. Their father, who helped teach the character concepts widely, died of an apparent suicide this past week. What could make a person do this? He was such a larger than life, apparently joyful personality, although his wife and children were much more subdued. This is so devastating...

10:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I grew up going to public school, however I would like to homeschool my own children for the first few years. I am an elementary teacher by trade so it's not that far of a stretch for me want to do this. I have been looking at many different programs to assist in the homeschool process. ATI being one of them. I have only heard about this program from what I have read online and seen on tv about it. The Duggar family from 19 kids and counting use this program. While I feel they are more strict with religion I like many of the values their children posses and would want that for my own children. How do you think the publicity has affected the popularity of it? Do you think the program could be used and in families that aren't as strict as say the duggars?

11:09 AM  

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