Saturday, April 23, 2005
The Cult of Personality
"He must increase, but I must decrease." John 3:30
Most families enter the Advanced Training Institute because the parents want to pass on a spiritual heritage to their children. Therefore, they assume that an indication of their success as parents is to see children who were raised in the program continuing in the program.
Strangely, this is not the case. Enrollment in the Advanced Training Institute is declining. Attendance at Basic Seminars (the lifeblood of IBLP) is a small fraction of what it once was. Children raised in the IBLP system have largely moved on.
The incredible popularity of the Institute in Basic Life Principles (then the Basic Youth Conflicts) in the 1970's and 80's was, in my opinion, somewhat of a cultural phenomena. Many of the couples who were attracted to the system of non-optional principles came out of the 1960's when structure, authority and truth were abandoned. In counter-distinction, IBLP offered steps of action, principles, and a pattern of how to live a good life. Set adrift by the hippy movement, early followers of IBLP found it a refreshingly practical handbook for Christian living.
The draw of a powerful personality also contributed to IBLP's growth. Bill Gothard was the man--he had answers and insights and a unique perspective on personal problems. When he designed a home education program in 1984 that promised to help children avoid the same mistakes their parents had made in their youth, who could resist? One program after another came into existence, based on some new insight Gothard espoused, or the promise of children who would have character.
There is nothing wrong with these motivations. I personally believe that Bill Gothard is of impeccable character and sincere motivation. But perhaps his major flaw is that he offers a product, rather than directing people to Christ. "Follow my principles--enroll in my programs, and your children will become mighty in spirit."
If you're buying a product, your trust in the salesman is essential, which is why the person of Bill Gothard is so important to so many Christians.
Many ATI parents are distressed to see their children move away from IBLP and ATI with no intention of keeping their own families in the program. Oddly enough, most of these children, now grown, are living godly, productive lives. They were raised in good, structured homes where the Bible was taught and Christ is supreme. And they typically do not require the strictures of a regimented "Way of Life" as their parents did. They are simply living without Bill Gothard.
"Why have you rejected everything we taught you?" ask the parents. To which the children reply, "We haven't rejected anything. You simply placed us closer to Christ than your generation, and Gothard is not necessary."
Jesus Christ is the only person who maintains relevancy throughout time. Every generation has its hero, its prophet. But they all come and go. The greatest of these men and women know that their popularity is limited, but Christ's is eternal. And the wisest of these attempt to decrease their personal influence and appeal, so that Christ's may increase.
Any man who believes that his teachings, his programs, or his influence must be preserved has become self-absorbed and has lost his call to be a messenger of Christ.