Becoming Free Indeed by Jinger Duggar Vuolo

I didn’t watch any of the TV shows about the Duggars, an ultra-conservative Christian family with 19 Children (19 Kids and Counting, Counting On). But I’d heard about them. I knew people who were caught up in the same teachings they were, though perhaps not to the same extent. I didn’t realize, at first, that those teachings came from Bill Gothard. I had heard of him, too, and knew he was some kind of Bible teacher. But somehow I never heard him speak or read anything he wrote.

Jinger Duggar Vuolo is the sixth of the Duggar children, the fourth girl. It wasn’t until one of her sisters married a man who was a Christian who loved God but didn’t hold to all the things the Duggars did that Jinger began to question her own beliefs. She discovered some of what she had been taught was not in the Bible. To her credit, she didn’t “deconstruct” her faith and throw everything out, good and bad. She sought counsel and studied the Bible for herself. She tells about her journey in Becoming Free Indeed: My Story of Disentangling Faith from Fear.

There are areas that the Bible doesn’t speak to directly and that Christians can differ on and follow their consciences. But Gothard made those issues concrete right or wrong, which produced a kind of legalism. Those convictions also produced a lot of fear for Jinger.

So much of my fear and anxiety after I became a Christian was tied to my overactive conscience. I had created false standards of righteousness: standards that were impossible for me, or anyone, to measure up to. But where did those false standards come from? At the time, I thought my convictions came from the Bible. Now I know that wasn’t the case. Now I know that instead of coming from the perfect Word of God, they came from the mind of an imperfect man (p. 23-24).

According to Gothard, following his principles was the same as obeying God (p. 28).

But even worse was Gothard’s misinterpretation of the Bible.

I believed that God had a specific, individualized interpretation for me. Bill Gothard called these personal interpretations of Scripture rhemas—communication from God to one person and no one else. The IBLP website defines a rhema as “a verse or portion of Scripture that the Holy Spirit brings to our attention with application to a current situation or need for direction” (p. 111).

I assumed the same thing was supposed to happen to me when I read the Bible. I was hoping to discover a hidden meaning that would be revealed not through words but through thoughts I would have as I was reading those words.

Gothard’s rhemas weren’t limited to the Bible. He also saw God communicating His will through personal experiences (pp. 111-112).

When I was younger, I didn’t realize that when Gothard told stories, he was finding truth in analogies, not in the Word of God (p. 113).

Gothard was eventually accused of sexual harassment. Jinger writes that he surrounded himself in his offices with young blond women, many of whom did not have a father or grandfather. Even though girls working in an office “outside the home was forbidden among IBLP families” (p. 167), somehow Gothard followers just thought this a quirk. Only later did stories of his misconduct emerge.

I appreciate Jinger’s use of the word “disentangling.” That’s just what she had to do as she studied the Bible for herself: disentangle the false things she had been taught from what the Bible actually said.

Jinger is very gracious and doesn’t throw her parents under the bus. She credits her mom, in particular, with pointing her to grace. But Jinger does firmly expose Gothard’s false teachings and actions. She does so not only to share her story, but to be a help to anyone caught up in his teachings or the false teachings of anyone.

But this book is helpful even for those of us who weren’t Gothard followers. It helped me understand where some of my friends caught up in these teachings were coming from. And I could identify with a good deal of what Jinger wrote, even though my issues were not exactly the same as hers. I think as we grow in the Lord, we all have to disentangle some of the false ideas we’ve encountered from the truth of God’s Word.

It took a lot of courage for Jinger to speak out against the false teachings and actions she grew up with. I’m thankful God led her to a right understanding and that she shared what she learned for the benefit of others.

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

26 thoughts on “Becoming Free Indeed by Jinger Duggar Vuolo

  1. Thanks for the review of this book. I have it on hold at the library and I am looking forward to reading it. I watched the Duggars for a while back when they were on, then we found out all of the very “unChristian” things that Josh Duggar was doing. I feel sorry for the Duggar daughters because, from what I have heard about the situation, the parents are really supporting Josh, who did terrible things, but not his sisters, whom he victimized. It’s all very sad and terribly unChristian.

    • Jinger mentions Josh, but not in great detail, since the point of the book is her own journey of faith. But she says that he was guilty of the same hypocrisy as Gothard, that she hasn’t spoken to him in two years, and that she prays for him to have a true heart of repentance.

  2. I have this book on hold at the library, although there are more than 100 people ahead of me so it will be awhile before I can read it. I heard Jinger on a podcast and was very touched by her gracious spirit. The church I grew up in was heavily into Gothard’s teaching but interestingly enough, my parents never paid attention to any of it. (I remember my dad talking about the irony of taking parenting advice from a person who wasn’t married and had no children.) Like you, I appreciate Jinger’s use of the word “disentangling.” I’m guessing this will be a lifelong process for her …

    • 100 people! Wow. I had some reward points on my Amazon credit card, so I used that to get the Kindle version for free. I was trying to think what led me to get the book, since I didn’t watch the show and didn’t really know the family. I think it was because of the “disentangling” part. I know so many young people who grew up with a wrong emphasis on outward standards rather than heart issues, and so many who have walked away from the faith. I think I just wanted to see what her journey looked like. I was surprised to learn that Gothard didn’t have a family and thought it ironic, too, that he had all these rules about family in that case. And that people followed him so ardently!

  3. Wow. I hadn’t heard of this book, but I did watch the shows. I, too, was caught by the word “disentangled.” As Christians, it’s so easy to get caught up in the legalism trap that only cares about how we look on the outside. It’s a constant battle to disentangle ourselves from anything not of the Word of God. I’ll have to check out Jinger’s book.

  4. A dear Christian friend told me that another word for “wicked” is “twisted.” Ever since, I’ve had a mental image of a ball of tangled fishing line. Disentangling truth from error takes patient resolve, but it’s worth it. To me, it’s the Lord reinforcing the 1 to 1 nature of our relationship with Him and His word…listening to teachings but always checking for ourselves in scripture and with Him in prayer. Human nature seems quick to take things to the extreme. Humans also tend to be lazy and just want to coast (on the teachings of others) until it gets us into trouble. (I’ve been guilty of this myself). I am glad Jinger has written this book. It had to take great courage. I too am waiting for access to the book on Libby…only 63 people ahead of me.

    • How interesting that the word for “wicked” is “twisted.” That brings to mind what Peter said about Paul’s writings–“There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures” (2 Peter 3:16). I so often think of the Bereans in Acts–if they checked what even the apostle Paul said against the Scripture they had at the time, how much should we check everything we hear against the whole Scripture we now have.

  5. I watched ONE episode of their show, and that was enough for me. I always thought they were misguided and I felt really bad for the mom. Growth is good, and if her journey helps others that’s great.

    • I think I might have been interested in the show, if I had access to it, just for the logistics of how they managed with such a large family. It’s sad that people with such good intentions can get off-track spiritually. I guess that’s a signal to us to make sure we’re following what God says and not what man says.

  6. I enjoyed your review! I’m still wondering whether or not I’ll read this. I have probably watched most every episode the Duggars put out, so I’m quite familiar with the show and the family. And, my Baptist church in my hometown took groups to Gothard seminars in the early ’90s. I went to one (my mom and sisters did as well), and at the time I thought he was on track, although he admittedly included some kind of strange things (don’t listen to music with an emphasis on beats 2 and 4, etc).

  7. I want to read this. I have heard her speak on a few channels on youtube and have been very impressed with how she was able to not throw the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak, and has strengthened her faith as she sought out the truth.

    • I haven’t seen any of her interviews yet but want to some time. I appreciate, too, that she used this situation as a means to grow in her knowledge and closeness to God rather than just tossing everything out.

  8. Thanks for the review. That family was part of a cult in my opinion and very dangerous. Glad she learned Truth!!

    • I don’t know if I’d call them a cult. I guess it depends on how you define it. To me, a cult teaches a different way of salvation than by faith in Christ through His grace. I don’t remember if she said what Gothard taught about salvation specifically. But she mentioned that her parents would point her to God’s grace when she was struggling with something. Gothard was definitely off on some things and had a wrong emphasis on other things.

  9. Thanks for your review here. I followed the Duggars off and on throughout the years and I wasn’t familiar with Bill Gotthard either. So sad that there are those out there that lead people astray using the Bible as their means. I tried to put a hold on the book at my library but I was #420 for 12 books. I think I’ll get the kindle version instead.

    • I am amazed at the long waiting list for the book. I think Christians can be too easily led astray because we’re so trusting when anyone quotes the Bible, and we don’t know it well enough ourselves to know when someone is misquoting or twisting what it has to say.

  10. Barbara, this is a phenomenal book review. It piqued my interest so I saved it in my Amazon book wish list. I had seen a few bits and pieces of the show over the years, but nothing that made me interested in being a fan and watching every episode. Isn’t it something how something happens and God opens our eyes to see the darkness so that we can see his light in all his glory.

    • Paula, it’s so true. It feels to me that we see later the things the Lord has shielded us from. I could have easily fallen for some errors (such as some Gothard teachings), but He kept me from them…by focusing my attention on bigger things in life (baby, work, etc.).

  11. Yes, I’m board, too, with reading this book, Barbara. I know people who were big on Bill Gothard back in the day but I always thought there was something off about his teachings. Jinger is courageous and wise in her decision to break free. God bless her …

  12. This sounds like a good book, and I’m glad she “disentangled” rather than “deconstructed” her faith. We knew a family that tried to get us into the Gothard beliefs, but God graciously kept us from it. His teachings did not match up with what we read in the Bible. That’s why it’s so important to immerse yourself in God’s word and the armor of God so we can identify and resist these false teachings. Blessings to you, Barbara!

  13. It is encouraging to hear that she “disentangled” her faith without “deconstructing” her faith or “divorcing” her parents as so many young people do these days. Her maturity in walking Biblically is refreshing. IMM#12

  14. I read the book and really enjoyed it so much. I had watched the family’s shows when they were on TLC and had recognized the legalism, but I didn’t know about their association with Bill Gothard (and didn’t know anything about him), before I read the book. I have great respect for Jinger. Writing this book was a brave thing to do. She’s a gracious and kind young woman.

  15. Pingback: March Reflections | Stray Thoughts

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