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.
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