Back in 2001, when I did the the studies of IBLP’s Basic and Advanced textbooks, I was able to borrow the first volume of Gothard’s Character Sketches, and decided it needed to be looked at also. It was the last book I was able to borrow, but I assume that further volumes of Character Sketches will be similar in their abuse of Scripture in their teachings.
The primary purpose of this analysis is to examine Bill Gothard's use of scripture. Because this is the focus, I will not address other bad teaching unless it is so horrendous as to warrant a comment. Most of what Gothard is claiming to be Biblical or of God will be seen to be just his ideas out of his own imagination. However, for brevity, I will address only the issues where he quotes Scripture for support. Some things in the stories, while being merely opinion adding to the Bible, will be overlooked when they are so insignificant as to be harmless.
1. "God gave man a marvelous intellect with one limitation - he is not to use it to learn the details of evil (Romans 16:19).”
Romans 16:19: “Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I am full of joy over you; but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.” (NIV)
This text does not support the claim. Paul wants the Roman assembly to be "innocent about what is evil," but that is not the same as God giving us a limitation on our intellect. I don't believe there is any Scripture specifically forbidding one "to learn the details of evil," although there are many that counsel against it. Prov. 4:23, for instance, tells us to guard our minds. Col. 3:2 tells us to think on things above, while Php. 4:8 tells us what things to think on. At any rate, in today's society especially, one must learn details of much evil in order to be able to protect against it. Details of evil may be limited to those in leadership positions in order to protect those under them, such as the husband/father or elders.
2. "God never intended that we learn evil with our mind or by experience but rather with our spirit. 'Try the spirits whether they are of God.' (1 John 4:1)."
The supposed supportive text has been abbreviated in order to make his point. The complete text is, “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (NIV) In context, John tells his readers to test the spirits because of false teachings; so that we may discern false prophets. The verse has nothing to do with learning evil "with our spirit." With our mind is the only way we can learn evil. It may be argued that God's original intent was that man was not to learn evil but, since the fall, we are all sinners and we learn evil as part of our make-up. Learning evil is inherent in our sin nature. Nowhere does Scripture tell us we learn evil with our spirit.
This text is used for this claim throughout the next section.
At the top of the page we have the following: “One with special mental ability will find it more difficult to submit his mind to his spirit. Thus Paul observes, ‘...not many wise...not many mighty...are called.’ (I Corinthians 1:26)”
It is well that Gothard uses ellipses because otherwise we'd see the context. He has taken this from KJV so I will quote the full verse in that version first, then compare it with NAS and NIV. I will include v.27.
For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty.
For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong. (NAS)
Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. (v.28) He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things - and the things that are not - to nullify the things that are, (v.29) so that no one may boast before him. (NIV)
Gothard seems to have a problem with intelligent people thinking. First off, there is no where in the Scripture where it tells us to submit our minds to our spirits. We should submit to the Holy Spirit, but our own spirit may be just as deceptive as our mind. And being intelligent does not make it difficult to submit to the Holy Spirit; it depends on what one does with his intelligence. At any rate, in context this passage has to be read in light of the previous part of chapter 1. In v.17 Paul told them that he didn't come teaching the Gospel with "wisdom of speech" (NIV Study Bible), as a "trained orator", but with the power of the cross. In other words, the Gospel would speak for itself. Although the method God used to bring us to salvation may sound foolish in relation to the wisdom of the world, there is the power of God in its message. In vv.20-25 Paul points out that Jews looked for miraculous signs and Greeks glorified wisdom. But neither was given to them. They were looking for God in their image, and he gave them something that seemed to be foolishness. The point, as spelled out by Paul in vv. 27-29, was that they would be unable to boast in themselves. The Corinthians were called, even though they weren't among the "wise" philosophers of the day, so that they could be shown as an example of how one must boast in the Lord and not in himself. Finally, Paul did not say that few wise or mighty will be called, rather he stated that not many of the Corinthians were that way by human standards. Gothard implies that God will call few who are "wise" or "mighty," claiming this verse for his evidence. The verse is taken out of context and butchered to make his point.
In discussing the "three tests of sound doctrine," Gothard says, "Third, we are to try the fruit of his life and actions," and then he quotes Matt. 7:20. He then says, “One of the most important aspects of this third test is whether a man follows the steps given by our Lord in Matthew 18 when correcting a brother who has missed the mark. Some would use an offending statement or action as a Scriptural basis for separation, but if the steps of Matthew 18 are not closely followed in a spirit of restoration and long-suffering, a division will be made contrary to the doctrine of Christ, causing bitterness among Christians and unbelief by the world.” The quote from Matt. 7:20 has nothing to do with Matt. 18. Testing the fruits has to do with discerning a false prophet, not whether or not one follows the teachings in Matthew 18!
At the top of the block on the right, we have the following:
"With our spirit we are capable of communicating with the human spirit of each one around us. We sense what is in their spirit by knowing what is in our spirit. "For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him?" (I Corinthians 2:11).
This same verse in the NIV can help us clarify what Paul is saying: “For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man's spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.” The point of the passage is that the only person who knows a man's thoughts is that man himself in his own spirit. In the same way, the only way a man can know the thoughts of God is to have God's Spirit in him. This can be easily seen by continuing the passage to the end of the chapter. Nowhere does the Bible suggest that men's spirits can communicate with each other.
The very first paragraph reads, “God's educational objectives were designed to be carried out in the home long before anyone ever thought about a school.”
The Bible doesn't tell us what "God's educational objectives" are, let alone where they "were designed to be carried out," so Gothard can only know them by divine revelation, which I sincerely doubt is the case.
This is one of those areas that just needs commenting on. This is section E of how the home is to be a "learning center." There are two paragraphs with problems of logic.
1. “Music is a basic form of worship and can create inner ideals as well as express them. Three types of music should be introduced within the home - bright, cheery music as the day begins, soothing music prior to mealtime and devotional music before ending the day.”
Now, I don't remember the Bible telling us that "music is a basic form of worship." While it most definitely can be, this is not always so. In fact, I would feel quite safe to say that there is more music that is not worship music. Why must we follow Gothard’s idea of the types of music we listen to and when? Why can only certain music be listened to at these specified times? Can one never listen to folk music at night? What do each of these subjective music types consist of?
2. “A bookshelf which contains character-building volumes, especially the biographies of men and women in God's hall of fame, is essential.”
How does one go about discerning who is in "God's hall of fame"?
3. Gothard states that the purpose of the book (Character Sketches) is for mealtime discussions. Why can we not use it for other times? Why is only mealtime when one discusses the Scriptures? If a family follows the suggestions for use, I don't know how they will find time to eat!
"MEALTIMES MUST INCLUDE DISCUSSION OF LIFE CONCEPTS". This is Gothard's law, I suppose, but why is it a "must"? What will happen to my family if we do not do this? If it is a "must," how have families survived for centuries without it?
“The significant precedent for learning the ways of animals is given in God's dealing with Adam. Adam's first task was to name each animal as God brought them to him. He would never have been able to give them precise names if he had not thoroughly understood their ways.”
According to Gen. 2:15 Adam's first task was to work the Garden of Eden and take care of it. This is the first error here. The second error is in saying that Adam could not have named the animals without thoroughly understanding their ways; the Scripture gives us no information in this area. In order for Gothard to make this claim he would have to possess special revelation. Additionally, there is an assumption that the names Adam gave to the animals had anything to do with "precision."
In a stretch of imagination, the story of Amasa's death (2 Sam. 20) is given as an example of how Scripture illustrates "the importance of adjusting my schedule." The story was never meant for that, nor does it really even lend itself to that use.
The story claims that God never intended for Moses to have help judging the nation of Israel. This is an unbiblical assumption. The clear intent of the Scripture is that Moses was to have help. One man could not possibly judge an entire nation that grew daily. He would be unable to do anything but judge 24 hrs a day, and the Scripture never says that's what God intended for him. The implication from the Scriptures is that the dividing of responsibility was the right thing to do. The passage quoted from Numbers 11:17 was not chastising Moses, but rather giving him help. By saying that God gave "part of the Spirit" from Moses to the judges, Gothard makes the implication that Moses then lost partial favor with God. This is plainly wrong.
"Orderliness...is preparing myself and my surroundings so I will achieve the greatest efficiency." Then 1 Cor 14:40 is cited as the Scripture reference. This is way out of context because "Let all things be done decently and in order" is about worship meetings of the church!
"Initiative...is recognizing and doing what needs to be done before I am asked to do it." The Scripture cited for support is Rom.12:21 "Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good." The passage has nothing to do with initiative, at least not as defined here.
Reference is to Genesis 34. Gothard gives much time to what Dinah's thought processes were before going to "visit the daughter of the land," and the reasons for Jacob's actions previously, but they are all speculations and nothing biblical. The reason is to develop how Dinah did not seek her father's counsel, even though the Bible doesn't say it was necessary. It is all part of Gothard's idea of the father's authority over every aspect of even adult children's lives.
The book here says that Shechem "persuaded her to follow him," but this is not what the Scriptures says. 34:2 simply says that he "took her and lay with her by force." Gothard then blames Dinah for the actions of her brothers. That the actions of her brothers were wrong, regardless of how she had been treated, is obvious from Jacob's reaction to them. Dinah's trip to town can not be blamed for her brothers' wrong actions.
Gothard states that Dinah "decided to seek some Hivite girlfriends." This is beyond what we are told in the Bible, and is merely speculation on Gothard's part. This continues on the next page with, "Dinah wanted to make new friends," and then a whole scenario is developed out of Gothard's imagination to explain Dinah's actions. The claim is that Simeon and Levi had a "secondary motive of greed by stripping the city of all its wealth." This is beyond what Scripture says. My understanding is that their taking of the wealth was just to make the punishment total.
In addition to the above problem with the Dinah scenario, Gothard presumes to know what Jacob should have done in his travels, and assumes Jacob did not teach his daughter about staying away from idols. This is all beyond what the Bible tells us. He then presumes to know the reason God allowed Dinah to be violated, again without information from the Bible.
This story is really abused. The Bible nowhere tells us any of the information as to what actions would have been proper for Abigail, yet Gothard makes her into the fault of David's later sin with Bathsheba. This is total nonsense!
Bottom paragraph claims that Abigail said that God planned their encounter. This is not so. 1 Sam. 25:32 says that David made the statement that God sent her to him.
The claim is that Abigail's actions were wrong, even though we do not have information to that effect from Scripture. David understands that God sent her to him. Gothard wants to build his case of authority over all and says, "God hates rebellion against authority even though that authority be an unwise father or a foolish husband." This is wrong, of course, since we have Scriptural evidence of Daniel rebelling against authority, and Paul rebelling against authority, among others. We are told in Acts 5:29 that we must "obey God rather than men." If God was the cause of Dinah's actions, as David states, then she would have been disobeying God by bowing to her husband's authority. Gothard then is presumptuous by stating what Abigail should have done. He then places the blame for David marrying her solely on Abigail, although she apparently had nothing to say in the matter.
Gothard states that Samson "reasoned that she [Delilah] was just a girl who he could easily control." This must be extra-biblical revelation because we are not told what Samson was thinking.
More extra-biblical revelation from Gothard. He says that "Samson was only interested in the surface problem of his people - their oppression by the Philistines. He was not concerned about the reason for the oppression which was the nation's disobedient worship of Philistine and foreign gods." Nowhere does the Scripture tell us any of this.
We are told that Samson's "newly-grown hair was symbolic of the renewal of his Nazirite vow." But this again is extra-biblical. Gothard just made it up.
Hezekiah is quoted as thinking, "If they are impressed with this, wait until I show them my other treasures." No place in Scripture are we told Hezekiah was thinking this.
As you should be able to see from this cursory analysis, Bill Gothard makes things up from a very fertile imagination abusing Scripture. He is a false teacher who should be avoided.