In my teenage years, I remember hearing about a new reality television show that was gaining in popularity due to this family’s size. What started as a documentary called “14 kids and pregnant again” soon led to the start of what eventually became “19 kids and counting”. The Duggars peaked the interest of the many viewers not just because of the number of children but also their religious beliefs which were mainly founded in the teachings of Bill Gothard, founder of the Institute in Basic Life Principles more commonly known as IBLP. I was just as curious as the rest of the audience on what a typical day looks like for this family but as a believer I was also interested in how they presented and lived out their faith. Even though I was not in agreement with all of their principles, it seemed that they were a sweet, loving family who had a genuine desire to serve the Lord and glorify Him with their lives.
A Sad Day
When the news broke about their son Josh’s sexual accusations, my heart hurt for them but I also knew that it would have negative consequences for others in the Chrisitan faith, not just those associated with IBLP. This was the ammunition that both doubters and full disbelievers of the show and everything it stood for were looking for and they wasted no time voicing their thoughts. As America’s seemingly ideal family lost both their own show as well as the follow up show “Counting on”, people continued to keep tabs on what was happening and many secretly wanted to know more about what really went on behind the camera.
When Jinger Duggar Vuolo announced that she had written a book entitled, “Becoming Free Indeed”, many fans and critics alike were eager to read. I was among those who were curious just how much she would share and in what way would she present her story.
A False Teacher
I first want to say that Jinger did an amazing job at presenting the facts, answering some of the fans' questions, unpacking the beliefs of IBLP, all while maintaining a sense of balance between exposing false teaching and respecting her parents. I learned a lot about Gothard and IBLP and was truly saddened to hear many of the things he taught plus more than a little disturbed. When the Bible describes us as sheep it is not the most flattering comparison as these fluffy clouds are followers to a fault and often lack discernment. History has shown us over and over again the danger of blindly following men without ever taking the time to study and seek out if what they are sharing is true. This is especially needful when it comes to religious leaders. Gothard ruled his followers with fear and manipulation tactics. He taught 7 principles that almost resemble a “health, wealth, and prosperity” gospel because he presented them as the key to living. If you followed these principles God would bless you but if you stepped outside of them you were in danger of punishment or worse.
Heeding man's interpretation instead of God's
In an interview, Jinger said, “When you think you don’t know what God expects of you, that's so damaging”. Gothard presented his beliefs, not God’s, in his seminars and took scripture out of context. This is damaging because it misrepresents God and His Word, something we are never to do. Tragically, Jinger shares some of the illustrations Gothard used to get his point across such as the story of a woman whose two sons and her husband drowned. This was an old story that Gothard had found probably in a book and was told by a pastor who visited this woman. He blamed her for the deaths of her loved ones because she had a picture of a sailboat hanging above her mantle. The presence of that picture caused her family to want to go to sea which ultimately led to their death. As unbelievable and ignorant as that sounds, Gothard backed the pastor. He used this story to emphasize the care parents should use in what to place in their homes. I do believe that we are to guard our homes and that includes what we let inside but to blame a grieving woman for wanting to make her home beautiful through a piece of seaside artwork was wrong.
Another devastating illustration was from a meeting Gothard had with a young woman who had stepped away from church and now wanted to return to God. He told her that she needed to obey (his steps) and do good works for a while before God could save her. That is contrary to the gospel in every way. We cannot earn our salvation or are required to clean up our life before God can save us. Jesus died for the vilest of sinners and we cannot “clean up” our life without Him. He accepts and saves us where we are in order to help us become what we were meant to be but Gothard taught a different gospel. Paul said to the Galatians “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.” Galatians 1:6-7. Gothard was clearly perverting the gospel and I wonder how many felt that salvation was almost beyond reach because of that story or believed they had to work so hard before God would even consider saving them? My heart grieves and my soul almost burns with a righteous anger against such a man who twists the scripture to suit his own false message.
Reading the Bible for ourselves
This is why it is critical that we read the Bible for ourselves so that we do know what God expects. When we do, it gives us a clear path to follow as well as a knowledge of the resources our God provides for us. The Bible was not written so one man could interpret the message for everyone. It was given so that each of us could know God for ourselves and do what the believers in Berea did who are mentioned in Acts 17:10-11
And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.
They were true students of the word which is what Paul told Timothy and all believers to be in 2 Timothy 2:15
Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
This became the main thrust of Jinger’s book as she tells how she began to have her beliefs challenged, first by Jessa’s future husband Ben Seewald and next by her own then-boyfriend Jeremy Vuolo. These two men always referenced Bible passages whenever discussing their beliefs instead of just one man’s teachings or personal interpretation of the Bible. This was almost a foreign concept to Jinger but it also grabbed her full attention. As these discussions progressed, specifically ones between Jeremey and herself as they watched Gothard’s seminars together, Jinger slowly began to see the inaccuracies and problems with them. In essence, she was opening her Bible for herself and studying the verses to discover what God, not a man, was saying. This was the turning point in her life and the beginning of becoming free from the strongholds of fear and guilt.
Growing up, Jinger had been afraid to do certain things, like watch The Andy Griffith Show because she felt that God would no longer love her or be guilty if she wanted to play a game with her family instead of using that time to read her Bible some more. Her life revolved around obeying a set of rules instead of cultivating a relationship with her Heavenly Father. How tragic. Our Father wants us to know Him intimately and invites us into His very presence. Yes there are commands He has given us to obey but the greatest is to love Him with all of our heart, mind, and soul. This is the love described in 1 John 4:18:
There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.
God’s love can never be earned but is freely given and meant to give us strength to face each day. Jinger began to realize that “our foundation must be the Word of God.” and that meant reading if for yourself.
Keep your Bible open
Jinger’s journey was beautiful to watch as she began to grasp the amazing love God has for her and what happens when we become students of the word instead of relying on others to teach us. This does not mean that we can never read another commentary or listen to another sermon but it does require that we keep our Bibles open just like those in Berea who “received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so."
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I am just an ordinary girl who is loved by an extraordinary God and I seek to love others the same way. I love to bake, read, do puzzles, watch Hallmark movies, and go shopping with my mom! This blog was created as a place where I could share some thoughts that the Lord has shown me and to be an encouragement to others who desire to know Him in a deeper way. My prayer is to learn to sit still and trust God with my future.