Overview: Whence Bill Gothard’s Institutional Success?
This brief paper examines the sociological phenomenon of Bill Gothard’s Institute in Basic Life Principles by asking the broad question, How has Gothard managed to perpetuate his teaching to 2.5 million people since 1964? My thesis is that Gothard’s institutional success comes from his ability to not only create the content of his message, but to also perpetuate an institutional context that sustains his message, a feat which few religious institutions achieve on a worldwide scale.
Not A Critique of Gothard’s Content and Methodology, But Not Unrelated Either
Let me say up front that this paper is not a critique of Gothard’s theology and methodology (or “content” and “context,” in terms of my paper). Again, my research here is more preliminary in nature, as if to zoom out and observe the big picture of Gothard’s decades of institutional fortitude without necessarily condemning or condoning Gothard’s teachings or institutionalization.
At the same time the thesis of my preliminary paper has implications for those who would seek to critically evaluate Gothard’s ministry. For example, if my thesis is true (i.e. that Gothard has created both a unique content and a unique context to foster that content), then it follows that the theological content cannot be fully evaluated apart from its sociological context. Furthermore, researchers interested in critiques (both positive and negative) of Gothard’s teaching will benefit from
- the introductory bibliography to both Gothard’s writings and critiques thereof in footnotes 5 and 9 and
- the brief explanation of Gothard’s foundational teachings (7 basic principles + 49 character qualities + 49 commands of Christ) in the first section of the paper.
Read and Respond
I welcome any critiques, comments, suggestions, disagreements, etc.:
Due to my being impacted so deeply in my teenage years through Gothard’s teaching (i.e. my family regularly attended many of his seminars, used his home school curriculum for two years, etc.) and his institutions (i.e. I worked at IBLP’s headquarters in Chicago for almost two years after I graduated from high school), I hope to do further research and writing on Gothard’s theology. If you are interested in such research please let me know.