Every Woman a Theologian
— Shiny Happy People, Pt. 3 —
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I’m watching Shiny Happy People, the new secular documentary about Bill Gothard, Advanced Training Institute “homeschooling”, the Duggars, and the IBLP movement. Each newsletter for the next four weeks will discuss an episode of the show.
Dear friend,
The third episode of Shiny Happy People took me back to my early days of blogging.
I started blogging at 16 years old. It was part of a trend among Christian teens, begun by a movement called the Rebelution. We linked to each other, guest-posted, and added each other to the list of recommended blogs in our sidebar (fun fact: Every Woman a Theologian's Creative Director, Eric Novak, met me through those blogs when we were 15 years old!). At first I parroted the courtship narratives I'd overheard and read about in books (e.g. Boy Meets Girl) . But as time went on, I began to question these narratives. Watching Episode 3 of SHP took me back to the questioning days when I wrote posts like:
I had realized my freedom as a Christ-follower and no one could shut me up about it. True holiness, I'd learned, was not achieved in outward perfection or a checklist of behaviors; it was a response to the amazing grace of God! If I wanted to be holy (and I did) the best way to be holy was to simply abide in Christ. Not abide in people. Not abide in morals. Abide in Christ. (John 15)
It was through this realization I landed on the phrase - now quoted by my most long term followers - “you are as safe from sin as you are close to Christ”. My intimacy with Christ resulted in the holiness my old rules could never achieve. 
As I watched Episode 3 unfold – the secrecy, the abuse, the manipulation, the shame, the glorification of sexual abuse as a way to achieve greater holiness (setting women up to become victims) all I could think was: What an absence of intimacy with God. 
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There are a few things that make me extremely angry. The first is Christian leaders who don't teach their people to pray. The second is leaders who defame and dishonor the name of God.
Bill Gothard did both, because where you find one you will almost always find the other. Leaders who defame the name of God cannot be praying leaders. It's impossible.
Many think of prayer as a rote initiation of words before a sermon. A blessing. A recitation. But that's not what I'm referring to here. I'm referring to prayer as abiding; the kind of constant connection with God Jesus described when he said, ‘Abide in me, and you will bear much fruit.’ To abide is to remain with, to stay connected to, and dwell with someone. In this case that someone is Christ. 
So when a leader replaces connection to Christ with connection to self, or a system, or the tidy list of rules, the natural next step is the defamation of God's name. Never all at once, of course. That would be too obvious. But if the connection, trust, and “abiding” aren't happening with God, they have to happen somewhere because people are made for worship. Bill Gothard used God as the pathway for people to connect with himself.  God was the “endorser”, so to speak, of the system. But the system was Gothard's, not God's. So it is with every prayerless system. People must connect with something and if they are not being taught how to walk in connection with God, they will adhere to whatever is provided to replace Him. Gothard was a prayerless leader providing a system that made God obsolete even while it operated under His name. Why bother with God Himself? You have the rules!
There's a lot more that could be said about this episode in terms of handling abuse - the need to make churches mandatory reporters, the victim blaming and demonic glorification of sexual abuse, the lack of institutional checks and balances. These are huge issues and they need to be addressed. But I want to focus on the front end of things – how to become people who can discern these trends in a person or ministry very, very early. And it begins with prayer.
Praying people are discerning people. You can read the Bible all day long but without the Spirit of God you will not have the wisdom to recognize false teachers and liars when they appear. It is the Spirit of Christ who best reveals the spirit of antichrist. We recognize the real thing, not by training in the fake, but in memorizing what is real. How do we know what is truly of Christ? By spending time with Him. By abiding in Him. By being connected to Him…. through prayer. 
Prayer is the vehicle of intimacy with God, and only through intimacy with God are we able to overcome sin! This is why the lists of rules and behaviors only work for so long. You are indeed as safe from sin as you are close to Christ - because the closer you are to Christ, the more quickly you recognize sin in yourself and others.
Bill Gothard taught people not to abide in Christ, but to abide in Bill Gothard. This is in turn blinded them to his abuse. I am not blaming his followers for their own spiritual immaturity; I am blaming the leader for teaching a framework that is not only unbiblical, but blasphemous. Any system that replaces intimacy with Christ with dependence on a man has upended the heart of Christianity. And one of the markers of such a system is a lack of Holy Spirit-led prayer. 
Intimacy with Christ is the motivator to holiness. Not rules. Not approval. Not power. And intimacy with Christ leads to a discerning spirit that is able to sift and question. Legalism, as I said in past emails, creates undiscerning Christians who fear questioning the system. But abiding in Christ creates strong and free Christians who hold everything to the Light – including their leaders. 
Cut people off from prayer, teach them to rely on a system or person instead of on God Himself through Christ, and you can create people who must use human wisdom as their own personal “Holy Spirit”.  It is in the worst interest of false prophets and teachers to teach their people how to walk by the Spirit, so they never do it. Because if individuals walk by the Spirit, they will be equipped to walk away from a false teacher - to be free from his power. 
So for all of us seeking to prevent dependency on a teacher, to teach people how to recognize spiritual manipulation, to teach Christians how to be strong and free, teach them first to know the Spirit and His voice! Teach them to pray. Teach them to abide. Teach them to be so close to Christ they recognize the fake. The best part? People who are close to Christ are empowered to true justice. They expose every false word to the Light, they work for the freedom of those in bondage, and they partner with God in binding up the brokenhearted.
This is why I always be “for the Awakening” - the next great revival of Holy Spirit-led believers, the ones who understand intimacy with God and walk in it. These are Christians who set people free. 
So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. Gal. 5:16

My Latest Episodes

Does God Give Consequences to His Children? Listen here. 
Navigating Theological Differences in Dating // Listen here
Should Christians Boycott Secular Companies? Listen here. 
Reconstructing After Legalism // Listen here
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My Four Faves

  • Alphabet Dating: This is a fun new method Josh and I are trying this summer! We're fortunate to hire my sister to watch the kids once a week so we can go out (so special when you work from home!). Even though summers here are the best, we started to run out of ideas for things to do… Alphabet Dating makes it easy! Everything on your date has to start with a specific letter: Apple picking, Applebees, ax throwing, etc.! Last night we did P… pizza, Petoskey Winery and Petoskey stone hunting.
  • Beach Must Haves: Every summer I post these! Whether you're going to the beach once a summer or multiple times a week (like us) here are my ride or die beach-with-kids finds.
    • Costco Beach Wagon: holds our cabana, chairs, towels, and toys! 
    • Old Bahama Beach Cabana: this is a learning curve at first but now I swear by it. Big enough for the whole family to sit in for shade, with side panels for the breeze.
    • Poppi Classic Cola: this prebiotic Coca Cola knock off is so good. 
    • Young Living Mineral Sunscreen: this is all I use on my kids - nontoxic (unlike many sunscreens) and works best if you let it warm up in the sun before applying. 
    • Igloo 62 Quart Rolling Cooler: This is massive, but it has an extending handle and wheels so we love it for beach days! We'll grab sandwich stuff and lots of snacks; this keeps it all cool.
    • Rock Hunting Scoop: I don't have one of these but I want one! I use my kids' toy sifter, lol. This is great for Lake Michigan beaches. 
  • New Money Mindset: I have had lots of money questions lately! My favorite book on this is Your New Money Mindset associated with Thrivent Financial. It transformed my view of money. 
  • Impress Lashes: I just tried these and WOW. No glue - just press on - and I'm amazed!! I like Impress nails and am so “impressed” with these. 
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At Home with Phylicia

A little glimpse of what's bringing us joy at home: routines, books, kitchen and home life.
  • Father's Day didn't go quite as planned: Ivan was sick, so Josh stayed home with him while the rest of my family went to the beach to celebrate my own dad (below). A bummer, but Josh said it was nice to have a day to himself all the same! I wrote this poem about my dad; you can find it in the poetry collection:
Faith: plant it unseen,
wait a lifetime;
someone else sits in the shade
of branches you dreamed of.
My father planted trees
wherever he could:
“For windfall,”
he said, and down the driveway
anywhere and everywhere:
All in faith
that one day those scraggly twigs
would shade us and
stand regal like sentries,
like they were always there.
Dad planted the future
for someone else
and faith plants a future
better than the one we're in --
kingdom sowing,
marathon running,
good fight fighting,
even when the harvest of
twenty, sixty, hundredfold
is taken in by someone else.
Kingdom faith plants anyway.
Even if we don't sit
under the branches we dream of,
the King wants our planting
to build a home
for the world.
Matthew 13, PDM
for the awakening,