Every Woman a Theologian
— Shiny Happy People —
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Dear friend,
I’m watching Shiny Happy People, the new Amazon documentary about Bill Gothard, the Duggars, and the IBLP movement. Each newsletter for the next four weeks will discuss an episode of the show.
The screen faded to black. Josh broke the silence in our living room.
“They took Christianity and turned it into a science.”
He wasn’t speaking only about the show; he was speaking from experience. Like the Duggars, my husband grew up using Bill Gothard’s Advanced Training Institute resources.
A few months ago I watched the Hillsong documentary (the one on Amazon) and listened to the Mars Hill Podcast. I have tried to keep up with the current stories of “Christianity” in culture. Honestly - I don’t enjoy it. Who could? No one wants to see the name of Christ disgraced by false teaching, abuse, and secrecy. And yet - as my creative director Eric reminded me - part of stewarding a Christian community well is staying abreast of the issues and media they are thinking about.
And Shiny Happy People is one of them.
The introductory episode focuses more on the Duggars (and their famous TLC show 19 Kids and Counting) than it does on ATI itself. And for those who didn't grow up watching the Duggars, weren't involved in ATI or have never heard of “fundamentalism” this might all seem far off and irrelevant. But I promise you… it's not. Documentaries like these are relevant for every Christian because they shape the public understanding of church and Christianity. They also reveal issues the church must confront within itself and submit questions the culture is asking. 
Let's get one thing out of the way first: the documentary is secularly made. Secular people make secular things. We should be unflustered by that. God can even use secular people and secular media to expose sin and refine His people; Nebuchadnezzar comes to mind (2 Kings 24, Daniel 4). But because it is secular, we should be unsurprised if an expose' on an extreme, almost cultish movement of “Christianity” is used as a scapegoat to represent the whole of Christendom.
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While Josh grew up using ATI resources, I did not. Both of us were homeschooled, both of us had Christian parents. My parents, however, had a “moralism meter” that was off the charts (we didn't even watch Veggie Tales because it was too “moralistic”. At the time I thought that was stupid; now I tend to think my parents were right!). Gothard's principles, keys, and finite steps for living a successful Christian life didn't appeal to my parents. Due to healthy discipleship in a godly church, they innately knew that these principles were not the blessing they appeared to be. Gothard's programmed “Christianity" was legalism: man's shortcut to holiness. So instead of growing up immersed in the fundamentalist movement, I grew up “fundamentalism adjacent”, observing this culture from afar even though the world at large would have considered me a part of it simply because I was a Christian homeschooler. 
As I watched episode one of Shiny Happy People, two things came to mind: First, this movement was led by people directly impacted by the sexual revolution. They reacted to their own teenage decisions (Michelle Duggar says as much in one clip) and unhealthy childhood homes by seeking a stable, guaranteed list of to-do's. One interviewee in the documentary called it the prosperity gospel: “If I obey God, He will bless me.” 
I don't think that quote accurately depicts what prosperity gospel actually is, though. There ARE blessings to obeying God. Obeying God is vital and important. The REAL question - the one no one in ATI ever asked until too late - is this: Am I actually obeying what GOD said, or am I obeying man's laws in God's name?
Which brings me to the second thing. Legalism is always a shortcut. And the thing it shortcuts is life in the Holy Spirit. You don't need God's Spirit when you have a tidy list of rules:
  • Don't date, dance, or drink.
  • Submit unquestioningly to your husband.
  • Dress modestly - in a very specific way.
  • Only homeschool your kids.
And it's tricky to sift because all these things can be prooftexted from Scripture… so how do you know they are man's laws and not God's? How do you sift what is unchanging Scriptural truth from what is personal conviction?
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You have to know the core doctrines of Christianity. You have to know WHAT we believe, why we believe it. You have to know how to study the Bible for YOURSELF and not be content with secondhand information handed down from someone who claims to speak for God.
Legalism creates weak, undiscerning Christians. And weak, undiscerning Christians are susceptible to abuse. Worse yet, weak, undiscerning Christians who are never taught how to CONQUER their impulses by the Holy Spirit, bringing sin to light, will instead hide those impulses away to fester and grow - a fertile ground for creating not just victims, but abusers too. We see this in the case of Josh Duggar's sexual abuse.
I will never stop speaking about legalism and the harm it creates because legalism is the farm team for unhealthy deconstruction and apostasy. Few apostates leave true Christianity. They leave an imitation of the real thing. They leave the shortcut, the knockoff, the powerless, empty, people-worshiping, performative religion Jesus came to end. 
Shiny Happy People is a challenge to examine ourselves: is our “Faith" a performance of fear and duty, or is born from true intimacy with Christ? Do you know how to walk by the Spirit and live in His power, or are you doing this on your own, with a handy list of rules? Is the voice you're obeying the voice of God based on Scripture accurately interpreted or is it the voice of man speaking in God's name?
My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. John 10:27
Ask Anything Q/A

How do you know what thoughts are from the Lord?
Run it through this quadrilateral: 1) does it align with Scripture or contradict it? 2) does it align with who God is as he is defined in Scripture? 3) is it resulting in fear, pride, or worship of people's opinions? If so, it's not from the Lord and should be given to Him. 4) Is it pure, noble, true, right, lovely, and admirable? (Phil 4) For more, grab How to Hear God's Voice from the shop (all our books also come as PDF ebooks).
Do the Ten Commandments still stand for NT believers?
Yes. The entire New Testament moral ethic is based on the Ten Commandments; Jesus upheld and taught them, including the sexual laws as summed up in “do not commit adultery” (which means all sexual acts outside of covenant sex between a man and woman in marriage). 
Do you have anything for someone interested in homeschooling?
Homeschooling is incredibly diverse. There are at least five types of home education and myriad reasons why people choose to do it. There are homeschoolers who home educate because of Christian convictions, but there are many nonreligious home educators as well. I am a second generation home educator and before ministry, used to work as an admissions counselor and college readiness advisor to homeschool families. I recommend Pam Barnhill's podcast, but if you want a really light introduction you can check out this free intro to homeschooling PDF that my mom (HS veteran of 27 years) and I wrote together. Grab it here!
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My Five Faves

  • Pilates at the beach: Every summer I've wanted to do this and this time I'm making it happen! We live 7 minutes from Lake Michigan and the beaches are stunning (below). A few times a week I'm getting up early to do my Lindywell Pilates routine as the sun comes up! I did it this week and brought my bible to do my Bible in a Year Club reading after my workout.
  • Monthly dates with the kids: Josh had this idea and I love it. We each take a turn going on a “date” with the kids individually. Ivan's only 2 so his “date” usually looks like an errand with an extra stop for McDonalds ;) But the girls are old enough to pick their activity. Josh took Addie fishing one morning at 6 am; I took her for a bike ride. What's important is they get to pick what we do!
  • At-home vanilla “latte”: Advantages to my coffee going cold. I simply add ice, add 1 c. organic nonfat milk, a TB of vanilla, and several pumps of simple syrup. Done! (When my coffee is hot I try to dissolve a scoop of collagen into it for extra protein)
  • The Stanley. Alright guys. Yes, I bought into the hype. I've now had my Stanley cup for about 6 months and it is the ONLY thing that helps me drink water… I just won't drink it if I don't have a straw lol. Pros: it fits a cupholder, it's 40 ounces (I drink 3 a day), has a great handle. Cons: it does spill if it tips over. I have the cream color and Josh has the black; IMO it's easier to buy straight from the Stanley website.
  • Mini whiteboards: Josh went roadside picking over Memorial Day (ha!) and came home with an entire PICNIC TABLE (which I love, actually) and THREE mini whiteboard easels (one side has a spot for paints and paper, the other is a whiteboard). At first my thought was: THREE?? But I have them all lined up in the school area and the kids are obsessed. It makes spelling and math so much more fun too! Here's a comparable one on Amazon.
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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.
  • BTS on discipling littles: We all know the social media world and parenting just don't jive. SM parenting “advice” is just… brutal! Because of this I moved most of my discussions of that topic to an Instagram subscription model of $5/mo (was supposed to be $3, but Instagram will not let me change the pricing!!!). This allows for more privacy but also more hands-on discussion of the theology behind discipleship in the little years, how to discern through both gentle and legalistic parenting models (both of which go astray theologically) and practical ideas from what has worked for US that you can customize for your family. If you prefer the written word, my book Raising Tiny Disciples gives an outline of our general philosophy based on Deuteronomy 6.
  • The picnic table: Who knew one free table could bring so much joy. 10/10 recommend putting one in your yard a la The Turquoise Table.
  • Theology 101: My summer theology class for my local community has begun and it brings me SO much joy! We are going through the eight fundamental “ologies” of Christianity this summer with 24 women. If you're local, I will be hosting a fall class as well!
for the awakening,