Jinger Vuolo is well known as the sixth child of the Duggar family from TLC’s 19 Kids and Counting reality TV show. She and most of her family are avowed Christians who adhered closely to the teachings of Bill Gothard and his Institute of Basic Life Principles (IBLP). While growing up, Vuolo was starstruck by Gothard and considered him the best Bible teacher in the world. Many of his principles and ideas were on display on the various Duggar episodes and the author embraced them all, having been sheltered from other expressions of Christianity. It wasn’t until she became involved with a few people outside the Gothard bubble, people who carefully studied and interpreted Scripture, including a young man who would become her husband, that she began to realize that many of Gothard’s principles were not actually drawn from Scripture but from his own twist on the Word and his personal legalistic convictions. This began the process of disentangling her from legalism and being set free by what the Bible actually taught.
Vuolo says that writing this book was the hardest thing she has ever done, but her story needed to be told. The difficulty with this project had to do with the fine line she had to walk. She realized that she could offend and lose friends who are encased in Gothard’s legalism, including her own family (the Duggars) who are still affiliated with the IBLP and apparently have not recognized the legalism as their daughter has.
The book is part personal testimony, part exposé of Gothard’s legalistic teachings, and part how she now understands Scripture. Concerning Gothard she offers numerous examples of his false teachings and twisting of Scripture, yet she mostly avoids his more serious errors. Much harder-hitting examples could have been supplied, which would have more clearly revealed not only Gothard’s false teachings but the damage he has done in many lives. Vuolo mentions that hundreds (perhaps thousands) have suffered spiritual damage and some have even left the faith because they were not able to disentangle from Gothard’s teachings as she has done. Yet, no statistics or examples of such are given. I am not sure how she knows of such widespread harm, although I believe she is probably correct. Tiptoeing around her parents’ involvement with Gothard had to be tricky, but the author handled it with grace, even as she pulled her punches. The Duggar family has to take some serious credit (or, better, blame) for those they influenced to live legalistic Christian lives, but perhaps it is not their daughter’s place to point that finger.
Presently Vuolo’s husband is preparing for ministry at the Master’s Seminary. I felt a bit of concern for this young lady as she spoke in such glowing terms of her present pastors, John MacArthur and Austin Duncan, and Grace Community Church. It is encouraging to see how much she appreciates her newly found freedom in Christ, and the solid biblical teaching she now receives, but I hope she does not transfer her “idol worship” from Gothard and IBLP to other fallible men and organizations who cannot live up to unrealistic expectations. As a matter of fact, Vuolo did not seem to truly grasp Gothard’s fallacies until his moral hypocrisy was exposed. Hopefully such failures will never be realized from her present spiritual leadership, but such is possible. Truth, however, is not determined by the human instruments who proclaim it; it is determined by Scripture alone. I trust she has grasped this reality and will progress in her spiritual growth. This is an assessable book with an important message.
by Jinger Dugger Vuolo (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2023), 240 pp, hard $20.08
Reviewed by Gary E. Gilley, Pastor-teacher at Southern View Chapel