John Cornish

And the sparks flew: more thoughts on my ATI article

In Uncategorized on May 24, 2011 at 4:21 pm

Wow, what a month it has been. Finals, a trip to New York, a wife in her third trimester, Easter/Good Friday at church…whew. On top of all of that was my last blog post, which turned into something I never would have imagined. What was honestly just a cathartic opportunity for me to write out my story turned out to be an experience only God could have arranged.

As of right now, that blog entry has gotten 4,476 hits and has been shared 843 times on facebook. I spent about 5 hours writing my story last month, and have spent triple that replying to dozens of emails and facebook messages. I actually just now got caught up answering all of those.

What was the response I received? Well, naturally, it was mixed. Comments ranged from former ATI/IFBers thanking me for writing it to current ATI/IFBers accusing me of living in rebellion to God. However, the vast majority of comments were very encouraging.

Many have encouraged me to write more about this issue, and I may from time to time address issues related to ATI and or the IFB. However, my primary calling and gifting is in the area of music and worship, and the majority of my writing on this blog will still be about those and other related subjects. I do participate in a couple of online forums in which ATI/IFB issues are discussed, so I am able to more specifically address issues that affect “survivors.”

Nevertheless, in the process of watching this all unfold, answering e-mails, observing facebook interactions, holding personal conversations, I’ve realized that I have just a few follow-up thoughts. While I stand by the article as it is, there are a few points that I think are worth fleshing out just a bit more so I can be perfectly clear where I stand. Call it an addendum, if you will.


One of the criticisms I received is the typical legalistic response to someone who emphasizes grace: that my acceptance of grace somehow equates to an abuse of spiritual liberty. Some pointed to my life choices (which in their minds are very liberal) as validation of this point.

So let me be clear: the grace of God does not give us freedom to live however we choose. However, it gives us the freedom to know that when we fail, He still loves us and forgives us. As Paul writes in Romans 6, we should not therefore sin simply so we can receive God’s grace, but in response to His grace we should endeavor to please Him.

You see, it’s all about motivation. Legalists are motivated by fear. Christians are to be motivated by love. Gothard teaches that grace is the power and desire to do God’s will. He also teaches that as we obey God, He gives us more grace. This is only partially true, and leads to a cycle of fear and failure. Think with me about how scary this cycle can mentally become: if grace is the desire to obey God, and I get this grace by obeying God, then what happens when I fail God? Obviously, He won’t give me more grace, and I won’t have the power to obey Him.

Now, this desire and power to do God’s will IS a biblical manifestation of grace. However, this desire comes from a heart of gratitude and love for God as He expresses His grace in and through us.


Another criticism I received was from a few IFBers questioning whether it was fair of me to include them in the title, since my personal experience was more with ATI and Gothardism. While I stated in the articles that they are not the same organization, my reason for including both entities in the title and content was two-fold. First, I knew that the IFB issue was on a lot of people’s minds, and I knew it would resonate with a lot of people. Secondly and most importantly, the point of the article was not to expose any group or organization, but rather to expose a mindset that permeates both ATI and the IFB. See, the “ATI/IFB world” as I referred to it is not an organizational structure, rather it is a way of approaching life from a legalistic perspective. The sheer volume of emails I received from IFB members applauding what I wrote is confirmation that this was not an error in judgment.


In my article, I tried to warn of the dangers of ATI. Some people thought I overreacted. One reader commented that ATI could still be used, as long as one kept it in balance. While I personally think that is impossible (ATI has too many requirements to even get into the program), why would one want to play with fire? There are a lot of good things in Mormonism, too, but I’m not becoming a Mormon.

Honestly, I could spend pages writing about the spiritual carnage caused by Bill Gothard. I have spent quite a bit of time on forums created by and for ATI “survivors,” and in comparison to many of the stories I’ve heard, what I experienced was very mild. For every ATI student who survives, there are many more that have left the faith entirely. Bill Gothard has left behind a generation of homeschooled students who are afraid of religion, socially inept, abused, scarred, addicted, and hurt. Yes, many have made it through. Many have not.

Based on what I have experienced, what I know, and what I have witnessed, ATI is extremely dangerous. My heart breaks for the thousands of children who are in it today.


Something that I was challenged on was whether I was fair in my criticism of Bill Gothard. Not his teachings, but who he is as a person, his motivations, etc. While I can never know a person’s motivation or heart, I can know what they do and don’t do. And I have come to several conclusions based on what Bill has not done. These conclusions came partially as a result of a dialogue with someone who knows Gothard personally.

  1. Bill has not publically responded to or accepted the criticism of other theologians, pastors, or church leaders who have challenged him on his interpretation of scripture.
  2. Bill does not surround himself with those who will challenge him.
  3. Bill has never rebuked his followers who idolize him or done anything to deflect the glory, fame, or credit from himself.
  4. Bill has never rebuked his followers who have judgmental spirits and attitudes.

I have also heard a number of accounts from friends who have had personal interactions with Bill that would make your stomach turn.

In summary, I would view Bill in much the same way I view Harold Camping. Did Camping intend to deceive and defraud his followers out of millions of dollars, costing them years of their lives? Probably not. But what he did was still wicked.

Likewise, did Bill Gothard intend to cause carnage within the hearts of thousands of children, causing them years of heartache and spiritual confusion? Probably not. From all accounts, he only ever wanted to help young people. However, he is still accountable for the damage he has done. And the fact that he has never taken responsibility for his actions makes him dangerous still.


So with that, I wrap up this topic for a while. I’ve said what I needed to say, and I hope I’ve brought some clarity to my position. As always, I’m available by email at if you have specific questions.


My childhood in the ATI/IFB world

In General, Life, Spiritual Issues on April 13, 2011 at 2:41 pm

For a pdf of this article, click here:


What I share in this story is something that I have never shared with anyone in its entirety except my wife. Some of you will know bits and pieces of this story, and some of you will recognize yourselves in it. I am not going to share names of friends and associates in the ATI/IFB world because it is not my intention to hurt anyone. I’m not angry with anyone, and I only desire to share a little of my spiritual journey. Also, my mother and father know that I am sharing this, and that I have no animosity or anger towards them because of choices that they made. All things do indeed work together for good.

The writing of this story is triggered by a series of events that have taken place in the past week of my life. The ATI/IFB world is something that I have thought very little about in the past 5 years or so. I have moved on with my life and career as a professional musician and minister, and I have put the past behind me. For those of you that don’t know, ABC news ran a story on 20/20 last Friday (4/8/2011) about a branch of the Baptist denomination called the Independent Fundamental Baptists. It stirred up a great deal of emotion for me, and brought back a lot of emotions that I hadn’t dealt with in years.

I initially shared the broadcast on my Facebook page with the intention of stimulating conversation…which it definitely did. However, much of the discussion was about the actual cases of abuse mentioned on the program, which wasn’t my goal at all. Abuse happens in many churches in different ways. My goal rather, was to provoke discussion about the mindsets that could lead to such behavior. After thinking it through, I realized that the sharing of my story would probably be the most effective way of communicating my concerns.


I was raised in a Southern Baptist Church (my father was a minister), but was homeschooled from Kindergarten through 12th grade using curriculum written entirely by members of the Independent Fundamental Baptist (IFB) church. Our basic curriculum (math, English) came mostly from institutions such as Bob Jones University and Pensacola Christian College (A Beka books), which are two IFB colleges. The other major portion of our curriculum came from a man named Bill Gothard, who led a homeschooling organization called ATI, which stands for the Advanced Training Institute. While not an official IFB organization, a lot of ATI members were IFB members as well, and there are entire IFB churches which consist primarily of ATI members. In the years I spent officially working with ATI, we were bused to IFB churches on Sundays. Many of the books we were told to read were written by key IFB leaders, and numerous IFB leaders came to speak at ATI events. To be in ATI usually meant that you were in IFB, however most IFB members are not in ATI. The typical non-ATI IFB education consists of attendance at private Christian schools, usually associated with whatever church one attends, followed by attendance at one of the major IFB institutions.

So, what’s been happening?

In General, Life on March 3, 2011 at 4:00 pm

At last post, I shared some of the challenges of this coming year. I then immediately proceeded to get swallowed up by said challenges. I am climbing out of the abyss of business to just share a few random thoughts and happenings that have taken place since then.

  • School has been a busy time, but very rewarding. Although the class load has been daunting, there have been a number of exciting opportunities come my way, such as…
    • I was given the opportunity to conduct the Southwestern Seminary Master Chorale and Southwestern Orchestra at our annual gala concert in the premiere of my composition, Abide with Me. It was a thrilling moment in my life, as not only was it my first opportunity to premiere a work in such a setting, but it was also my first opportunity to conduct an orchestra composed of professional musicians. The performance went very well, and many compliments were given by professors, peers, and other important guests, including…
    • Steve Green. Steve was one of the musicians whose ministry has really inspired me over the years, and I had the privilege of hosting him for nearly three days at SWBTS prior to his performance at the gala concert. After spending a considerable amount of time with him, I can honestly say that I have even more respect for him now. He is the real deal, on and off the stage.
    • Another exciting opportunity has been the chance to lead chapel at SWBTS. Per the request of some of the leadership on campus, I have had the opportunity to lead approximately 1,000 of our students and faculty in worship several times this year. There is nothing more thrilling than leading so many people in what has become a passionate, spirit-filled time of worship. This has indeed been a great joy.
    • Teaching has been fun, as well. Although my conducting class has a smaller-than-usual group of three students, we’ve had a lot of fun and I’ve enjoyed the challenge of adapting my teaching style to a smaller setting. That, and there is MUCH less grading to be done!
  • Church ministry has had its ups and downs, but I am really starting to sense a revival of worship in the Oak View congregation. This has been something I have been praying for since I arrived at Oak View two years ago, and I am finally starting to see the results. Please continue to pray for my church as I lead them.
  • Being a hubby and daddy is as fun as ever. There’s nothing like coming home to a two-year-old screaming “daddy, daddy, daddy!” Rashel and I are still expecting baby Cameron in June, when the fun is only going to double!

Sorry I don’t have time to write more, but I’m sure some of you family and friends have been wondering if I was still alive!