Book Review: The Power of Crying Out by Bill Gothard

For Crying Out Loud: A Critique of Bill Gothard’s book, The Power of Crying Out1

by Barry Pendley2

[amazonify]1590520378[/amazonify]Since the seventies, Bill Gothard has enjoyed wide acceptance in the evangelical world. Tens of thousands attend his seminars each year. If you have been a believer for some time, it is likely that you may have attended his seminar or know someone who has. His influence so permeates the evangelical world that he has created his own subculture. Unless you have been deeply involved in his culture, you will find very little about his actual beliefs. Now that Gothard has entered the public scene, we can expect that his theology and philosophy will become more widespread.


Until now, Gothard’s materials were only available to his “alumnus.”3 The book, The Power of Crying Out is his first widely published work. God expects his people to eagerly examine the teachings of spiritual leaders (Ac 17.11). Therefore, Gothard’s book begs a critique such as this.

Who promotes this book?

The book begins with four pages of recommendations. Those who recommend the book include pastors, CEOs, congressmen, and an entertainer (Pat Boone).

What is especially notable is that Gothard does not have any Bible scholars or theologians advocating the book. This raises suspicion for at least two reasons:

  • He sets forth a novel view of prayer. Those who intend to intend to influence the larger Christian community should make sure that their views are biblical. Having recommendations from Bible scholars or theologians would demonstrate that Gothard is in line with orthodox teaching. Since he did not, we cannot assume from the recommendations that he is orthodox.

  • He has access to leading Old Testament scholars. If they agree with the contents of the book, they would be great advocates.

Bruce Wilkinson, the author of the popular book, The Prayer of Jabez, heartily recommends this book. In fact, the acknowledgements reveal that Gothard relied on Wilkinsons’ “faith and counsel” to publish this book. Since Wilkinson already violated proper hermeneutics, his counsel and recommendation of this book brings suspicion.

Only one (Adrian Rogers) of the eleven promoters testifies that this book reveals Gothard’s ability to properly interpret the Bible. Even Rogers reveals that he follows Gothard’s principles instead of biblical principles.4

Perhaps we could bypass analyzing these testimonials if the book was based on biblical teaching. Since it is not, these testimonials do reveal the weaknesses we will consider further.

Gothard presents a false dichotomy between prayer and “crying out.”

“After knowing the Lord Jesus Christ and teaching and studying His Word for many years, it was only recently that I made what was for me a life-changing discovery. I saw that the Bible makes a distinction between “prayer” and “crying out to God.” (12).

These two sentences can summarize Gothard’s thesis. For Gothard, a verbal, crying out is something more than prayer. He cites many passages of Scripture5 and recalls many life illustrations and that support his conclusion that “crying out loud” is a higher form of prayer. To him, “crying out loud” is the preferred way to seek God with our requests while other forms of prayer are something less.

Notice that he goes so far as to say that God is most moved by requests that are voiced aloud.

“He particularly hears us when our requests are voiced aloud.” (19 emphasis his)

This distinction is unnecessary. What is worse is that it leads to a reliance on a form of prayer rather than the content of prayer. While it is true that the OT contains examples of God’s people crying out, it never elevates “crying out” as the most effective way to pray.

In fact, Gothard’s premise is misleading. Some OT saints enjoyed an effective prayer life when they approached God with silent prayers. Gothard hardly mentions this.

God used Hannah’s voiceless prayer for Samuel in a miraculous way.

12 As she kept on praying to the LORD, Eli observed her mouth. 13 Hannah was praying in her heart, and her lips were moving but her voice was not heard. Eli thought she was drunk 14 and said to her, “How long will you keep on getting drunk? Get rid of your wine.”

15 “Not so, my lord,” Hannah replied, “I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the LORD. 16 Do not take your servant for a wicked woman; I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief.”

17 Eli answered, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.” (1Sa 1.12–17)

To be fair, Gothard does address Hannah’s silent prayer. What is remarkable is that he still maintains that a verbal, crying out, is the preferred way to pray:

“But more frequent in Scripture is the example and encouragement of truly crying out to God, using the voice, in sincerity and trust.” (28)

“It could even be said that the most significant difference between the prayers of God’s saints in Scripture (so powerfully effective) and our prayers today (so seeming ineffective) is this: The prayers of biblical saints were much more often spoken out loud – with corresponding fervency.” (19)

Under the umbrella of intellectual honesty, Gothard should have included the example of the search for Isaac’s wife. Gothard uses this passage to defend his view of courtship dating. Therefore, this passage, so familiar to him, should have been treated.

45 “Before I finished praying in my heart, Rebekah came out, with her jar on her shoulder. She went down to the spring and drew water, and I said to her, ‘Please give me a drink.’ (Ge 24.45)

In order to validate his distinction between effective prayer (voiced prayer) and ineffective prayer (silent prayer), Gothard picks and chooses the passages that prove his point.

Also, should we simply add up the number of verses that mention “crying out” and assume that God prefers the “crying out loud” method? Sound biblical interpretation practices require more than a consideration of word frequency.

Gothard primarily supports his conclusions by using anecdotal evidence

D. James Kennedy writes: “Gothard’s anecdotal approach to the kind of prayer that gets real answers from God makes for lively and rewarding reading.” (Prefatory recommendations)

Anyone familiar with Gothard’s writings realizes that he is a “master” of using anecdotal evidence to support his points. Often he “proves” his point with anecdotal evidence instead of Scripture. This book is no different.

The practice of using life’s experiences to prove one’s points is very dangerous. While illustrations can help one understand biblical truth better, they should never be used to support biblical truth.

The proper way to interpret the Bible is by using what is called the grammatical/historical approach. What we mean by that is one needs to first consider the grammatical elements of a passage. He needs to identify the meanings of the words, how the words are put together into sentences, and how those sentences relate to each other. Next, the careful student looks at the historical context. He finds clues in other passages that relate to his passage. He also studies the background of the writer’s culture.

Bill Gothard almost completely ignores this approach. At times he identifies key Hebrew words in the “prayer” group, but as this book proves, he misuses the biblical languages. The context of the passage is rarely discussed. However, you will find many illustrations from life’s experiences.

Gothard misuses the biblical terminology for prayer

“Both the Old and New Testaments employ an amazing variety of words to describe human communication with God. In most cases the inherent meaning in these words includes some sort of audible sound – an aspect that doesn’t always come across as strongly in the English translations.” (20)

“hagah is actually translated as “speak” “And my tongue shall speak of Your righteousness”; “The mouth of the righteous speaks wisdom”; “For my mouth will speak truth.” It wasn’t the term for normal speaking, but implied a lower, repetitive sound.” (25)

Is it true that the majority of OT and NT word meanings inherently include “some sort of audible sound?” The charts below reveal that this is not true.

The following are OT “prayer word” group:6

Palal: pray, prayer, make intercession

Tephillah :pray, prayer

Chanan: beseech, prayer, prayer, make supplication

Athar: Pray, prayer

Paga: Pray, prayer, make intercession

Siach: Pray, prayer

Darash: Seek the face of God

Chalah: Pray, prayer, beseech, entreat

Qara: Call to the Lord

Baqash: Seek the face of God

Shaal: Ask, enquire

The NT “prayer group” words are:

Dehsis: Ask, request, beseech

Aiteo: Ask or request

Proseuche: Prayers

gonu: Fall on one’s knees

Enteuxis: Thanksgiving

euchomai: Pray, request

proskuneo: Worship, prostate oneself

erotao: Ask, ask a question, request

krouo: knock

entugxano: Meet, turn to, approach, pray, intercede

Gothard admits that the Bible uses an amazing variety of words for prayer. That is true. What is not true is that a majority of these words inherently include some audible vocalization.

For nearly a decade, anyone has had the ability to research these word groups in the original languages. It no longer takes a student of Hebrew and Greek to use the tools available today. It is a strange thing that Gothard did not avail himself of these tools.7

Gothard’s God is too passive

“God’s people, in their time of need, cry out with their voices for His help, and He promptly answers with His saving power.” (14 italic emphasis his, bold mine)

“Again and again, in story after story – in the Bible’s pages and in all history since then – we see God’s active involvement triggered by the cry of His people.” (36 emphasis mine)

“Incredible as it seems, the Creator of the universe desires an intimate, loving fellowship with the people He created. A vital component of that fellowship, as we will discover in these pages, is the actual voicing aloud to Him of our need for Him – particularly in times of great trouble.” (13)

God certainly hears and answers our prayers. However, we should never think that God becomes active because His people pray. God is active because He plans and wills to be active.

God is always active, never passive. The picture Gothard paints is that God responds especially to the “crying of his people,” “promptly answers,” and is “triggered into action” “particularly in times of great trouble.”

Gothard leaves himself open to the charge of teaching a work’s based salvation

This crucial act of calling on the name of the Lord for salvation was something Paul later taught and explained: If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation…. For ‘whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (65 emphasis mine)

Paul himself had cried out for salvation. (65)

Anyone who cries out for God’s mercy in salvation will be given that mercy and salvation by the Lord. (66 emphasis mine)

Those who genuinely cry out to the Lord for salvation are instantly born again by the Spirit of God, who then dwells forever within them and energizes them to cry out for further needs.” (66)

As Gothard has defined “crying out” in his book, this statement leaves him open to the charge that he believes salvation comes only to those who “cry out with their voices.”

This passage is not teaching that one has to cry out verbally to be saved. Rather, Paul is using a familiar figure with the Roman believers. In the judicial setting of the Romans, one would make a confession before a judge and be tried by his statements. Unlike a human judge, which requires some kind of verbal or written confession, the Lord will hear the confession of our minds.

To press this verse to demand a vocal utterance for salvation, puts one in the realm of believing in a “works-based” salvation. What about the mute?

Gothard fails to reconcile his teaching with Jesus’ teaching on the subject of prayer

Jesus taught that prayers made in secret are preferable to the public prayers of hypocrites.

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. (Mt 6.5–6)

Jesus warns against praying to be seen of others. He prayed publicly on occasions (Lk 10.21–22, 23.34. This is not to say that Jesus was against public prayers. He prayed within eyesight (and probably earshot) of the disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Further, the Apostle Paul encouraged congregational prayer.8 What it does teach is that public prayers must not flow from a heart of hypocrisy. To safeguard us from Jesus teaches that the preferable form of prayer is that done in secret. Gothard does not comment on this passage.

Jesus did not teach that “crying out” is a preferable way to pray

When the disciples asked Jesus how to pray, He did not instruct them to pray in a “vocal” fashion. In fact, He mentions nothing as to the form of prayer.

If Gothard is right that “voicing out loud” was the most effective way to pray, then we would expect that Jesus (and the New Testament writers) would have taught us so.

Conclusion

Gothard presents a method for prayer. He focuses on the form of prayer rather than the content of prayer. In so doing, he violates sound hermeneutical principles and deceptively uses the Hebrew for his own advantages.

In many cases, praying out loud would not be appropriate. Should we consider these prayers to be less effective?

  • Believers in Afghanistan probably should pray silently more often.

  • When confessing your sins, it is often best to keep the confessions between you and the Lord.

  • Praying for the unsaved to respond to the preaching during a church service should be done silently.

C. Samuel Storms provides wisdom related to forms of prayer:

Acts of prayer have no efficacy in themselves. No mere ritual, no mere physical posture, no mere recitation of words can account for the results we read about in the Epistle of James and elsewhere in Scripture. Prayer is powerful for only one reason. It is the means whereby we avail ourselves of the power of God. God is the ultimate source of power. All other power, human or otherwise, is derived. It is God who is “powerful and effective” (James 5.16), while prayer is merely the instrument he has chosen by which we may secure his purposes in heaven and on earth. Prayer is powerful because God is powerful.9

1 Bill Gothard, The Power of Crying Out (Multnomah Publishers, Inc., 2002)

2 Barry Pendley is the associate pastor of First Baptist Church in Rockford, Illinois. He can be contacted at pendley@fbcrockford.com.

3 He calls those who have attended his seminars, “alumni.”

4 Adrian Rogers writes “Bill Gothard’s teaching has been transformational in my life, giving me a foundational understanding of biblical truths, especially on authority.” Gothard’s teachings on authority are not sound biblical teachings. In fact, much of his teaching on authority on familial relationships violates the “leave and cleave” principle.

5 Mainly OT texts

6 Notice that the Hebrew words and Greek words in the following charts have been roughly transliterated to benefit non-Hebrew and non-Greek readers.

7 Two great resources for the non-Hebrew and non-Greek reader are the New International Dictionaries of Old Testament and New Testament Theology.

8 In 1 Timothy 2, Paul instructs Timothy in congregational worship. In that passage, he urges that prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made.

9 C. Samuel Storms, Reaching God’s Ear ((Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1998), pp. 214–5.

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