Last week a friend emailed me the Christianity Today article Willow Creek Repents? with the subtitle “Why the most influential church in America now says ‘We made a mistake’” With 12,000 member churches in the Willow Creek Association the question, “What was the mistake?” looms large. This really goes back to April and May of this year when Bill Hybels, Gene Appel and Mark Breaux did their series Unleashed: The Power of Multiplied Impact in which Bill and Gene revealed their shock after discovering through surveys and focus groups that people were attending church because they wanted to learn stuff about the bible. Gene Appel in the message Unleashed to Grow mentioned that they were beginning biblical literacy classes for 150 of Willow’s future small group leaders. I viewed that as a positive step. Willow Creek Repents? points out, the revelations of the survey and focus groups seemed to get Bill Hybels’ attention:
Hybels called the findings “earth shaking,” “ground breaking,” and “mind blowing.”
There have been a number of ministries like MCOI as well as individuals who care deeply for the people and leaders of Willow Creek who have been pointing this out for years but were ignored. Most of us are viewed as troublemakers and some as enemies. Even if that is the case the words attributed to Charles Haddon Spurgeon may be very helpful in this situation:
Beware of flatterers. Turn away from all those who have honey on their tongue, because of the poison that is under it. If we were wise we would draw closest to those who rebuke and censure us, and we would always keep at arms length those who praise us … because those who rebuke is to our face cannot possibly be trying to falsely gain our affections, so they can take advantage of us!
This week I spoke with a pastor friend who said he doesn’t know if he is more troubled that Bill Hybels and the Willow Creek leadership are just now realizing the need for biblical literacy after 30 years or that it took surveys and focus groups to show them what we have been saying for the last decade is true. I am not sure but thought at the time that we should be encouraged and wait and see what they do next. After all there was a time when Willow Creek seemed to hold the defense of the faith in high regard. In the early 1990s apologists Lee Strobels and Mark Mittelberg were on staff. Our friend Chad Meister (now Dr. Chad Meister) was a volunteer leader in the fledgling Willow Creek apologetics ministry. Together we all worked as the research team for Dr. William Lane Craig for his June 27, 1993 debate “Atheism vs. Christianity: Where Does the Evidence Point?” against Frank Zindler before an audience of 8,000. Sadly, any passion for defense of the faith has since given way to bigger and better marketing techniques that are designed to not offend. Larger multi-million dollar edifices that attest to Willow Creek’s marketing savvy and expertise. Making biblical literacy a high priority would go a long way toward developing a Christian worldview in the believers at Willow Creek and equip them with the tools to share the gospel outside the walls of the church and challenge the worldviews of unbelievers they come in contact with on a regular basis. It would also knit them together in deep personal intimate relationship with God and one another. Being the beacon for 12,000 other association churches such a concept might spread. Unfortunately it seems that Bill Hybels, Willow Creek Community Church and its leadership have done an about face on this repentance.
On April 9- 11, 2008 Willow Creek is hosting their youth ministry conference Shift which is headlined by Emerging Church guru Brian McLaren and other emerging church leaders such as Dan Kimball and Scot McKnight. These leaders have successfully accomplished what John Dominic Crossan, Marcus Borg, Bishop John Shelby Spong (The Jesus Seminar) and Liberation theologians have been unsuccessfully trying to accomplish for decades. McLaren and others are bringing about a shift from sound biblical teaching about sin, salvation and sanctification to redefining Christianity through Marxist thinking. “The Message of the Christian Faith” to use the title of one of Bill Hybels excellent talks on the gospel, is no longer repentance and salvation but helping Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, etc, be the very best Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, they can be:
I don’t believe making disciples must equal making adherents to the Christian religion. It may be advisable in many (not all!) circumstances to help people become followers of Jesus and remain within their Buddhist, Hindu or Jewish contexts … rather than resolving the paradox via pronouncements on the eternal destiny of people more convinced by or loyal to other religions than ours, we simply move on … To help Buddhists, Muslims, Christians, and everyone else experience life to the full in the way of Jesus (while learning it better myself), I would gladly become one of them (whoever they are), to whatever degree I can, to embrace them, to join them, to enter into their world without judgment but with saving love as mine has been entered by the Lord——–Brian McLaren, (A Generous Orthodoxy, 260, 262, 264).
McLaren’s talk at Shift is the same as the title of his new book Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope. McLaren redefines sin in the garden. It is no longer rebellion against God but rather “…a problem of consumption beyond limits.” It is a problem of big business greed on the backs of the dominated working class. McLaren also claims that Jesus isn’t returning and to teach that He is, well, let’s let McLaren say it himself:
This is why I believe that many of our current eschatologies, intoxicated by dubious interpretations of John’s Apocalypse are not only ignorant and wrong, but dangerous and immoral.” (page 144).
No, Jesus came to correct social injustice, racism, sexism, consumerism and the like. An excellent and comprehensive review of McLaren’s book is in 3 parts at Extreme Theology. McLaren’s New Book ‘Everything Must Change’ – Part 1 and Part 2 – McLaren’s “Everything Must Change”: Jesus’ Second Coming are very well done and uses extensive quotes to give the context and demonstrates the severe problems and departure from sound teaching. Part 3 – Everything Must Change: The Story We Find Ourselves In shows in a side by side comparison how McLaren misunderstands or misrepresents the conventional understanding of the faith in order to replace it with the Emerging View.
With Willow Creek’s leadership conference they at least have a disclaimer that they are not responsible for any spiritual harm that may come to attendees as a result of false teachers that Willow Creek may have headlining their event. I didn’t find such a disclaimer on the Shift site but any churches contemplating sending their youth and student leaders should think about this long and hard. Biblical literacy and sound biblical teaching are being sacrificed on the alter of social engineering. They are running full force into Marxism and Liberation theology for your youth. Willow Creek has admitted having it wrong for 30 years and that they needed to get it right and work on biblical literacy for adults. In light of their admission and current direction for youth should they be trusted any further or are the 12,000 association churches content with helping Buddhists, Muslims, etc. be the best Buddhists, Muslims, etc that they can be? It is my prayer that Willow Creek repents of this and in actuality does return to their first love.
The blog item “Willow Creek Repents” was indeed posted on the christianitytoday.com website, but the “Out of Ur” blog where the commentary appeared is not administered by Christianity Today, but by its sister publication for pastors, Leadership journal. Let’s give the Leadership staff credit and/or blame (however you see it) for their work on the “Out of Ur” blog.