Beware of Bill Hybels

By Bro. David Cloud

Way of Life Website


March 19, 1997 (Fundamental Baptist Information Service, P.O. Box 610368, Port Huron, MI 48061-0368. Send e-mail: fbns@wayoflife.org


Bill Hybels pastors one of the largest Protestant churches in America, the Willow Creek Community Church near Chicago, Illinois. Many have asked us for information about this man and the church-growth movement he leads. The following reports are from our files --

"The idea for this unique 14-year-old ‘relevant’ church came from a Wheaton professor in 1972 while Hybels was studying theology at Trinity College. Hybels told how he used dance and drama in his ‘Son City’ youth ministry. A May 1986 Time article said he also uses ‘Christian rock music’ and multi-media slide shows, and pictured a Christian combo jazzing up a Sunday service. It said the church’s eight elders do not generally take positions on controversial issues like liberation theology. Hybels credits ‘possibility thinking’ liberal Robert Schuller as an ‘inspiration’ to him and promoted the Schuller Institute in a November 18, 1988 Christianity Today ad. Hybels spoke at Denver Seminary’s October 1988 CORE II along with Chuck Swindoll and others. Moody’s Leslie Keylock featured him in the October 1988 Moody Monthly, and said Hybels in recent years has spoken at MBI Founder’s Week, a faculty retreat, and a pastor’s conference. Hybels has given his concepts of ministry as a faculty member of Moody Bible Institute’s grad. school" (Plains Baptist Challenger, June, 1989, p. 8).
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"SUPERWORLDLY SUPERCHURCHES -- People today are flocking to megachurches which try to be ‘relevant’ and cater to baby boomers. Second Baptist of Houston has featured rock bands and Hollywood movies at its Sun. p.m. services. Its pastor, SBC Pres. Ed Young, envisioned a place ‘that a totally godless, secular person can come to... and not feel threatened.’ (8/15/91 CC). Willow Creek Community Church near Chicago has seeker services where the choir is replaced by a pop singer, and the organ by a 10-piece rock band. Instead of a ceremony, actors present a skit which illustrates contemporary problems, like grief and stress. The 10/13 Woman’s Day says: ‘There is no fire-and-brimstone here. No Bible-thumping. Just practical, witty messages designed to hit the listeners where they live.’ Pastor Bill Hybels and other church leaders are said to be ‘an ecumenical and youthful group.’ Half of the attendees are from a Catholic background, so the mid-week traditional services feature the familiar ‘Sacrament of Communion’" (Calvary Contender, Oct. 15, 1992).
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"MBI FOUNDER’S WEEK SPEAKERS -- A full-page ad in the 12/14 Chr. Today announced Moody Founder’s Week speakers for Feb. 1-7, 1993. Included are: Catholicism promoter Charles Colson, Schuller-promoter Bill Hybels, ecumenical E. V. Hill, SBC’s Jack Graham, Ted DeMoss, David Fetzer, Ron Hutchcraft, George Verwer, and Erwin Lutzer. Steve Green and others provide special music. Conference theme is: ‘The Power of Purity’!" (Calvary Contender, Jan. 01, 1993).
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HYBELS’ UNSCRIPTURAL METHODOLOGY-- "Bill Hybels is the senior pastor (out of a total of approximately 48 staff pastors) of the 12,000-plus member, Willow Creek Community Church located in Northwest-suburban Chicago. When Hybels decided to plant a church, rather than ‘set-up shop’ and faithfully preach the Word of God, he instead took survey teams through the community, asking those people who admitted to being unsaved, why they didn’t regularly attend a church. According to Hybels, the survey revealed that people: ‘(1) didn’t like being bugged for money; (2) found church boring, predictable, and routine; (3) didn’t think that the church was relevant to their lives; and (4) always left church feeling guilty (the Christian message was too negative with ‘sin,’ etc.).’

"Hybels’ solution was to ‘program our Sunday morning service to non-believers, and program our service to believers on another day or evening.’ By this means, Hybels hoped the newcomers would ‘feel welcome, unthreatened, and entertained.’ Hybels states that it is absolutely essential that the ‘unchurched Harry’s and Mary’s’ be introduced to a ‘creative, introductory level, positive, Bible-centered church experience on a Sunday morning ... a place designed for [the unbeliever].’ Hybels states that his people ‘have put a lot of time and thought into what non-churched people want from a Sunday morning service. And we have concluded that they basically want four things: (1) anonymity; (2) truth presented at an introductory level; (3) time to ‘make a decision;’ and (4) excellence in programming, creativity, humor, contemporary [worship], relevancy, etc.’

"Hybels sees Willow Creek’s evangelism and outreach ministries through this same pragmatic, professionalistic model:

"‘The personal [evangelism] goes on out in the marketplace, and on Sundays we continue and supplement the personal efforts by helping people as we give them a creative service to bring people who are in the process of deciding about a relationship with Jesus Christ. ‘We have Alcoholics Anonymous, Al-Anon, Narcotics Anonymous, Emotions Anonymous, you-name-it anonymous, I think we have it here. And we have a counseling center, and a food pantry, and a benevolent board that counsels people who are hurting financially; an employment counseling ministry; we are committed to helping a church in the inner-city; a hospital in Haiti; projects through World Vision, and other ministries. I believe we are called to arrest the social decay we see happening around us.’

"In Hybels’ 1990 book, Honest to God, he relates the success formula used at Willow Creek Church. He claims that he was ‘honest to God;’ i.e., he grew ‘God’s church, God’s way.’ As detailed above, Hybels in reality grew Willow Creek man’s way--he gave the people what they wanted--a contemporary ‘church’ in an atmosphere of glitz and entertainment, while preaching a feelings-oriented gospel of codependency/recovery, self-love, and unconditional acceptance, where unbelievers could, thereby, ‘be comfortable in God’s presence.’ Hybels justifies his church growth philosophy with the following incredible statement:

"‘At Willow Creek, we feel that God has given us a plan, but it doesn’t necessarily have to apply to every church. In fact, we believe that this may be one of the few churches that God, manifesting a sense of humor if you will, has decided to say, ‘Look, I’m saying to give them a little different kind of plan over here’.’

"As one would expect to find in a church founded and nurtured on Fuller Seminary/John Wimber principles of church growth, Hybels has a distorted view of the Gospel message. In Honest to God, he appears to be saying there are two different gospels, one for men and one for women. According to Hybels, the gospel message for a man is that a relationship with Jesus Christ is essential to avoid ‘mindless misinterpretations of masculine identity.’ For a woman, the gospel is that Jesus Christ offers freedom from being a ‘people-pleaser,’ thereby allowing her to satisfy her ‘need for inner security.’ These are obviously both self-focused gospels that are entirely devoid of a recognition of man’s sin problem as well as God’s solution to that problem. But then, what should we expect from a man whose ministry vision is to have unrepentant sinners be comfortable in the presence of a holy God?

"Despite (or perhaps because of) Hybels’ humanistic gospel, other churches hungry for Hybels’-style growth have been flocking to the Willow Creek staff to learn the techniques of ‘church growth.’ (About 15,000 people currently attend Saturday evening and Sunday morning ‘seeker services’ with contemporary music, multimedia displays, dramatic sketches, and messages geared to those ‘investigating Christianity.’) Hybels says his staff cannot keep up with the increasing number of requests for help from other churches. Therefore, he has recently formed Willow Creek Association (WCA), an international network of 96 like-minded churches. This organization will provide special conferences, resources, and consultation to its constituents. He has also formed Willow Creek Resources (WCR), a joint-publishing venture between the new association and Zondervan Publishing House. WCR will publish books, audios, and videos produced by staffers from within Willow Creek Community Church and the rest of the WCA" (The BDM Letter, Biblical Discernment Ministries, Oct. 1992).
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"Chuck Colson’s book The Body was endorsed by Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Carl C.F. Henry, and Catholic priest Richard John Neuhaus; a 7/19/93 Christianity Today advertisement carried endorsements from Roman Catholic Cardinal John O’Connor, neo-evangelicals J.I. Packer and Kenneth Kantzer, and psychoheretic, ‘church growth’ guru Bill Hybels" (The BDM Letter, September 1993).
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"MOODY PROMOTES NEW EVANGELICALS -- The 11/93 Moody Monthly had a full-page ad for Billy Graham’s ecumenical North American Conference for Itinerant Evangelists, Louisville, with over 40 denominations and organizations. It had an article by Mrs. Billy Graham, a full-page ad for the Jack Van Impe video praising the pope, and a full-page ad for a Bill Hybel’s book. Other new-evangelical men and movements were promoted" (Calvary Contender, Dec. 1, 1993).
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"JAMES ROBISON’S CONFERENCE SPEAKERS -- Charismatics evangelist James Robison’s speakers for his 1/92 Bible Conference include: Schuller-promoter Bill Hybels (who spoke at the 2/91 Moody Founder’s Week), Larry Lea (charismatic), Jack Deere, and other charismatics. Glen Campbell and Wayne Watson are to perform. Robison’s earlier speakers have included charismatics Paul Cho, John Wimber, and Jamie Buckingham. Deere was a faculty member for 12 years at Dallas Seminary, but is now a key figure in Wimber’s Vineyard healing/deliverance movement (2/1 CC). Robison has praised RC’s, the Pope, and Oral Roberts" (Calvary Contender, 12-15-91).
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"RACISM A MAIN THEME AT PROMISE KEEPERS EVENTS -- Racial reconciliation was a central theme at all six regional Promise Keepers (see 7/1 CC) events this summer, per the 8/94 Charisma. The article was entitled, ‘Promise Keepers Targets Racism’. (Racism was also a recurring theme at the 3/94 NAE conference in Dallas.) E.V. Hill and Tony Evans were two of many ecumenical speakers at the events. Others included Campus Crusade’s Bill Bright, Bill Hybels, and Moody Bible Institute president Joseph Stowell. (The latter may not be an ‘ecumenical’ but he sadly seems headed that way!) Hybels said many men vastly overrate how good they are in the eyes of a holy God. ‘But ask yourself,’ he said, ‘how you stack up against Mother Teresa and Billy Graham...’ (6/21 Independent Baptist) Charismatics are featured as speakers, and will publish PK’s new men’s magazine. Promise Keepers hopes 1 million men will descend on Washington, DC in 1996" (Calvary Contender, Sept. 1, 1994).
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"DR. SCHULLER & FRIENDS -- Robert Schuller is a universalist. He does not believe that Christ is the only way to heaven. He defines sin as the loss of self-esteem (1/24 Chr. News), or ‘lack of faith in yourself.’ He declares that Christ endured the cross to sanctify His and our self-esteem. With his ‘possibility thinking’ he is called ‘the Norman Vincent Peale of the West Coast.’ He heads the ecumenical Churches Uniting in Global Mission (CUGM).Schuller in 1987 said it is time for Protestants to go home to Rome. He went to Rome to get the Pope’s blessing before building his Crystal Cathedral (9/15/90 CC). Yet with all this, W.A. Criswell, Billy Graham and other new evangelicals praise him. Bill Hybels, InterVarsity’s Stephen Hayner, and charismatics Jack Hayford and John Wimber speak at Schuller conferences. Minirth-Meier Clinic’s Henry Cloud was scheduled to be on Schuller’s Hour of Power TV show last year. (O Timothy). Speakers for Schuller’s Jan. 30-Feb.3, 1995 conference include charismatic/occultist David Cho, Walt Kallestad (of liberal ELCA), Lyle Schaller, John Wimber, and Bill Hybels. Hybels often speaks at Moody Bible Institute" (Calvary Contender, Nov. 1, 1994).
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"DALLAS SOLIDLY IN NEW EVANGELICAL ORBIT -- The inauguration of Dr. Charles Swindoll as Dallas Seminary’s fourth president is set for Oct. 27 at Prestonwood Baptist Church (SBC) in Dallas. The next day includes a general conference featuring such speakers as James Dobson, Stuart Briscoe, and the pro-Catholic Templeton Prize recipient Charles Colson. The following day Swindoll is to speak at a Promise Keepers conference (PK is ecumenical). He was listed in Dallas’s Kindred Spirit paper as speaking at Moody Memorial Church and Bill Hybel’s Willow Creek Community Church in September. Faculty Fall itineraries include Campus Crusade, Word of Life, Southern and American Baptist Churches" (Calvary Contender, Oct. 15, 1994).
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"STOWELL, HYBELS PROMOTE PALAU CRUSADE -- Luis Palau will bring his ecumenical evangelism crusade to Chicago in 1996 for eight weeks of regional meetings. Moody Bible Institute Pres. Joseph Stowell serves in a ‘Leadership Chair’ for this. He says: ‘Since the time of D.L. Moody, God has raised up godly and effective evangelists who without compromise [!] share the commitment to reach the world for Jesus Christ. Our friend,Luis Palau, is among them.’ Bill Hybels says: ‘I pray that all churches will come together to proclaim the Gospel throughout Chicago...’ Moody Church Pastor Erwin Lutzer and Wheaton College leaders are involved in this. Palau crusades sometimes involve Catholic leaders. Ian Chapman of Northern Baptist Theological Seminary is a ‘Vice-chair’ of this crusade" (Calvary Contender, May 1, 1995).
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"SCHULLER-PROMOTER HYBELS ON DOBSON’S BOARD -- Bill Hybels pastors the 12,000-member Willow Creek Community Church near Chicago. He credits ‘possibility thinking’ liberal Robert Schuller as an ‘inspiration’ to him, and has promoted the Schuller Institute in Christianity Today ads. The 9/8 CT pictured Hybels, Schuller, and C. Peter Wagner (‘signs & wonders’) as 1/90 speakers at Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral. But sad to say, Hybels spoke at Dallas Seminary’s 1989 Pastors Conference. And Dr. James Dobson’s 1/90 Focus on the Family said Hybels has ‘accepted an invitation to join the Focus on the Family Board of Directors.’ A 3/6 Time article said Hybels uses ‘Christian Rock music’, and pictured a Christian combo jazzing up a Sunday service. The 12/16 Huntsville Times said Hybels’ church does not have conventional worship. It has no altar, no choir, organ, hymnals, or song books. Its music ranges from ‘rock to jazz to country to classical.’ A Chicago sociologist said Hybels preaches a very upbeat message--‘a salvationist message, but the idea is not so much being saved from the fires of hell. Rather, it’s being saved from meaninglessness & aimlessness in this life. It’s more of a soft-sell.’ Some analysts look upon Willow Creek as a model for successful churches of the 1990s. See 2 Tim. 4:3" (Calvary Contender, Jan. 15, 1990).
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"CHO AND HYBELS JOIN SCHULLER -- Korean pastor David Yonggi Cho and Willow Creek mega-church pastor Bill Hybels are part of the faculty in Robert Schuller’s 1/96 Institute for Successful Church Leadership. Schuller’s self-esteem message of ‘possibility thinking’ waters down the gospel, yet he with his Crystal Cathedral and Hour of Power is the most-watched TV preacher" (Calvary Contender, November 1, 1995).
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"SCHULLER AND HYBELS -- Robert Schuller, pastor of Crystal Cathedral, will hold his 27th Institute for Successful Church Leadership, January 27-30. According to an ad in Christianity Today (9/16/96), keynote speakers include John Wimber of Vineyard Christian Fellowship; Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Community Church (South Barrington, Illinois); and David Yonggi Cho of Yoido Full Gospel Church (Seoul, Korea). The conference is sponsored by Churches Uniting in Global Mission. Members of CUGM sign a simple statement that they seek ‘a spirit of unity that is truly Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, Evangelical, and Charismatic’" (What in the World!, Vol. 20, Issue 8, 1996).
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"M. SCOTT PECK, NEW AGER -- Life magazine says ‘The Scott Peck gospel is an amalgam of psychiatry and Christianity drizzled with Greek myth and Buddhism.’ (11/18 World ad). Peck announced in 1983 that he had become a Christian, but his all embracing definition of Christian included no statement of faith, and ‘millions of Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, atheists, and agnostics.’ (11/95 Chr.Conscience). In 1988, Peck endorsed a ‘Cosmic New Age Christ’ book by Matthew Fox, a mystical New Age Catholic priest (recently defrocked). Yet evangelical David Mains has extensively/approvingly quoted from Peck’s writings on his radio broadcast. And the GARBC-approved Grand Rapids College (now Cornerstone College) has carried an article in its paper by Bill Hybels which favorably quoted Peck" (Calvary Contender, December 15, 1995).
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"HYBELS SUPPORTS PALAU CRUSADE -- Luis Palau launched an 8-week crusade in Chicago on April 4. Over 1,500 churches are participating. Attempts to secure official endorsement by a Roman Catholic diocese have been unsuccessful, although individual priests are involved in leadership. Supporters include Erwin Lutzer, pastor of Moody Church; Joseph Stowell, president of Moody Bible Institute; and Bill Hybels, pastor of the Willow Creek Community Church (Christianity Today, 4/8/96)"(What in the World!, Vol. 19, Issue 7, 1996).
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See also the following articles:

Willow Creek and Female Preachers
Bill Hybels and the Roman Catholic Church


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