Willow Creek’s “Shift”

Bill Hybels recently announced that he has had the “adult wake up call of his life” and that Willow Creek made a mistake in their approach to ministry. Thus, Greg Hawkins, Willow Creek’s executive pastor, stated that the dream of Willow Creek is to now fundamentally change the way they do church.

This week I received in the mail a brochure from the Willow Creek Assocation detailing their student ministries conference for 2008. The theme of the conference is:

Shift: A new kind of event for the shifting world of youth ministry

It appears that this conference is seeking to do exactly what Greg Hawkins suggested, which is to fundamentally change the way the WCA does church. In one of the featured general track breakouts, Greg Hawkins will be giving a presentation entitled: “Reveal: Surprising Research Findings That Rocked Willow Creek.”  

Shift, the brochure states, is about innovation. To assist Willow Creek in their quest for innovation and change, they have invited Brian McLaren to be one of the featured keynote speakers.

Touted as one of the “most innovative thinkers and leaders,” McLaren along with others have been invited by the WCA to “help shape their experiences and discussions.”

The title of McLaren’s address is taken from his latest release, Everything Must Change. The front cover of the conference brochure features a quote from McLaren,

We are in a time of transition, re-thinking, re-imagining, and re-envisioning. A time for asking new questions and seeking answers that are both new and old, fresh and seasoned, surprising and familiar… What does it mean in today’s world, to be a follower of God in the way of Jesus?”

One thing is certain, Brian McLaren will shape Willow Creek’s experiences and discussions but not the kind that result in true Gospel impact. McLaren’s theological views will certainly change the way Willow Creek does church, to be sure away from any connection to historic Protestant orthodoxy. McLaren will definitely bring new insights but hardly ones that are rooted in Scripture. 

D.A. Carson has written a very helpful critique of the Emerging Church (Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church) in which he provides a lucid and candid critique of some of McLaren’s unorthodox views. 

For example, how can a man who denigrates substitutionary atonement have anything helpful to say to the church (pp. 167-168). Substitutionary atonement McLaren states, “…just sounds like one more injustice in the cosmic equation. It sounds like divine child abuse,” (The Story We Find Ourselves In, p. 102, quoted in Carson, p. 166). Or, how can McLaren provide Biblical insights when he is not faithful to believe and teach what the Bible says concerning God’s wrath, judgment and eternal punishment in hell (pp. 168-169). 

In response to McLaren’s well-known self-imposed label in A Generous Orthodoxy, Carson writes, “I have read these chapters with considerable care, and I must try to explain a little of why this is an attractive + manipulative + funny + sad + informed + ignorant + winsome + outrageous + penetrating + resoundingly false + stimulating + silly book,” (p. 162).  

And lastly, how can McLaren aid the WCA in shaping their experiences and discussions when he doesn’t espouse a Biblical gospel? In McLaren’s latest book, Everything Must Change, he articulates a faulty view of the gospel (see McLaren’s “gospel” by Lee Irons).

These are just three critical examples of how McLaren has departed from historic Protestant orthodoxy. All pastors, Christian leaders and believers who are concerned with the present condition of the church should read Carson’s book.

McLaren’s heterodox views are leading Evangelicals away from not toward historic Evangelical orthodoxy. If in their desire to take out a clean sheet of paper and rethink all of their old assumptions and replace them with new insights, the Willow Creek folk decide to follow McLaren, one thing is certain, they will once again be making a big mistake.


3 Responses to Willow Creek’s “Shift”

  1. Idetrorce says:

    very interesting, but I don’t agree with you

  2. I’m going to leave a comment here that is very odd for me because I love Carson and dislike McLaren very much.

    It is indeed sad to see Willow inviting McLaren to influence their flock. I do believe this is a mistake. Part of me fears that they are afraid of losing market share and are trying to get on board the hot new trend.

    Regarding McLaren… this quote about divine child abuse is a quote taken from a work of fiction and therefore cannot be attributed directly to McLaren as his view, although he comes awfully close to saying the same thing.

    “How can a man who denigrates substitutionary atonement have anything helpful to say to the church?” Quite easily – he understands other aspects of the church quite well. He will no doubt say many helpful things at this conference, but I would still no invite him to speak to my leaders. Ditto Rob Bell – many of the Nooma videos are completely appropriate and helpful growth tools, but I wouldn’t endorse them to my leaders because the trajectory of interest would lead them to other of his materials that are considerably less orthodox.

    Regarding Carson – his book on the Emerging Church has been rightly criticized as being far too narrow in focus for its title. This is fundamentally a marketing issue. The book is not so much about the Emerging Church as it is about Brian McLaren. The problem is that the Emerging Church is about far more than McLaren. McLaren is a major player, but only on one side of the movement.

    Rather than reading Carson’s book, I would direct you to two articles written by Prof. Scot McKnight. McKnight has the rare position of being accepted by the Emerging left while maintaining an appropriate critique of it.

    In the article “Fad or Future”, McKnight describes his own discovery and early experience with the movement and in “Five Streams of the Emerging Church” he offers a follow-up and a couple of strongly worded cautions to Emerging leaders including the following:

    “So I offer here a warning to the emerging movement: Any movement that is not evangelistic is failing the Lord. We may be humble about what we believe, and we may be careful to make the gospel and its commitments clear, but we must always keep the proper goal in mind: summoning everyone to follow Jesus Christ and to discover the redemptive work of God in Christ through the Spirit of God.”

  3. […] question has been asked (at a blog called The Gospel Driven Blog) “How can a man who denigrates substitutionary atonement have anything helpful to say to the […]

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