Recently, headlines about Willow Creek filled the front pages of several online news outlets. The caption stated: “A Shocking Confession from Willow Creek Community Church.” Some wondered if Willow Creek’s pastor Bill Hybels was repenting from past errors in ministry techniques.1 But a Lighthouse Trails commentary showed that this “shocking confession” was actually a re-enforcement of Willow Creek’s efforts to “transform this planet” through contemplative and emerging spiritualities. The LT commentary stated:
It is no new thing that Willow Creek wishes to “transform the planet.” They are part of the emerging spirituality that includes Rick Warren and many other major Christian leaders who believe the church will usher in the kingdom of God on earth before Christ returns. This dominionist, kingdom-now theology is literally permeating the lecture halls of many Christian seminaries and churches, and mysticism is the propeller that keeps its momentum. If Willow Creek hopes to transform the planet, they won’t be able to get rid of the focus on the mystical (i.e., contemplative). Their new Fall 2007 Catalog gives a clear picture of where their heart lies, with resources offered by New Age proponent Rob Bell, contemplative author Keri Wyatt Kent, and the Ancient Future Conference with emerging leaders Scot McKnight and Alan Hirsch as well as resources by Ruth Haley Barton and John Ortberg. Time will tell what Willow Creek intends to do about strengthening its focus on “spiritual practices” and “transform[ing] the planet.”
Well, it appears it isn’t going to take a lot of time to see what their future intentions look like. The most current issue (Fall 2007) of Willow Creek’s magazine, Willow (in hard copy and also online) gives a clear view of the organization’s spiritual emphasis. The issue titled Ministry Shifts has a subtitle that says: “The landscape of our ministries is shifting. Brace yourself for the aftershocks.”
Article titles in this Willow issue certainly make a statement that things are going to change: “Seismic Shifts,” “Rediscovering Spiritual Formation,” “Stemming the Tide,” “The Changing Face of Worship,” “Shifts in Missional Mindset,” and “The Next Great Debate.” With such commitment to change, it’s no wonder Willow Creek supports Brian McLaren, who is currently on his “Everything Must Change” tour (named for his new book).
In the first article, “Seismic Shifts,” the message is straightforward: “Change or die. … If the local church refuses to change, it will die. … But the winds of change are blowing. Leaders and entire congregations are making the choice to try something new. They are looking at the world, culture, norms and trends and they are daring to take a chance, venture a risk, find another way.” Bell explains that the other articles in the issue give “snapshots” of how the church is now shifting.
In the first article to follow, “Rediscovering Spiritual Formation,” meditation promoter Keri Wyatt Kent writes positively about “monastic communities” and “the emergent church.” Quoting or favorably referring to one mystic after the next (Richard Foster, Ruth Haley Barton, David Benner, John Ortberg, etc.) Kent paints a picture that shows mysticism’s role in this seismic shift Willow Creek proclaims. She correctly states that while there are some “conservative” Christians who are suspect of spiritual formation, by and large the term and “the practices” have become “mainstream.” These practices, of course, are the mystical practices that are the energy behind the spiritual formation movement.
Kent identifies Scot McKnight as part of this mystical shift. McKnight acknowledges the Catholic connection to contemplative practices, and amazingly, Kent brings into her article Catholic priest Richard Rohr. Why amazing? Rohr’s spirituality would be in the same camp as someone like Matthew Fox who believes in pantheism and panentheism. For Willow Creek to include him in Willow speaks volumes about the level of spiritual deception that Willow Creek is now under. If Kent is right that spiritual formation is now mainstream, then this deception is mainstream as well. Incidentally, Richard Rohr wrote the foreword to a 2007 book called How Big is Your God? by Jesuit priest (from India) PaulCoutinho. In Coutinho’s book, he describes an interspiritual community where people of all religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity) worship the same God. Is this where Willow Creek is heading?
While the Willow issue says that they are not moving away from biblical principles, nothing could be further from the truth. For those reading this who may be new to the terms contemplative prayer and spiritual formation, it is quite simple. A mantric-style meditation is practiced so that the pray-er can enter a silent, altered state, which supposedly allows him or her to hear God’s voice and be transformed. However, because the premise of contemplative prayer is panentheistic (God in all), it is actually occultic in nature. We can say that, because in occultism all things are one, and there is no distinction between God and man – both enjoy equal glory. This is why research analyst Ray Yungen believes that the mystery of iniquity talked about in the book of Revelation could very well be mysticism. If man is brought under the delusion that he is part of God and one with God (with or without Jesus), then the Cross and the Gospel become of no effect (theoretically). It is Satan’s ultimate desire to be equal to God (Isaiah 14:14), and he tried to convince Eve of this in the Garden of Eden and continues to this day with his seductive alluring.
Some people have said that contemplative spirituality and the emerging church are just passing whims or trends. But that isn’t true, and Keri Wyatt Kent see that. She explains: “Spiritual formation is not a passing fad, but it does continue to shift and to change as the Church and its people grow.” Of course, what this really means is that where once the true nature of contemplative had to be disguised, more and more it can come out of the closet. No passing fad here. Contemplative is pure New Ageism, the devil’s religion to put it bluntly.
For those who realize that contemplative spirituality is the vehicle through which the kingdom-now, emerging church, dominionist views draw their strength and momentum, Willow Creek’s “shocking confession” will indeed be very shocking. As Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, and most other major leaders in Christianity today, stand arm and arm with contemplatives and emerging spirituality, those who understand biblical prophecy about the days prior to Christ’s return will realize that history is being made. But unfortunately, Scripture warns that Satan will deceive the whole world (Revelation 12:9) and that a great falling away will occur. Let us be sober-minded and diligent to stand for biblical truth and the Gospel that alone can save the soul that turns to Jesus Christ in humility and repentance, acknowledging Him to be God, Lord, and Savior.
But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober. For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night. But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation. I Thessalonians 5:1-8