Where Seeker Friendly Came From
The Seeker Friendly phenomenon had its genesis with Robert Schuller of Crystal Cathedral fame. It was first popularized in his book “The Power of Positive Thinking.” Two of his first disciples were Bill Hybels and Rick Warren, creators of the modern Mega Church. Hybels coined the term “Seeker Friendly” to describe an approach to evangelism that was high on self-esteem and low on contrition for sin. He turned the church from a house of worship into an auditorium replete with all the latest media technologies, a coffee shop, bookstore, and even indoor waterfall. In so doing, he drew thousands of people to Sunday services and various programs designed to appeal to their needs and tastes. But many of these people have never come to a realization of their need for forgiveness of their sins.
Mega Churches in Trouble
The founders of both the Crystal Cathedral and Willow Creek Community Church have since run into serious trouble. The Crystal Cathedral amassed over $57 million in debt and was sold to the Catholic Church in 2010.(1) This is sad because Schuller originally based his teaching at least partially on the doctrines of John Calvin, one of the great Protestant reformers.
Bill Hybels has recently been asked to step down over allegations of sexual misconduct. (2) Ironically, a woman will be taking his place as head pastor. Willow Creek’s troubles are clearly not over since it is now taking a new direction that contradicts the clear teaching of scripture. 1 Tim 2:15 says: “Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.”
Softening the Demands of the Gospel
I once attended a Bible study with some members of Willow Creek Church. One of the women strongly objected to the idea that unbelievers should be confronted with their sins when presented with the gospel. She said she never would have come to Christ had she been faced with her sin before she heard the benefits of the gospel. This false belief is at the very heart of the mega church. It betrays a lack of understanding of the sovereignty of God in salvation. The Bible says that the natural man cannot receive the things of the spirit. (1 Cor 2:14) So of course no one will react positively to the charge that she is a sinner. But Jesus says that at the moment of conversion the Holy Spirit brings new spiritual life and the ability to repent. That is what it means to be born again. That is the whole point of Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus. (Jn 3:3-8)
At the point of conversion, we are born again. We are raised from death unto life and given the ability to respond to Christ in repentance and faith. (Gal 2:13; Eph 2:5) God the Father draws us to Christ. (Jn 6:37) We do not choose Him, He chooses us. (Jn 15:16). Therefore, it is not necessary to soften the demands of the gospel in order to encourage faith in Christ. Those whom God chooses will not be offended. They will be irresistibly drawn to Christ.
John the Baptist, Jesus and the apostles all began their appeals with a call to repentance. None of them soft-pedaled the severity of sin. In fact, at Pentecost Peter accused his listeners of killing the Son of God Himself, “this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” (Acts 2:23). When the people realized what they had done, they were so horrified they exclaimed, “Brothers, what shall we do?” In other words, “Is there any hope for us after the awful thing that we have done?“(Acts 2:37) Peter responded, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” (Acts 2:38) And three thousand people were added to the church that day!
Where Disobedience Leads
At a conference I recently attended, Albert Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Convention and astute commentator on contemporary society, made the point that when a church departs from the clear teaching of scripture, certain consequences naturally follow. In the case of Willow Creek Community Church, when a body of believers rejects the teaching of scripture on the role of women in the church, that church ultimately embraces all the modern trends toward gender neutrality – that is gay rights, transgenderism, and gender dysphoria. Why? because it has undermined the basic authority of the Bible on these matters and replaced it with secular relativism.
Having departed from orthodox doctrine on soteriology and now embraced modern sexual mores, let us see where Willow Creek Church ends up next.
1. Crystal Cathedral Founder Robert Schuller Dies, USA Today, April 2, 2015, https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2015/04/02/robert-schuller-obit/70824954/
2. Hybels Steps Down From Willow Creek After Allegations of Misconduct, Chicago Tribune, Sunday, April 17, 2018, http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-met-hybels-willow-creek-resigns-20180410-story.html