Hybels not so clear.
I’ve been an admirer of Bill Hybels for many years. My first exposure to his teaching was way back in 1988. While driving back and forth between Salina and Manhattan (I was working as a youth minister) I would listen to at least 4 services a week. I was captivated by his clear communication style and by the art they used (back then their tapes still had the music and drama recorded on them). I started going to Willow Creek in 1996 and have been to the actual campus up there probably 5 or 6 times for conferences or services. More recently I’ve attended their Leadership Summit with volunteers from h.k10. The leadership training at the Summit is world class and it’s always been a phenomenal experience.
This year was a great summit, right up until the final session…then the wheels came off the cart. Hybels jumped up to give his last talk which was about communicating with clarity. About halfway through the talk, he takes a left turn and throws the gauntlet down on Substitutionary atonement. He insists this is the central message of Christianity. I was floored. Then he basically goes into this convoluted mix of penalty satisfaction and penal substitution (not the same things), which was very limited in scope. It basically took one explanation for the cross and for atonement and called it the only explanation. The problem is there are many biblical metaphors for this which he seemed to not be aware of.
What became very clear to me was the fact that when it comes to leadership, Hybels is your man. But if you want to talk theology, you better find a more astute theologian. This guy was so far out of his depth. I alternated between being angry at what he was saying and how he was saying it and feeling sorry for the guy because there had to be thousand if not more who were thinking what I was thinking.
About five minutes after he started in, I started getting text messages from some of my friends who were at the conference both at our site and around the country. I pulled in a couple of other guys from our church and it made for an interesting 30 minutes and made the talk more bearable.
Atonement is a hot issue in Christianity right now. There are a lot of people weighing in on this issue in theology. It’s really important to study and talk about these things. We need to hear everyone’s voice on this. However, in my humble opinion, what we don’t need are people who are just absolutely convinced their way of seeing it is the only right way. It’s such a complicated issue, it’s really not as cut and dried as Hybels tried to make it seem. We need to listen more and try to entertain other points of view. Now more than ever we need a well rounded view of the atonement. One which deals with the shedding of scales from our eyes which has occurred through new philosophies and cultural shifts and which deals with the sacred texts of the bible without running home to Anselm at every mention of the cross.