Thinking Out Loud

March 24, 2018

Bill Hybels, John Ortberg: Why This Scandal Strikes Close to Home

John Ortberg (left) and Bill Hybels (right) – surprising combatants in a war of accusations.

Over the years, when a noted Christian leader has been accused or charged with any type of impropriety, it has usually taken place at a distance from what I would consider my circle. Typically these stories concern:

  • a Catholic priest
  • a member of the Reformed/New Calvinist community
  • a Pentecostal/Charismatic fringe church
  • a smaller African-American church
  • a story taking place overseas

This time it’s personal.

Bill Hybels was the subject of a Chicago Tribune story this week which rocked my world. (The term being used is sexual misconduct.) Part of the reason this hits closer to home is that he’s one of a select list of pastors whose sermons I listen to weekly. I’ve been onboard with Willow since a friend gave me a cassette entitled “Philosophy of Ministry” back in the early 1980s. I’ve championed the concept of seeker-friendly churches (most churches are seeker-hostile) and applauded them when they realized in 2007 that the spiritual needs of seekers had changed and that on their current course they were not producing long-term disciples. I’ve attended services at Willow; my wife attended a conference at the Northwest Chicago campus.

But John Ortberg, who is bringing the charges against Hybels is also on that list of pastors whose teaching has influenced me and I continue to enjoy. I tracked with Ortberg when he was on staff at Willow and have followed his sermons at Menlo Park Presbyterian. I’ve read and reviewed his books. When I started a church plant in my town, for six weeks we did the videos for If You Want to Walk on Water You Have to Get Out of the Boat.

I have had great respect for both men…

…As I’ve written before, my father was involved with Charles Templeton before and during the time when Templeton abandoned the faith (paving the way for Billy Graham, who once said he was only continuing the mandate which Templeton started and never finished.) This has taught me one very important principle:

In times like this we need to keep our eyes on Christ, not people.

We need to focus on Jesus, not Christian leaders or Christian institutions.

We need to not be surprised when stories circulate (a type of  ‘wars and rumors of war’ if you think about it) and continue to make Christ our focus.

For now, that’s all I have to say about this story. We’ll see how it plays out over the next days and weeks.  


Other coverage: See Christianity Today.


Update: A Chicago Daily Herald report on the 2-hour congregational meeting which took place Friday night at Willow. And the Chicago Tribune itself, where this week’s bombshell was dropped, also sent a reporter to the congregational meeting.

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