Willow Creek & Psychoheresy


The seeker-sensitive Willow Creek Community Church has embraced the emotionalism, self-enhancing subjectivity, popular vocabulary, and self-seeking goals of psychotherapy and the recovery movement, along with their underlying psychologies. Rather than looking only to the Lord and His Word, leaders at Willow Creek have been looking elsewhere. In addition to using the sales and management methods of the world, they have incorporated the world’s methods of helping people deal with emotional pain and tragedy. They evidently believe secular psychological ideas to be so significant and essential for modern seekers that they give them Christ plus psychology—a syncretism that adapts and even perverts Christ and His Gospel.

In his book Prophetic Untimeliness: A Challenge to the Idol of Relevance, Os Guinness identifies the following "four steps to end disastrously in unfaithfulness and irrelevance":

Something modern is assumed (step one). As a consequence, something traditional is abandoned (step two), and everything else is adapted (step three). The outcome is that what remains is not only adapted but absorbed by the modern assumptions. It is assimilated without any decisive remainder. The result is worldliness, or Christian capitulation to some aspect of the culture of its day (pp. 61-62).

When psychotherapy and its underlying psychologies are assimilated with the Gospel and with the Bible, the Gospel and the meaning of various Bible texts are adapted and altered so that they no longer mean what they meant even 50 years ago. The Bible is God’s unchanging Word, but when it is assimilated with notions from a psychologized culture, the result is no longer what God said or meant. Woe to those who assimilate to the point of not having "any decisive remainder" of the true Word of God in meaning or understanding.

The assimilation of psychotherapy and its underlying psychologies greatly influences numerous areas of ministry at Willow Creek. As an example of how psychoheresy is fed to seekers, we will examine Lynne Hybels’ talk "Time Out," which is still available on audio tape through the Willow Creek Association.

"Something Modern Is Assumed (Step One)"

Mrs. Hybels begins her talk with Ecclesiastes 3:3 and emphasizes the words "a time to heal." She describes how she needed "a time to heal." In fact, she says that her time out for healing lasted three years, during which she concluded that wives of Christian leaders are wounded and that they are "running away from that woundedness." To help these and other women see how wounded they are, Mrs. Hybels lists symptoms and signs of woundedness. In reading through the list, one can clearly see that the source of her information is one of the most pseudoscientific, subjective branches of psychology—that is, psychotherapy and its underlying psychologies. Here we clearly see that "something modern is assumed."

At Willow Creek psychotherapy and its underlying psychologies, along with the pop psychology of the recovery movement, are assumed to be both helpful and trustworthy. However, scientific research has not shown these to be any more effective than other interpersonal means of help. Moreover, outcome studies show that professional psychological counseling can have negative effects. In addition, these therapeutic systems use ideas and methods that come from secular and sometimes occult sources. (See PsychoHeresy: The Psychological Seduction of Christianity and The End of "Christian Psychology.")

From this position of erroneous assumption, Mrs. Hybels lists the symptoms of woundedness: "depression," a "drivenness to prove we are competent," "ongoing feeling of guilt and shame," "feeling that you’re never doing enough for God," "low self-esteem," "hating ourselves," a "critical spirit towards ourselves ... [and] others," "fatigue," "insecurity," "jealousy," "resentment or anger, bitterness or rage." She declares, "These are signs of woundedness." This list centers on self, turns sins into signs, and comes from psychological notions that focus on self and feelings rather than on God and His Word.

Mrs. Hybels has placed all of these feelings, thoughts, and attitudes into a psychological category of "symptoms of woundedness," in which the "wounded woman" is a victim who needs healing, rather than a sinner who needs forgiveness and/or a Christian who needs to know Jesus in the fullness of His person in the difficulties of life. Notice how a psychological diagnosis and description of symptoms demand a psychological remedy, whereas a biblical description and "diagnosis" would elicit a biblical response and remedy. The psychological way focuses on self, uses the opinions of the world, and nourishes the flesh. The biblical way focuses on the Lord, uses His Word empowered by the Holy Spirit, and brings forth new life in Christ and nourishment for that new life in the believer.

"Something Traditional Is Abandoned (Step Two)"

Rather than looking to the Lord and to the Word of God, Mrs. Hybels chose the psychological way to understand herself and describe her problems. She talks about the pain of having to be a "perfectionist," of being one who "can’t be yourself," who experiences "loneliness" and "sexual dysfunction," and who feels "trapped" by "one big should" into being a "people pleaser" and an "empty shell." She says that during May 1990 she felt, "I can’t go on like this...." She then confesses that in January 1991, at the age of 39, she went to a counselor. She says she "didn’t know how to be happy ... to like myself." One must ask the question, "Where was Jesus in her thinking?"

>From her time spent in therapy and in psychological self-help books, Mrs. Hybels picked up the psychological lingo, the psychobabble and catch phrases from pop psychology, so prevalent during the nineties. Moreover, she embraced a psychological world view that shifts blame onto other people and circumstances. From this psychological perspective, she describes various ways women may become wounded by being in the ministry, by being married to "wounded workaholics," by being a product of one’s parents, and by being harmed by evil people.

She says she had lost touch with her "true self," which she calls "the deepest part of me," which she describes as "instinctive, intuitive, spontaneous, creative, playful, vulnerable, unpretentious, joyous, free, spiritual, passionate, loving. . . ." The word "sinful" is missing from her list. However, she does use the word "shame" and says, "Shame is a big word for people who have been wounded." Mrs. Hybles follows the recovery gurus where "shame" is something that is unwarranted and wrongfully imposed on someone. The recovery movement has robbed the word "shame" of its general meaning having to do with the feeling that arises from one’s conscience from having done something wrong.

While Mrs. Hybels says she did not like herself, her list of positive qualities, "instinctive, intuitive, spontaneous, creative, playful, vulnerable, unpretentious, joyous, free, spiritual, passionate, loving," minus "sin" reveals the opposite. In contrast to the positive qualities ascribed to herself, one notices throughout her talk the negative qualities ascribed to God and others.

Mrs. Hybels says she had been living "above the wound," not according to her "true self." Her description of "above the wound" includes words such as "knowledge, intellect, fitting in, properness, caution, careful planning ... being good, being right and being in control and being successful." Notice that we have another list of positive qualities, but here she indicates that these were actually harmful to her, since they served as camouflages designed to protect the "real me hidden beneath the wound." She says, "I was separated from my true self." In her desperation she turned to self-help books (generally filled with pop psychology or a dangerous mix of psychology and the Bible) and went to a counselor, which she declares was "the hardest thing I ever did, but it was the best thing." She further admits that from June 1992 to September 1993 she "did not cook, clean, attend church. . . ."

Rather than using this emotional crisis in her life as a catalyst to draw closer to the Lord, she turned to the ways of the world and the wisdom of men about which God warns His people (1 Cor. 2). She had to "acknowledge and name" her wound, quit living in "denial," "feel the feelings associated with that wound," and realize that what she was really suffering was a grief she had experienced for 31 years over the "wounded little girl in me." She says, "I needed to rediscover my true self," and asserts that "wounded women need to value themselves more."

Here we have a gospel of self—a so-called healing of the so-called inner child, a wonderful "true self" that has always been there that needs to be released and restored, and an ongoing affirmation of self-worth. This is indeed a different gospel from the one in the Bible, where the old self (including the precious "inner child" of the past) must be crucified in Christ (put off and counted dead) and replaced by new life in Christ, which is not a restoration of the old self, but is a new creation, which "after God is created in righteousness and true holiness" (Eph. 4:24).

One of the enticing goals of the psychological way is to value self more. Whereas, the biblical goal is to know, love, and value God. Paul yearned to know Jesus, not only in His resurrection but in His suffering. Along with spending time with Jesus in prayer and Bible reading, one of the best ways to come to know Christ very personally and intimately is through suffering. We know Him better as we identify with Him in His suffering and are filled with gratitude for His ultimate sacrifice on our behalf. One misses this great opportunity to know Him and to be conformed to His image when one turns to the world for its remedies for suffering.

"Everything Else Is Adapted (Step Three)"

After describing her woundedness, seeking counseling, learning the psychological way, journaling from a psychologically tainted world view, and finding her own personal worth, Mrs. Hybels tells about how she was then able to renew her fellowship with the Lord. However, the Lord and His Word are now seen from a new perspective. While her former view may have been distorted, she has now adapted God and His Word to her new psychological world view.

She says that when she realized she was wounded she had to turn her back on God. She declares, "The God I had served and worshipped for over 30 years was not the true God." She says that she had come out of "harsh fundamentalism" where she saw God as a "taskmaster." In contrast to a faulty, critical view of God, Mrs. Hybels reveals an uncritical view of herself, for she declares, "I never rebelled against my parents, God, teachers, or anybody." In other words, from her perspective God was bad and she was good. What a poignant example of Jeremiah 17:9: "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?"

Mrs. Hybels’ statement, "I never rebelled against my parents, God, teachers, or anybody," is the equivalent of saying she never sinned, because every sin is rebellion against the Lord. As Jesus clearly demonstrated in His Sermon on the Mount, sin is more than outward actions. She evidently had a distorted view of both God and self, but secular psychological theories about the soul only provide another distortion. Rather than seeking to know God better through her pain, she sought to know herself through the psychological opinions of men.

Mrs. Hybels talks about turning away from her false view of God and about "nourishing" herself. She says, "A very wise friend of mine said, ‘Forget Paul, forget the Epistles, forget the Old Testament. Just read Jesus. Just get to know Jesus.’" She then continues her idea of getting to know Jesus. She talks about "the way Jesus related to children" and how He "didn’t belittle women" and how Jesus loved that deepest part of her—the real her. As great as Jesus’ love and tenderness are for His lambs, it is very easy to form a false view of Jesus at the extreme opposite of her false view of God as a harsh taskmaster. Jesus had to die for mankind to bear their penalty for sin because all come under the condemnation of sin. His love surpasses the psychological sentimentality of Jesus loving "the real me," as if the "real me" can be separated from the so-called "false me." That dichotomy is psychobabble, not biblical.

After immersing herself in the psychological wisdom of men about her inner child and how the inner child is to be nourished, she began to see Jesus in a very nourishing role. She began to read the Bible in a very personal way so that she was able to find verses of "affirmation, truth, and love." A person can select certain verses that make one feel good about oneself. But, is one’s relationship with Christ all about self and how one needs Jesus to make one feel worthwhile or is it all about Jesus as He has revealed Himself in the Bible? What is really nourished through this mix of psychological and recoverty ideas about the self with the Bible? The flesh or the new life in Christ?

One can see the influence of occult psychiatrist Carl Jung on Mrs. Hybels’ new view of Jesus, for she says, "He is, you know, both male and female. We forget that, you know." Forget? Where is this male-female version of Jesus in the Bible? Jesus is fully God and fully man, but He is not both male and female. He is God the Son, of the same essence as the Father and the Spirit, and He is Savior, Lord, and Judge. One cannot separate Him from the Old Testament, because the Old Testament is all about Him.

It is very easy to create an imaginary Jesus. Many do so through inner healing techniques and hypnosis. But, while an imaginary Jesus may feel very good, he is worse than a facsimile. He is a misrepresentation—an impostor!

The First Lady of Willow Creek has truly done her part in bringing the psychological way and the secular recovery movement into her husband’s organization. However, she is not the only one to do so. There has been a joint effort to be seeker-sensitive and relevant to the degree that Bill Hybels and his management team trust, preach, and promote psychological/recovery ideas, counseling, and self-help books. In his book Willow Creek Seeker Services: Evaluating a New Way of Doing Church, G. A. Prichard says, "Three of the most recommended, read, and influential books in the church are the psychological self-help books Codependent No More, Please Understand Me, and When Your World Makes No Sense (p. 227).

We critique Melody Beattie’s book Codependent No More in our book 12 Steps to Destruction: Codependency/Recovery Heresies. Beattie is not a Christian, but believes in a god of her own imagination. Her book reeks of centering on self, nurturing self, loving self, empowering self, putting self first, and having a high regard for self. Beattie’s idea of God does not match the God of the Bible. Hers came from a strong impression she experienced as she took her last puff of marijuana. Nevertheless, one can see that Beattie’s view of life and of God is revered at Willow Creek, since her book is the most read and recommended.

We include a brief critique of Please Understand Me (the second most-recommended book at Willow Creek) in our book Four Temperaments, Astrology & Personality Testing. The authors, David Keirsey and Marilyn Bates, use the same Jungian system of personality types that is used in the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), which we also critique in our book. These typologies and personality tests are popular because they appear to give understanding. However, they are not trustworthy. Nevertheless, those at Willow Creek trust these faulty, man-made, secular means of understanding themselves and others.

Pritchard says, "[Bill] Hybels exhorts the weekend audience, ‘Please buy Dr. Cloud’s book entitled once again, When Your World Makes No Sense, because the section in that book on boundaries is the single best section on boundaries I’ve ever seen in print.’" Pritchard says that hundreds of Willow Creekers were reading that book and that staff members had told him that "this book was currently the most influential in their lives and in the church" (p. 227).

Attorney Debbie Dewart has written an excellent critique of Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend. Near the end of her critique titled "Boundaries: Political or Personal?" she says:

The concept of "boundaries," contrary to the claims of Drs. Cloud and Townsend, is not a biblical one.... The authors’ claim that "setting boundaries" is designed ultimately to make possible the love of God and others. However, there is absolutely nothing about the necessity for the believer to be willing to endure hardship and persecution for the cause of Christ. The whole mentality of "boundary" setting cries against the willingness to joyfully face such trials. Instead, "setting boundaries" feeds into the inherent self-focus of the human heart. Man naturally protects, loves, nourishes, and cherishes himself and his own interests. Man has turned from the glory of God to seek his own glory. What he needs to learn is not how to "set boundaries" and protect himself, but how to die to self and serve Christ without reservation (pp. 39-40).

Pritchard provides additional concern as he quotes the following from Cloud’s book When Your World Makes No Sense:

Across the land, people are increasingly seeking the answers to emotional and psychological struggles and even Christians find that their "spiritual" answers sometimes leave them less than whole.

I tried the "standard" Christian answers for myself and others, and I came to the same conclusions that Job reached: they are worthless medicine.

I also tried to "baptize" psychological insights so that they would somehow feel "Christian" enough to allow me to think that my "theological" answers and training were the real key to healing. Somehow that never worked, either (Cloud, p. 10).

Pritchard then says: "Cloud’s solution in this book is to use psychological ideas as his fundamental guidelines for living life." He says that, while Cloud continues to use Scripture in his book, "the primary grid that Cloud uses to interpret the Bible are four psychological ideas: ‘(1) bonding, (2) boundaries, (3) resolving problems of good and bad, and (4) establishing authority.’" Pritchard says, "The consequence of this approach is an amalgamation of Bible stories and verses into a psychological matrix," with the result that "psychological terms like ‘boundaries’ become the primary ethical categories that are used to describe how individuals should live" (pp. 227-228). We call that "psychoheresy" and it permeates Willow Creek, which depends heavily on these faulty, powerless, vain philosophies of men. Through assumptions, assimilation, and adaptation to the psychological way, Willow Creek has lost sight of "the faith which was once delivered to the saints," while yet retaining those aspects of Christianity that do not interfere with a headlong rush into psychoheresy.

Back to the Lord and His Word

Painful circumstances in a Christian’s life can serve as great opportunities to know Christ and to be conformed to His image. Paul did not waste time licking his wounds in self pity. One can find numerous passages that extol the usefulness of suffering, not only for spiritual growth, but for usefulness in ministry and for future glory. Paul even gloried in his tribulation (Romans 5:3). He revealed an eternal perspective:

...but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal (2 Cor. 4:16-18).

Christians need not follow the example of Willow Creek. In contrast, they may follow the examples of believers who have responded to suffering by trusting God and seeking to know Him more. We mention only one here, as reported in three issues of Moody Bible Institute Monthly. The September 1930 issue described the progress of Arthur and Ethel Tylee’s pioneering a work with the Nhambiquara Indians in Brazil. They had made some good progress in "overcoming prejudice, cultivating confidence, acquiring a smattering of their language, and giving the first demonstrations of Christian love."

However, the December 1930 issue reported the tragic deaths of Arthur Tylee, Mildred Kratz (a nurse who had joined the work), and the Tylees’ baby at the hands of the very Indians they loved and served. While the Tylees had made some progress gaining their confidence, conflict developed between the Indians and government workers who were attempting to erect a telegraph line through the area. Evidently the tribe’s animosity towards outsiders confused them and led them to attack the missionaries, who were easy targets as they opened their home to the Indians. Mrs. Tylee was seriously wounded, but survived. The following is quoted from the June 1931 issue of Moody. It is Mrs. Tylee’s letter of January 4, 1931, written from the very place where she lost her husband, baby, and friend:

Dear Friends:

To you who have been so faithful in your intercession for us and the work in Juruena, I am sending this message that you may know that your prayers have not been in vain. I want to tell you how I have been sustained and kept by the mighty outpouring of His love and grace in answer to your prayers. I also want you to know how Arthur counted on you and your prayer fellowship in the task God gave him to perform. I do not think a single Wednesday night passed that he did not think of you as you were meeting for prayer and praise.

But I long especially that not one of you should allow yourself to feel that there has been any failure on the part of those in Juruena or the prayer helpers in the homeland. We must believe that all happened according to the plan of an all-wise and loving Heavenly Father, even to the smallest detail. I do not say we must understand, but only believe.

I know many of you have wondered if we had any warning or any preparation for what happened. To that question I have to answer both yes and no. As to warning, we were just a little puzzled by some of the things that occurred in the two preceding days, and yet we had no grave apprehensions. Arthur is now in the presence of his Lord and to him all has been made plain, while I am still groping in the darkness, yet even in the darkness I can trace the working of my Father’s loving hand, and not one thing would I have different.

How distinctly I recall each movement of my loved one on that last morning as he attended faithfully to the little everyday details of our life. There was his quiet time with the Word, sitting at his desk; the transplanting of some young trees; the work in the garden. All went on as it had for so many days previous, but as it never was to again. Then came breakfast. We ate it as we had eaten many another meal, surrounded by Indians.

As Arthur ate his breakfast, the chief sat by him discussing the work on the auto road which had been planned for the day. He arose from the table to attend to the final preparations. My meal had been interrupted several times so the others excused themselves and left me to finish. I had not left the table when the signal was given and in a few minutes all was over. To you it may seem ghastly, but to me it was not so. No long, lingering illness accompanied by suffering and the wasting away of his strength. One swift, clean blow and he was ushered into the presence of his Lord. How I love to remember him as I saw him last, in the strength of his manhood!

As for our preparation, I wonder if there could have been a better one? I think not. What so prepares us for the big things of life, whether they be joys or tragedies, as a quiet daily walk with our Father, meeting each temptation or each danger in the strength of the Lord and faithfully performing each day’s task. The years we had spent in Juruena, often facing danger, gave us a quiet, calm assurance in His keeping power that was with us to the last.

For Arthur, I am sure no further preparation was needed to meet his Lord, nor did it seem the least bit strange to him to find the veil removed and to see Him face to face. As I came back from the darkness of unconsciousness to find myself not only without my own family but to find my entire household gone, it was to know a Father’s care so tender, so gentle, that even the intense loneliness of the first day’s separation were made sacred and hallowed. The "Kindly Light" that never fails made even those days luminous with His presence. So I ask you to believe with me that no accident has happened but only the working out of our Father’s will. To you who knew and loved Arthur I beg you not to mourn him as dead, but to rejoice with me that he has been called to higher service.

But what of the work he laid down? Are the years of patient labor and unceasing prayer to be lost? That is for us to answer. Shall we not dedicate ourselves anew to the task of bringing the Gospel to the Nhambiquara Indians, for if anything can add to Arthur’s joy in the Gloryland it will be to share the joys of heaven with the dark friends he so dearly loved and to whom he gave "the last full measure of devotion."

Sincerely, Ethel Canary Tylee

Do we serve a different Savior and Lord in the 21st Century? Or can we yet choose the way of the Lord and His Word rather than the psychological way that has spiritually crippled so many saints through the deceptions of psychoheresy? Whom shall we serve? The God of faithful Ethel Tylee or the Willow Creek makeover? The God who appeared to Job without the aid of psychological theories or therapies or the Willow Creek version? We pray that pastors and church leaders will repent of using the wisdom of men, about which God has warned us, amalgamating it with the Word of God, and feeding this toxic psychoheresy to their flocks. And, we pray that believers everywhere will recognize and reject this insidious deception.

PAL V12N5 (Sept-Oct 2004)


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PsychoHeresy Awareness Ministries
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