Nestled in the suburbs of Chicago rests one of America’s most well-known megachurches. Having been at the forefront of the seeker-friendly movement, Willow Creek and its senior pastor, Bill Hybels, continue to possess great influence within evangelicalism. Some regard that influence as favorable and some view it as detrimental.
In spite of the numerous questionable and concerning teachings and resources that have come out of Willow Creek, it nevertheless cannot be argued that it continues to be one of the largest self-proclaimed “Christian” entities today. It is for this reason, then, that professing Christians ought to take note and be wary of one of Willow Creek’s most recent guest speakers.
On 2 May 2012, Willow Creek welcomed Shane Hipps, teaching pastor at Mars Hill Bible Church (MHBC), to preach at their Midweek Worship Experience. This invitation ought to raise eyebrows because Shane Hipps has, on more than one occasion, propagated heretical teachings. Why, then, would such a large, professing Christian church welcome him to preach?
Now, the “H” word has been used, and likely many have stopped reading because it simply is not a “nice” term. It may prove helpful to persist in reading, however. As the successor to the famed Rob Bell at MHBC, Hipps, too, is a full blown member of what has come to be known as the Emergent Church. His sermons clearly demonstrate a mystical bent and he has not been shy to display his pluralistic religious beliefs. Nowhere is this more evident than in an incident in September 2011 when Hipps publicly shared that he would welcome a practicing Muslim to take communion in his church.
In Heretical Shane Hipps to Speak at Willow Creek, Ken Silva reminded:
You need to understand that Hipps is not orthodox in his teaching here; he’s a mystic who believes God already dwells within all of mankind. Consider Shane Hipps: Osama Bin Laden Indwelt By Holy Spiritwhere Hipps dreams:
This Logos affects everybody; including Osama bin Laden. As long as he’s got breath, in him is a spark of the divine.
As I said before, anyone who thinks the late terrorist Osama bin Laden exhibited any fruit whatsoever consistent with one who has been “born again,” i.e. regenerated (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:17), which must happen before one is indwelt by God—the Spirit of Christ—seriously needs to have their spiritual head examined. Not only that, but in his sermon “Wind in the Sail,” Hipps likens God the Holy Spirit to the wind which a given religion catches like a sail and then muses his mythology below:
The sail is like religion; the wind is the Spirit. You need a sail to catch the wind; to harness the wind, but ya gotta realize that sail isn’t the wind. The sail is actually dependent on the wind.
You see, here’s the crazy thing; the Spirit—the wind—doesn’t need sails in order for it to move about the world. The sails need the wind. So the Spirit, in order for it to move and operate in the world, has no need of religion.
But we—those of us made the way we are—for some reason, need sails in order to catch the wind. We need religious structures, external things…some religions are better equipped to catch the Spirit of God… (Online source)
Did you catch that; Hipps muses “some religions,” plural, “are better equipped to catch the Spirit of God.” No, God’s Word tells us quite plainly that the worship unbelievers offer is to demons and not to God (1 Corinthians 10:20). In other words, those in other religions are in the sin of idolatry (cf. Exodus 20:3).
It has already been adequately documented, then, that the teachings of Shane Hipps are not just misguided, but are outright heretical, standing in clear opposition to the Word of God. It therefore was intriguing to learn that Shane Hipps intended to speak about John 14:15-31during his time at Willow Creek.
The message is available online here, and this post will not offer a “play by play,” nor will it attempt to address all of the troubling “truths” that were taught. It is important, however, to touch on a few select items. First, though Hipps did not actually succeed in preaching through this entire passage, here, for the reader’s reference, is the biblical text around which this “Midweek Experience” was centered:
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.
“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?” Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.
“These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you before it takes place, so that when it does take place you may believe. I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me, but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us go from here. (John 14:15-31)
Shane Hipps began his talk by breaking down some key words in this biblical text. By engaging in this postmodern deconstruction, he brought his audience to a point where they were in awe of his scholarship and were willing to consume whatever Hipps would throw at them next.
The deconstruction continued with only the first half of verse 17, “even the Spirit of truth,” and this is where Hipps would camp for a time. As can be seen in the video below, Hipps proceeded to separate the idea of “truth” from the idea of “reality.” Yet, in truth (or in reality, whichever is preferable), aren’t these simply two sides of the same coin? If something is true, then it is a reality, and vice versa. Hipps, however, illustrated that a truth is merely an abstract thought or idea, while a reality is something tangible. His conclusion? The Greek text is really calling the Holy Spirit the “Spirit of reality” rather than the “Spirit of truth.”
Shane Hipps has now managed to eliminate the Holy Spirit’s responsibility to lead and illuminate the believer in all truth, and has instead turned this into something that ought to be more tangible and more emotive. “Jesus is offering us a spirit of reality,” says Hipps. This passage, he claims, is Jesus saying, “I will give you access to the things most real.”
Of this partial verse, Dr. John MacArthur writes,
He is the Spirit of truth in that He is the source of truth and communicates the truth to His own (v. 26; 16:12–15). Apart from Him, people cannot know God’s truth (1 Cor. 2:12–16; 1 John 2:20, 27). (MacArthur Study Bible)
What Hipps has done here is subtle, but destructive. He has pushed the focus away from the Spirit’s work in illuminating God’s truth. In fact, he conveniently ignores the second half of this verse, wherein Jesus declares that the Spirit is something available only to believers, something that cannot be obtained or understood by the unregenerate soul.
And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. (John 14:17)
Note what pastor Ken Silva says about this part of the verse:
1) If they have to receive Him, then He is not in them already; 2) the unbeliever cannot receive or know Him, 3) and again, Jesus sets a chasm between those unbelievers and His disciples in whom the Spirit will dwell. (Source)
Yet, Hipps most clearly did not make this distinction. Rather, he declared that “we are somehow containing the divine,” and that this is a truth that we seek to suppress and even deny. “We are God carriers,” states Hipps, “In Jesus we are allowed to let the divine dance within us.”
Now, some may argue that Hipps, in speaking at a supposedly Christian church, assumed that everyone understood that he meant only believers possess the Spirit. Perhaps, but his message offered no indication of this presumption. Instead, the over-arching insinuation throughout Hipps’ message is that all men contain this “diamond” of the divine. As such, he claims, men possess more power, love and wisdom than they could possibly ever use.
Scripture does indeed share that the believer possesses great blessings far beyond what he can comprehend or imagine. Ephesians 1 offers a wonderful teaching on this, as the Apostle Paul prays that believers might come to know the power, wisdom and great inheritance that is theirs in Christ Jesus. Yet Hipps subtly announces what he is attempting to teach here as he emphasizes that Jesus has said that, for example, “the Kingdom of Heaven is within you.” Jesus is saying, “I’m already in you,” and is “constantly trying to show us this reality,” says Hipps.
When Hipps notes that “we just assume that we are empty and are waiting for God to fill us,” yet Jesus is instead seeking for us to understand that “I’m already in you,” it sounds as though Hipps is essentially declaring what he has taught in the past: that all men contain “a spark of the divine.”
This Logos affects everybody; including Osama Bin Laden. As long as he’s got breath, [emphasizes] in him is a spark of the divine. (Source)
This idea of a “divine spark” within all men is a distinctly Gnostic one. If the reader is not aware, Gnosticism was one of the earliest heresiesto threaten the early church and, through the Emergent Church, it continues to plague Christianity today.
Humankind contains a perishable physical and psychic component, as well as a spiritual component which is a fragment of the divine essence. This latter part is often symbolically referred to as the “divine spark”. The recognition of this dual nature of the world and of the human being has earned the Gnostic tradition the epithet of “dualist”.
Humans are generally ignorant of the divine spark resident within them. [...] Death releases the divine spark from its lowly prison, but if there has not been a substantial work of Gnosis undertaken by the soul prior to death, it becomes likely that the divine spark will be hurled back into, and then re-embodied within, the pangs and slavery of the physical world.
In his message at Willow Creek, Shane Hipps was careful to declare that “this doesn’t make us divine.” This declaration falls short, however, of clarifying that what Jesus is teaching in this passage is that the Holy Spirit dwells within believers only as a Helper, an Advocate, a Teacher. Instead of teaching this, Hipps concluded his message by explaining that, “when you wake up to this reality [that within you is a "diamond" of the divine], then true peace can be obtained.
This teaching was accompanied by a somewhat disturbing story. Hipps relayed a time in college when he returned home for Easter break, plagued by worry and stressful times. His father, who Hipps described as a man “steeped” in prayer, noted that he sensed Shane had a “knot in his soul” and asked to pray for him. Hipps allowed the silent prayer and says that, as his father was praying, he became “aware of something…bigger.” Whatever was in me began to uncoil and unkink and open…and in that moment I had peace…”
This peace, this knowledge, says Hipps, “was already in me.” “This is what Jesus can do for us.” Apparently, then, Jesus makes us aware of the divine that is allegedly already within us. What we need to do is alter our orientation to this reality, the reality that “we are containers, carriers of the divine.” This, according to Shane Hipps, is the spirit of “reality” of which Jesus speaks in this passage from John 14.
Unfortunately, this uncoiling reality sounds dangerously similar to the mystical kundalinispirit that, according to Hindu teaching, supposedly resides in all men. In fact, it is not difficult to find references that attempt to make the Holy Spirit and the “kundalini shakti” synonymous:
Kundalini Shakti resides within us in either a contained or a released state. In her contained state, she is a tightly coiled static power that maintains the ordinary person’s physical life functions and mental capacities.
Kundalini Shakti is the living spiritual power within every human being. This sacred inner presence is the divine within, the holy light and love and life that illumines each of us and guides us to union with the One, the sacred Ultimate Reality beyond all phenomena. Known by many names and forms, he/she/it is the Holy Spirit who is each individual’s own inner personal spiritual director that empowers our spiritual striving and works to lead us to full spiritual realization. All human beings, regardless of era, religion, or culture, are vessels of this Light of all Lights who strives to take us to constant awareness of our true Source.
Is the divine within, the Holy Spirit, our inner spiritual director.
Exists within every human being in a released or unreleased state.
Is revered as the means for spiritual growth in human beings.
It is important to note that Shane Hipps made no explicit mention of kundalini, however his language was oddly particular. The reader is urged to not take this as an accusation, but as a warning that Hipps, who has propagated contemplative and mystical teachings in the past, was here alluding to something that sounds dangerously similar to the experience of the uncoiling of the kundalini spirit that supposedly is contained within every person.
Here, then, we see Willow Creek, one of the largest churches in America, inviting heretical, neo-Gnostic teachings into its midst. Perhaps many, like this writer, will not be surprised by this, and will find it in accord with much of what Willow Creek has done over the years. But for others who have sat in blissful ignorance, may this serve as a warning and a wake up call.
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error. (1 John 4:1-6)