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Bill Hybels: Good Pastor, Not So Good Theologian

May 26, 2009

Well known pastor Bill Hybels begins his book The God You’re Looking For with a court room scene in which the prosecuting attorney presents a case for the non-existence of God because bad things happen to people. Now in theology and philosophy this is what is called a theodicy: the attempt to answer the problem of evil.

However, Hybels uses it as a basis to argue about God’s existence. Hybels does not directly answer the theodicy problem. He argues God exists regardless of these horrible problems. So for Hybels at this point you have a God that exists and horrible things happening. Then Hybels in perhaps one of the worst statements a Christian could make when theodicy is on the line writes:

He’s the God who has orchestrated every event of your life to give you the best chance to get to know Him, so that you can experience His love


Really, Bill?

Really, really?

Did you have the six year olds in your Sunday school class proof read the theology in this book or something?

You set up the problem of how can a good God allow bad things to happen and your response is, “He’s the God who has orchestrated every event of your life to give you the best chance to get to know Him, so that you can experience His love.”

OK Bill… Let’s roll with your “theology”

Rape Demotivator

Do we need to maybe rethink that statement yet?

Genocide Poster

Let’s hear Bill one more time…

Child Abuse Poster

Isn’t the God who is responsible for everything awesome?

Alzheimer's Posterf

The problem of evil is a very old, and very real problem, that rejects any pat answers. When Christians give pat, uniformed, ill thought through answers we turn God into a cosmic rogue, which is ironic in Hybels’ case as he was attempting to talk about the amazing love of God, but instead made God responsible for every event in our lives… and not just responsible but orchestrating it!

Bill, the God that is orchestrating sin events and death in my life is not the God I’m looking for. Sorry.

However, the God that can redeem horrible sin events in my life, the God revealed in Jesus Christ, the God who can “give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit,” I might be interested in that God.

*Sigh*… the front of the book says “pastor of Willow Creek, the Largest Church in America.” I imagine they are getting better than this on a fairly regular basis but this conception of God is terrible. I have a book in the beginning stages that deals alot with how do we talk properly about God. I may have to kick up the schedule on that one.

17 Comments leave one →
  1. May 26, 2009 11:55 am

    Good post Scott. I almost wonder if there is not really much of an answer we can give that doesn’t fall short. The only comforting answer I have ever heard is that God on the cross identifies with all our suffering and like the cross can ultimately bring redemption out of an evil situation. But until God gives us more of an answer than He gave Job, at least we have the lament tradition so that we don’t just have to sit quietly and take it.

  2. Jake permalink
    May 26, 2009 3:12 pm

    No Mike! According to Bill and Mr. Osteen, you WILL take it! And you will LIKE IT!!!

    • Mike Koke permalink
      May 26, 2009 3:38 pm

      Well, if I have to… 🙂

  3. meinmysmallcorner permalink
    May 26, 2009 3:17 pm

    Hmmm… Is Hybels the only famous ‘popularised’ preacher/teacher to pedal this? I think not…

  4. May 26, 2009 10:03 pm

    Imagine…a Christian Belief System that rejects pat answers and is robust enough to acknowledge very difficult issues without collapsing. Might be something to that!

  5. May 26, 2009 10:13 pm

    “good pastor” may be a bit of a stretch… At least, among the “growth movement,” unlike his confrere Warren at Brokeback Saddleback, Hybels is able to admit when he’s wrong. Turns out, contrary to his efforts over the last 20 years, bigger is not necessarily always better.

    Mike, your comment reminds me of an old adage we had in the Navy, to wit: “A bitching sailor is a happy sailor.”

  6. Jake permalink
    May 27, 2009 8:34 am

    Brian, you were in the Navy?

    Dude, that joke just writes itself!

    • May 27, 2009 8:41 am

      Not just in the Navy, but a submariner.

      I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Don’t knock man-love ’til you’ve tried it.

      Of course,you wouldn’t be speaking from a position of ignorance… 😀

  7. June 11, 2009 10:40 am

    Obviously I’m coming a bit late to this conversation. I guess I have two points to add.

    1. I personally don’t believe God orchestrates every event in our lives. I think he can redeem every event in our life. But I don’t think he always wants us to experience bad things.

    2. As the old saying goes, never quote a bible verse. Context is king.

  8. Kyle permalink
    July 3, 2009 2:13 pm

    It must be difficult to say the right thing, when you have to always twist it to fit into logic and reason.

  9. Tanja Guven permalink
    December 16, 2011 7:49 am

    I’d rather believe in an incompetent God than an actively malicious one.

  10. January 31, 2012 1:08 pm

    this is a world of chance God is here to help not hinder. god will use every event to steer and move us along towerds his son if we only let him. i dont agree with bill hybels even though i go to his church.

  11. Chris permalink
    February 11, 2012 8:20 pm

    Bill Hybels means well, but in this case he is mistaken. God gave us free will, and as such rarely takes a hand in human events and/or actions. People do horrific things to other people, the planet, other creatures, etc. because they choose to do so, for whatever reasons. God stays out of it. But we will all be held to account for our actions on the Day of Judgment.

  12. October 16, 2012 7:47 am

    God has indeed foreordained whatsoever comes to pass. This is the teaching of the Scriptures. God is not surprised by evil. And God is not the great Janitor in the sky, cleaning up the bad things that happen. However, the reasoning behind it is not the silly one that Hybels gave. God has foreordained whatsoever comes to pass for His own glory, and for the salvation, and sanctification of those whom He chose before the foundation of the world, to be conformed to the image of Christ.

    The evil that evil people (and we are all evil) commit is real, and those who do it are responsible for it. Yet God determined that the evil should happen. Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery, and God, through many trials and over much time, preserved Joseph, and brought him to a place of prominence, so that Joseph would prepare the way to save the lives of many. Joseph even said “It was not you who sent me here, but God”, even though they indeed did send him there, by means of their evil actions. Yet God was in control, and had foreordained those evil actions, all the while not approving of them in a moral sense.

    And then we have the greatest human wickedness that could ever occur, yet it was for that very purpose that Christ came. God would not have it any other way. Jesus was crucified by the hands of wicked men, yet it is said that it pleased GOD to bruise Him.

    That God has foreordained whatsoever comes to pass is merely a statement that God is God. There is nothing that is outside of God’s sovereign control. To say such is to deny that God is God. Evils such as rape, and genocide, child abuse, and dreadful diseases such as Alzheimer’s are just as much a part of God’s determinate plan as are love, life, kindness, and health. Just take the one – rape. For those who wish to deny God’s determined will, where do you say that God is while a person is being raped? Is He standing idly by, wringing His feeble hands, because He can’t mess with anyone’s almighty free will? Whatever happened to “The heart of the king is in His hands, and like a waterway, He turns it in whatever direction He wills”, and NUMEROUS other verses like it?

    Also, you shall be hard pressed, nay dumbfounded to find a single instance of the sort of libertarian “free will” of which so many of the previous commenters have spoken. The Bible says that we are all born into this world in the dreadful, fallen estate of our first parents — prone to evil. I repeat, PRONE to evil. Our hearts are NATURALLY inclined toward evil. It is our career by nature. We are lovers of evil, excusers of it, and approvers of it, encouraging others to do the same, and to be proud of it. ONLY when the natural is changed by the Spirit of God do we have a new inclination towards righteousness, though we must continue to fight against the vestiges of sin for the rest of our lives.

    So when God not only permits, but has actually foreordained the rape and abuse of people, He does so against those who are guilty of cosmic treason. God is not punishing the innocent. None are innocent. God doesn’t owe goodness, kindness, nor salvation to any. He owes them His wrath and indignation for all eternity. Therefore we should not be surprised at evil, but surprised at grace. That’s why it’s called amazing.

    Obviously I’ve spoken way too long for a mere internet comment. But there’s so much to say on this topic. I would highly suggest that you all read (and/or watch the series) “The Holiness of God” by RC Sproul. And then follow it up with “Chosen By God”. If you will do so prayerfully, carefully, I believe you’ll be refreshed by the God who has revealed Himself in the Scriptures, and (by God’s grace) cast aside the idol that we all-too-often erect in our own image and call it by His name.

    The Lord bless and keep you.

  13. June 24, 2013 2:56 am

    I have to say that there is a hell of a lot of different ideas on why we have such evil in the world. Friedrich Nietzsche said “God is Dead”. Others, like this pastor, seem to think that even this despicable world of rape and murder is “The Best Possible Condition.” Others say it is a symptom of our own sin, and that “God is Not Responsible.”

    But…I actually disagree. I believe in the God who DELIBERATELY CREATED Satan…because there was no other way to create free will in the Human Race…at least, not anything we (present-day) humans would call “Free,” anyways.

    If physicists like Dr. Stephen Hawking are correct, and–in defiance of Albert Einstein, they seem to be–God is actually a gambler, a gamer, and a tinkerer–who may know all that is knowable, but…maybe even HE doesn’t know what is possible–until it actually becomes a possibility!

    So…he created a Tempter, and set the Tempter to work on us. Think of the world like a game of chance, or a scientist’s laboratory. The Creator must continue to tweak, monitor, and adjust His experiment. Or maybe, like a game, He must give each player a turn in order to achieve his fair victory. And in our case, it’s not the Creator’s turn…it’s Satan’s turn!

    Whatever the real reason why we have to deal with Evil, I’m confident there’s much more to it than “God Allowing Evil” or “There is no God at all!” I’m convinced God has done (and continues to do) EXACTLY what has to be done. But in our case, allowing rapists and murderers to exist and often go unpunished is simply one of the unfortunate consequences of that necessity. Life sucks…but then, maybe it would be even worse if it weren’t for a loving God.

    In the end, all we can do is wait, and trust in the ultimate plan of God, and hope that we don’t get raped and murdered in the mean time. Or at the very least…hope that it is quick, when it finally happens.

    SASS has Spoken.


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