Updated and enlarged March 10, 2008 (first published April 3, 2007) (David Cloud, Fundamental Baptist Information Service, P.O. Box 610368, Port Huron, MI 48061, 866-295-4143, firstname.lastname@example.org; for instructions about subscribing and unsubscribing or changing addresses, see the information paragraph at the end of the article) -
The book “The Purpose Drive Life” by Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in southern California has sold more than 18 million copies.
Saddleback is associated with the Southern Baptist Convention, but Warren’s “Purpose Driven” philosophy has spread to most denominations.
Called by Christianity Today “America’s most influential pastor,” Warren’s influence is vast. It reaches into every sphere of Christianity in our day, from Catholicism to Mormonism to liberal Protestantism to evangelicalism to fundamentalist Bible and Baptist churches.
Many independent Baptist churches are being influenced by Warren’s teaching. For example, Warren conducted a Purpose Driven Super-Conference in October 2003 at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia (Falwell affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention and the Baptist Bible Fellowship). Simultaneously, Warren’s 40 Days of Purpose campaign was shown by telecast in more than 4,000 churches, including independence Baptist.
Bruce Ryskamp, president of Zondervan, said, “The Purpose Driven Life is more than a bestseller; it’s become a movement.”
Over 12,000 churches from all 50 states in America and 19 countries have participated in Warren’s 40 Days of Purpose, which is drawn from the book. Over 60,000 pastors subscribe to Rick Warren’s Ministry Toolbox. He has provided materials and teaching to Christians in more than 117 countries on all seven continents.
Richard Bennett observes, “The movement is becoming a global empire.”
Rick Warren has been called “America’s pastor,” and it is for good reason. He is so shallow in his teaching, so positive in his approach, so slighting of repentance, so neglecting of unpopular doctrines such as hell and judgment and repentance, so tolerant of heresies, so enthusiastic of rock music, so soft-spoken on that nasty subject of worldliness, that apostate America can’t help but love him.
All of these characteristics are reflected in his best-selling book.
A FOUNDATIONAL ERROR IN WARREN’S BOOK IS THE EXTREME SHALLOWNESS AND INSUFFICIENCY OF HIS GOSPEL
In chapter 7, “The Reason for Everything,” Warren explains to his readers how they can become a Christian.
“If you are not sure you have done this, all you need to do is receive and believe. ... First, believe. Believe God loves you and made you for his purposes. Believe you’re not an accident. Believe you were made to last forever. Believe God has chosen you to have a relationship with Jesus, who died on the cross for you. Believe that no matter what you’ve done, God wants to forgive you. Second, receive. Receive his forgiveness for your sins. Receive his Spirit, who will give you the power to fulfill your life purpose. ... Wherever you are reading this, I invite you to bow your head and quietly whisper the prayer that will change your eternity. ‘Jesus, I believe in you and I receive you.’ Go ahead. If you sincerely meant that prayer, congratulations! Welcome to the family of God!” (The Purpose Driven Life, pp. 58, 59).
This is one of the most superficial “gospels” I have ever seen. There is nothing here that would offend or convict the Pope or a Mormon. It’s not the gospel that was preached in the book of Acts or Romans.
For one thing, there is no clear dealing with the sin issue. Warren’s book is intended for wide distribution in society at large, and it is not enough in such a context merely to mention the word sin. The average person in North America will admit that he is not perfect and that he is a “sinner” in some sense, but he also thinks of himself as a pretty good person. When he thinks of himself as a sinner, he does not mean what the Bible means, that he was shaped in iniquity and conceived in sin (Psa. 51:5), that his heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked (Jer. 17:9) and full of evil (Ecc. 9:3), that he is unrighteous and unprofitable (Rom. 3:10-11), that in his flesh dwells no good thing (Rom. 7:18), and that his very righteousness is as filthy rags before a holy God (Isa. 64:6). Warren’s incredibly shallow approach allows any person who will admit that he is a sinner in any sense to pray a prayer and then think of himself as a genuine Christian, even though he might continue to deny what the Bible says about sin.
There are many other things we could expose in Warren’s gospel. There is nothing about God’s holiness and justice. There is no clear teaching on what Jesus did on the cross. There is nothing about the blood. Warren invites the reader to “believe on Jesus.” What Jesus? People today believe in all sorts of false christs, but Warren does not warn them of this nor does he take the time to identify the true Jesus of the Bible in any clear fashion and to distinguish Him from false ones. Just a vague “believe on Jesus” and presto you are ready to heaven.
And Warren completely ignores repentance. There is not a hint here that the sinner must repent of his sin and idolatry and false gospels. This is not the gospel that Paul preached. Paul summarized his message as follows: “Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21). Warren says that he believes in the Great Commission and he mentions it in passing in The Purpose Driven Life, but he ignores repentance, which is a part of the Great Commission. Christ gave the Great Commission in Luke 24:44-48 and He commanded that “repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations.” Paul boldly preached repentance to the philosophers and idolaters in Athens, and if he were alive today, he would certainly preach repentance to the idolaters in America! Paul said that God “now commandeth all men every where to repent” (Acts 17:30), and we can be sure that God hasn’t changed His mind.
WARREN TEACHES A SELF-ESTEEM THEOLOGY UNDER THE GUISE OF WORSHIP AND SERVICE
Though Warren professes that his teaching does not exalt man but rather exalts God and he claims that he does not teach a self-help program, in reality he teaches nothing less than a Robert Schuller-style Self-Esteem theology.
Notice the following statements:
“The moment you were born into the world, God was there as an unseen witness, smiling at your birth. ... It proves your worth. If you are that important to God, and he considers you valuable enough to keep you for eternity, what great significance could you have? ... Anything you do that brings pleasure to God is an act of worship ... You may be gifted at mechanics or mathematics or music or a thousand other skills. All these abilities can bring a smile to God’s face. ... You only bring him enjoyment by being you. Anytime you reject any part of yourself, you are rejecting God’s wisdom and sovereignty in creating you. ... God also gains pleasure in watching you enjoy his creation. ... When you are sleeping, God gazes at you with love, because you were his idea. He loves you as if you were the only person on earth” (pp. 61, 64, 74, 75).
Here worship is turned on its head by making it as much about me as about God. I am so loveable and so important and so desirable to God that whatever I do brings God pleasure and therefore is worship. Wonderful me! The self-esteem theology is more about celebrating self than dying to self, even when it talks of dying to self! Warren says that if I reject any part of myself I am denying God’s sovereignty. What about sin and what it has done to “myself”?
Consider another statement from Warren’s popular book:
“If you want to know how much you matter to God, look at Christ with his arms outstretched on the cross, saying, ‘I love you this much! I’d rather die than live without you’” (p. 79).
Thus, the cross is sanctified by the self-esteem theology so that it is about me and how the Lord couldn’t live without me. Wonderful me!
Consider another statement:
“God is a lover and a liberator, and surrendering to him brings freedom, not bondage. When we completely surrender ourselves to Jesus, we discover that he is ... not a boss, but a brother...” (p. 79).
The self-esteem God is dedicated to liberating me. He is not a boss! He’s just a Big Buddy, a Powerful Pal.
Warren quotes from Olympic runner Eric Liddell. “To give up running would be to hold him in contempt.”
Thus, to deny what I am gifted at and what I like to do is to deny God. Isn’t it clever how that Warren has identified self will with God’s will so that they have become one and the same?
In fact, things I am gifted for and enjoy oftentimes come into conflict with God’s perfect will. God oftentimes calls upon an individual to give up even legitimate things for which he or she is highly gifted and qualified. Many men have given up such things when God called them to be a preacher or a missionary. Peter, James, and John gave up fishing. In the 1980s, I met a Chinese man in Singapore who was a brilliant chess champion. God had saved him and called him to preach and he was preparing himself in a Bible College. He told me how that for awhile he had written a column on chess for a newspaper for extra income toward his Bible training, but he discovered that it was not possible to keep the chess moves out of his mind when he was trying to study Scripture so he gave it up entirely, though he was highly gifted at it and enjoyed it. That is true dying to self.
Note the following quotes from chapters 30 and 31 of The Purpose Driven Life which deal with finding my place in God’s will:
“Listening to your heart. The Bible uses the term heart to describe the bundle of desires, hopes, interests, ambitions, dreams, and affections you have. Your heart represents the source of all your motivations--what you love to do and what you are about most. ... Don’t ignore your interests. Consider how they might be used for God’s glory. There is a reason that you love to do these things. ... How do you know when you are serving God from your heart? The first telltale sign is enthusiasm. When you are doing what you love to do, no one has to motivate you or challenge you or check up on you. ... The second characteristic of serving God from your heart is effectiveness. Whenever you do what God wired you to love to do, you get good at it. ... Figure out what you love to do--what God gave you a heart to do--and then do it for his glory. ... What I’m able to do, God wants me to do” (pp. 237, 238, 239, 243).
Note that Warren does not warn his readers that the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9). What a gross, inexcusable omission! While it is true that you can trust your desires to some small extent when you are a mature Christian and you are delighting in God and immersed in His Word and obeying Him (Psa. 37:4), how many of the readers of The Purpose Drive Life are in that condition? A great many of the millions of readers of this book are doubtless complete unbelievers or nominal Christians or novices or carnal, and to teach them that what they love to do is God’s will is frightful heresy. Many are professional sports fanatics, for example. Others are rock & roll fanatics. Others are fanatics about modern fashion trends. Are they fanatic about such things because that is the way that God made them? No, they are fanatic about such things because they are conformed to the world and walk in the way of sinners (Psalm 1:1; Romans 12:2).
There are many things that professing Christians are gifted for and effective at that are NOT God’s will!
Again, we see that when Rick Warren’s theology is examined carefully it is about self-fulfillment, but it is presented under the guise of worshipping and serving God.
Warren builds his self-esteem theology upon strange versions of the Bible. Consider an example:
“The Bible says, ‘Noah was a pleasure to the Lord.’ God said, ‘This guy brings me pleasure. He makes me smile” (The Purpose Driven Life, p. 69).
Warren is quoting Genesis 6:8 in the Living Bible. In fact, this verse should say, “But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD.” It has nothing to do with God getting pleasure from Noah. It has everything to do with Noah getting favor from the Lord! The Living Bible perverts this verse, turning it upon its very head. Nonetheless, since it fits Rick Warren’s theology he grabs hold of it and pretends that it is Scripture.
Consider another example of how Warren builds his self-esteem theology upon inaccurate versions of Scripture.
“The Bible says, ‘Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self’” (p. 19).
Here Warren quotes Matthew 16:25 in The Message. Actually, the verse should say, “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.”
WARREN SLIGHTS OVER HELL AND JUDGMENT AND THE FEAR OF GOD
The Lord Jesus Christ preached on hell frequently. There are nearly 100 references in Scripture to fearing the Lord, and God’s judgment is a never-ending theme of Scripture.
However, when it comes to Rick Warren, he does not mention God’s judgment, never urges his listeners to fear the Lord, and he makes only one passing reference to hell. This is on page 37, and in the same section, he quotes C.S. Lewis twice. Lewis believed that hell is a metaphor and a state of mind: “And every state of mind, left to itself, every shutting up of the creature within the dungeon of its own mind--is, in the end, Hell” (Lewis, The Great Divorce, p. 65).
Not only did the Lord Jesus Christ preach much on hell, but he also preached it hot and furious.
“And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. And if thy foot offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched” (Jesus Christ, Mark 9:43-48).
There is no a hint of this kind of preaching in Rick Warren’s woefully inadequate ministry.
If ever there were an hour in which the people of this world need to hear hell and judgment and the fear of God preached fiery hot and powerfully plain it is this present unbelieving, mocking, blasphemous, pleasure mad, self-loving, self-content, self-righteous age, but the popular preachers won’t touch it. It is too negative. Too damaging to self-esteem. Too dogmatic and intolerant. Too likely to offend and cut into the size of my audience.