Rick Warren's
"The Purpose Driven Life"

Hailed as the #1 New York Times Bestseller, Warren's book is not only endorse by much of the Evangelical community but for many churches practically replaces the Bible as the #1 evangelistic tool. Instead of advertising the Bible, churches put up huges posters with a great deal of hype inviting people to study Rick Warren's book. But what gospel and what "Jesus" does this book preach? And why is there not equal hype for a basic gospel of John study? Consider even the hype advertized on the book's cover. Lee Stobel says, "if you only read one book on what life is all about - make it this one!" But I would recommend the Bible instead. And it also says, "You'll never be the same after reading this!" Really! I read it and I'm the same! What's up with that?

My church is into this book and I'm preparing to lead a Warren study but despite being hyped as an evangelistic tool I find the book is not really geared for evangelism nor discussion other than applications of the book's propositions. It seems to be primarily geared towards shallow Christians. But it seems to me shallow Christians would benefit much more from Bible study than from a Rick Warren study. So I don't get the hype.

Now concerning objections to the idea of critiquing his writings, in Warren's companion book "The Purpose Driven Church" he says (pg 62)  "Never criticize what God is blessing" Yet that idea is not only unBiblical but a dangerous theology allowing for corrupt doctrine to influence the gullible. For one could say that since some blessing resulted from his book therefore God endorses the whole book which should then be reckoned infallible. Or the "blessing" may simply be measured in terms of numbers, attendance or the like, without regards to what is actually being increased. Afterall would a farmer consider it a "blessing" if the numbers of weeds in his field increase. And indeed the Bible itself warns against making "increase" the measure of blessing. For weeds grow faster than trees, and leaven simply puffs up the loaf with hot air. Speaking of nominalism in the church Jesus tells the parable of the leaven saying, "The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened." And so also the Bible says, "Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true." Acts 17:11 And so how much more should Warren's books be critiqued?

Becoming a Christian - Warren Style

In the video tape with goes along with the book Warren has people pray a prayer at the end of the first session that goes like this:
"Dear God, I want to know your purpose for my life. I don't want to base the rest of my life on wrong things. I want to take the first step in preparing for eternity by getting to know you. Jesus Christ, I don't understand how but as much as I know how I want to open up my life to you. Make yourself real to me. And use this series in my life to help me know what you made me for"
The Warren goes on to say:
"Now if you've just prayed that prayer for the very first time I want to congratulate you. You've just become a part of the family of God."
This is the gospel according to Rick Warren. Nothing about sin. Nothing of Christ's death and resurrection. Nothing about acknowledging Christ as the Son of God, nor as Lord, nor as Savior. While the prayer is appropriate for seekers, such a prayer does not make one a Christian. A person becomes a Christian through faith in Christ - faith which is based upon information which Warren does not provide. For faith comes from hearing the message of the Bible.

But Warren himself contradicts the proposition he has made here by saying in his book (pg 58) that you must first believe God loves you and has chosen you to have a relationship with his son who died on the cross for you. Second to recieve Jesus into your life as Lord and Savior. Receive his forgiveness for your sins. Then he has people pray, "Jesus, I believe in you and I recieve you." And then he claims anyone praying that prayer has entered the family of God. While this is an improvement over the tape, again Warren provides insufficient information for a person to come to legitimate faith in Christ. For those who haven't read the Bible and are unfamiliar with the Christian faith, what would it mean to them that Christ "died on the cross for you". What does it mean that he is Lord and Savior. Savior from what? And what does he mean by "sin"? And again there is nothing about Christ's resurrection from the dead which is alway included when the gospel is preached in the Bible, and which would affirm Christ's claims. The Christian faith is not to be based on the gullible acceptance of religious claims. The message is affirmed by miracles, which are included in the gospel accounts, but along with many other things Warren leaves out in his presentation of the Gospel.

A popular myth in much of the modern Evangelical movement is that by simply praying a prayer based on minimalist information automatically saves a person. That's not the gospel. That is not "receiving Christ" in the sense spoken of in John 1:12. You receive Christ by believing in him. But you can't believe in him before you get to know him. Thus faith comes from hearing the message. And the message is heard through the Word of Christ.

If your body isn't there

Another area where Warren contradicts both himself and the scriptures is on page 105 where he says, "You have heard people say, 'I can't make it to the meeting tonight, but I'll be with you in spirit.' Do you know what that means? Nothing. It's worthless! As long as you're on earth, your spirit can only be where your body is. If your body isn't there, neither are you." Now compare that statement with what the Bible says, which Warren appears to consider "worthless":
1Cor 5:3,4  Even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. And I have already passed judgment on the one who did this, just as if I were present. When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present,

Col 2:5  For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit and delight to see how orderly you are and how firm your faith in Christ is.

And Warren again contradicts himself by writing his book and even praying in the book. When people read his book is Warren physically present with them? No! Yet he is in spirit.

Church Membership - Salvation Requirement

Another area in which Warren reveals himself to be very confused is concerning membership in body of Christ. In chapter 15 he makes the following statements:
Pg 118 “When we place our faith in Christ, God becomes our Father, we become his children, other believers become our brothers and sisters, and the church becomes our spiritual family.”

Pg 118 “You became a member of God’s family by your second birth”

But in chapter 17 he seemingly changes his opinion and views "church" purely on a local institutional level, becoming a member of which is not based on being born of God but rather jumping through the hoops of whatever the requirements are established by the local institutional leadership. Notice his rhetoric
Pg 132 “Membership in the family of God is neither inconsequential nor something to be casually ignored.”
So which is it? In chapter 15 becoming a member of God's family is by rebirth. But here on page 132 to become a member of the family of God one must become a member of a local institutional church.
On page 131 he says, “the church is a body ... Christ’s body”
Here again he is referring to local institutional churches. So according to Rick Warren's theology if your not an institutional member of a local church then you are not a part of Christ's body.

Now let's see where he gets this from the Bible. On page 132 He quotes Eph 2:18 “Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household,” Here he interprets this to mean that  “members of God’s household” refers only to those who are institutional members of a local church.

Church Membership - Divisiveness

While sandwiched between chapters 15 and 17 is a chapter dealing with the priority of love, in fact pushing institutional church membership is divisive by it's nature. Paul dealt with such divisiveness in 1Corinthians
1Cor 1:12,13 One of you says, "I follow Paul"; another, "I follow Apollos"; another, "I follow Cephas"; still another, "I follow Christ." Is Christ divided? and 1Cor 3:4 For when one says, "I follow Paul," and another, "I follow Apollos," are you not mere men?
So also with those who identify themself "I belong to such and such Presbyterian church" or " I belong to Grace Chapel" or "I belong to Hope Christian Church."

Now let's consider one aspect of the  divisiveness this promotes between members of institutional churches. If the theory is that only members of institutional churches are members of the body of Christ then why is it that members of one institutional church may not be qualified to becomes members of another institutional church? If all churches are members of the body of Christ then why don't they all have the same membership requirements? Like if you're not a Calvinist a Christian can't join a Calvinist church - like a Presbyterian church. And even so called "non-denomination churches", such as the one I attend nonetheless have membership requirements such that even I am not qualified to join as a member.

In fact let's take my case which is typical for many legitimate Christians. Because of one statement in their doctrinal requirements I am not qualified to be a member in the institutional church in which I attend regularly and serve. And yet, though I believe in Christ and though I minister to  and love my fellow Christians, and through I am reckoned as a legitimate Christian by most other Christians, yet according to Rick Warren I am not a part of the family of God, I am not part of the body of Christ, because I am not a member of an institutional church. In fact if I were to follow Warren's instruction I would have to break fellowship with those of the church I attend and wander around trying to find a church in which I am qualified to become an institutional member.

As I see it, Warren's obsession with church "attendance" and institutional members is a stumbling block to the practice of Christian love. And in fact contrary to his opinion I find that church membership is in fact largely inconsequential. In my church I don't see myself serving any less effectively as a non-member than those who are members.  On page 136 Warren indicates that non-members do not get involved in ministry, but I'm involved in ministry. So what's up with that? Furthermore is it not more unifying to identify ourselves not as members of local institutional churches with their particular denominational differences, but rather to identify ourselves simply as "Christians", there being but one church of which we are all members?

Criticizing "The church"

Page 132 Warren says, "I can't imagine saying to Jesus, 'I love you, but I dislike your wife." Or "I accept you, but I reject your body." But we do this whenever we dismiss or demean or complain about the church. In saying this Warren is trying to exempt himself from criticism, just as he implies in his other statement, "Never critisize what God is blessing." And of course this is typical of institutional leadership. Even in Jesus' day we see the institutional leaders criticising others while exempting themselves from criticism. On the very next page Warren freely mocks non-insititutional Christians labeling them as "bunny believers". And he goes on to critisize saying, "Many believe that one can be a good Christian without joining a local church, but God would strongly disagree". Thus Christians like myself Warren reckons with contempt as bad Christians. But of course since he doesn't reckon me, nor any other Christian who hasn't  joined a local church, a member of the body of Christ he feels free to distain and reject us. And such is the attitude he promotes among the Christian community.

Here are a few other links which analyze his book:

An Analysis of Rick Warren's The Purpose-Driven® Life
The Purpose Driven Life: A Review
The Gospel: A Method or a Message?
Spirit-Led or Purpose-Driven?

The Berean Christian Bible Study Resources