Oldie but Goodie

This is from a few years ago at the height of ‘The Purpose Driven Life’ stuff.

It is by Frank Marron and it was posted on Beggars-All-reformation-and-apologetics-blog

 

Summary: Although the book The Purpose Driven Life (TP DL) begins well by insisting the purpose of life is not about man but rather God, author Rick Warren devotes the entire book on how to improve the spiritual life of people, similar to any self-help book. Rather than emphasizing the Gospel of Jesus Christ and what God has accomplished in His Son, Warren presents over 160 legalistic rules by which men can obtain and live a victorious “purpose-driven” Christian life. In reality, TPDL offers nothing more than the repetition of ancient heresies and false teachings which sparked the 16th century Reformation. St Paul addressed similar heresies when he wrote his letter to the Galatians and which have continued to plague the Christian faith throughout history. The book is written from an Arminian or semi-Pelagian theological viewpoint, rather than orthodox Christianity as found in the bible. The author illustrates the system of theology known as Theology of Glory(TG), which is the exact opposite of the Christocentric system referred to as Theology of the Cross(TC). The bible is centered in the works of God as shown in the perfect life, death, and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ, not the works of man. However, author Rick Warren devotes his entire treatise on convincing readers that they need to perform good works in order to ensure their status in heaven. Warren maintains that all men have free will and our acceptance by God is based upon our choices and obedience to God’s will. This is a throwback to the heresies of Medieval Roman Catholicism confronted by Martin Luther. Readers of TPDL are not pointed to Christ as their Righteousness, but instead are directed to dedicating themselves to “40 days of purpose”.

 

One of the most popular books in Christian bookstores is The Purpose Driven Life (TPDL) by author Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Community Church in Lake Forest, California. Even secular authorities, including President George Bush, have praised the insights of author Rick Warren. Many news reporters have seen fit to interview this highly successful writer. After all, TPDL has sold upwards of 25 million copies worldwide, an incredible accomplishment by any standard. I will attempt to provide insights as to why this book is so successful and whether it is in conflict or harmony with basic Christian doctrine as found in the Scriptures, as rediscovered during the 16th century Reformation in Germany.

Merely reading through TPDL shows it’s appeal to the masses. It is well written and appeals to the logic and common sense of the average person. All well written self-help books are always successful in the marketplace and Zondervan Publishing is certainly capitalizing on this fact in their sponsorship of TPDL. Basic Christian doctrine asserts that everyone is born in spiritual depravity having absolutely no inclination to love, trust, and obey the true God as revealed in Holy Scripture(Ps 51:5;Rom 3:23;5:12). St Paul refers to this basic degenerate nature within each of us as the “Old Man” or “Old Adam”, inherited from the original Adam(Col 3:9;Eph 4:22;Rom 6:6). This sinful, prideful, and arrogant nature remains within all men throughout their earthly lives. The reason for the overwhelming success of TPDL is that it appeals to the Old Adam within each of us. The Old Adam is delighted in hearing that there is a purpose to his life and that by focusing on finding and fulfilling that purpose he can have fellowship with God. This book is a repetition of the Galatian heresy, where St Paul wrote to the churches in Galatia and lamented:

Galatians 3:1-3
O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. [2] Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? [3] Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?

The basic human nature in Adam is to believe that man has to do something to please God. The fifth century heresy of Pelagius taught that man is not totally corrupt and can be saved by an act of his will. This theological error continued throughout history with notable adherents such as Jacob Arminius, Charles Finney, and modern Evangelicals such as Billy Graham and Rick Warren. Arminian theology rejects the total depravity of natural man and this is the underlying assumption throughout TPDL. This book is written to everyone, not just Christians.Christian theology derived from Holy Scripture teaches that by the Grace of God through the vehicle of Faith, natural degenerate man can become a temple of the Holy Spirit. The perfect life, suffering, and death of Jesus of Nazareth resulted in the New Covenant in His blood, enabling saving faith and the grafting of men into the body of Christ through Word and Sacrament. This regenerated man is referred to as a New Creation or “born again”(John 3:3ff;2Cor 5:7;Gal 6:15). The biblical message is that the Old Adam cannot be corrected and improved, as suggested in TPDL, but instead must be crucified and buried so that an entirely new life emerges in the waters of baptism. (cont.)

Read-the-full-article-here

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I thought  Mr. Marron did a nice job of explaining the theology of glory as opposed to the theology of the cross vis-a-vis Rick Warren’s book.

Have you read the book? Do you think this article was a fair critique?

Thanks to Pastor Pat Thurmer for sending me the article.

 

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42 Responses

  1. I haven’t read the book, but I’ve always been skeptical of Warren’s theology. Warren may preach that “theology of glory,” but you can’t say that Piper does (or at least, not as it is defined here). They are pastors with very distinct messages.

  2. The people at the last evangelical church I attended raved about TPDL. I often found myself quoting Paul in Galatians & Colossians in the studies to counter some legalistic approach Mr Warren recommended. Finally, I was asked what I would recommend instead –
    ‘Putting Amazing Back into Grace’ by Mike Horton was first on the list, followed closely by ‘Creation Regained’ by Al Wolters. I think if more ‘popular’ evangelical bible studies included such works in their reading lists, there could be a change in direction in a few churches!

  3. I read it, and thought it was heresy. I agree, he basically abandoned the Gospel. It appears he purposefully (no pun intended) used bad translations of verses, and even took them out of context to support some of his points. It is a self-help book with a little Bible thrown in.

    One pastor friend of mine renamed the “40 days …” as “40 Days of Striving.”

  4. In response to the book, Mark Anderson(my pastor), wrote an article titled ‘The Purpose Driven God’.

    If I can find it, I’ll put it up on the blog.

  5. Re: Pastor Anderson’s article –
    sounds like a definite move towards the right perspective!
    Look forward to it.

  6. I think that certain protestants are too quick to condemn discipleship pastors as being “heretical”. While I agree that too many evangelicals treat the Bible as a “self help book”, and this is profoundly damaging, there is a difference between this and proclaiming a works-based soteriology.

    In fact, I will go further, and say that many critics are far too quick to bandy about “works based heresy!” accusations without backing it up. As if anyone who urges us to do good works is heretical. As if Paul was heretical when he talked about “works which were prepared in advance for you to do”.

    This entire article, and the comments here, do not cite a single specific instance of Rick Warren promoting a works-based soteriology. Everyone seems to be simply piling on and accusing him of being heretical based on the fact that he (gasp!) encourages good works. I’m sorry, but that’s not enough for me. I am certainly not convinced.

  7. Joshua,

    Colossians 2:6
    So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him

    Rick Warren and so many like him often start out with a good presentation of the the law and gospel for salvation but then muddy the water by promoting a theology of glory to maintain our standing rather than teaching that our Christian life “continues” to be lived out by grace through faith.

    When I read TPDL I was tracking with him, sort of, in the first couple chapters, but then he lost me when he started piling on the lists of laws I need to remember. I could hardly get through it.

    I know of people who came to saving faith by reading that book, so in spite of my distaste for it, it has done some good… on the other hand, I think it has led many people back to bondage and striving.

  8. Joshua,

    I don’t think it’s so much a trashing of the man(Rick Warren) but rather a critique of his theology.

    We have done the same thing here on this blog to Catholics, Lutherans, non-denoms, you name it.

    If someone is really good at handing over the law (which St. Paul calls the ministry of death), and really bad at handing over the gospel of the forgiveness of sins, then we will call them out on it.

    Not to be mean. But that others may hear what the gospel really is, and be freed of their “religious ladder climbing project”.

    We’re just trying to point out a better way.

    Thanks, Joshua.

    – Steve

  9. In my ears, Rick Warren sounds positively Roman Catholic – “If you learn to love and trust God’s Son, Jesus, you will be invited to spend the rest of eternity with Him” (p. 37, PDL). So you are saved by “learning to love and trust Jesus.” This sounds remarkably like infused grace to me. Warren has said elsewhere, “It takes more than faith to really please God.” All of this just reminds me of the Catholic idea of “faith formed by love” that Melanchthon argues against in the Apology.

    I read the Purpose Driven Life when I was an evangelical. I used to wonder why people like Sean Hannity (a Catholic) and my neighbor’s Catholic mother liked a book written by an evangelical so much. This explains it – because it’s not much different than the Catholic view of infused grace. The quote from the PDL above bothered me a little bit when I was an evangelical but I couldn’t quite put my finger on why at the time. Now I can see it – it’s not quite about faith alone.

  10. Right, Dawn!

    Luther called the Enthusiasts (Anabaptists) and the Papists (R. Catholics) “two wolves tied at the tail”.

    He said that they openly hated each other, but had in essence the same theology.

    Christ + (something else)…not faith alone.

  11. To make this point further, Steve … the fundamentalist-baptist-evangelicalism that I grew up in heartily said that salvation was by grace alone, through faith alone, on account of Christ alone. Yet somehow, I got to the point where I feared that God had rejected me and that there was no hope for me, that I had sinned over and over again one too many times and that maybe God had hardened my heart so that I couldn’t REALLY repent even if I wanted to.

    How did I come to this conclusion, if what I grew up in really was about grace/faith/Christ alone? In reality, it was “you’re saved because you sincerely accepted Christ” (Christ + your decision) or “you’re saved because you committed your life to Christ” (Christ + your commitment). It was, “Christ gives you the power to live a God-pleasing life, and if you’re not living a God-pleasing life, then maybe you’re not really a Christian – so you need to REALLY accept Jesus or REALLY commit yourself this time.”

    Rick Warren sounds a bit more Roman Catholic than this in that he puts the requirements at the front end of salvation instead of the back end like evangelicals normally do. But both end up in the same place. Piper (who was mentioned in the first comment) ends up in the same place too – some of the things he says positively sound like infused grace to me (though out of the other side of his mouth he defends forensic justification).

  12. “some of the things he says positively sound like infused grace to me (though out of the other side of his mouth he defends forensic justification)”.

    Yep, it’s essentially double-mindedness or at the very least, double talk, and that amounts to ‘another gospel’ to the one so clearly laid out for us by the Apostles, so the consequences are deadly.
    It’s time that the church really heard the loud and clear warning Paul spells out on this – we simply cannot afford to live by anything but HIS saving grace!

    Thanks, Dawn.

  13. I dont consider Rick Warren a heretic at all Joshua.

    My point on TPDL was never legalism…. but rather it has a certain shallowness in understanding the nature of man (total depravity) and not having any emphasis on the cross. I was not interested at all when my previous Church did a study on TPDL. I read the first two chapters and put the book down… found it very shallow.

    Rick Warren is a long ways from being a fundamental legalist… the book might have been more interesting to me if he was 🙂 …. but without Jesus to fill the vacuum the vacuum is filled with humanism and how to work our way upward.

  14. Humanism. Work. Double-mindedness.Our decision. Our commitment.

    These things will not save us and could lead us to perdition.

    We aren’t trashing people here. We are saying that this double-mindedness that Alden, Howard, Dawn , Jon, and Patrick mention is a part of the theology of those who don’t take God’s grace and His freedom to save whom He’ll save, seriously.

    When you don’t take the sacraments (God’s work for us) seriously, then you need to find your assurance elsewhere and you start to look for tangible proof and where else are you going to get that (that is what the sacraments are for, by the way) than in what you do, say, feel, or think.

    Christian schizophrenia with regard to works and grace is a real problem in the church. If you haven’t noticed, it is everywhere.

    I’d be lying if I said that it never affects me. And that is why I need that STRONG WORD of Law and Gospel and the Sacraments to keep me away from that double-mindedness as much as possible.

  15. Christians have to be careful not to cringe at things that the Apostle Paul or Jesus would say. Sometimes Lutherans and Calvinists make that mistake.

    For example, Dawn quotes Warren as saying that “it takes more than faith to really please God.” Assuming that is an accurate quote, is that really all that different from what the point of the book of James? Sure, it’s a fine line and Warren could easily be off in his understanding of what it takes to please God, but he might not be. James said that faith without works is dead… couldn’t Warren be saying the same thing?

  16. Darius,

    You have made a good point, Darius.

    Those verses that prop up our good works are in scripture. We don’t dispute that.

    We say, as did Luther, that those verses do not carry the same weight – they are not equal in value to the verses which speak of God’s grace.

    Furthermore, since the law is written upon all our hearts, and since ‘doing’ is our default position as sinners, we are saying that these verses will tend to override the grace of God and replace it. It is like a drop of poison in a glass of pure clean water. Now no part of that water is any good. This is what often happens when the emphasis is plced upon our works. The gospel just goes away.

    Luther said that if one couldn’t properly distinguish Law from Gospel then a Christian couldn’t be distinguished from a Jew.

    The whole thing is a matter of emphasis, and of making the proper distinctions, and many today do not do that.

  17. Another good quote from Luther on the subject is this:

    “If they use the Bible against Christ, then we will use Christ against the Bible.”

  18. “Christians have to be careful not to cringe at things that the Apostle Paul or Jesus would say”….

    and first on my list would be this:
    “By GRACE are you saved, through faith,
    and this is – listen to this – NOT OF YOURSELVES,
    it is the GIFT OF GOD”.

    I’ve spent most of my adult life attending Christian churches, of every stripe and creed, and I’ve heard plenty of street evangelists and read plenty of gospel tracts that touch on this astonishing truth, but I have virtually never heard, in all that time, much in terms of what could be defined sound exposition from most pulpits or study groups around this marvelous verse. What I have heard, ad nauseum, is the Guilt Gospel – are you doing enough to be seen as expressing the victorious christian life (or whatever the latest “charamatise” jingo)?. My answer is unconditionally no, I fail miserably, and that makes me aware of one thing – that only the unmerited and unconditional imputed righteousness can save a wretch like me.

    I’ve never been to a church where there’s been a danger of people actually living in their freedom in Christ, but I’ve been to plenty where legalism and/or dualism hold domain. Paul’s letters to the Galatians and the Colossians are a key today as when the ink first met the page.

  19. Howard,

    “I’ve never been to a church where there’s been a danger of people actually living in their freedom in Christ, but I’ve been to plenty where legalism and/or dualism hold domain. Paul’s letters to the Galatians and the Colossians are a key today as when the ink first met the page.”

    I have nothing to add to that but, AMEN!

  20. “I’ve never been to a church where there’s been a danger of people actually living in their freedom in Christ.”

    Really? I know plenty of Lutheran and Catholic churches which are filled with people who treat grace as cheap.

  21. Darius,

    How could you tell?

  22. I now live in a town where there is a Lutheran church, but that’s actually pretty rare here in the UK – Baptist, Methodist, Pentecostal, United Reformed, Charismatic and Anglican are the main protestant denominations here. I’ve met very few aware/practicing Catholics that actually would argue with Trent’s ‘anathema’ on Justification by Grace through faith.

  23. Steve, primarily because they show little concern for sin, have little apparent interest in sanctification, and generally just attend church/mass and that’s it. If asked, they would consider themselves Christians, yet by their fruit it seems unlikely. America is full of that type of person (and not just in the Catholic or Lutheran churches, that’s just where they seem to congregate the most).

    Who doesn’t apply here is the Christian you mentioned a couple weeks ago… there is a difference between those who by the Spirit are slowly mortifying the sinful flesh and those who think living by the flesh is just dandy, since “God is love and grace.”

  24. Darius,

    I know what you mean about not taking sin seriously enough.

    I know of so many people who actually believe that they are living the Christian life by what ‘they do, or don’t do’.

    They have no idea that they are in bondage to sin and that everything they do is a filthy rag.

    It’s not the worst that we do that ought worry us. But rather our best that ought give us pause. For it is not good enough either.

  25. Yeah, if you’re relying on what you do as the means by which you are saved, instead of the fruit of the new heart given you by God.

    That fruit, given by the Spirit, does not get us into heaven, but doesn’t it “earn” Christians further heavenly rewards? There are numerous places where Jesus speaks of the heavenly treasure which people store up for themselves via their good deeds. These deeds, prepared in advance by God and carried out through our new spirits by the Holy Spirit, gain heavenly rewards in addition to the ultimate reward, spending eternity with God. Now, these works are not of ourselves so that no one can boast. After all, what are we that we didn’t receive?

  26. When the book first appeared, a very dear friend of mine thought we needed to get it a have a two person study…She is a bible study enthusiast and I’m a phlegmatic hmmmer. Now that doesn’t mean I’m not all for reading the Bible and letting God’s Word work in my life for truly I am…but, it didn’t take me long…maybe three weeks, before I had my Amy Grant…Gonna Live Like a Believer…out humming along. I still remember the look on her face when I question the “purpose” of finishing the book…*; )

    We both just smiled…

  27. OK, I like the responses here. I agree that Warren and many like him present a slippery slope of “How To be a Christian” that becomes extra-scriptural. People reading his book can easily slip into a panic mode, trying to live up to a check list.

    I’m just saying that there is a danger of ignoring very important words of Christ like “if you love me, feed my sheep”, by dismissing it as legalism or works-based salvation. I do feel like the Catholics do a much better job of this than we (especially Calvinists) do, and I personally feel that most of the criticism leveled against the Catholics on this score (specifically about the work of feeding the poor, setting up hospitals, etc.) is unfair.

    I grew up being taught that Catholics believe that salvation is earned by feeding the poor, and that Protestant truth is that the poor should just take on personal responsibility, take up their crosses, and let God save them instead. I felt a bit betrayed when I learned that modern Catholics believe no such thing.

    FWIW, one of the Calvinist (Presbyterian) bloggers I really enjoy, recently posted a commentary on 1 Corinthians 3:11-15 that matches what Rick Warren said that was apparently so objectionable. Personally, I don’t see how that interpretation is incompatible with Calvinism, and seems pretty similar to what I read in John Edwards (or William Law, for example). The great Calvinists and Puritans of the past often exhorted others to do works to “build up treasure in heaven”. It seems to me to be a rather modern invention that supposed reformed thinkers speak out against exhortations to good works and label it as legalism. However, these are just my personal observations based on all of the exhortations of the great pastors of the past, and I could be totally wrong.

    Here is his post:
    http://jasonchamberlain.blogspot.com/2009/09/burned-away.html

  28. “Build up for yourselves treasures in heaven”…good rabbinical hyperbole….and if applied literally, utterly corrosive of the doctrine of justification.

  29. Darius wrote:

    “Steve, primarily because they show little concern for sin, have little apparent interest in sanctification, and generally just attend church/mass and that’s it. If asked, they would consider themselves Christians, yet by their fruit it seems unlikely.”

    How are you defining “little concern for sin” and “little apparent interest in sanctification”?

  30. Luther said that if one couldn’t properly distinguish Law from Gospel then a Christian couldn’t be distinguished from a Jew.

    Steve,
    I am not sure in what context Luther said this, but it isn’t a very clear statement. As believers, Paul said we are grafted in to the nation of Israel (Romans 11) and we follow a Jewish Messiah, so it would seem that we might end up looking a little bit “Jewish” if you will as Christians to the point that the two should be indistinguishable(Galatians 3:26-28). In that same sense, the Law and the Gospel are similarly conjoined together in their work and understanding.

  31. “It seems to me to be a rather modern invention that supposed reformed thinkers speak out against exhortations to good works and label it as legalism”.

    Such exhortations (imperatives) can only come about – have genuine effect – within us when they derive from the realities that are so within the salvic (indicative) work of Jesus Christ . It is only by looking to Him through faith that we will actually do anything worthwhile, thus, actual good works flow from God’s establishing us in His beloved Son. Looking to Jesus will bring about both the authoring and finishing of that redemptive work.

  32. Well said, Howard!

  33. Dawn, they seem to believe that attending mass or going to church and confessing to a priest occasionally is all that is necessary.

  34. Such exhortations (imperatives) can only come about – have genuine effect – within us when they derive from the realities that are so within the salvic (indicative) work of Jesus Christ .

    YES! Great way to put it, Howard.

    We do these things because we are saved, not in order to become saved. The exhortations are there for believers, not for unbelievers. Somehow, I doubt that many atheists were looking to Rick Warren’s book as a guide to being saved, but every one that did was one too many, and it would be ideal if Rick Warren was more explicit about where salvation comes from.

    Jesus said, “if you love me, feed my sheep”. This was after Peter had confessed the Kingship of Christ. Believing in Christ comes first.

    Incidentally, I think many Christians get this turned around, and try to say “if you love the sheep, believe in Jesus”. They try to leverage people’s love of one another, to convince unbelievers that “loving Jesus is the best way to love your neighbor”.

  35. “it would be ideal if Rick Warren was more explicit about where salvation comes from”.

    Paul’s words regarding the judgment of teachers in Corinthians trouble me deeply, because there are, have been and doubt will continue to be till Christ returns, so very, very many who continuously, comprehensively fail to do what Paul himself did to those early churches – placard ‘Christ Crucified’, revel only in the “preaching of the Cross’ – the message of the Gospel which alone grants us peace with God and a sound mind. “Teaching” (or what passes for this in most churches) is often abysmal and, sadly entirely vacant in this regard, as it so often is about anything and everything but the complete and perfect work of the Lamb of God, who TAKES AWAY our sin and the misery of our alienation.

    Only a handful of times, in over thirty years, have I been in church services (usually those defined as ‘gospel’ services – meaning they were primarily for the lost) where I have encountered the richness of joy in believing, because the richness of the message of reconciliation has been proclaimed. No wonder Christ is so often outside of so called ‘fellowship’ meetings – there is no exposition of His marvelous work, and without that, how is the Christian to live and to walk in the faith well?

  36. (Amended)

    “it would be ideal if Rick Warren was more explicit about where salvation comes from”.

    Paul’s words regarding the judgment of teachers in Corinthians trouble me deeply, because there are, have been and no doubt will continue to be till Christ returns, so very, very many who continuously, comprehensively fail to do what Paul himself did amidst those early churches – placard ‘Christ Crucified’, revel only in the “preaching of the Cross’ – the message of the Gospel which alone grants us peace with God and a sound mind. “Teaching” (or what passes for this in most churches) is often abysmal and, sadly entirely vacant in this regard, as it so often is about anything and everything but the complete and perfect work of the Lamb of God, who TAKES AWAY our sin and the misery of our alienation.

    Only a handful of times, in over thirty years, have I been in church services (usually those defined as ‘gospel’ services – meaning they were primarily for the lost) where I have encountered the richness of joy in believing, because the richness of the message of reconciliation has been truthfully proclaimed. No wonder Christ is so often outside of so called ‘fellowship’ meetings – there is no exposition of His marvelous work, and without that, how is the Christian to live and to walk in the faith well?

  37. I was reading Lewis ‘The Weight of Glory’ this morning, and saw another aspect of all this. Denying self, taking up the cross and living towards God are all so that we may follow Christ – they are not ends in themselves…it is gaining the prize that matters.If that is the actual goal, then all other ‘goods’ are ‘in some degree fallacious’, for they bear at best only a symbolical relationship to what can truly satisfy – for consider this. Paul promises those who love God not, as we might expect, that they shall know Him, but that they shall be known by Him (1 Corinthians 8:3). This is the core of it – not merely corresponding with what is true, good or beautiful, but a unifying with this through the one who, by His knowing of us, causes us to be faithful.

  38. Personality, I listen to a few of Rick Warren sermons and they are boring. Even old Robert Schuller and Chuck SMith in their heyday were not as boring as Warren is. What I don’t know why 16,000 people attend his church. The only thing of interest from Warren’s church is the guest speaker series on Apologetics but the just of Warren’s church even by evangelical standards is too much into gimricks.

  39. cynthia,

    I think you are absolutely right. “Too many gimmicks.”

    And too much law for Christian betterment. When you are in Christ, you are as good as you need to be, and as you are ever going to be…because it is His goodness, given to us.

    Thanks, cynthia.

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