by Hadley Robinson
This review was made in response to a widely published sermon on audio tape made by Mr. Warren on his popular book, The Purpose Driven Life.
There is little question that Mr. Warren is a passionate evangelist. He gives five purposes for life: Worship, Fellowship, Discipleship, Ministry, and Mission. These are overall good objectives from a Christian point of view. He gives one good definition (among others) of worship as "...a lifestyle that brings pleasure to God." To support this, he quotes Romans 12:1 - which is both relevant and contextual. He begins the third purpose (discipleship) by stating that "[God] wants us to have the attributes of Jesus" which is key to understanding what we are to become as growing Christians. Speaking of the fourth purpose (ministry), he affirms the truth that "... you were shaped to serve God" and that "God has a unique role in His body for you." These points are well supported by Scripture.
He allows much time describing, with great emotion and moving terms, his dying father who wanted to "...save one more for Jesus" - Mr. Warren's professed theme of his life.
He makes it clear that Jesus Christ came to save lost sinners whom He loves greatly.
Overall, it is an inspirational speech for Christians to get busy and do something pleasing for God, especially to evangelize the lost.
Now for the problems....
His address is full of catchy one-liners, illustrations, and emotional appeals; too many of which are either doctrinally unsound, confusing, misleading and/or just plain wrong to the point of turning Holy Scripture on its head.
Sadly, these problems illustrate some of the characteristics of the pop-gospel preachers, including Robert Schuller, who embrace easy believism, minimal personal demands, cheap grace, and/or an introverted and selfish spiritual life devoid of tangible righteousness and accountability. Of all people, a pastor like Mr. Warren should know the Spirit’s command to accurately handle the “word of truth” (2Ti 2:15). Mr. Warren repeatedly demonstrates that he does not.
Among the more glaring:
Speaking of the first purpose, he states that "[God] put us here to know and love Him." He notes that this is based on the first of the two Royal Commandments. But just what is it “to
love God?” For Mr. Warren, “…it's getting up in the morning and purposing to love God just a little bit more that day.” That is, we should have more feelings for Him. To back
this idea up, he quotes Hosea 6:6 using that feckless, inaccurate paraphrase The Living Bible: "I don't want your sacrifices. I want your love." Rather than affirm Mr. Warren's
point, Hosea (in any accurate translation) actually attacks it, condemning the external piety of Israel's rotten faith because it had lost connection with doing the will of God:
Abstaining from evil (c.f. Hos. 4:1ff.)
According to Hosea, loving God is not about good feelings when we “get out of bed in the morning” but something much different – faithful obedience that follows a true love for God. The Shorter Catechism states that we are made for God’s glory to love him and do what He commands. This echoes what is broadly taught in Scripture. We are not made for “God’s pleasure” as Mr. Warren says, a doctrine unsupported by Scripture. Could any of the godly witnesses to Stephen’s martyrdom imagine that God took pleasure in his death? Rather, “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints” (Ps 116:15). Jesus said, "If you love me, you will obey what I command." John 14:15
Also in the first purpose, Mr. Warren says "God did not put me on earth to mark things off my 'to do' list." What list is he talking about? If he is talking about cleaning the church carpet or going to a men's luncheon, he might have a point, but he does not clarify. Jesus came to earth with a huge 'to do' list, culminating in allowing Himself to be crucified and then raised from the dead. He was always going about "doing good." (Ac 10:38) On the other hand, Jesus had nothing but contempt for people who say they love Him but do not obey Him (Jn. 14:15). Mr. Warren contradicts the Spirit's instruction in 1 John 3:18, "...let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth." The Lord said that the pagans will know you by your fruit, not your words. In fact, those who have words but no fruit are cursed (see Mt. 7:16ff. and Jer. 7:4 ff.) Is Mr. Warren talking about the 'to do' list of the unsaved in which they hope they will be saved? We are left hanging. His appeal to focus on feelings rather than good works and keeping away from evil appeals greatly to mystics, spiritual introverts, false brothers and all those who refuse to connect faith with true repentance - the very ones condemned by James (2:14). Antinomianism has been condemned for nearly 20 centuries. Jesus said we are to be SALT and LIGHT (Mt. 5:13-15). How do you do that by just "being" and/or talking a lot? This is just more of Schullerism.
Again in the first purpose, he states, "The word for knowing and loving God is worship." Where does such a definition come from? The "love" of Ho 6:6 is the Hebrew "chesed"
which is roughly defined as faithfulness and love manifesting itself in righteousness. Again, the Word of God contradicts this definition - and so should we. An amateur reading the
Old Testament through just once would know that Israel was nearly destroyed because the Jews morphed the First Commandment into gaudy and hollow ritual devoid of righteousness. Mr.
Warren takes the listener down an emotional rollercoaster and goes in and out of orthodoxy so quickly that an ordinary person has barely time to think of what he says. The result is
What, according to Warren, is worship? Surrendering our hearts to God? Making great music? A lifestyle pleasing to God? All of the above? Who knows....
According to Mr. Warren, the second purpose of our life is fellowship. "We are formed for God's family." We leap from loving God when we rise out of bed in the morning to celebrating the joy of God's family – yet another emotional appeal. He quotes the second of the Royal Commandments as the basis but is this accurate? According to Jesus (Luk. 10:29ff.), this refers to the obligation we have to sacrificially love all men – everywhere. It is especially applicable to those who are in need – a practical outworking of the proper definition of love. We are never commanded to “celebrate the joy of Christian fellowship” because such joy is simply natural to those who truly love one another. Why not just keep with Heb 10:25 and leave it at that: Don’t forsake meeting with one another? Reducing the command “to meet together” to mere emotion (joy) is more in tune with the popular notion of “group identity” and not with any Biblical purpose or exhortation. Such passages as John 15:12 and Gal 6:10 exhort Christian men to sacrificially love each other. If anything, we were "...created in Christ Jesus to do good works..." (Eph 2:10). A better second purpose would be: Now that God has saved you (from the Lake of Fire), he wants you to love your brother in Christ, forgiving him and being patient with him, or something like that.
According to Mr. Warren, we are not believers but "belongers" - another catchy term that has scant Biblical support and, once again, sounds like something Robert Schuller would say. Jesus never used the term in reference to belonging to others but, instead, referred to our belonging to Him and Heaven belonging to us. If this is some veiled reference to 1 Cor. 12, then why not refer to us as the "body of Christ?" It is here that we can truly love one another and serve or, as was the case in 1 Cor. 5, be thrown out of fellowship for persistent sin.
In the third purpose, discipleship, Mr. Warren says, "Galatians 5:22 and 23 are the perfect picture of Jesus." Whatever happened to Php 2:6ff? How can any "perfect picture of
Jesus" leave out His humility and sacrificial death for us on the Cross? Of course, appeals to suffering and denial of self generally fall on deaf ears these days. That Christians
may have to suffer is an unknown paradigm in the American Church. This is a pity as it reflects the excessive self-centered attitude of the culture and, by way of influence, most of the
Church here. Galatians, among other things, is about the fruit of the Spirit's work in believers, not who Jesus is. Mr. Warren leaves out the next verse (Gal 5:24) - "Those who are in Christ Jesus have
crucified the sinful nature..." i.e., fruitful Christians put sin to death. But, who wants to talk about suffering - that enormous river raging underground throughout the Scriptures that
took such as Peter and Paul by way of martyrdom? Who wants to dwell on the sinful nature and suffering in today's modern church? What better way is there to drive away the
offspring of our contemporary culture, the sons of Hell?
In his otherwise very well done fourth purpose, ministry, Mr. Warren makes an appeal to the Biblical concept that, as he says, "God uses painful experiences to shape us." This is
broadly true, especially for those who suffer for their faith, but then he launches into some illogical illustrations. According to Mr. Warren, those who are divorced are the best
ministers to those who are in the midst of a divorce. Similarly, those who have a Down's syndrome child or who were alcoholics are the best ministers to their respective group. The
point is that those who suffered some particular event are the best ministers to others going through that same event. Really? Where in the Bible is such a concept found or
implied, other than in the playbooks of pop psychologists? If Mr. Warren is correct, then Paul was just a pretender when he gave advice to the married. Moses, as the adopted son of
Pharaoh, must have been clueless in advising a nation of newly released slaves. Mr. Warren effectively denies the role of the Holy Spirit in guiding the Church through the Prophets of
old and His anointed pastors.
Furthermore, why are parents of a Down's baby (not their fault at all) and a former alcoholic (his own fault) put in the same category? I don't have to be a former drunk to counsel a drunk with God's best advice: "Do not reach out your hand to put the glass of some drink to your lips."
There is nothing wrong with encouraging the repentant that their life is not over but it is false to say they are now the best counselors of those who suffer from their respective sin. The best counselors in the Church are the pastor/elders who have not failed at: raising children, staying married, getting along with others, keeping sober, etc. (see 1Ti 3:1ff.) They are the ones best fit to counsel because they walk with the Spirit and have been tried and tested. If someone has made a mess of his life or family, he may know what NOT to do but what about what he should do or should have done? Who wants to be operated on by a brain surgeon who says, "Most of my patients died but now I think I know what I did wrong...."
In his fifth and last purpose, mission, Mr. Warren gives one of his most inaccurate one-liners: "If you really want God to bless your life, you must care about what God cares about
most: He wants His lost children found." If King David was a man after God's own heart, why wasn't he the world's greatest evangelist, if what Mr. Warren says is true? What of Job
and Abraham? They all appear to be failures with respect to evangelism. With the Advent, did God change His mind about what was most important to Him? Ro 1:20ff. and Dt.
8:10ff., among many other passages of Scripture, tells us what God cares about most: That all men glorify Him and give Him thanks.
Mr. Warren's teaching about evangelism is typical of the American church: It is about mass marketing the Gospel. For Mr. Warren and others, the Church is a pyramid scheme, like Amway. Everyone has to do his part in spreading the Gospel by button-holing people, leaving tracts everywhere, getting in the face of those who want nothing to do with Christ or God, and – especially – sending in money. The Scriptures do not teach this. Not all men are evangelists (Eph. 4:11). With the truly anointed evangelist, God works both in his heart and in the heart of the evangelized. Only men who have been moved by and worked on by the Holy Spirit will respond joyfully to the Gospel's saving message. It is a beautiful dance between the evangelist and evangelized (c.f. Acts 8:27ff). Spreading the Gospel everywhere without the direction of the Holy Spirit is the same as throwing pearls before swine and Jesus warned against this (Matt. 7:6). The true evangelist is directed by the Holy Spirit when and where to take the Gospel (Acts 2:22ff; 16:9ff). It may result in men repenting and believing in the Christ or it may result in their hearts becoming more rebellious and angry towards God.
He takes no joy in the destruction of the wicked (Ez. 33:11) but he destroys them anyway as He did the firstborn of Egypt, the children in Bethlehem, and countless others who did not receive
grace. Humanists like Mr. Warren find this concept inconceivable. He and others embrace a sort of universalism and are ashamed of God's saving grace that it is given only to some
but not to all, the latter being abandoned to their own "free wills". Jesus spoke in parables to the
crowds for the sole reason that He did not what them to understand what He said and then, perhaps, turn from their wickedness (Mt 13:10ff.)
To a man called to be an evangelist, ensuring that he is obedient to the Holy Spirit in preaching the Gospel may be his most important concern but not for all in the body of Christ (see Eph. 4:11ff.) Chapter after chapter in the New Testament discusses what is important to God with respect to His children,
But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: "Be holy, because I am holy." – 1 Peter 1:14, 15
This is also echoed in Jesus' last words to the Church in Rev 22:11. Is not this bringing glory to God? Mr. Warren gave only a brief mention to what has, without exception, been the cause of Jesus destroying parts of His Church at various times (see Rev 2, 3). Holding the feet of the unrepentant greedy, adulterous, and immoral to the fire is a most unpleasant and difficult task within the Church. It is also one of the most important, along with preserving and protecting the Gospel "as once delivered."
Mr. Warren has modified important Biblical doctrines and uses emotional appeals not based on the truth of Scripture. Too much of Mr. Warren's teaching is based on humanism not sound theology
given in the Bible and practiced by the Elect for millennia.
The Apostle Paul personally shared Christ with the lost, as the Lord led him. With a tremendous demonstration of godly love and patience, he established order among the newly formed "called-out-ones" -- the Church. In obedience to the Spirit, he evangelized some areas of the empire but specifically not others. He often lived with the new Church communities and shared in their earthly labors so that no one could accuse him of making a living off the gospel or making a name for himself. He urged the brothers to love each other and demanded holiness. He put teeth in those demands, as aided by the Spirit. He called the Church to suffer with him, as that is what results from the world's treatment of the true believer. This theme is echoed throughout the New Testament, starting with John the Baptist, the archetype of courage when faced with the unrepentant immoral.
Mr. Warren’s preaching has a different general focus. Rather than bring glory to God based out of a faithful, obedient love for Him, he wants Christians to feel good. The exception to this would be his call for evangelism but is it a Biblical call? Where’s the insistence on personal repentance from evil? Who can be sure what Mr. Warren really means?
According to George Barna, the true Church is shrinking in the United States as so-called Evangelicals abandon core doctrines, especially the inerrancy of God's word and the uniqueness of Christ's atonement. It should be apparent that the Christian worldview continues to become more irrelevant in the public forum. But what should anyone expect when the Church is shrinking and on the road to irrelevance in the popular culture, as it is in Europe? If Bill Bright’s millions and millions (as he once boasted) are out there somewhere, why are such ghastly evils as partial birth abortion both the practice and law of the land? After all, these millions of converts can’t all be under the age of 18 and thus unable to vote. As James warns us: Good works must follow faith or it’s a false faith.
Mr. Warren, to his credit, has chosen to remain within the local church. He evidently has been called to be a salesman and God has gifted him with some superb skills. However, he has put himself above sound teaching and careful doctrine by making statements that are foreign to the Scriptures, even contradicting them at times. He would do well to obey the Spirit's exhortation in 2 Tim 2:5 and be the man "...who correctly handles the word of truth."
The fact that so many "converts" are un-churched and must be told to fellowship is like telling a young man to be with his fiancé. One immediately wonders, does he truly love her? In an earlier period – when Christians in the churches knew their Bibles – Mr. Warren would have had to be much more careful and accurate. As it is, popular evangelical speakers are increasingly using the tools of their pagan colleagues in the mass culture: Emotional appeal to the current ungodly mindset with less and less regard to the plain teaching of God's word. For example, Wilkinson’s “Prayer of Jabez” is yet another tome to the prosperity gospel, as well as being filled with doctrinal and exegetical errors.
If a verse of Scripture comes to mind, it is Acts 17:11, “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.”
Placing “what works” over the truth of God’s word has been one of the first steps down the road to heresy and apostasy. Just because thousands say they are blessed by some ministry does not necessarily make it a godly ministry or blessing – it just means it may be no different than the work of Muslims or Mormons. Mr. Warren often makes the goal the end without regard to doing it God’s way. He demonstrates hubris by dismissing those who criticize some of his unbiblical and ungodly teachings as mere dividers and tools of the Devil. According to him, to disagree with his broad programs for the church is to disagree with God. For Mr. Warren & Co. it is insufficient to hold to the essentials of the Christian faith and be in fellowship with his de-facto denomination.
The techniques of Warren, Schuller, Kimball, and others tend to create notional Christians who are poor at being salt and light. Are such Christians really His children? They may not be. Nonetheless, popular preachers like Mr. Warren can take pride that they have a great following – and the money rolls in.
The emphasis becomes the sale of books, tapes, and programs –- all unlikely to withstand the test of either time or help believers to have God’s heart in all-important matters. These include things like fleeing from every sort of evil, especially the love of money and immorality – the great sins of today's churchgoer. Putting into practice God’s word may not be interesting to some so the question should be why and what are God’s shepherds going to do about it?
It is a disgrace that most church youth cannot chronologically place the Flood and the Tower of Babel or name the first king of Israel. The fruit is evident. Barna notes that only one out of three teenagers involved in church youth programs plans to attend church after he moves away from home.
It is appropriate to get back to the fundamentals and rid ourselves of the contemporary yeast that is weakening the Church and scattering the Flock. Let us be like the Bereans instead of the ignoble Thessalonians.