Romans 8:28-30 And we know in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
I want a purpose-driven life. I want God's purpose to be worked out in my life. The verse above says that God called me according to His purpose. HE calls; HE justifies; HE glorifies. It's a truth that I'm still learning, because like lots of people, I'm impatient. Lord, make me who You want me to be, and do it right now.
So, a book like The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren is right up my alley. After all, the Bible says that God created me to do good works (Ephesians 2:10). Warren promises that in just 40 days, my life will be transformed, and I can get to work on those works! And along the way, he says I will reduce my stress, simplify my decisions, increase my satisfaction, and most important, be prepared for eternity! (Purpose Driven Life - p.9)
Now, in all fairness to Rick Warren, I actually agree with him. If I have the perspective that God wants me to have - that He is working out His purpose in me, I WILL reduce my stress and increase my satisfaction with life. In fact, he makes a lot of good points in his book. I just don't like how it's all mixed up with some other things that aren't helpful. I also don't like how the book is presented uncritically in many churches and home groups, leading people to believe that it's all good stuff. Many of the people going through the book are new Christians, eagerly wanting to learn how to please God and do what He wants them to do. They don't have the maturity or biblical background to evaluate what they're reading.
So, what ARE the problems with the book? I think some of the most telling statements come from people who are actually endorsing it. One person from eNotalone, an online bookstore in association with Amazon says, "Mr. Warren has created the first self-help book that looks outside the self." I think that's the start of the problem right there. It's a self-help book. It has the best of intentions and a lot of the right stuff. It fits in with much of what God says in the Bible. But, it's a "how-to-be-what-God-wants-you-to-be-and-be-it-right-now" kind of book.
Abraham was on a self-help program. He had God's promise of a son, but he didn't wait for God's timing. And, he wound up with a son, but not the one he was supposed to be waiting for. The Middle East would not be in the mess it is today had Abraham remembered that God had said, "I will make you into a great nation."
The second problem is also illustrated from an endorsement on the same site: "Rick Warren has put together the most comprehensive manual on how to live like a Christian." Oooooh. I hope that hits you like it does me. Unless you have the right perspective from the Bible on how it works to live as a Christian, this book is just a bunch of rules. The only way to gain that perspective, that we are living our lives in thanksgiving for what Jesus has done for us, is to spend time in the Word and time as a Christian. That's one reason this book is not appropriate for new believers and especially not for seekers. A seeker could easily become confused by all the "how to please God" talk and come to the conclusion that these good things will help him get to heaven.
There are many "musts" in this book. Take these, for example: I must choose to be honest with God. I must choose to obey God in faith. I must choose to value what God values. I must desire friendship with God more than anything else. (Purpose Driven Life, Chapter 12)
We need to stop right now and acknowledge that we are absolutely nothing without God. We can do nothing without God. We are not capable of changing ourselves to please God. God called us. He saved us. HE and only HE is in charge of our sanctification. That's a fancy word that has to do with becoming Christ-like. Remember our verse? For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son.
God, in His time, and according to His purpose, will make us the people He wants us to be. How does He do that? Through His Word:
John 17:17 Sanctify them by the truth. Your word is truth.
It is very good to want to be Christ-like, but it doesn't happen by just deciding to be that way. Many people in the world find Jesus a very good example to follow, but that doesn't mean they are pleasing God. The only way to become Christ-like is for God to gradually conform you and transform you into the likeness of His son as you spend time in His Word. While Rick Warren may in some cases be quoting and using Scripture accurately, his book does not have the power of the Bible to actually change you.
That may be one of the most incredible truths for you to grasp - that God's Word will supernaturally work within you. I know this to be true from Scripture itself:
Isaiah 55:10-11 As the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth. It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
I can also speak from personal experience. Nothing in my life changed me more than the first time I read the Bible through from beginning to end. I have no way to explain it other than God changed me as I read. And, as time goes on, God continues to change me, but it's been in His time frame, not mine. He will continue this work within me all my days on this earth:
Philippians 1:6 Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
God DOES have a purpose for each of us, and works for us to do, but He's the one who gets us ready for them, and when the time is right, He will work through us to accomplish them. A new believer may read The Purpose Driven Life and get very excited and motivated to serve, but if it's not part of God's plan or timing for him, he will just burn out. It becomes a burden placed ON him instead of an opportunity for God to work THROUGH him. Rick Warren tells us that we were created in Christ Jesus to do good works, but remember that whole verse:
Ephesians 2:10 For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
It's God's job to work within us to get us ready to do the work that HE planned in advance for us to do. Sure, that may come through your church, but it might not. God may use books in addition to the Bible, or any number of other ways to train and prepare us, but again, it's God's doing, in His time and to suit His purpose. He could very well use The Purpose Driven Life as part of that - IF YOU'RE READY. Otherwise, it's just do and do and do. That can provide its own energy for awhile, but it will eventually leave you empty. You can be so busy doing for Jesus that you have no time for Jesus.
Now Rick Warren does have an entire chapter on getting into the Bible, but how does he end that section?
Question to Consider: What has God already told me in his Word that I haven't started doing yet?
(Purpose Driven Life, p. 192, my emphasis)
Both of the first and second problems stem from the same thing - a lack of the gospel. No, I'm not saying the gospel message isn't in there, but the overriding theme of the book is "You are a Christian. Now live like one." It's as though the gospel has done its work in making you a Christian, so now you can actually DO what God tells you to do. But the gospel is the only thing that motivates me properly. Jesus, my savior and my God, died for me so that I might live. I love him for what he did for me. I love him for continuing to forgive me as I blunder through my life, making one mistake after another. It confuses me that this book talks about Jesus a little and God a lot, but doesn't seem to ever mention Jesus AS God. Yes, there is God the father and God the son, but they are not separate, but one God. It is my savior that is my God, and I want to please him because he died to make me his child.
The third problem I have with the book has to do with how the author handles Scripture. He uses 15 different Bible translations, because, as he says, "I have deliberately used paraphrases in order to help you see God's truth in new, fresh ways." (His emphasis). What he doesn't tell you is that the way he uses those verses is sometimes right on, sometimes marginal and sometimes his meaning is something entirely different than what the verse actually says. As he says, he uses nearly a 1000 different verses, and unless you go and look up every one, you'll never know that he's not using it appropriately, especially if you're not all that familiar with the Bible.
Now, for the most part, I believe that Rick Warren wrote this book with the highest of motives - to help people draw closer to God. I can overlook many things in this book, because it has helped many people, but this, I have a very hard time overlooking. The way he handles Scripture in some cases is manipulative and even deceptive. He picks and chooses between the Bible versions until he finds one that contains the right words to fit whatever point he's trying to make, regardless of what the verse actually means in context.
For example, on page 104, he says:
...God insists that our worship services be understandable to unbelievers when they are present in our worship gatherings. Paul observed, "Suppose some strangers are in your worship service, when you are praising God with your spirit. If they don't understand you, how will they know to say, 'Amen?' You may be worshipping God in a wonderful way, but no one else will be helped." Being sensitive to unbelievers who visit your worship gatherings is a biblical command. To ignore this command is to be both disobedient and unloving.
It is on this premise that much of the "Purpose Driven Church" programs are built. Yet, is it even true? Let's look at that whole section in context. This is from the NIV:
1 Corinthians 14
Gifts of Prophecy and Tongues
1Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy. 2For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God. Indeed, no one understands him; he utters mysteries with his spirit.So, now what is this section about? It's about the spiritual gift of tongues. This has ABSOLUTELY nothing to do with making our worship services understandable to unbelievers.
3But everyone who prophesies speaks to men
for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort. 4He
who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies
the church. 5I would like every one of you
to speak in tongues,
but I would rather have you prophesy. He who prophesies is greater
than one who speaks in tongues,
unless he interprets, so that the church may be edified.
6Now, brothers, if I come to you and speak in tongues, what good will I be to you, unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or word of instruction? 7Even in the case of lifeless things that make sounds, such as the flute or harp, how will anyone know what tune is being played unless there is a distinction in the notes? 8Again, if the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle? 9So it is with you. Unless you speak intelligible words with your tongue, how will anyone know what you are saying? You will just be speaking into the air. 10Undoubtedly there are all sorts of languages in the world, yet none of them is without meaning. 11If then I do not grasp the meaning of what someone is saying, I am a foreigner to the speaker, and he is a foreigner to me. 12So it is with you. Since you are eager to have spiritual gifts, try to excel in gifts that build up the church.
13For this reason anyone who speaks in a tongue should pray that he may interpret what he says. In other words, you shouldn't speak in tongues, that mysterious language that only God understands, unless there is someone to interpret it for the rest of the gathering.
14For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays,
but my mind is unfruitful. 15So what shall I
do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my mind; I
will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my mind. 16If
you are praising God with your spirit, how can one who finds himself
among those who do not understand
say "Amen" to your thanksgiving, since he does not know
what you are saying? 17You may be giving
thanks well enough, but the other man is not edified.
18I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. 19But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue.
20Brothers, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults. 21In the Law it is written:
"Through men of strange tongues
and through the lips of foreigners
I will speak to this people,
but even then they will not listen to me," says the Lord.
22Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers; prophecy, however, is for believers, not for unbelievers. 23So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and some who do not understand or some unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind? 24But if an unbeliever or someone who does not understand comes in while everybody is prophesying, he will be convinced by all that he is a sinner and will be judged by all, 25and the secrets of his heart will be laid bare. So he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, "God is really among you!"
This section of Scripture does talk about unbelievers being in the church, (note that it doesn't say anything about seeking to bring them in) but it just says if unbelievers come in and everyone is speaking in tongues, they will think you are out of your minds. Note that the same passage says nothing about making the unbeliever comfortable, but that hearing the word of God, "he will be convinced by all that he is a sinner and will be judged by all, and the secrets of his heart will be laid bare. So he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, "God is really among you!"
So, Rick Warren takes the verse abysmally out of context when he tries to use this passage to say that the message needs to be geared to the unbeliever. Please note what this chapter goes on to say:
26What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church.
What did he use the Scripture to say?
God insists that our worship services be understandable to unbelievers when they are present in our worship gatherings. . .Being sensitive to unbelievers who visit your worship gatherings is a biblical command. To ignore this command is to be both disobedient and unloving.
Not only is there NO command to make worship services understandable to unbelievers, there is a biblical directive that what is said MUST be done for the strengthening of believers.
In Chapter 21, Warren uses another interesting technique with Scripture - using the same verse multiple times from different versions. That chapter is on maintaining unity in the church. He builds much of his case from a section of Romans 14. On page 161, he says, "Paul tells us, 'Let us concentrate on the things which make for harmony, and on the growth of one another's character." In the same chapter, on page 164, he says, "The Bible says, 'Let's agree to use all our energy in getting along with each other. Help others with encouraging words; don't drag them down by finding fault." He doesn't tell us that both of those are the same verse - or that neither of them has anything to do with what he's talking about. That section is actually about eating meat that may have been sacrificed to idols. In context, it says,
Romans 14:19-21 Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything else that will cause your brother to fall.
The Bible certainly does talk about maintaining unity within the body, but not at the sacrifice of truth. Warren uses this chapter to speak against criticizing your church in any way. He also implies that finding fault with anything that's being done or said at your church is the work of the devil. In my opinion, Warren uses this particular chapter to further his own agenda for the "Purpose Driven Church" program more than for imparting biblical truths. If you will read the New Testament, you'll see the proper relationship between maintaining unity and preserving truth.
I think it's a real problem that this book is presented uncritically in so many churches. If you're told by people you trust that it's a wonderful book, you won't be reading it with a careful eye. New believers especially have no basis to judge what might be being used deceptively. The very fact that there are Scriptures used inappropriately would make me very hesitant to suggest this book to anyone.
The Purpose Driven Life can be helpful to mature Christians who have been thoroughly immersed in God's Word. Rick Warren makes many good points and serves to remind us of the priority that God should have in a Christian's life. However, if I'm not ready, the book just sets me up for failure as I try within my own strength to live up to the way I should be. Those 40 days might be better spent in the New Testament, perhaps in a study of Paul's epistles. Unlike man's words, God's Word actually has the power to change me.
I do want to live a purpose driven life. I want God to work out His purpose for me, through me. I'm gradually learning that His ways are not my ways and that His timing is not my timing. He will make me the way He wants me to be, but it seems to be a "one step at a time" kind of thing, and it looks as though it will take my entire lifetime, not 40 days. I can see the progress within me, but I have a long way to go. Perhaps I should get one of those buttons I used to see when I was a kid: Be patient with me. God isn't finished with me yet.
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
© 2010 This paper was written by Jacqui Komschlies. If you have questions, comments, corrections or concerns, please write me.