Berean cogitations

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

About "The Purpose-Driven Life"

The following has been adapted from a message that I sent to someone in August 2005 regarding Rick Warren's bestseller, The Purpose-Driven Life. In this message, I attempted to explain some of the reservations that I had regarding the book's content. My greatest concern was the somewhat careless way in which it presents the gospel and glosses over the importance of repentance in salvation.

To my regret, this fellow responded with tremendous outrage. "How dare you criticize this book!" he bellowed. "How dare you be so divisive! We can't let denominational differences divide Christians this way!" His reaction both shocked and saddened me. We must certainly strive for unity, but does this mean that we should simply overlook doctrinal error? Luke the Evangelist didn't think so, for he commended the Bereans as they tested all doctrine against the Scriptures (Acts 17:11). Nor did the Apostle Paul, for he urged Timothy to beware of false teachings (2 Timother 3:8). As for the Apostle John, he exhorted believers to "test the spirits" (1 John 4:1-6) and urged people to reject false teachers (2 John 9-11).

(Of course, some doctrinal matters are relatively minor. I'm not suggesting that we should wage holy war over every little thing; not at all. Rather, while not all doctrinal matters are major, some of them are. As a result, it would be dishonoring to God if we were to deliberately ignore all of these differences.)

Moreover, the concerns that I expressed about Warren's book were mostly non-denominational in nature. The Gospel message is certainly not a denominational matter; if anything, it is the one thing that should unite all denominations! I was saddened that this fellow, who attended Christian schools and occupied some prominent positions within his church, considered this to be a mere denominational matter, not worth quibbling about.

Unfortunately, that's what happens when people value unity more than Biblical truth.

Anyway, here's the gist of what I wrote. The text has been cleaned up slightly, but the fundamental content remains the same.



I mentioned that I'd like to share some thoughts on "The Purpose-Driven Life." Well first, I thought I'd mention that Chuck Smith and Calvary Chapel have been among the most vocal critics of Rick Warren's teachings. My own Calvary Chapel pastors from Utah and California have likewise urged caution with regard to this book. Since you said that you hold Calvary Chapel in high regard, I thought you might want to know this.

Other critics include Dave Hunt, John MacArthur and T.A. McMahon. I've found that these gents tend to be more careful and discerning than most other teachers, and they don't normally get caught up in popular fads (e.g. "The Prayer of Jabez.")

Here are a few articles which summarize my own complaints about "The Purpose-Driven Life." Mind you, I don't agree with every single opinion voiced in these articles; however, they do provide a good overview of the book's weaknesses and dangerous teachings.

I know that some Christians say we should be tolerant with regard to mere doctrinal differences; after all, "Whoever is not against us is for us" (Mark 9:40). I disagree with that viewpoint, for three main reasons.

  • First, I think the context shows this passage was meant to excuse doctrinal error. Mark 9:38 shows that John was complaining about a man who was casting out demons, but was not part of the Apostolic clique. There is no absolutely indication that this man was spouting wrongful teachings.
  • Second, I think that some of Rick Warren's doctrinal errors are quite severe indeed. I understand that some doctrinal matters are of comparatively little importance, and I certainly do not expect any pastor to be perfect. However, I think that the articles I cited show that some of Rick Warren's teachings have very serious and wrongful implications. In particular, his gospel presentation on page 48 is severely watered down -- and if there's anything that we should not compromise on, it is the gospel!
  • Third, I do not think these errors can be chalked up to mere nitpickiness or sporadically imprecise phrasing. With regard to the gospel, for example, I think there's evidence of dilution throughout the book. (Note how he constantly assumes that Catholic clergy are indeed saved and destined for heaven, for example. While I'm sure this is sometimes true, it should not be our default assumption -- especially for someone who understands the gospel message.) Additionally, the Gospel is diluted even further in Warren's "Forty Days of Purpose" program, as described at

I may have mentioned my conversation with the pastor of a church in Strongsville. He was going to preach from Rick Warren's book, but discovered that the Biblical passages cited did not actually reflect what Warren claimed. He then chose to preach on the theme of God's purpose for our lives, but without using any of Rick Warren's material.

Mind you, I'm not saying that Rick Warren isn't a well-intentioned Christian. I suspect that he is. However, I think that some of his teachings are both erroneous and dangerous -- ESPECIALLY with regard to salvation. What's more, I think he takes tremendous liberties with the Scriptures, in ways that cannot be chalked up to mere imprecision or fine points of theology.