As many of you are aware, other than our article “The Purpose Driven Claim” in the Summer 2004 (Vol. 10, Issue 3) MCOI Journal and a few statements in the article “An Indistinct Sound” in the Summer/Fall 2005 (Vol. 11, Issue 3) we have not said very much about Pastor Rick Warren. That is not to say that we haven’t had concerns but do realize that human leaders have clay feet and we need to be as gracious as possible with one another. Not all issues and disagreements are of equal importance. Therefore we thought it best to wait and let Warren be self revelatory. A number of issues began to crystallize for me over the last week. I was speaking with Dr. Earl Radmacher about some other projects we are working on and Rick Warren came up in the course of conversation. Dr. Radmacher mentioned that a friend had met and was favorably impressed with Warren. Dr. Radmacher asked him, “What do you think about his position that expositional teaching is a thing of the past and that today is the day story telling?” Dr. Radmacher’s friend responded. “Well, that is a bit of a problem.” The question that comes to mind is, if for Rick Warren sound biblical expositional teaching is out and story telling is in what sort of story has he been telling?
As Rick Warren’s books and programs continually increased in sales in 2005 he seemed to be everywhere and dropped little tidbits of helpful info in each public appearance. I have to admit that I was taken by surprise on April 22 of 2005 when the Special to the Tribune section was headlined with “Evangelical Christians have hailed the “Purpose Driven” Philosophy; now a local Catholic church will host a conference espousing it” by Sean D. Hamill. It struck me as odd that Warren who represents himself as an Evangelical, in fact, a Southern Baptist, would be assisting 40 Chicago area Roman Catholic Churches in growing their congregations numerically. That is until I read the story teller at work a month later in the transcript of the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life: Myths of the Modern Mega-Church where he states among other things:
And, you know, growing up as a Protestant boy, I knew nothing about Catholics, but I started watching ETWN, the Catholic channel, and I said, “Well, I’m not as far apart from these guys as I thought I was, you know?
Little things that seemed askew before began making sense. Having abandoned sound biblical teaching for story telling the theme of Warren’s new story appears to have become a simple message of how to fill churches. Once Pastor Warren concluded there aren’t any real notable differences between Roman Catholicism and Evangelicalism then guiding the Roman Catholics into the best ways to market their churches and bring more possible members through their doors is as much a part of his story as teaching Evangelicals.
As Rick Warren told his story to the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life he weaved in a bit of trivia that he is not a fundamentalist. He didn’t mention which of the fundamentals he rejects or if he embraces any of them. He is concerned that churches, at least Evangelical and Roman Catholic churches are able to fill up their buildings and challenge people to be more spiritual. Ah yes, more spiritual. One of the spiritual leadership books he began recommending on his Pastors.com website is Peter Senge’s book The Fifth Discipline. It is true that Senge’s leadership principles are rooted in spirituality but Warren seemed to neglect mentioning that the wisdom and spirituality is Prajna Wisdom which is a form of Buddhism as author Peter Senge admits . For me a bit more head scratching ensued as the story telling darling of fad driven Evangelicalism leads the church in to New Age and Eastern Mystical Contemplative Prayer seemingly unnoticed. Whether this is intentional or unintentional I have no way of knowing. That is a question of motives and as such is something that I cannot answer. I would suggest that Rick Warren is sloppy and undiscerning. However, in the position of leadership that he has attained that is no less dangerous than if he was purposely leading the 300,000 or so pastors and congregations into false beliefs and pagan practices. This is the very reason that James wrote:
Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we shall incur stricter judgment. (James 3:1)
With increased leadership stature and visibility goes greater responsibility and therefore greater care and accuracy in what a leader says and how they act. Their freedoms are curtailed due to their responsibilities and the example they set.
As Warren continued developing and embellishing upon his story he turned to developing the Purpose Driven Synagogue. Reading Warren’s continuing story in the Jewish Journal further pointed out the consequences of abandoning exegesis and sound Bible teaching in favor of story telling as I read:
Warren told Wolfson his interest is in helping all houses of worship, not in converting Jews. He said there are more than enough Christian souls to deal with for starters.
At times when Joy and I are watching a movie we have to pause it to recap the story up to that point in order to make sure we understand where the story teller has taken us and see if we have a glimpse of where the story is going and how it might end. So far Warren’s story is that he is not a fundamentalist, there are more than enough Christians and Warren’s purpose is to help all houses of worship grow. There is very little difference between Roman Catholicism and Evangelicalism and since there are more than enough Christians he isn’t interested in converting Jews and all of these groups will have better prayer lives by embracing Buddhism. I do have to admit that the story is becoming increasingly intriguing as it moves further away from sound biblical teaching. It even seems to have its own great commission which might sound something like this:
Go therefore and make all nations Purpose Driven, baptizing them in the name of the P.E.A.C.E. Plan, teaching them to read, write, solve world hunger and the AIDS pandemic, and lo, I am with you always, even until we all live together in perfect peace and harmony in a Purpose Driven World..
As with all really good stories occasionally some real tension is added to give the hero the opportunity to shine. Rick Warren’s November 10-12 visit to Syria has provided that. The Syrian press reported that Rick Warren was impressed at the peace and harmony which exists between the Muslims and Christians in Syria. He was impressed with the leadership of President al-Assad and the religious stability, tolerance and coexistence. For about a day YouTube carried a video of Warren’s remark’s but it mysteriously vanished shortly after columnist Joseph Farah at World Net Daily sent Warren the link asking him for an explanation. There was of course a flurry of activity questioning Warren’s newest part of his evolving story. Joseph Farah ended up writing four stories on this, ”The purpose-driven Lie”, ”Megapastor Rick Warren’s Damascus Road experience”, ”Rick Warren disciples: Where are you?” and ”Calling Rick Warren!”. Other blogs as well as radio programs also raised the tension of the story.
Farah points out that Warren contacted him after his first article went out asking why Farah hadn’t contacted him before it went public. As it turns out Farah did make that attempt but as is so often the case, it went unanswered. I have had the same results myself. I have written to Warren before each article in the Journal and again prior to starting on this one I wrote to him on November 21 with a number of questions and so far there has been no response. When presented with the evidence of his statements including the video link by Farah, Warren again went silent and the evidence was removed from YouTube. With another twist of irony the audio of the now missing YouTube video was supplied to Lighthouse Trails Publishing by Bruce DeLay from Talk Radio 1170 KFAQ this past Monday. An MCOI ministry associate forwarded me a copy of Warren’s November 22 email which was sent from the Pastors.com website explaining that the President of Syria gave Warren permission to send teams and implement his P.E.A.C.E. plan in Syria. He probably won’t have to develop a Purpose Driven Mosque as the mosques seem very purpose driven already. The purpose is chanted in unison regularly by attendees,” Death to America” and “Death to Israel.” Their peaceful and tolerant lifestyle was further demonstrated in the assassination of Pierre Gemayel.
In his Pastors.com email Warren states, “Friends, I am aware that inaccuracies, misquotes, and misperceived motivations get reported about me in the press daily.” That may be true but it does little to address where he was accurately quoted with the quotes being substantiated by available audio and the statements are demonstrated to be simply false and very harmful. However, it is admittedly a good story. Does Warren equate that being asked to be publicly accountable for his public statements is the same as being persecuted as Jesus was? Is it his belief that Joseph Farah, MCOI and other Evangelicals really are the “world” as Warren writes:
Most of the time, I just ignore them. Jesus said, “If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first.” (John 15:18 – NCV)
Warren further expounds on this persecution theme:
I love the paraphrase of Matthew 5:11-12 (Msg): “Count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens-for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.”
The downtrodden hero is a very important part of any really good story. The underdog who seems powerless against those evil doers who hurl accusations against him but the persecuted hero stays the faithful course in spite of what looks like insurmountable odds as they are unfairly treated. The prophets fit that bill as Jesus pointed out. Hebrews chapter 11 spends a great deal of time talking about these heroes of the faith and as the writer enumerates their persecutions he pauses for a breath with an astounding statement, “Men of whom the world is not worthy” (Hebrews 11:38). Does Rick Warren really regard being questioned about what he says publicly the same as:
..…and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground. (Hebrews 11:36-38)
As Rick Warren returns from the peace loving religiously tolerant nation of Syria he is preparing for the next chapter in his story telling. He will be hosting Barack Obama and other speakers at Saddleback Community Church on November 30 – December 1. For those who are unaware, Barack is the Senator from Illinois, who along with his wife have shared their concerns and fears of the rise of conservatism in the United States and the possibility that Evangelicals will take away the right of mothers to crush the skulls of their children and suck out their brains just moments before delivery is complete. (A copy of his fundraising letter sent by his wife Michelle is available at ProLifeBlogs.com). But the way Rick Warren responds gives the impression that to even question his story and alliances with those who openly oppose Evangelicals and hold to an the antithesis of a biblical worldview which includes the brutal murder of a completely defenseless baby is labeled persecution and the questioner is placed in the category of “the world.” That is an easy way to avoid having to answer legitimate criticism. Warren could always try the tact of “He won’t be in my pulpit.” That is a distinction without a difference and is not unlike former President Clinton claiming he didn’t have sex with Monica Lewinsky because oral sex isn’t sex. The AIDS Conference is a Saddleback Community Church sponsored event, held at Saddleback Community Church, led by Pastor Rick Warren. It is promoted on the Saddleback Community Church, Pastors.com and Purpose Driven websites and Barack Obama is one of the invited speakers. On the other hand Warren may not have a problem with Obama’s drive against conservative Evangelicals and his publicly stated support of the brutal torture and murder of the nearly born. After all Barack is Purpose Driven in these areas and perhaps that is all that matters. On Wednesday, November 29, WorldNetDaily carried the article, “Christian leaders to Warren: Keep Obama from pulpit” Will Warren listen? I don’t expect him to. Again, I cannot know what Rick Warren thinks nor what his motives may be. What I can say is that his actions speak so loudly that it is difficult to hear anything else.
As is so often the case, all stories, good or bad, eventually have an ending. According to the Christianity Today article “Painful Decline” posted on 11/21/2006, the Purpose Driven fad has peaked and is beginning its slow fade out. What will be the next fad? Will Warren begin working on a sequel to his story or will another story teller arise? Is it possible that church leadership might try something unusual and daring like “…preach the word, be instant in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke and exhort with all long suffering…” (2 Timothy 4:2)? Nah, that’s probably not very marketable being too first century and all.