As the interview [John Piper conducted with Rick Warren] drew to a close I saw that many of the predominant concerns I have with The Purpose Driven Life as well as Warren’s wider ministry went unaddressed. Let me speak to just 2 of them. And I think this is the crux of what I am saying in all of this—we do not have to change our critiques of Rick Warren based on this interview. What he said in this interview simply does not correlate to the facts of his books and ministry.

A Theological Chameleon
One of the most common critiques of Rick Warren and one of the most important is that he is something of a chameleon. There is a kind of pragmatism to him where he will be A and Not A depending on the context. I have little confidence that in a different context Warren would have answered the questions the same way. I am not saying that he outright lied to Piper, but simply that his track record shows that he adapts to fit the context.

Warren has been lauded in the secular media for speaking for a long time to a large group of Jewish leaders without ever using the name of Jesus. He is now being lauded by Calvinists for affirming the doctrines of grace. He has received praise from Roman Catholics. After all, he recently wrote the introduction to a special edition of TIME magazine that celebrated the life of Mother Teresa. This introduction praises the woman and holds her up as a model of Christian virtue. There Warren tells about a handwritten note by Mother Teresa that adorns the wall of his office. He proclaims that Mother Teresa “offered the same unconditional love our Savior did. By being the hands and feet of Jesus, this petite Albanian nun became one of the great evangelists of the 20th century.” He declared her “exhibit A of a true hero—a saint.” Mother Teresa, though, was a Catholic of Catholics, a devout follower of her church. She was also a universalist and one who saw no reason to seek to convert people to the gospel.

I think I am right to be confused here, right to ask questions. How do the doctrines of grace allow for an ardent Roman Catholic, one who denied those doctrines as anathema, to exemplify the Christian faith, to be a true hero—a saint? Surely I am not the only one who sees a contradiction. Surely I am not wrong to balk at Warren teaching Jewish rabbis how to increase the strength of their congregations.

Warren gave all the right answers in this interview, but I am not at all convinced that they reflect what he truly believes at all times and in all contexts. And certainly his ministry does not appear to bear out the kind of theological underpinnings that would reflect the theology he espouses here. Where is the influence of Edwards? Where is the monergism? Where do we see a belief in total depravity consistently applied in any of his books?

Use of Scripture
Another very common critique of Rick Warren and his books concerns the use of Scripture. Throughout The Purpose Driven Life he consistently and unapologetically tears verses from their context and applies them haphazardly, relying on a long list of translations and paraphrases to do so. Examples abound and would probably number in the hundreds; these are very well documented and very widely known.

Piper spoke to Warren about Scripture but stopped short of asking about his use of Scripture. If I were to preach in my church and Scripture as Warren does, I would be rebuked and I would deserve the rebuke. If a man stood in the pulpit of Bethlehem Baptist Church and used Scripture as Warren does, he would be rebuked as well, I am convinced. We do not want men to learn from Warren how to preach, how to use Scripture! He does not treat the Word of God as the very words of God. He can speak of his indebtedness to Edwards and Spurgeon and others, but his preaching shows very little of their influence.

These are just 2 critiques that remain unaddressed—very important critiques that seem to get to the heart of what he truly believes. (Online source)

Tim Challies

Scratching Itching Ears?
I believe that [Rick Warren’s] message distorts the gospel and that he is contributing to the human-centered pragmatism that is eroding the proper ministry and mission of the church. Judging by The Purpose-Driven Life, Pastor Warren’s theology seems to reflect run-of-the-mill evangelical Arminianism, especially with its emphasis on the new birth as the result of human decision and cooperation with grace. There are also heavy traces of Keswick “higher life” teaching throughout the book… His best-selling book, The Purpose-Driven Life, begins by announcing that it’s not about you, but about God, and then the rest of the book is about you…

Pastor Warren tailors his appeals to his audience. To Calvinists, he stresses his support for the “solas” of the Reformation. Yet he tells prosperity evangelist David Yonggi Cho, “I’ve read your books on Vision and Dreams – speak to pastors about how you hear the voice of the Holy Spirit?…What advice would you give to a brand new minister?…Do you think American churches should be more open to the prayer for miracles?” (“Breakfast With David Yonggi Cho And Rick Warren,” Pastors.com).

In a June 2006 article in JewishJournal.com, editor-in-chief Rob Eshman reported on a speech that Warren gave for Synagogue 3000, after Rabbi Ron Wolfson became involved in the Purpose-Driven pastoral training seminars. “Warren managed to speak for the entire evening without once mentioning Jesus — a testament to his savvy message-tailoring.”

When USA Today asked him why Mormon and Jewish leaders are involved in his pastoral training programs, Rick Warren reportedly said, “I’m not going to get into a debate over the non-essentials. I won’t try to change other denominations. Why be divisive?” (USA Today, July 21, 2003). Rick Warren endorses a host of books, from New Age authors to Emergent writers to conservative evangelicals. So why not include Calvinists?… (Online source)

Dr. Michael Horton

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