“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness.”   Romans 1:18

Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven philosophy has had an unbelievable influence upon the American church. His book, “The Purpose Driven Church” has sold over 1 million copies and has been translated into 20 languages. That book has been noted as one of the “100 Books that changed the 20th Century.” However, even that book has been surpassed in influence by his 40 day devotional called “The Purpose Driven Life.” It is directed toward the common man, not the church leader. Its positive message and encouraging note has struck a chord in both the laymen of the church as well as the common man in the streets. Its positive message has even caused such secular groups as the Oakland Raiders, Coca Cola, WalMart, NASCAR and the White House to seek out its wisdom. It seems that you can’t open up a church bulletin across the U. S. A. without finding a small group gathered around the words of Rick Warren. Some of the evangelical “heavyweights” who have given their unqualified endorsement to the book are Billy and Franklin Graham, Bruce Wilkerson, Lee Strobel and Max Lucado. The book’s claim to be a “blueprint for Christian living in the 21st century,” may prove to be true.

When I read it, I could see why so many have been drawn to its pages. It is very encouraging, very practical. It gives good advice about a subject everybody is interested in- finding the purpose of life. The illustrations and quotes that line its pages are inspiring and worth remembering.

However, I must confess to you that I have deep reservations about the book. I do admit to approaching the book with some skepticism. To my mind, a book that is received with so much acclaim by believers and non-believers alike must be missing something. Then, I already knew that Rick Warren was a leader in the “seeker sensitive” movement, which in my humble opinion, often sacrifices the hard truth of the gospel to insure a non-confrontational atmosphere for unbelieving seekers. Further, RW’s confession that Robert Schuler was his mentor and model contributed to my uneasiness. Schuler is the same man who has proclaimed himself as the father of the “seeker sensitive” movement. He is also the one who had the audacity to observe that the “reformation erred in that it was God centered rather than man centered.” He went on to declare that the Reformation theology was a failure because it “failed to make clear that the core of sin is a lack of self-esteem.” And, he is the one who when asked what he would do with the clear passages that declare man a sinner answered, “Just because it is in the Bible doesn’t mean you need to preach it.” [Quoted in Reformation Magazine].

So, I hope you can see why I would approach the writings of RW with great reservation. But, lest I be accused of evaluating the man’s work solely on the basis of “guilt by association”, let me give you from my reading of the book concrete reasons why I believe the Purpose Driven Life may be a great danger to the church of the 21st century.

Before I do that, let me address what you are probably thinking. “Who do I think you are to question such a successful and influential book?” Good question. I am nothing but a follower of Christ who believes in God’s Book, the Bible. I am one who is committed to declaring the sufficiency of His Word. I am one who loves and seeks the truth that is found in God’s Book. I believe that God speaks in that Book and powerfully revives the souls of sinful men when they submit to His words. You could say I aspire to be like the Bereans, who daily questioned the sayings of the apostle Paul to see if what he was saying stacked up with what God’s Word said. So, whether it is the apostle Paul, or Rick Warren, or “little ole me,” it is my conviction that what we say and write must be judged by the clear and unchanging, life giving truth written down in That Book!

Space will not allow me to fully address all of my concerns regarding the Purpose Driven Life, in detail. Certainly, Warren’s dependence upon a poetic paraphrase [The Message] of scripture, instead of a harder, more exact translation, is a crucial flaw in his work. If God inspired every word and sentence and it accurately reflects His will and purposes, we should strive with all of our heart and mind to rightly handle this word of truth. [2 Timothy 2:15] Many of his points are based upon passages taken out of context. Unfortunately, most of his readers will never know that because they will never compare the paraphrases with what the translations actually say. However, the greatest problem, and the one that in my humble opinion, makes the book faulty, even dangerous, is its avoidance of the preaching of the law along side of the gospel. In his attempt to woo his readers into the purpose driven life, RW has left out or softened the painful and crucial side of truth. That is what A. W. Tozer was referring to when he declared that evangelism must start with a preaching of the law. Here is how Tozer said it: 

“There is no evangelism without the doctrine of sin, and without an understanding of what sin is. I do not want to be unfair, but I say that a gospel that merely says, “Come to Jesus”, and offers Him as Friend, and offers a marvelous new life, without convicting of sin, is not New Testament evangelism. The essence of evangelism is to start by preaching the law; and it is because the law has not been preached that we have so much superficial evangelism…evangelism must start with the holiness of God, the sinfulness of man and the eternal consequences of evil and wrong doing. It is only the man who has been brought to see his guilt in this way who flies to Christ for deliverance and redemption. False teaching does not emphasize repentance in any real sense, It has a wide gate leading to salvation and a very broad way leading to heaven. You need not feel much of your sinfulness; you need not be aware of the blackness of your own heart. You just “decide for Christ” and you rush in with the crowd, and your name is put down, and is one of the large number of decisions reported by the press.” A. W. Tozer

Where is the fear of God? Isn’t it true that the “fear of God is the beginning of wisdom”? Where is the awesome and intimidating holiness of God that caused an Isaiah to declare: “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty”; [Isa 6:5] or, a Peter to exclaim: “”Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” [Luke 5:8] Where is the confession? Where is the repentance? It is true that Jesus is a wonderful Savior and our God is a loving Father, but is he not also “holy, holy, holy”? Does he not hate sin and is not his wrath being poured out on sinful men every day? [Romans 1:18]. He is not just a smiling God who has a wonderful plan for your life. He is an angry God who has a terrible plan for those who have rebelled against him. Didn’t Jesus come preaching, “Repent , for the kingdom of heaven is near.” [Matt 4:17] In short I ask, “Where does the cross fit into the purpose driven life?”

Jesus issued this challenge: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” [Matt 16:24]

My reading of the scriptures reveals that It costs everything to enter into this “purpose driven” life. It begins with an acknowledgement that I don’t know God, seek God, nor fear God. [Romans 3:9-18]  It is a shocking discovery that without God’s grace I am worthless. [Romans 3:12] I am a sinner and a rebel, hopeless and helpless in my sinful and rebellious state. [Romans 5:1-10] To see the glory of God’s holiness is to see the desperate condition of my own heart. That is what Paul meant when he wrote: “Once I was alive apart from law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died.” [Rom 7:9-10] It is the one who sees the desperateness of his condition and dies that flees to the mercy and grace of the cross of Christ. That is why the law is absolutely necessary.

Conversion is not merely a decision. It is not merely “believing” and “receiving”. [P 58 Purpose Driven Life] It is not just simple prayer. It is a miraculous work of God. It is our coming to the place where we see, through the preaching of God’s Word and the illuminating work of His Spirit,  both the holiness of God and the desperate condition of our heart. It is the Prodigal, in the midst of the pig pin, coming to his senses, getting up and going to the Father and saying: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’ [Luke 15:18-20] It is the smashing of the last vestiges of human pride and a cry for mercy.

Here is what I fear. I fear that Warren has conferred salvation upon many who are not saved. [“If you sincerely meant that prayer, congratulations! Welcome to the family of God.” P. 59] Jesus spoke of a reception of the word that was not genuine. “The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away.” [Matt 13:20-21] I fear that the gospel that RW preaches does not bring about genuine conversion because it has no law. Who would not want what RW offers?

I fear that the gospel that RW preaches does not bring about a confession of our sinful, hopeless state. Perhaps it is because he subscribes to Schuler’s belief that “Once a person believes he is an “unworthy sinner,” it is doubtful if he can honestly accept the saving grace God offers in Christ.” I fear Spurgeon’s appraisal of the evangelism of his day may also be apart of our day: “The old fashioned sense of sin is despised….The consequence is that men leap into religion and then leap out again. Unhumbled they came into the church, unhumbled they remain in it, and unhumbled they go from it.”

Please do not misunderstand me. To the extent that RW proclaims the awesome love of the Father and the grace of God he is right on. I agree with J. C. Ryle wise comment  that “It is not possible to speak too much about Jesus,” but I also agree with him when he adds, “but it is possible to speak too little about hell.” Ian Murray may have said it best: “A recovery of the fear of the Lord and of the greatness of his displeasure is the need of our times. The prayer has to be, ‘Put them in fear, O Lord! Let the nations know that they are but men.’” [Ps. 9:20] 

The fear of the Lord is not clearly proclaimed in the Purpose Driven Life. That lack, I believe, should be enough to bring great concern to the leaders of the church who are committed to the proclamation of the whole counsel of God. That hard truth may cut down on sales and turn off the Oakland Raiders. But it will accurately present the gospel of Jesus Christ and bring forth true believers and disciples of Jesus Christ.