Father make of me a crisis man. Bring those I contact to decision. Let me not be a milepost on a single road; make me a fork, that men must turn one way or another on facing Christ in me.    Jim Elliot

“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.  Mark 8:34-35

One of the trends in the modern day church is to depend upon marketing strategies to increase its numbers. It comes from a segment of Christianity that believes that the main barriers that prevent the growth of the Church are more cultural than spiritual. If the church can look more attractive and her message more positive, the theory goes, the Church would see more kingdom growth.


It is my contention that in our desire to increase our numbers, we have too often softened the message to win converts and in the process deliver dead babies. Raised hands and altar calls and signed cards do not guarantee a born again life. The clear and unfettered Gospel must be presented so that the hearers can make an informed, deliberate and life-altering decision. Many will find it offensive. The call to believe in Jesus Christ presents the hearer with a crisis. There is no room for compromise. It is one way or the other. The call demands a carefully weighed decision to forsake all earthly treasures for the One that really matters.  

Jesus made that clear. He said, “Any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.” [Luke 14:33] It is a drastic, hold nothing back commitment whose radical character is seen in these words of Jesus: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters — yes, even his own life — he cannot be my disciple.” [Luke 14:26]

That is why I am disturbed by some of the things that are left out of Rick Warren’s popular book, The Purpose Driven Life. No book or author has received more acclaim and accolades for the writing of a book than Rick Warren. Both religious and secular leaders have praised this work for its positive, motivating and insightful message. Even now, I sense the hairs of many of my readers bristling that I would dare to suggest something might be wrong with this book. I understand. It is crammed with great ideas and practical helps. Thousands of Churches and pastors have testified to its impact. But, Warren is just a man, as am I. The ultimate authority is God’s Word and the ultimate goal, as Rick rightly affirms in his book, is to glorify God in everything we say and do. So, like the Bereans [Acts 17:11] who dared to test the teachings of an apostle, we are called and commanded to test Rick’s book by the same standard: God’s Holy Word. 

Here is the crucial flaw as I see it. On pages 56-57, Rick gives this invitation to his readers: “Right now, regardless of where you are reading this, I invite you to bow your head and quietly whisper the prayer that will change your eternity: “Jesus, I believe in you and I receive you. Thank you for dying on the cross to pay for all my sins. As much as I know how, I ask you to come into my life and help me learn to know you, trust you, and love you.” Go ahead.

Then he confidently gives this assurance, “If you sincerely meant that prayer, congratulations! Welcome to the family of God! You are now ready to discover and start living God’s purpose for your life.” It is a serious thing to give assurances of salvation. “Sincerity” is obviously crucial, but sincerity without the truth is less than worthless because it gives confidence to those who have no reason to claim it. The question is, “Has Dr. Warren provided the truth, all of it, so that his readers are actually responding to the full Gospel?

Warren is spot on when he begins by declaring that all of life is about one thing: The Glory of God.  But, then goes on to spend the rest of the book elevating the glory of man. The “purpose-driven life” promises meaning [21], simplicity [22], focus [23], energy [24], and eternity [25]. Citing John 1:12, Warren asserts that the purpose driven life begins when you, “believe that God loves you and made you for his purposes “and when you “receive Jesus Christ into your life by allowing Him to become your Lord and Savior.” [56-57]     

So, what is missing from Warren’s “gospel”? It is the full sense of Jesus’ command to “repent.” [Matt. 4:17, 21:32] In Warren’s work, the horrible truth that we have offended a holy God and stand condemned as enemies of His purposes is largely ignored. Our great sin seems to be that we have failed to live up to our potential rather than stubbornly turning our backs upon our Creator God. Nothing is said about our God being a “consuming fire.” There is no mention of the fear of God being the beginning of wisdom? [Ps. 111:10] And, no one after reading what Warren has written, would shake in his boots and beat upon his chest and cry out, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner”? [Luke 18:13]    

In other words there is no real crisis! There is little offense. Who would not want all of the benefits offered by the “purpose driven” life? Warren has presented such a positive message that it seems it cannot be refused. Unless, of course, the problem we face is much deeper and more profound than a wasted and unfulfilled existence.  Having blinded eyes [2 Cor. 4:4], hardened hearts [Eph. 4:18], dead spirits [Ephesians 2:1] and being enemies of God [Romans 5:5] would seem to require something infinitely more powerful than the promises of a “purpose driven life.” We are not mostly dead. We are dead! Like Lazarus, we need a miracle!    

It appears that Warren has been profoundly impacted by his self-confessed mentor, Robert Schuler. It was Schuler who insisted that defining sin as rebellion against God was shallow and insulting to the human being. It was Schuler who went on to affirm that the problem with man is not wickedness, but a “negative self-image.” And it was Schuler who declared that the “sin” of classical theology is that it is “God centered” rather than “man centered.” [All of these beliefs can be found in Schuler’s book, The New Reformation.] Then, it is not surprising that this disciple of the “positive thinking” guru would deliberately avoid the “bad news” of the Gospel.

The purpose driven life does not begin with my decision but with God’s work. It is by God’s grace we are saved through God’s gift of faith [Ephesians 2:1-8]. The bad news must come first for us to see for the first time just how helpless and hopeless we are. We deserve to experience the full wrath of a Holy God. Our problem is not a negative self-image. Our problem is not psychological. It is moral. A good dose of self-esteem will never deliver us from the depths of our depravity. 

Only when the Spirit of God opens our eyes to see both our desperate condition and the terrible cost paid for our redemption will we be on our way to a God-glorifying, purpose-driven life. It is the glory of God in the face of Christ on the cross that makes the difference. “Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.” It is that awesome truth, both pride-destroying and joy-instilling, that becomes the passion that fuels the Christ-glorifying, soul-satisfying, purpose-driven life.