Purpose Driven Life Reviewed (1)

Since the author (Rick Warren) asks the reader to take his book one chapter per day for 40 days, I felt like the least I could do is consider it and write about it in chunks. I certainly won’t be spending 40 days seriously contemplating it, but breaking my impressions into several posts seems to at least honor the point he’s wanting his readers to get.

I thought I would hate the book. Rick Warren is a generally loose theologian with a murky gospel who excuses a lot of things the Bible calls “sin” under the umbrella of pop psychology. I’m sure he’s a nice man but he’s not  a good pastor in the biblical sense of the word. Yet my impression so far is a little different than I expected it to be.

I hate the book more than I thought I would not because he is so far off, but because at several times he gets the reader so close and then dumps the truth down the toilet. For example in chapter three he lists all kinds of things which are not God that can control people. He is totally right about them. The problem is he talks about them more like Dr. Phil than the Apostle Paul. He calls them “driving forces” but the Bible defines them as idolatry. They are not episodes of confusion but rebellion. Then he lists his “solution” to be considering the benefits of a purpose driven life rather than repenting from a self-centered life.

Chapter 7 is the epitome of this. The chapter starts so well. Warren correctly explains the glory of God and what it means in practical terms. He outlines five ways Christians should be living for the glory of God responsibly. Then, just as I’m about to commend him, he tells people who aren’t sure if they’re living for God to just “believe and receive,” no strings attached. There is a sense in which salvation is offered as the free gift of God which nobody could ever earn, but it absolutely 100% of the time requires repentance and Warren does not use that word once. He gives the reader the impression that if they just trust Jesus, God will forgive whatever hangups and screw ups they’ve done without any commitment to turning away from them. Maybe that will come later, but the fact that he’s not explained the basics of the gospel yet seven days into calling people to live a purpose driven life is preposterous in my view.

Throughout the first seven chapters he abuses the Bible quite freely. My assumption is that anyone who uses 18 different Bible translations is doing it because he or she wants to twist the Scriptures to include only what they want to include. Warren does exactly that. What’s worse is he frequently claims passages mean something that they don’t (such as 1 John 4:18 should comfort someone who chooses to fear earthly circumstances rather than the fear of eternal judgment which it is actually referencing). He’ll also leave off parts of a verse like he does in Ch. 7 with John 3:36 when he wants to promise a carefree life in Christ but intentionally omits the 2nd half of the verse that says Jesus demands obedience from those He saves.

Part of his carelessness also shows up in the quotes or analogies he uses. Of note, he quotes George Bernard Shaw, an atheist who hated all types of organized religion, to make the point that being made in God’s image means to seek purpose. The purpose Shaw is claiming is antithetical to any purpose an image bearer of God should manifest.

There is a reason the book has sold so well. It is a call to get the contentment of a life purpose without any kind of actual commitment or cost whatsoever. That is the spirit of this age. Perhaps this will come later in the book for for now I find it seriously lacking. At least I give him credit for finding the sweet spot of what passes for Christianity in the west and writing a book that audience would read.

 

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Replant: How a Dying Church Can Grow Again Reviewed

This is a book I hoped to like a lot. I am working through the North American Mission Board’s process to be a replanting pastor and the topic is very interesting to me. I didn’t love it for reasons I’ll explain.

That being said, it is an easy read and I’m glad Mark DeVine and Darrin Patrick wrote it. The book chronicles one church (First Calvary Baptist Church in Kansas City) and its journey through a growing awareness of its status as a dying church, the political infighting of a few influential people who were happy to see the church die provided they remained in charge, and the path the church took (led by Mark) to deal with the problem. Mark and Darrin are both very conversational and they did the reader a favor by simply telling their story. At various places in the book they clarified that they were not trying to write a manual on replanting but just telling the story of one situation.

For what it’s worth, they accomplished what they set out to do. It just wasn’t that ambitious of a goal. The book has very little for anyone to learn other than a fact pattern that went basically unchallenged or even contemplated. The story is presented as though the steps taken were the only possible steps that could be taken and perhaps it’s true. The problem is that they never built (in my opinion) any kind of a basis that argued for why selling out this autonomous church and giving everything to The Journey was the best course of action. It’s not even clear how much other replanting/revitalizing options were considered or what the barriers in Mark’s mind were to their implementation. Pulling back the curtain on this could have been something very valuable to readers drawn to this kind of book but it is noticeably absent.

I have to say that while I sympathized somewhat with Mark as he tells the story with himself being the main character and protagonist, it was hard for me to like him as a character. By his own admission, he got most excited not at the idea of helping these believers find an electrifying identity in Christ, but rather by the prospect of ending their church as they knew it and handing it off to someone who would do more with it than they could (in his opinion). Even his comment about his family being absent from the church created less sympathy for him and more suspicion over how differently he would be processing things had his loved ones been directly affected by his decisions. I am confident my decision making is improved by my wife’s active involvement in it and I didn’t pick up any introspection by Mark as he discussed trying to figure out his next steps absent his wife other than to say that if the church folded or the new owners fired him he’d lose 1/3 of his income and his family would be impacted. To me, he came across much more as a consultant than a pastor and while I’m sure that was not the case in reality it is the way the book reads.

I gave it three stars because I have to admit that once I realized it was not a serious book I started skimming some parts and may have missed something that would counter the things I found lacking. Otherwise I would have given it two stars.

There are so many better books out there on the topic that offer more wisdom, more practical help, a better understanding of the supernatural battle that is replanting, more compassion for the senior saints that tend to be in these churches, etc. The best one I’ve read so far is Mark Clifton’s book Reclaiming Glory but even Darrin’s book Church Planter would equip most people far better to attack this kind of situation than this one did.