Well, it’s been a journey to get through this book and the additional time has given the more opportunities to reflect on it than had I just rushed through it. The book is very light reading and it would be easy to finish in under a week to a reader that is committed to finishing it. Rather than give a point by point review of everything I liked and didn’t like I thought I would group my comments.
- As I said above, it is very easy reading. My friends who did not finish high school could probably read and understand everything in it.
- Warren is trying to address a common problem of professing Christians living meaningless lives without any emphasis on eternity.
- There are certain points that he makes in the book such as God’s claim on the life of a Christian or the idea that the Christian life is to be one dedicated to serving others that are totally biblical and in short supply in our consumer driven churches.
- I appreciated his emphasis on churches being a group of people committed to one another and to Jesus. (“Attenders are spectators from the sidelines, members get involved in the ministry”, p 136)
- He can be very effective in using analogies and illustrations to make his points for him (for example when explaining that growing in Christ is meant to be a lifelong pursuit rather than a lightning bolt moment he says “When God wants to make a mushroom, he does it overnight, but when he wants to make a giant oak, he takes a hundred years”, p 222)
- Chapters 10 on the heart of worship and chapter 29 on service are perhaps the best chapters in the book.
- I have to admit that upon reflection, some of what initially rubbed me the wrong way ended up being an issue of improper emphasis rather than outright error.
- By far my #1 complaint about the book and the reason I could never recommend it is Warren’s willingness to twist the Scriptures to get verses to say things he wanted to be able to say. This is true in the majority of the verses he cites. He tries to explain his use of so many different versions by saying other versions make verses more clear, but in reality he often chooses translations that do not hold the original language’s meaning if they include a particular work he wants to use. So on page 141 when he chooses the GWT version to get the word “sympathetic” in English, he abandoned the truth that the word the GWT translates “sympathetic” every other version translates “compassionate.” The only reason he did that is he already talked about compassion and now he wanted to make the Bible say what he wanted it to say. (The Greek word is oiktirmos, and you can see this by simply looking up Col 3:12 on biblehub.com). He does the same thing over and over which sadly I find sinfully dishonest.
- Beyond that, there are just too many places in the book where he introduces psychobabble where the Scriptures have a voice. Psychology has some uses and I wouldn’t ever throw it overboard completely, but when the Bible has a competing claim, the Bible must win. Warren doesn’t seem to believe that – he believes things like “the more you fight a feeling, the more it consumes and controls you. You strengthen it every time you think it.” This is nowhere in the Bible but I did see it on Oprah once. This is most evident in his series of chapters on SHAPE (Spiritual Gifts, Heart, Abilities, Personality, Experience). Over and over he introduces concepts about who we are as people that are formed more by Dr. Phil than the Apostle Paul. When he introduces concepts like our “emotional heartbeat” to tell us where we should be serving he completely removes the supernatural from the equation. He seems to believe that God has hardwired people a certain way from birth and this never changes. To the contrary, the Apostle Paul said that he BECAME all things to all men that he might win some (1 Cor 9:22). I get why this is a popular stance to an American church that cherishes comfort above all else, but it’s just nowhere in the Bible.
- Those two reasons alone would be enough to sink this book but there are more reasons to dump it. Warren will occasionally introduce sin, but not God’s wrath. I don’t remember seeing the word “repent” anywhere, even though the Reformers thought it was critical to the purpose driven life (see esp. Luther’s 1st thesis). He prefers to talk about hurts, flaws, or mistakes. He writes about Christianity mostly in terms of the benefits it brings in the here and now rather than either the heavenly reward Paul and the author of Hebrews tout, or even as an escape from the wrath of God.
Overall, this book is much less bad than I thought it would be but it’s nowhere near good enough to recommend to anyone.
As I promised, I’m taking this review in sections as the author asked the reader to do. Granted my sections are bigger than his, but I trust I’m honoring the spirit of what he intended.
I’ve just finished day 20 of 40 and my giant takeaway is that I don’t hate the book as much as I suspected I would. There are many things in the book that are helpful and if believers actually did them would transform their lives. For example, Warren spends day 13 talking about worship that pleases God. He goes out of his way to say that all of life is essentially worship, not just the music time during a weekly gathering on a Sunday morning. I am amazed how many people identify worship exclusively with music when that concept is nowhere in the Bible. The chapter includes some negatives like the paragraph on nine ways people draw near to God which is more Dr. Phil than Peter, Paul, or John, but for the most part Bible Warren gets this one right.
There are lots of things I think he misses like how the holiness of God ought to terrify us or the Kingship of God ought to make us willing subjects or the transcendence of God ought to amaze us. He does more or less treat people as consumers and Christianity as the product that offers the most fulfilling life with the best benefits. But there is a lot of good mixed with the bad – certainly a lot more than I expected to see.
And I think that has been par for the course for most of these 20 chapters. For every time he chooses to talk psychobabble, there is good biblical instruction. For each time he makes the Kingdom of God sound like a shopping mall, he calls professing believers to some kind of accurate biblical commitment. For every time he abuses the Scripture with tortured interpretations or swaps out a Bible translation until he finds an English word he prefers, there is a time when he simply presents a passage in the proper context and calls the reader to respond.
Halfway through, this is still not a book I would recommend to anyone. The people I hang around are not likely to read more than a handful of books this year and there is just too much mixed content in here to have it push a good book off the list I would recommend for a light reader. But I am glad to have picked it up and had some preconceived notions of Warren get dispelled in the process.
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.