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Summer Interview Series: Richard Abanes (Part 2)
July 30, 2005
Describe, if you could, the nature of your involvement with Saddleback Community Church. I understand you were on staff there in the past.
I started attending Saddleback in 1994/95. I was on staff as the Creative Arts Director from 1998-2000, but left staff because I felt like God wanted me to write more books—which would have really been impossible if I was on staff. I have not been on staff since 2000 and I am not in any way an official spokesperson for the church or Rick Warren.
In my position on staff I was in charge of the dance ministry, the acting ministry, and helped in organizing various other special events related to music/worship (e.g., concerts). I also led worship services if Rick Muchow (the senior worship leader) was out of town, on vacation, or ill. And, of course, I usually sang on worship teams most weekends and performed special music at services, including Easter and Christmas. And my wife and I produced several CDs of music. These can be accessed from my www.abanes.com/eternitymusic.html website. My wife and I still serve in the music/worship ministry.
I also have taught “cult” classes at Saddleback, college studies, and apologetics courses for the church at purpose driven youth conferences. For the last couple of years, however, I have been devoting most of my time to writing and internet witnessing via chat rooms, bulletin boards, and blogs.
Your most recent book, of course, is Rick Warren and the Purpose That Drives Him. What made you decide to write this book?
First, let me be perfectly clear about something that I think needs to be said—I do NOT speak for Rick Warren, Saddleback Church, or purpose driven ministries. I am NOT an official spokesperson for anyone but myself. Second, no one—including Warren—had any control over the book’s content (nor did anyone—including Warren—ask me to write the book). Third, my book about Warren is just the latest in a long list of books that I have written about religious issues affecting the church, our culture, and the faith. It’s a volume that I felt needed to be written.
Now, in answer to your specific question, I decided to write this book for the same reason I have decided to write all of my other books—i.e., because I felt like there needed to be a clear presentation of accurate information on the subject. My personal writing ministry is dedicated to offering solid, documented, concise, and user-friendly material that people can use to make thoughtful/godly decisions about various issues: e.g., the end-times, near death experiences, the militias in America, The Da Vinci Code, and Harry Potter.
As with these particular topics, the subject of Rick Warren had become confused, messy, and weighted down with lies, gossip, rumors, and full-blown urban legends. It was disturbing to see false accusations being made against a movement, a man, and a ministry that was bringing so many people into God’s kingdom. I felt like someone had to step up to the plate and say, “Wait a minute, folks. Here’s the real scoop. You need to separate fact from fiction when it comes to Warren, Saddleback Church, and Warren’s purpose driven model for church health.”
It still amazes me how so many people now, even after various accusations have been proved false, are continuing to just repeat what they apparently WANT to be true about Warren—e.g., that he never talks about sin, that he thinks doctrine is unimportant, that he was mentored by Robert Schuller. The latter accusation, of course, has now become nothing less than an urban legend very akin to the Proctor & Gamble Satanism rumor (http://www.bibleistrue.com/roarlion/nlpg0999.htm) or the Madeline Murray O’Hare FCC petition rumor (see http://www.ewtn.com/expert/answers/madalyn_ohare.htm).
Expressing legitimate concerns and keeping those concerns on perspective is one thing. Such discussions are not only valid, but also important and needed. But making wild accusations against a fellow Christian to the point of calling him (or her) a liar, a non-Christian, a false teacher, a deceiver, or a New Ager is quite another thing. It is sin—plain and simple. And people who have made such false accusations need to be held accountable, especially the more influential critics of Warren such as John MacArthur, Todd Wilken, and Greg Koukl—three men whose ministries have done a great deal of good. But now their irresponsible accusations about Warren have really caused me to question their motives and their concerns for truth. At the very least, they have been terrifically careless in making the comments they have made. I deal with some of their accusations in my book. Truth—that is what is important.
It seems to me that the more conservative wing of Protestantism was been nearly unanimous in their concern for The Purpose Driven Life. We certainly don’t see conservative leaders like R.C. Sproul, John MacArthur, John Piper and the like endorsing the book or using it in their churches. Why do you think this is?
Well, this question itself strikes me as a bit odd. Conservatives have not been “nearly unanimous” in voicing concerns about The Purpose Driven Life, which by the way, is only the most notable book written by Warren. He also has written The Purpose Driven Church, which is a whole separate issue (i.e., what is the model for a healthy church?). There are plenty of conservatives (church leaders, pastors, evangelists) who have no problem with The Purpose Driven Life. Warren himself, who is a Southern Baptist, IS a conservative—not only politically and morally/ethically, but also theologically. And just a quick glance at the endorsers of my book will reveal Lee Strobel, Luke Wilson, James Walker, Don Veinot, james Bjornstad, and Ron Rhodes. These are all conservative apologists! Supporters of The Purpose Driven Life can be found across the conservative church spectrum from Lutherans, to Baptists, to Assemblies of God, to pentecostals, to many Calvary Chapel pastors. Really, you can’t much more conservative that the Assemblies of God! This is not a “conservative” vs. “liberal” issue at all, which is what some of Warren’s critics have tried to make it (e.g., Todd Wilken). This is an issue of personal preference when it comes to subjective views on how one can best: a) witness to the unsaved; and b) inspire Christians to really decide to give their all for God (not out of any works-righteousness trip or carnal desires for reward, but rather, out of gratitude and love toward God for what he has done in Christ).
So why don’t some people use The Purpose Driven Life in their churches? Well, I suppose that some people just don’t like it. Others obviously like the way they are already doing things right now, so they figure, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Some undoubtedly are not being led by God to use it in their church—which is just fine, by the way. Warren’s book is not the ultimate panacea for saving the unsaved or inspiring Christians to move on to maturity. It’s a tool that right now is bringing a lot of people closer to Christ; a basic devotional that offers a basic “Come to Christ” message, which Warren has coupled with five purposes that he sees presented in God’s Word:
1. “You were planned for God’s pleasure” (Revelation 4:11)
2. “You were formed for God’s family” (Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:4-7)
3. “You were created to become like Christ” (Ephesians 5:2; Philippians 2:5; Colossians 3:13; 1 Peter 2:21; 1 John 2:6)
4. “You were shaped for serving God” (Romans 12:1-2)
5. “You were made for a mission” (Matthew 28:19)
If people (i.e., pastors or church workers/leaders) want to use some other means to reach out to people, then go for it. I would have assumed, however, that everyone would be rejoicing about the many people now coming to a saving knowledge of the biblical Jesus because of the book, rather than joining up with some cult or simply wandering aimlessly through their godless/meaningless lives. As for the three men you mention, they are very different, in my opinion.
First, Sproul is brilliant. I love the guy. I just saw him and spoke to him in Denver at the Christian Bookseller’s Convention. He actually watched me from about three feet away as I was giving a radio interview about Warren. I was about ready to come out of my skin I was so nervous. He’s one of heroes. Anyway, Sproul is great, but I certainly don’t agree with everything he says (like his position on contemporary music). As for his views of Warren, I haven’t really heard him say a lot about about Warren specifically or about Warren’s book. I do know, however, that he has commented on the Church Growth Movement (CGM) in general and also on “seeker sensitive” services (see “Swimming Upstream” by Sproul). But this is not specifically related to Warren—although Sproul might have intended it to be so. If so, then Sproul has been fed some erroneous information. Warren has not been in the CGM since the mid-1980s. And not all seeker sensitive services at all churches are even the same. Sproul may indeed be operating under some false notions. I’ll give you an example. In his article “Swimming Upstream,” he writes: “The only seekers we tend to draw with seeker sensitive services are believers seeking a different church. By presenting a God who wants us to look at ourselves, who doesn’t judge and command, who has a wonderful set of insights on how to have a happy, healthy marriage we put God’s imprimatur on narcisism. There’s nothing evangelicals like more than to be told that God loves them just the way they are.”
IF Sproul is referring to Warren (and that’s a big IF), then this one statement tells me that Sproul doesn’t know what is going on with Warren, Saddleback, or purpose driven teachings (as well as “seeker-sensitive” services at Saddleback). In my ten years of attending Saddleback Church, the majority of people drawn to the church that I have met were NOT believers just looking for another church. They were non-Christians who eventually accepted Christ and were baptized (literally thousands of them). Moreover, the believers who HAVE come to church (such as me and my wife) were drawn by the life-application sermons that helped them put into practice God’s Word on a daily basis (i.e., become doers of the Word rather than just hearers of the Word). Also, Warren does not present a God who does not judge us or give commands that we stop sinning! He has gone so far as to specifically denounce various sins from the pulpit. Moreover, Warren does not teach that God is happy with us “just the way” we are. I have heard Warren say, on countless occasions from the pulpit, that God is in the business of transforming lives and changing us. In fact, the third purpose in Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life mentions how we were “created to be like Christ”! This is not God telling us to just stay the way we are and get happy.
Second, concerning John Piper, I have not read a lot of what he has said specifically about Warren, The Purpose Driven Life, or Saddleback Church. Again, like Sproul, he seems to be criticizing “church growth” as an issue that he may think includes Warren and The Purpose Driven Life. I’m not sure about that, but I have not read any direct accusations from him. For instance, in his 2002 article ‘My Anguish: My Kinsmen Are Accursed,” he does not name Warren, but he says: “[T]he more you adjust obscure Biblical doctrines to make Christian reality more attractive to unbelievers, the less Christian reality there is when they arrive. Which means that what looks like success in the short run, may, in the long run, prove to be failure. If you alter or obscure the Biblical portrait of God in order to attract converts, you don’t get converts to God, you get converts to an illusion. This is not evangelism, but deception.” I agree with Piper!!! But it has nothing to do with Saddleback, Warren, purpose driven, or seeker-sensitive services as they are at Saddleback. I highlight as they are at Saddleback because I know that there are some churches out there claiming to be seeker-sensitive when in reality they are not seeker-sensitive, they are seeker-driven, and they water-down the Gospel—just as Piper articulates. I think this is part of the problem—similarity of terms being used by different people. It’s caused a lot of confusion.
As for John MacArthur, he simply does not know what he is talking about and has shown himself to be a loose cannon when it comes to Warren, The Purpose Driven Life, and Saddleback Church. I am not sure who is feeding him information, but it is false. But perhaps MacArthur just doesn’t care enough about truth to be careful in his own research. Therefore, I fault MacArthur for either: a) not doing his own research; or b) not doing his own research carefully enough before falsely accusing Warrren of things that Warren has never taught. A good example would be MacArthur’s outrageous statement in CNN about what Warren preaches. In my book, I contrast MacArthur’s false CNN accusation about the purpose driven message with what Warren has actually stated—it is the exact opposite of what MacArthur alleged!
Don Veinot recently asked Harvest House Publishers to withdraw his endorsement of your book. What is your reaction to his request? [This question surprised Abanes as he had not yet read Veinot’s letter retracting his endorsement].
My only response is now here — http://abanes.com/donveinot.html
In my experience, of all the objections to The Purpose Driven Life, the most common is that it Rick Warren often misuses Scripture. There was no mention of this in your book. Why did you not address the topic?
We must be very careful here on a couple of fronts before we fire off accusations against Warren that we are not prepared to fire at just about everyone else.
First, there is the issue of translations/paraphrases. This is a highly complex issue that is complicated by the fact that far too many Christians go as far as the KJV and then, BAM, no more—everything else is a perversion of God’s Word. To these people even Warren’s use of the NIV, NASB, and other legit translations would be enough to attack him. In my original draft of the book I had about 20 pages dedicated to translations, including discussions of the KJV, the Majority Text, and related issues—but it all had to be cut in favor of what the publishers (and I) thought would be more relevant to a larger audience.
Second, we have Warren’s handling of various biblical passage from translations (paraphrases don’t really count because they are, well, paraphrases subject to drastic changes). I dealt with this issue, too, but once more the material was deleted because of other accusations about Warren not even being a Christian that HAD to be discussed. So, let me say right off that I do not agree with the way Warren used every single verse of scripture in his book. But I also do not agree with countless pastors on the way they have used various scriptures. No author or a speaker communicates everything perfectly. Warren is no exception. But one would think that fellow believers would grant a bit of room for human imperfection to someone whose goal is to bring people to the saving knowledge of Christ—not a false Christ, not a false God, and not some self-help plan rooted in the bankrupt Human Potential Movement.
Sadly, the very opposite seems to be true. In a somewhat analogous incident, John the disciple came to Jesus one day and said, “‘Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name; and we forbad him, because he followeth not with us.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us’” (Luke 9:49-50). In reference to this verse, The Wycliffe Bible Commentary observes: “The disciples were bigoted. Because this man was not of their company, they were ready to discount his work completely” (Charles F. Pfeiffer and Everett F. Harrison, eds., The Wycliffe Bible Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1962; 1987 edition], p. 1045). Are we only to smile and give approval to those pastors/teachers who always get EVERYTHING right? If so, then we have some problems.
- Ever hear a pastor/teacher quote Rev. 3:20-21 in reference to unbelievers?? HERETIC! This passage is really written to a backsliden church.
- Ever hear a pastor/teacher use Jer. 29:11 to assure Christians that God has great plans for them? HERETIC! This passage is really directed toward Israel.
- Ever hear a pastor/teacher say that Matt. 18:18-20 has to do with prayer. HERETIC! This passage is really about church discipline.
- Ever hear a pastor/teacher explain that 2 John 10-11 means you should not let Mormon missionaries or Jehovah’s Witnesses into your house? HERETIC! This passage is really about church homes in the first century and not allowing false teachers preach in that church home congregation.
The list goes on and on. I cannot count how many pastors/teachers, evangelists, radio Bible personalities, and even lay Christians have misused all of the above passage (and more)! Now, should we start labeling their entire ministries as false, lying, deceptive, liberal, New Age, watered-down, or perverted? Hardly. And yet people are being this exacting and unforgiving when it comes to Warren. Is there some kind of anti-Warren agenda going on? I suppose if some people want to be so judgmental about every little thing Warren says, then that is their choice. But they will have to be consistent and view/judge with equal harshness anyone else who has has ever committed the same unspeakable crimes—i.e., not getting every little biblical passage perfect. Let’s just be fair and denounce as heretics all pastors/teachers who have ever misused any of the above verses (yes, I am being a bit sarcastic).
I think my point is clear—nobody has it all perfect. Mistakes will happen, overstatements will be voiced, hyberbolic remarks will be made, and flawed appeals to scriptures will be given. Why? Because we are all sinners saved by grace. Warren is human. So at times, for example, he unwisely used hyberbole in The Purpose Driven Life and used some passages in ways that are not so perfect. For instance, he probably should not have said “whenever” God wanted to transform someone He used 40 day (but I will add that the biblical examples Warren gives of 40-days are not as horrific as some people have made them out to be).
This obsession with how Warren occasionally made sideways uses of a few biblical verses ignores so many other things—i.e., Warren calls his readers to Christ, tells readers that life without God has no meaning, assures readers that Jesus died on the cross for our sins, reminds people that storing up temporal treasures is waste of time, exhorts people to live like Christ, teaches everyone that sin must be avoided, says that it is important to serve in the church, and promises that one of the greatest things we can do is to tell others about Jesus. All of this is virtually ignored. The Purpose Driven Life is not perfect. Okay; fine. But goodness gracious, some people/critics are acting like it’s the Satanic Bible. And they are not even looking at what Warren has said in so many of his sermons about Jesus, the biblical way of salvation, sin, the cross, or the need to reject religion in favor of a relationship with Christ.
I am reminded at this point of Matthew 23: 23-24: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.”
Is Rick Warren largely inaccessible to the average Joe like myself (or even yourself)?
Rick is about as inaccessible as any high profile pastor, teacher, author, or politician. Things must be this way or else he would be literally swamped with hundreds (more likely thousands) of persons who want just a minute or two. Obviously, even just a minute or two that is multiplied by so many people would consume all of Rick’s time. It’s just not possible for him to live any other way. Regarding my contact with him, I usually see Rick casually during church services at which I sing—because I am backstage. But it is only small-talk, a joke here or there, a brief time to just say, “Hey, how are ya? Things going okay?” Then, both of us must do our own thing—he preaches and I get ready to sing. If I really need to speak with him, I know the people to call, who in turn set something up. But this is terrifically difficult because of Rick’s schedule, which is unbelievably busy. I don’t know how the guy does it all. So, I don’t meet with him often at all.
Many people speak about Matthew 18 in regards to Warren, teaching that before we can criticize his ministry we must approach him personally. But is this practical?
I do not, I repeat, I do not see Matthew 18 in this way. First of all, it would indeed impractical for most people when it comes to Warren. All you have to do is read my above answer about access to Warren to know that. Second, there is nothing biblical that requires us to alert someone privately before we criticize them publicly, review a book they have written, or make observations on lectures they have given—this is especially true if we are dealing with a teaching that is biblically askew or heretical (see Galatians 2:11-14). It might be considerate to notify them, but it is not mandated by scripture.
Additionally, Matthew 18 has little to do with critiquing what someone has publicly said/done either doctrinally or ministerially. We are explicitly told to publicly expose false teachers, guard the faith, and defend the purity of the gospel (Acts 20:26-28; 1 Tim 1:18-19; 6:20; 2 Tim. 4:2-5; Jude 3; also see 1 Tim. 1:20; 2 Tim. 2:17-18; 4:14-15; 3 John 9-10). Matthew 18 actually relates more to personal sins committed against you by another Christian—either privately and publicly. This should first be handled privately. In other words, we can say all we want to say about someone publicly as long as that is not the first step in notifying them of their sins against us (I would also include private sins discovered such as adultery, lying, stealing, cheating, etc. etc. etc.).
So in my opinion, Matthew 18 really does not really apply in Warren’s case. Other passages, however, do apply when it comes to Warren—most notably, Exodus 20:16: “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.” This has been violated by too many critics of Warren to count. Other passages they have violated include 2 Timothy 2:24-26 (correcting with gentleness and respect), Ephesians 4;15 (speaking the truth in love). Moreover, many of these critics have done nothing more than instigated strife and division, along with gossip, disputes, slander, and disturbances (see 1 Corinthians 1:10; 2 Corinthians 12:20). Forget about contacting Warren personally, these critics have not even bothered to get their facts straight and avoid gossip! I am especially troubled by high profile critics who actually COULD have gotten through to Warren, but did not do so.
For example, you have John MacArthur, who could easily have contacted Warren, as far back as several years ago when MacArthur first started voicing concerns about seeker-sensitive and related issues. But no contact that I know of was made. Most recently, we have MacArthur’s accusations against Warren on CNN that were outrageous, irresponsible, and a clear violation, in my opinion, of the aforementioned biblical passages. Why? Because: 1) MacArthur falsely accused Warren of teaching things that Warren does not teach; and 2) MacArthur could have indeed gotten through to Warren before making such a wild charge (in my book, as you know, I document what MacArthur stated as opposed to what Warren actually teaches). Another example would be Chuck Smith who, like MacArthur, has publicly denounced Rick Warren and his purpose driven teachings—not only on the radio, but from the pulpit as well. Smith, also like MacArthur, could have easily gotten through to Warren in a heartbeat. But Smith has, to my knowledge, never tried to contact Warren. Yet he should have done so. As a result, Smith has falsely accused Warren of basically teaching an incorrect way of salvation. That charge, in my book, would certainly qualify as a violation of the aforementioned biblical passages.
As for Warren’s many other critics, they probably never get through to him. But this does not absolve them from needing to be careful and not violating the biblical passages I have cited. I am talking at this point about folks like Deborah & Dave Dombrowski (Lighthouse Trails Research Project), Paul Proctor (News With Views), Todd Wilken (Issues, Etc. on KFUO radio), James Sundquist (“Whose Driving the Purpose Driven Church”), Warren Smith (“Deceived On Purpose”), and others. I discuss many of these individuals on my website. It is ironic that they are the ones who, to varying degrees, are infecting the church with deception and lies—i.e., deception and lies about Rick Warren. Most of these people are not only misrepresent Warren’s teachings/views/faith, but they seem quite willing to deliberately twist and pervert his words to serve their own anti-Warren agenda. This is all very sad to me, very sad indeed.
You also see in their writings a kind of mean-spirited nastiness that I have rarely run across except when dealing with hardcore cultists. I don’t just mean a light sarcasm here or there, or some clever turn of phrase that might be a bit edgy—I am talking about full-blown, vengeful, hate-filled kind of nastiness that is soaked in vicious rhetoric. To be honest, after reading some of their writings, I can only be thankful that we are not living in a Medieval Europe that they rule—I think that Warren, everyone at Saddleback (most especially me), and a large number of purpose-driven pastors would probably be either hanged or burned. I see in Warren’s harshest critics a very clear witch-hunt mentality. These people have no love in my opinion (or knowledge)—only zeal.
I also think that there are a lot of critics out there who are trying to be apologists (or defenders of the faith), but they have no idea how to do it right. They think that being an apologist is about attacking, attacking, attacking. However, that is not what being an apologist is about. It’s about bringing correction in a Christ-like manner, with gentleness and respect (2 Tim. 2:24-26), in humility, with a broken heart, and love—most importantly, love. Also what makes it difficult for them is a stunning lack of knowledge when it comes to how a person should properly conduct research and analyze information. They have no training at all, which leads them to faulty conclusions, unsubstantiated accusations, unwarranted assumptions, and plain old factual errors. You would never allow a plumber or an artist to diagnose your illness. But this is exactly what is happening when it comes to criticisms of Warren—people who have no business delving into the area of serious apologetic work are in way over their heads. Thanks to the Internet, any Tom, Dick, or Harry (or Harriet) who thinks they’ve got the inside scoop on Warren from a statement here or a word/term there runs with it and publishes some radically flawed diatribe on the Internet. That is wrong. It’s sin. It’s bearing false witness.
I’m with you. I do not understand Matthew 18 to apply in this way either. So how should we approach this with Warren or any other public figure?
- Make sure you have your facts straight. Do your homework. Remember that not everything you read on the Internet, hear on the radio, or see on TV is true.
- Get documentation—and that does not mean just having some accurately quoted sentence that someone says. How is that sentence being interpreted in light of other statements a person has said on the same issue? What about other sources to look at?
- Be sure to distinguish between what is truly “biblical” and what is just opinion, style, or personality.
- Keep things in perspective—i.e., when it comes to Warren we are not talking about an abortion doctor who says that there is no personal God to whom we are accountable. We are talking about a classic Southern Baptist pastor who is bringing a lot of people, by God’s grace, into the Lord’s glorious kingdom of heaven. if you don’t like everything he does or the way he does it, then fine. But let’s keep it all in perspective and not let our emotions take it to a level where Christ stops being honored and lifted up.
- Talk to people who are NOT just in your little circle of believers. Seek the opinion of others who may not agree with you on every single issue (or pet belief). I have done this regarding Warren and certainly have grown as a result of it.
Again, I want to stress that criticism is NOT a bad thing. I have spent my whole ministry as an apologist raising concerns and criticisms about various people, religious belief systems, and related issues (e.g., Harry Potter, The Da Vinci Code, Mormonism, the New Age Movement), but we need to be careful in what we say and how we say it.
It seems that Rick Warren has done little to defend himself against his detractors.
This is very true. I think it is quite probably because he is too busy to deal with his critics in a way that would be helpful and/or thorough. The only personal response I know about is his May 31, 2005 email to Lighthouse Trails Research Project (now posted at my website). He has an extremely busy schedule. It would be too time consuming for him to do much about all of it. Instead, I believe that there are some Saddleback personnel and purpose driven staff trying to answer as many private inquiries as possible.
For example, in response to questions about Warren Smith’s anti-Warren book Deceived on Purpose, Saddleback’s Jon Walker’s (vice-president of Purpose-Driven Ministries) wrote a very brief April 12, 2005 letter that is being sent to inquiriers. It refers to Warren Smith as follows: “[Ex-cultists] are naturally sensitive to the danger of deception and sometimes begin to see evidence of cult belief in places where it simply does not exist. They read their own experiences into other people’s lives and attribute cult meanings to words and phrases when the authors in fact are using them in the ordinary ways used by people who have no cult connection… . When Mr. Smith finds ‘evidence’ of New Age beliefs in The Purpose-Driven Life, he is reading his own past cult beliefs into it—without regard for what Pastor Rick actually is saying.”
This is about as detailed any response from Saddleback is going to be. The staff—especially Rick—is simply too busy to get into the myriad of accusations, Bible interpretation disagreements, and other charges being leveled against the church. The critics, at this point, have become insatiable in their hunger for more dirt on Warren. And they are churning out accusations and Internet articles faster than Warren or Saddleback can even read them—let alone answer them. Again, the rumors and gossip circulating about Warren has become a situation very akin to the creation of Urban Legends. We will never hear the end of the “Proctor and Gamble are Satanists” scare. And I don’t think we will ever hear the end of the “Rick Warren was mentored by Robert Schuller” rumor.
By the way, speaking of Schuller, he himself (or at least his Hour of Power website, see http://www.hourofpower.org/Jubilee/who_are_we.cfm) is now pushing the whole Warren was mentored by Schuller story—but that does not surprise me. For years now, as I document in my book, Schuller has been trying to get Warren to speak at his Crystal Cathedral (and/or his Church Growth Institute), but Warren has said “no,” “no,” “no,” and “no.” So, I am assuming that Schuller is may now just grabbing on to the next best thing to keep his name linked with Warren’s—i.e., perpetuate the “Schuller mentored Warren” rumor. It certainly hurts Warren, but let’s be honest, it certainly helps Schuller. This is just an opinion, of course. I have no proof of Schuller’s motivation. All can say is that what you see up on the Hour of Power website is false.
I think we can safely assume that this is deliberate.
I wouldn’t say “deliberate” at all, I would say unavoidable. Rick pastors a church of 16,000 or so, is speaking constantly, is writing other materials (like his newsletter, perhaps another book, etc.), and is always flying around somewhere for something—often to other countries. How could he hope to possible defend himself against the plethora of Internet attacks that have been released (not to mention that will be released) wherein he is nit-picked for just about every word he has ever spoken or written? It would really be an impossible task. He might as well try to bottle the ocean in mason jars.
I’d like to get your sense of how many Christians are even aware that controversy surrounds Warren and his books.
I really have no idea about numbers. I know that the two anti-Warren books Deceived on Purpose: The New Age Implications of the Purpose-Driven Church (Warren Smith) and Whose Driving the Purpose Driven Church (James Sundquist) have sold many copies. These volumes, by the way, are prime examples of how NOT to do research, how NOT to do apologetics, and how NOT to think clearly or logically. They are appalling and in my opinion fall under the condemnation of Exodus 20:16: “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.”
And, of course, we have hundreds—probably thousands—of internet articles that are filled with not only perhaps some legitimate points of concern, but full-blown lies and accusations that run the gamut from bizarre delusions about Warren to end-time conspiracy fantasies. There would be no end to Warren’s attempts at trying to deal with all of this stuff. I can’t even deal with it and I am immersed in it full time! I can sit at my desk for hours doing interviews and trying to respond to things and at the end of the day I have not even made a dent in the wall anti-Warren material. But soon I will be moving on to other issues anyway, like I always do with any of my books.
Again, the issue of “how many” people know or don’t know about Warren is not even a concern of mine. Rick has his ministry. And I have my ministry, which is based on trying to follow Christ as best as I can, speaking the truth, and reporting on issues affecting the church/society/culture.
Do you have any concerns that your work in defending him will serve to make a greater number of people aware that there is a controversy?
No. I really believe that I was supposed to write the book and that it was the godly thing to do. My Lord is a sovereign King—so in my mind, I can rest, knowing that those people who are meant to read the book will read it. And those people who need to be made aware of the controversy, for whatever reasons, will be made aware of it. You see, I am not really interested in defending Rick Warren. That is NOT why I wrote the book. Defending “Rick Warren” the man is just a side benefit of defending truth, being honest about what a brother in Christ really teaches, and correcting misperceptions about a leading evangelical pastor. The way people have treated, criticized, and misrepresented Warren would be shameful no matter who was the target of so much hate—and I do mean hate.
So, rather than being concerned about who is, or who is not, going to read my book and “find out” about what’s going on, I am far more interested in making sure that there is a resource out there that will be able to: a) help the ones who already do know about it; b) help the ones who may at some point find about about it; and c) teach everyone who happens to read it a little something about being very careful in this present day world of mass communication. I also hope that my book brings some degree of accountability to bear on those persons who, for whatever reasons, have spread false accusations, rumors, and gossip about a brother in Christ.
What plans do you have for further books?
Too many to even list. I’m always thinking; always have dozens of book ideas. It’s just a matter of praying about which one to do and if any publishing company agrees with me.
Are you currently writing or do you hope to begin soon?
Yeah, sure. I’m always writing. I am working on a book now for Harvest House on video games—a sort of guide for parents. I’m really concerned about kids and teens these days (I used to work a lot with youth), so I want to provide a nice guide for parents that will alert them to both the benefits and dangers of video games—Xbox, PS2, and PC/Mac computer games. Then, I have another book coming out that I can’t really take about right now. And after that, I am going to start working on my first two novels.
A little off-topic, but name a few CDs that you are listening to these days.
Hmmmm. That’s a tough one. I do not listen to a lot of music, even though I am a musician. And, truth be told, I don’t actually listen to a lot of Christian music at all. Probably because when I have time to spend on Christian music, I tend to want to work on my own stuff for the Lord. You know, write some new worship tunes or inspirational songs? I think over the last few months the only Christian CDs I have listened to have been WOW 2004, The Noise Inside (Adam Watts), Awaken (Natalie Grant), and All About Love (Steven Curtis Chapman).
As for secular music, I have many groups/artists that I listen to on a regular basis. A own a LOT of country music, which I listen to almost every day: Rascal Flatts, Jimmy Wayne, Tim McGraw, On the harder side of music I listen to Green Day. On the softer side, I’ll usually throw in some Norah Jones. For purely instrumental stuff, usually when I am cleaning up my office, or just surfing the web, I’ll throw in some really awesome CDs by a group called CUSCO or some CD of “world music” (usually South American stuff).
Thanks for your time, Richard. I’ll give you one last chance for a parting shot - a chance to say whatever you wish! Take it away…
Well, first of all, you never want to just say “take it away” to an author—he/she will go on forever. But I will try to be kind and considerate.
I suppose that I would want to close with a word about apologetics in general; defending the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3). Many times people do not read this passage all of the way through to verse 4. They stop at verse 3 and read “the faith” as something more akin to “the way I see everything in the Bible” or “the popular views in my church that me and my friends/family find most comfortable.” But this is not what the text says.
Jude 1:4 compares “the faith” delivered to “the saints” with the things taught by “ungodly persons” who “deny our only master and Lord Jesus Christ” (NASB). The NIV says, “deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.” Here is the basis for “defending” the faith against a teacher or a ministry—you must have proof (not hearsay, assumptions, or preconceived ideas) that a person/ministry is denying the biblical Christ. Defending the faith means defending Christ (and by implication, the gospel that surrounds him). It means standing against those who reject the Jesus of the Bible and preach some false way of salvation. And Paul the apostle clearly defined the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:1-5—i.e., the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus (the biblical Jesus) for our sins.
And by the way, someone is not preaching another Jesus if they have a naive understanding of the faith and are confused on a number of issues. For example, many Christians when they first come to Christ—and even for many years afterward, depending on their rate of spiritual growth—have a very flawed concept of the Trinity. They express the Trinity in terms that are clearly more reflective of modalism (a heresy condemned centuries ago). Are they preaching another Jesus? No. They are confused and need to grow in knowledge (much like Ken Blanchard, whose spiritual naivete and ignorance in the area of discernment cause him for many years to associate with and lend his support to blatantly non-Christian people and organizations).
But I digress. Back to the issue of apologetics, a Christian is NOT “defending the faith” if they disagree with another Christian’s opinion of The Message—or some other Bible paraphrase (or translation). They are simply expressing an opinion (even if it may be a very true one based on sound arguments). Similarly, a Christian is NOT “defending the faith” by ranting and raving against contemporary Christian music, different styles of church services, ways of preaching (topical vs. expository), or books that do not contain the word “hell” or “sin” enough times for their liking (e.g., The Purpose Driven Life). Such criticisms, again, are mere opinions.
Sadly, however, there are far too many Christians these days who have exalted their own opinions about such things to the level of what they consider “biblical,” “godly,” or the absolute “truth.” This invariably leads to a kind of holy crusade that seeks to slash and burn everything and everyone falling short of some opinion. But such an approach is not apologetics—it is nothing more than witch hunting, narrow-minded legalism, and Pharisee-like thinking. Moreover, these same people for some reason tend to consistently express themselves in terrifically unloving ways that are blatantly contrary to the attitude of Christ (see 2 Timothy 2:24-26 and 1 Corinthians 13). They seem more interested in hurting than helping.
For example, Paul Proctor, who is a rabid fundamentalist critic of Rick Warren, has written: “much of my writing time these days seems to be spent rebuking much of the spiritual whiskey he [i.e., Rick Warren] pours his patrons in the name of Christ, rendering them drunk, delusional and unable to distinguish right from wrong, good from evil and sacred from sacrilegious. Like alcoholics, the more his regulars drink, the thirstier they get; the thirstier they get, the more they drink, until they all begin sounding brilliant to each other and yet silly to the sober souls around them that fear God” (“Gathering or Scattering?,” April 23, 2005, http://www.newswithviews.com/PaulProctor/proctor69.htm).
Is this kind of ugly imagery really necessary? What does Proctor think he is accomplishing by speaking so hatefully/hurtfully about Christians (or maybe he does not even consider them Christians). It seems that he is deliberately using references that are commonly abhorrent to Christians: alcoholism, strong drink, drunks, carousing in bars, etc. etc. etc. This is not apologetics. It is mean-spirited attacking that reflects not the Bible or Christ, but rather, tabloid journalism.
Correcting someone’s doctrine, rebuking someone for error, or exposing a false teacher should not be something that we enjoy or relish—it should be something that hurts us deeply, makes us weep, and humbles us. It is by God’s grace that WE are not the ones denying Christ. It is by God’s grace that WE are not the ones destined for hell. It is by God’s grace that WE are not the ones falling under the condemnation reserved for those who are misrepresenting the gospel and deceiving the sheep.
Apologetics is not a game of a war to be won. Nor is it an area of Christian service to be entered into lightly—i.e., without knowing what you are doing. But I have found that far too many self-professed “defenders of the faith” are NOT really doing what they are doing to defend the faith at all. They are in it for their own egos. They actually seem to enjoy the conflict. They almost appear to be feeding off of the fighting. It seems to make them feel vibrant and righteous to be able to criticize others. (Personally, it makes me feel horrible).
These people, I believe, thrive on it because it scratches a very hard-to-reach itch that comforts the sinful self. It is the itch of pride. And in order to scratch it, which in turn makes them feel so very important, they will resort to almost anything—lies, gossip, an unwillingness to be corrected/taught, unforgiveness, unkindness, unfairness, personal betrayal, lack of love, and even hatred. The most common tactic is to simply ignore facts and/or make things up.
I offer Ingrid Schlueter as an example. Her approach is not apologetics. It is not the way of Christ. She demonstrates again and again little more than a desire to dig up dirt and trap is not what it means to be a Christian. In a recently posted article of hers at Christian Worldviews Network, for instance, she states in reference to the whole Rick Warren-Ken Blanchard controversy:
“After the facts of Ken Blanchard’s ties were made public three months ago, some Christian leaders, such as Rick Warren, came forth and said that Ken Blanchard is a new Christian. However, Ken Blanchard has made no such statement … . To this date I know of no other public statement by Blanchard that suggests this story that took place in the mid-eighties is not true… . Therefore, according to Ken Blanchard’s own admission, he became a Christian nearly twenty years ago.”
Now, this is amazing to me since the facts surrounding this issue have been out for quite some time. Until very recently, Warren was indeed under the mistaken impression that Blanchard was a new/young Christian. Now, he realizes that Blanchard has been a Christian for quite some time, but has been stunted in his spiritual growth. But Schlueter wants to continue to make this some kind of conspiratorial cover-up, and insists on making it seem as if Warren is still pushing the Blanchard-is-a-new-Christian angle as if he is using it as some excuse.
Several weeks ago (May 31, 2005), I posted an article on my website wherein I stated: “Warren seems to be under the impression here that Blanchard is very young in Christ (e.g. less than five years as a Christian), which to Warren’s mind apparently explains why Blanchard has made so many mistakes in his endorsements.” Warren now knows better. And knows about Blanchard’s spiritual maturity problems, as well as Blanchard’s ongoing efforts to grow in his knowledge in this area. Schlueter. however, seems to only want to keep repeating that Warren is saying Blanhcard is a young Christian—which, if true, would indicate some kind of cover-up (exactly what Schlueter is continuing to fixate on).
Less than two days ago, in fact, she emailed me about my ongoing untruthful claims that Blanchard is a baby/new Christian in the face of her proof that he became a Christian back in the mid-1980s. This, despite the fact that on May 31, 2005, in the very same article I cited above, I said: “Blanchard actually may have become a Christian as far back as 1985, which would mean either: a) he is seriously stunted in his doctrinal growth and biblical understanding of the faith; or b) he does indeed accept/embrace the false teachings advanced by the people he has endorsed. From personal communications I have had with Blanchard’s organization ‘Lead Like Jesus,’ I am personally inclined to believe that Blanchard is a Christian, but seriously confused about various doctrines and the ramifications of various beliefs held by the people he has endorsed.” And in my most recent official statement on Blanchard, I write: “Interestingly, it was his success in the secular world that caused him to begin thinking about God, which in turn led him to become a Christian in the mid-1980s. This has been verified by a number of sources, including his autobiography We Are the Beloved (1994)” (http://abanes.com/abanesblanchard.html).
Did Schlueter not bother to read any of this?
So, in my email response to Schlueter, I stated: “Please tell me where I have said that Ken is a baby Christian, a new Christian (the quote and URL link would be very helpful). If I have stated such a thing, I will gladly retract it. I actually have stated, to the best of my knowledge, that Rick Warren mistakenly believed until recently that Ken Blanchard was a new/baby Christian. THAT is what I have been saying [on message boards posts and elsewhere]. I also have stated that Blanchard is ‘a Christian with discernment problems.’ I stand by this position, which is in agreement with the statement recently issued by Watchman Fellowship” (see http://www.watchman.org/blanchardupdate.htm).
What is the the Great Commandment (Matthew 22)?—to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength; and to love your neighbor as yourself (e.g., treat others as you would have them treat you). This is how we are live out our Christianity—and defend it, I might add (cf. Ephesians 5:1-2; Philippians 2:1-5). And, of course, there also is the Great Commission (Matthew 28). This is how we are to give out our Christianity (c.f., Ephesians 4;15; 2 Timothy 2:24-26).
Exalt Jesus Christ—let people see him in all that you do, say, or think. This is what apologetics is all about. Will any of us ever get it perfect? NO. And I throw myself on the mercy of Christ and humbly seek forgiveness from your readers as someone who has fallen short in this very area. I have blown it on more than one occasion in my apologetic career (especially online since that is a very feisty forum). But I try. And to others out there who are truly interested in defending the faith, I would exhort them in Christ’s name to also try—don’t jump at opportunities to condemn, don’t look for reasons to accuse, don’t speak harshly or hurtfully, don’t manipulate facts just to make sure you can still hold to your attacks, don’t actually WANT someone to be a false teacher, and don’t expect everyone to see everything just like you see it, then when they don’t, hurl the worst of the worst accusations in their direction. Love—without it we are nothing (1 Corinthians 13:1-13).
Stay tuned tomorrow or Monday when I will post some reflections on this interview.