Summer Interview Series: Richard Abanes (Reflections)
Little did I know when I posted my interview with Richard Abanes that it would soon cause such a ruckus. I feel that I know the blogosphere quite well, but still found myself blindsided by the reaction. I had quite a few people, including some whom I much respect, question my motives and ask why I would provide a platform for a person whose views differ so greatly from my own. My plan was simple - provide Abanes a platform and learn about his motivations, his heart. Give him an opportunity to respond to people (like myself) who found his book unconvincing and hear the things that were not or could not be published. If Abanes understood the truth in this matter, it would come out. If not, that would be equally obvious.
Through the first two parts of the interview I made very little commentary, but chose instead to just listen. I’d now like to post just a few remarks now as I reflect on the interview.
This would be much easier if Richard Abanes was an awful individual and one who had made no past contributions to the church. Thankfully, this is not the case. While it seems Richard may have something of a mean streak, he and I have always gotten along just fine. If he and I lived a little bit closer to each other, I might have lunch with the guy some time (if for no other reason than to ask him more about that brand of “soft Calvinism.”). Richard has also made some significant contributions to the church in the past. His work in challenging cults as well as perceptions of fantasy books and movies have been valuable.
And so I wish that he had stayed away from this particular issue of defending Rick Warren and his Purpose Driven teachings. I am continually drawn to a parallel with Dave Hunt, a man who had a valuable ministry but then alienated his readership when he went on an anti-Calvinist tirade that continues to this day. His friends told him not to, but he would not listen. This has cast a shadow over what was a valuable ministry and many of his readers have walked away in disgust. I see a parallel here with Abanes in that his former books have appealed to conservative Christians, but this is the very audience he is now alienating with Rick Warren and the Purpose that Drives Him.
Allow me now to highlight a few areas of the interview.
Inconsistencies. This was highlighted by Phil Johnson and rather than rehash the information I will simply direct you to Phil’s comments. Read further in the comments on Phil’s blog to read Abanes’ response.
“The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” One question I asked Abanes was why Warren does not answer his critics. It seems to me this is a common and effective strategy. If Warren were to answer his critics it would do two things: first, it would give them time and attention and serve to highlight not only their complaints, but the very fact that there are complaints. I believe that the vast, vast majority of Christians are absolutely unaware that there is any controversy surrounding Warren. Second, it would distract Warren from his work (which, depending how you see it, is either a good or a bad thing).
While Warren has refused to answer critics, with the notable exception of his email to Lighthouse Trails, Abanes has dedicated much time and attention (and, of course, an entire book), to doing this very thing. I believe that this is highlighting issues that are important. While I cannot prove it, I feel that Abanes’ defense of Rick Warren may backfire, as it will make people aware of a controversy they hardly knew existed. I also wonder if this controversy has not distracted Abanes from areas that are of greater importance. I hope this is not the case.
Were I a strategist, I would warn Abanes that the sheer volume of protest coming from him is surely causing people to wonder about his true motivations and his desire to defend truth. As far as I know, Abanes has never admitted to any shortcomings in Warren’s ministry, even in cases where it is indisputible that Warren is in the wrong (such as in his use of Bible translations that blatantly contradict the true meaning of a passage - there is absolutely no excuse for such things).
Offensive. In only the last week or two, Abanes has managed to offend several men whom he claims to admire. Don Veinot, John MacArthur, Greg Koukl - all have major ministries and have been offended by Abanes. I would like to think that if I found myself alienating such people I would take a good, hard look at my words to see if perhaps I am the one in the wrong.
Answer the questions!. Once again, in the interests of keeping this article from getting too long, I will direct you to an outside source. Roger, over at the A-Team blog, also interviewed Abanes and noted his inability to answer some questions. Read more here.
Perhaps the source of much of this problm is really with people like me - people who look to Abanes for answers in the first place. In the end, I have to wonder how much value there is in asking a third-party to answer for Rick Warren. We all have questions we would love to ask Warren. Some people seem to believe that Abanes makes an adequate “poor man’s substitute” for Rick. But by his own admission, he does not speak for Rick. He can only provide his interpretation of the same facts we have. And as Christians we are responsible to believe this only we are convincted by Scripture and conscience.
There is something a little bit embarrassing about the whole situation - accusations thrown back-and-forth, hurt feelings and great bitterness. In the end, Abanes says that his pursuit is not in defending Warren but in defending truth. This is an admirable desire, for truth must always be our priority. But despite his motivations, I am just not convinced that Abanes is seeing, finding and defending the truth. My hope is that if he does not find it, he will just leave this issue and move on to topics on which he can write more adequately.
Overall, I guess I’d have to say that I quite like Richard Abanes and to this point have appreciated his ministry. I suspect that I will like his future ministry as well. But in so thoroughly defending Rick Warren against all charges, he is damaging his own credibility. And it is too bad. I hope this whole situation can become little more than a footnote in Abanes’ career and that it does not come to define his ministry. He has already proven that he has better things to offer the kingdom than this.