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December 01, 2005

I want to take a little break today from our regularly-scheduled programming (a series about profanity) to discuss something that has been on my mind a lot over the past few days. It stems from a few things I’ve read and a few discussions I’ve had, so I wanted to write about it while it is still fresh in my mind. Be warned that I am writing this by way of stream-of-consciousness so it may wander a little bit!

The Westminister Shorter Catechism asks the question, “What is the chief end of man?” Many of us know the answer. “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” While this is not a phrase drawn directly from Scripture, the wisdom behind it surely is. The Bible tells us with great clarity that man was created in order to bring glory to God. Thus the chief end of Christians and of the church is to bring glory to God. There is no higher calling. And as John Piper has told us repeatedly in his books and teaching ministry, we do so by enjoying Him forever. “The great business of life is to glorify God by enjoying him forever.”

I believe, though, that many evangelical churches would disagree with this. They might not say so, but their actions would prove that they feel man has a higher calling. It seems to me that many churches would say, “Man’s chief end is to evangelize the lost.” For many Christians and for many local churches there is no higher aim than to bring others to the Lord.

Before I continue I will affirm that I place great value in evangelism and regard it as a Christian duty. A church that does not care to evangelize cannot be a healthy church and likewise, a Christian who never shares his faith is, in all likelihood, spiritually ill. Evangelism is a privilege and an honor and I admire those who have dedicated their lives to sharing the good news with others.

But I do not believe that evangelism should be our highest goal.

A few years ago I spoke to a pastor of a small church that had been formed largely on the basis of Purpose Driven principles. I asked what their discipleship process involved. I was shocked when the pastor told me, without any remorse, that “if you are really looking to grow as a Christian this isn’t the church for you.” He went on to explain that his church was geared almost entirely towards evangelism. The Sunday morning services were stripped of almost anything that might offend: congregational prayer, the celebration of the Lord’s Supper and so on. The music was done in the style of what was most popular in the town and the preaching always presupposed almost no knowledge of biblical principles. There was a small amount of discipleship training, but only on a very basic level. In other words, this church was driven by unbelievers. Their tastes, their likes and dislikes and their desires were considered the foundation for all the church was and did.

My current church likes to use the motif of a journey to describe the Christian life. The journey begins somewhere and ends somewhere and along the way there should be continual growth. But according to the pastor I spoke to, he would lead people into the fledgling stages of this Christian life and then abandon them in order to focus on people who were still on the other side of that starting line. He would lovingly take people from point 0 to point 1, but then turn his back on them to look for others. This pastor showed that, in his opinion, there was nothing greater than evangelism. He could not honor God more than if he was leading people to recite a sinner’s prayer.

A person like this pastor tends to interpret everything in the Christian life through this false assumption of man’s chief end and applies guilt to those who do not constantly evangelize. He may regard theology as something evil - something that detracts from the ability to witness. I have often had discussions with people who feel that theology is actually opposed to evangelism. If we are learning theology, they might say, we are missing opportunities to evangelize.

I believe that, to a great extent, this belief is based on Arminian assumption - that *we* are ultimately responsible for the spiritual state of our fellow man. It fits well with the oft-repeated warning that “there are people in hell right now who are there because you did not preach to them.” It assumes too much of our responsibility and our ability (and the ability of the one who hears). It speaks too little to the work of God in predestining some to eternal life and certainly speaks too little to the fact that until the Spirit opens hearts, every person is blind. “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:3-4).

Theology, if it is an end in itself, can be bad. It sounds strange but it is true. Theology is not intended to be an end in itself. Rather, our theology should drive and motivate our lives. Our theology informs our evangelism. I have little doubt that, having studied theology over the past couple of years, I am better equipped to evangelize now than I was two years ago. I know more of God, more of His character and more of His Word. I have come to see the mistakes I used to make when I evangelized and know how to correct them in the future.

In speaking to people like the aforementioned pastor I have often been told, implicitly at least, that God holds a giant clipboard on which he takes notes on the amount of time we spend learning about Him and compares it to the amount of time we spend teaching others about Him. If we do not maintain the proper balance (as defined by these people) God is displeased with us. I have come to realize that this is simply not the case. We are responsible to take opportunities presented to us in which to evangelize and are even responsible to work towards creating such opportunities, but I see no reason to believe that these need to be equal pursuits in terms of time and attention. Our primary responsibility is to ensure that we are bringing glory to God through our lives as we use the gifts and talents God has given us and that we constantly submit our time and our talents to Him.

November 30, 2005

Over the weekend I posted a brief review of the film To End All Wars and indicated that, while it was quite a good movie, I would hesitate to recommend it because of the amount of swearing it contains. That comment led to some discussion over at Boars Head Tavern and another blog or two. Joe Carter also wrote a lengthy article entitled “What the @*&#…? A Christian Critique of Swearing” in which he discussed my position among others. As I read critiques of my Puritanical outlook on swearing I realized that I have an underdeveloped “theology of profanity” - I know what I believe about the issue, but not why I beleve it. And so, as I usually do, I began to research and write. This article and one which I hope will follow tomorrow will be the fruits of my effort.

Judging by what I have read on this topic it seems to be a prerequisite that the person writing affirm his ability to swear. So let me assure you that I can swear as well (or as poorly, depending on your perspective) as anyone. Being raised in a Christian home and attending a Christian school, though certainly great blessings, did not negate the desire to learn and use the rich, vulgar vocabulary so prevelant in society. One does not have to be a Marine or a member of the Air Force to swear. So while I am perfectly capable of doing so, like most Christians, I have found that as I have grown in holiness, my swearing has slowed accordingly. Or, as Joe Carter said, “that the further along I tread on the path to sanctification the less I feel the need to use such language myself.”

Too many people, when discussing this issue, approach from what I feel is the wrong perspective. When we examine any issue of morality, ethics or Christian living we should not approach from the perspective of “what can I get away with?” but of “how Christ-like can I be.” So let’s approach from that perspective, not seeking license but seeking absolute purity and conformity to God’s perfect standards.

A common argument against limiting vocabulary is that God did not include in the Bible a list of forbidden words. This, of course, would not have been possible as words, along with their meanings, change from culture-to-culture and from language-to-language. My purpose is not to provide a list of words that a Christian can say with a clear conscience and another that, when uttered, will require repentance and forgiveness. That would be satisfyingly legalistic, but would also be both unrealistic and unbiblical.

We should also note that words are deemed profane not on the basis of something intrinsic to a combination of letters or sounds but on the basis of their cultural understanding. You have probably heard, as I have, of people with names that, in one society would be considered profane while in others they have an entirely different meaning (by way of example, “Fuk” is, I believe, an acceptable Korean name). Words, then, have a meaning that is extrinsic to their combination of letters or sounds. Meaning is assigned within a language and even within a society. That the letter combination s-h-i-t spells a word that is considered profane while the letters p-o-o-p do not, is societal convention. We may be tempted to decide that this is ludicrous and declare emancipation from such societal silliness, but the fact is that words carry with them meaning, in both denotation and connotation. We cannot seperate these two. While words have only extrinsic meaning, it cannot be denied that they do have meaning and they are used to communicate ideas or sentiments. Thus the extrinisic meaning is what determines whether a word is acceptable or profane.

Before we begin, I feel it is important that we realize that the tongue is not an isolated instrument in the body. The tongue or the mouth speaks for the heart. Said otherwise, what proceeds from the mouth is a sure indication of what is in the heart. If a mouth pours forth filth, it is a sure indication that there is also a filthy heart. If a tongue spews forth rebellion, there is rebellion in the heart. If the tongue pours out praise, there is godly joy in the heart. We see this most clearly in the books of Proverbs and James. “The tongue of the righteous is choice silver; the heart of the wicked is of little worth” (Proverbs 10:20). Note the parallel between the tongue and the heart. ” So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!” (James 3:5). So while in this brief article we may be examining words, the issue strikes deeper - as deep as the heart.

We will not discuss swearing at another person, nor will we discuss using blasphemous words, for those are both clearly forbidden in the greatest and the second greatest commandments. Using a profane word to describe another person is wrong on a deeper level than merely the words used for it shows that there is anger and hatred towards that person. Thus these words are merely a sympton of a far deeper problem. The same is true of blasphemous words uttered against God. What we will discuss, then, is the idle or flippant use of words that society has deemed to be profane. These are the words you might use to describe defecatory activities or the words you might scream when you stub your toe. We all know them far too well.

As with all matters of morality we must begin with the Bible, since, as Protestants, we believe it to be our only infallible guide for matters of life and faith. We need to look at this from two angles: from the angle of what is forbidden in Scripture and from the angle of what is commanded. We will turn to that discussion in our next article.

November 29, 2005

This week’s King for a Week award goes to Laura who blogs at A Practice in Belief and is also a member of the Intellectuelle crew. Laura is one of the very few teen bloggers I read and certainly the one that has edified me the most. She is also the first recipient of the King for a Week award to be nominated by one of my readers. The person who nominated Laura commended her with the words, “She shows that youth does not equal a lack of knowledge and wisdom.” I could not agree more.

I continue to accept nominations for King of the Week. If you have a site you would like to nominate, feel free to do so by clicking on the “suggest” button below the King of the Week box.

November 29, 2005

Last week I was made aware of a family in Chattanooga that I feel could desperately use the prayers of other believers. This is a family that has come under a time of intense pain the likes of which few people will ever experience. As I read their story, I found the faith of this family absolutely inspiring and I just pray to the Lord that, if I come under a time of such pain and torment, my faith will hold up as theirs has.

Andy Mendonsa is the director of Widow’s Harvest Ministries, a ministry based on the biblical mandate found in James 1:27 for “pure and undefiled” worship of God by “visiting the widow in their distress.” The ministry assists widows in their spiritual and physical needs. “Widows Harvest Ministries meets many of these needs by trying to form lasting friendships with all of the widows we come into contact with as well as providing home maintenance and repair services on their homes including: plumbing, roofing, painting, electrical and lawn care.” Andy is married with two teenage children, Asher and Hadrienne.

On May 24, 2005 Asher Mendonsa, Andy’s son, a seventeen year old boy, fell through a hole at the top of the abandoned Parkway Towers in Chattanooga. He had been taking photographs of the building when he fell more than five stories. He suffered a compound fracture of the right femur, bruised lungs, trauma on the front of his brain and two fractured vertebrae around his neck. He fell into a deep coma.

The day after Asher’s accident his father wrote the following on a website dedicated to his son:

after i went home that night and cried and cried and tried to pray and to get God to heal my son, i fell asleep and woke up the next morning feeling like i was standing back down at the foot of mt everest and had to start climbing back up all over again. before i went to bed that night, though, i had climbed back up to the top, but instead of looking down at my feet, like i had been for most of the day, i was suddenly looking out over a great expanse and i realized that everything that is happening to us is somehow fitting into this great expanse. God has a much greater purpose and, for whatever the reason, this horrible and excruciating pain that we are all in is helping us all to reach the mountain top so that we can all share in our understanding for this great expanse that God wants us to behold.

Through the following days Asher underwent multiple surgeries to try to repair various parts of his body. On the 2nd of June his father wrote:

I love my son and if any amount of money could be paid to fix him, or to relieve my family from this suffering I would. For the past 2 nights as we have prayed with asher and told him goodnight, Gloria has left him broken and in tears. The thought of leaving him alone by himself all night with neither one of us to hold his hand, and neither one of us to be there if he were to wake up, is just more than she can bare. I find it very hard to bare myself. But the amazing thing that I have just realized tonight is that with every step that we take away from asher, each night, we actually take a step closer in our trust of God.

Asher slowly awoke from his coma and entered a long, difficult period of rehabilitation. The family moved, temporarily, to Atlanta to be near Asher through his long recovery.

On July 11 the Mendonsa family suffered another setback, though one far less serious. An oak tree, one of the largest in the city, fell on their home in the midst of a serious storm that swept through the area. The house suffered serious damage to the roof and to much of the interior. Andy had an optimistic perspective:

it actually could have been so much worse. a chimney on the front of the house, that crumbled above the roof line when the tree landed on it, also kept the tree from sinking down any deeper into the house, because below the roof line the chimney remained intact all the way to the dirt floor in the basement below the house. if the chimney had not held the tree up, given it’s excessive weight, it would have most likely gone all the way through to the first floor where our house and dog sitter, kayb, was sleeping. we all just have so much to be thankful for, even in the midst of the realization that we are, in a very real sense, homeless. actually, we are beginning to feel more like refugees than homeless people.

You can see pictures of the damage here.

On November 12, Andy posted a short entry entitled “More Family Crisis” in which he shared that his step-father had fallen and broken his hip. By the 17th he was posting thanks for the prayers and saying that the family crisis had stabilized. His step-father had undergone a successful surgery and was on the road to recovery.

But then, on November 19th Andy posted the following:

i just recieved word my daughter, hadrienne has been in a car accident in chattanooga and is in critical condition at erlanger hospital. please pray. i am on my way there and gloria and asher are staying here. please pray for all of us.

According to a newspaper article in the Chattanoogan, “Friends said Hadrienne and her two friends were leaving to go to the midnight showing of the Harry Potter movie. They said their vehicle was partly out onto Mountain Creek Road when they spotted a vehicle coming at them. They tried to back up, but could not avoid being hit.”

The next morning, under the heading of “IN ALL THINGS GIVE THANKS TO OUR HEAVENLY FATHER IN CHRIST JESUS NAME,” Andy broke the news that Hadrienne had died. “We loved our daughter so much. we miss her so much and the pain is so great that it is unbearable. there is so much that needs to be done now, and we don’t even know where to begin… a conversation i had with hadrienne some months ago after tommy haymes passed away keeps going through my mind. she expressed some half joking and half serious concern to me about wondering whether she might be next. i assured her that she wouldn’t. oh dear lord have mercy on us.”

Hadrienne, a beautiful nineteen year old girl, was laid to rest on the 23rd of November following a service at Lookout Mountain Presbyterian Church in Chattanooga. Reflecting on the death of his daughter, Andy wrote the following: “Since asher has been out of his coma and regained so much of his cognitive abilities he has expressed much anger and disbelief in god. he now tells us since hadrienne is gone his faith and trust in god has been restored. without hadrienne he says that he does not have the strength by himself to go on. it was hadrienne, he said, that had been giving him that strength.” God has already worked good from evil.

Andy has not updated the web site since the funeral. I trust that the family is undergoing a time of great difficulty now as they surely wonder why another tragedy has befallen them. I cannot imagine having to make sense of what must seem so senseless. I would ask that we - as the church, and even as people who live hundreds or thousands of miles away from these people - surround this family with prayer. We know that God is their only hope for finding meaning and comfort. I pray that He will comfort them with His sure promise that He is in control and that nothing happens outside of His will. So let’s hold them up in prayer as is our privilege as members of the same body.

If you are interested in learning more about the Mendonsa family, you can read Andy’s blog. It contains a chronological listing of posts going back to the day of Asher’s accident. You may also wish to read about Widow’s Harvest Ministries.

November 28, 2005

In the past couple of years there have been a few books written specifically to challenge the teachings and assumptions of Rick Warren’s mega-seller The Purpose Driven Life. Some of these have also discussed other Purpose Driven material and the man who has produced this successful franchise. These books have sometimes been criticized for being alarmist or for providing an unfair treatment of the subject matter. While I, having read all of that material, generally do not agree with the criticisms, I am quite sure no one could lodge those complaints against Bob DeWaay’s new book, Redefining Christianity.

Redefining Christianity is a book that has much to say on the topics of Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life and other aspects of the Purpose Driven paradigm. Despite that focus it would not be correct to say that this is a book about Rick Warren or about anything he has written or dreamed up. This is, plain and simply, a book about the gospel of Jesus Christ. The underlying message of DeWaay’s book, as might be deduced from the title, is that Rick Warren, despite all his popularity and success, has redefined many critical aspects of the Christian faith. He has redefined church, vision, Christian commitment, God’s wisdom, church health and even the gospel itself. This book, then, is primarily focused not on Rick Warren but on his treatment of the gospel.

Here is a concise summary of DeWaay’s thesis:

The version of Christianity that Rick Warren presents to world leaders redefines the message of the first century apostles. The key difference is that the Biblical version did not appeal to the world; it appealed only to those who were converted. Warren’s version is popular with the world. Rick Warren has designed a message that appeals to religious consumers whether or not the Holy Spirit has convicted them of their sins. He has devised a business system to mass-market this message to the world. Through his system, he has created a way for pastors to share his success. The sheer effectiveness of this system is rapidly transforming evangelicalism. This transformation is not just a transformation of practice; it is a transformation of message. The change in the practice makes it transferable across a wide spectrum of denominational and theological affiliations. The change in the message makes it acceptable to a wide range of religious consumers.

In this statement, and indeed in the book, he captures the essence of what has made the Purpose Driven paradigm so popular and the foremost ways in which this paradigm diverges from Scripture. Through ten chapters and just over 200 pages, DeWaay provides strong evidence to support his claims. Allow me to provide a brief overview of each of the ten chapters. While I rarely employ this technique in book reviews, I believe that in this case it will be instructive and will allow the reader to understand the systematic way in which the author builds his case.

  1. Rick Warren’s Ministry Philosophy. DeWaay begins by examining the men who influenced Rick Warren, and in particular, Donald McGavran who, as the founder of the discipline that came to be known as “missiology” is considered the father of the Church Growth Movement. He shows the shaky and unbiblical assumptions that form the foundation for this philosophy including the concepts of people movements and felt needs. Ultimately, the Church Growth Movement allows the unbeliever to determine the message of the church and even the mode used to deliver it. “The key idea is very simple: change the Sunday Morning church service so that non-Christians will not only attend it, but enjoy it and keep coming back.” What becomes lost in such an approach is, of course, what people most need to hear but least want to hear and that is the full gospel message. One cannot preach that message in completeness and with boldness and remain seeker-friendly.

  2. Redefining the Church. The second chapter wades into the issue of redefinitions. “Rather than clearly preaching the Gospel to all, knowing that God promised to use it in spite of its inherent offense to call forth His sheep from the midst of the world, Warren would like to change the nature of the church and its message so it appears attractive to people as they are in their unregenerate state.” Church Growth succeeds admirably in growing the visible church (those who at least appear to be believers) but, by stopping short of proclaiming the full message of the gospel, cannot do much to grow the invisible church (those who actually are believers). In this chapter DeWaay also discusses unity, showing that the type of unity called for by Rick Warren is not the same as the Bible’s concept of unity. “The redefined church of the Church Growth Movement has mostly ignored the matter of the invisible church. They use the best means available based on pragmatic tests to make the visible church as big as possible… If happy religious consumers living better lives than they had outside of the church is the test of validity, then these huge and rapidly growing churches must be right. I do not believe, however, there is anything in the New Testament that validates seeking to maximize the visible church by means that tend to strangle the invisible one.”

  3. Redefining Vision. Not only has Rick Warren redefined the church but he has also redefined the biblical concept of vision. Vision is a crucial aspect of Warren’s strategy yet, despite providing supposed biblical proof to the contrary, the way he uses this term is different than the way it is used in Scripture where it refers to a type of true or false special revelation. Within the Purpose Driven paradigm, vision is used in a business sense in which a person plans for a future he hopes to implement. Yet those who do not catch the vision of the leadership within a Purpose Driven church are considered dissenters and are often driven from the ranks.

  4. Redefining Christian Commitment. “In the Bible, Christian commitment is based on faith in Christ, and dependence on Him for grace to walk obediently in His ways… Now we have Rick Warren bringing back the hyper piety of pre-Reformation Rome through nothing less than religious oaths, touting this as a ‘reformation.’” Much of the commitment of members of Purpose Driven churches is based on covenants some of which are even declared irrevocable. DeWaay teaches in this chapter that oaths and covenants are forbidden within a New Testament context. To write such covenants and to demand them as a display of solidarity is an egregious offense against the members of a church. He highlights the irony that exists between the Reformation, where Protestants came to see that oaths were forbidden in the Scriptures, and Warren’s supposed second reformation where they are once more required.

  5. The “Gospel” According to The Purpose Driven Life. In fifth chapter the author shows how Warren continually changes or obscures the key issues of the biblical gospel. He shows that God’s purposes do not need to be discovered, for those that God wished to make available to us have already been clearly revealed in His Word. He also points out the difficulties inherent in The Purpose Driven Life which makes little in the way of distinction between believer and unbeliever, extending the same claims and promises to both groups. The offense of the gospel, for which so many Christians have suffered, has largely been removed from Rick Warren’s teachings. An incomplete gospel, one that denies key aspects such as God’s wrath or Jesus’ resurrection, is no gospel at all.

  6. How Misused Bible Translations Support a Journey of Self-discovery. Rick Warren makes much of the two thousand references to Scripture in his book. Yet it takes more than citations from Scripture to make a book biblical for it must also present the Word of God accurately and unashamedly. “Warren’s solution to the problem [of an offensive gospel] is to use his marketing acumen to circumvent the resistance of the target audience. His plan is to draw from dozens of translations (including loose paraphrases), to choose the ones that will support the motif of a journey of self-discovery (already proven to be popular with the world), mix these various Bible citations with citations of popular worldly writers that seem to be saying the same thing, and make a seamless, religious product that speaks the world’s language but appears to come right out of the Bible. Genius! The result is The Purpose Driven Life. This is the product for the Purpose Driven Church to market to religious consumers.” As has been shown by many reviewers since the publication of the book, The Purpose Driven Life is replete with Scripture used out of context or passages provided in translations that bear no resemblance to the original text. In a clear case of giving credit where credit is due, but still highlighting problems, DeWaay says the following: “One could conclude that Rick Warren is unable to do solid Biblical exegesis, and that the cases highlighted above, and many others, are caused by a simple preacher trying his best, but lacking scholarly tools, but this is not the case. On pages 195 and 196 he offers solid, well reasoned, and accurate exegesis of Romans 8:28-29.27 I was surprised when I found this quality of Biblical interpretation in a book filled with just the opposite. This proves that Warren is capable of sound Biblical interpretation and teaching when he sees fit. My question is, ‘If he is capable of expounding the truth of a passage accurately, what excuse does he have for not doing so with hundreds of other passages?’”

  7. Redefining God’s Wisdom. Rick Warren has defined God’s wisdom by making it appear to be little more than human wisdom. He often makes grandiose claims that are unsupported by Scripture and may even stand opposed to Scripture. In doing so he provides a message that is little different than the message of popular psychology and human self-discovery. He goes so far as to quote wholly unreliable sources of spiritual wisdom such as George Bernard Shaw and Anais Nin, not to mention several Roman Catholic sources. DeWaay goes so far as to provide an extensive list of instances of “Warren’s practice of combining human wisdom with poor translations or out of context Scripture that promotes his human wisdom as if it were God’s wisdom, which it is not.” Some of these include: Paul’s “secret” was a focused life; How you define life determines your destiny; There are “secrets” to friendship with God; The truth is-you are as close to God as you choose to be; You are only as sick as your secrets. “According to his own public statements, Rick Warren’s message has broad appeal, even to members of other religions. Part of the secret of his success is his ability to integrate his own aphorisms with statements from people the world admires, combining these with partial Biblical passages taken out of context, to create a hybrid message that is simultaneously marketed to the world and the evangelical church. Everyone gets something they like.”

  8. The Problem with Private Confession. In this chapter the author wrestles with a question that has often perplexed myself and many others. “Rick Warren believes the orthodox truths of the Christian faith. He has documents that say so. Insiders at Saddleback Church say that they know Warren is orthodox. However, when I read The Purpose Driven Life I saw many teachings that are very different from historical orthodoxy. How can this be?” How is it that what Rick Warren confesses when among Christians is so different from what we hear from him when given a public venue in which to speak? DeWaay teaches, with great sensitivity towards a difficult topic, that true profession must be public and consistent. It is what is publically stated, not privately confessed, that is taught by the Bible as being grounds for knowing a person’s faith. This consistency is lacking in Warren’s ministry and this has been shown in his media appearances and in much of his writing. Rick Warren “presents a disjunction between what he confesses privately to evangelical Christians, and what he confesses publicly to a worldly audience.” DeWaay provides, in this regard, the example of Peter who was rebuked by Paul for publically denying in action what he privately knew to be true - that there was equality between Jew and Gentile. A partial denial, as shown in Peter’s earlier denial of Jesus, is as good as a complete denial.

  9. The Purpose Driven Brand. The book now turns to a discussion of the Purpose Driven brand. The author shows that Purpose Driven, like the franchising models so popular in the world of business, allows a pastor of limited means, skills and capabilities, to enjoy all the success of Rick Warren. Purpose Driven is “church-in-a-box” much as McDonald’s is “burger-in-a-box.” He shows how leverage is applied to maximize the impact of the paradigm and also discusses the importance of vision casting and mission statements. I believe the following is one of the most important points made in this book: “I hope my readers see what is going on. These change agents make all the definitions, compare us to the church as they define it, declare us failures, then offer us “success” if we join their programs. Dear fellow Christians and specifically church leaders, this is American marketing pure and simple: define a problem so that you convince nearly everyone they have it, then sell them the solution. In this case the goal may not be to make money. In Rick Warren’s case, I do not think he wants money for his own benefit; I think he wants his “reformation” to succeed and go down in history as a reformer like Martin Luther. He wants to create a version of Christianity that the world loves.” “What he ‘invented’ was how to harness the latest technology, marketing strategies, management systems; couple those with a message that appeals to the unregenerate mind; then put the whole thing ‘in-a-box’ and replicate it around the world. This revival bears no resemblance to what happened in Acts. What happened in Acts was a work of the Holy Spirit through the means of uncompromised Gospel preaching. The P.E.A.C.E. plan does not depend on the Holy Spirit but on the wisdom of man.”

  10. Who Determines “Church Health,” Jesus Christ or Rick Warren? The final chapter compares Rick Warren’s definition of church health with that of Jesus Christ. Using seven churches in Revelation, DeWaay shows just how little resemblance there is. “The key Purpose Driven principles and protocols are very different from those in the New Testament that describe a church pleasing to Jesus Christ. If those of the New Testament prevail, the result is a church that is pleasing to Christ. If those of Rick Warren prevail, the result is a church popular with religious consumers in the world, but which is much different from Jesus’ ‘little flock.’”

    All of this leads DeWaay to warn:

    “Warren has so redefined the major issues (the Gospel, the Bible, the church, fellowship, worship, discipleship, evangelism, and missions), he has effectively re-defined Christianity. The new version of Christianity is popular with the world. This version has avoided the outcome that Jesus predicted to His disciples: “If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:19). The world loves a P.E.A.C.E. plan which promises to solve the problems they want solved. The problem is that the world hates the Gospel of Jesus Christ. May we boldly proclaim that Gospel so that God will use it to save some from His coming wrath. May we shun the lure of popularity and success offered by Warren’s redefined Christianity. It is so much better to be pleasing to Jesus Christ.”

    There will be some who will doubt the author’s motivations in writing such a book. Some will accuse him of jealousy or of nitpicking. Others will no doubt label him a troublemaker. Those who find that they doubt his intentions or motivations may wish to begin at the end, as it were, with “A Loving Appeal to Rick Warren.” The book concludes with what is clearly a sincere, heartfelt plea for Rick Warren to return to the full message of the gospel, a message he surely knows but chooses to ignore. This appeal shows the heart of a pastor. The gospel is never far from the heart and mind of a godly pastor and this is clearly the case with Pastor DeWaay. His concern is with the gospel, and well should it be. Jesus Christ has not entrused the church with a message of purpose but with an offensive gospel message of sin, wrath, punishment, death, resurrection and forgiveness. If we leave this message we have nothing to offer. If we become ashamed of the full message or deem it somehow embarrassing we have become little more than clanging gongs and clashing cymbals. The central message of this book is not Rick Warren and neither is it The Purpose Driven Life. The central focus of Redefining Christianity is the gloriously good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

    I believe that there is no more complete a resource available to Christians to understand how Rick Warren is changing the church through his Purpose Driven paradigm. Redefining Christianity is well-researched, meticulously-documented and overflowing with the gospel message. I commend it to you and trust that God, in His grace, will use it to convict many to stand firm in or return to the simple, offensive, powerful gospel delivered to us by the Holy Spirit through the Scriptures.

    I am not entirely certain when the book will be available for purchase, but assume it will be early in 2006. I will let you know when it becomes available.

November 24, 2005

My neighbors to the South are celebrating Thanksgiving today, an event we celebrated six or seven weeks ago in Canada. Thanksgiving is a much more important celebration to Americans than it is in my country and that is something that makes me just a little envious. Americans know how to celebrate; I wish Canadians would learn from them.

What follows is an amazing Thanksgiving Proclamation, made by one of my heroes, Abraham Lincoln, in the year 1863, in the very midst of the Civil War. Reading a proclamation of this sort it is amazing to consider that many people are casting doubt upon Lincoln’s faith and character (not to mention his sexuality!). Americans have a rich heritage to celebrate today. I hope many heed the powerful words of this great man that they use this day to offer “up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings.” Not the least of these blessings is the relative peace that exists today and was so terribly lacking when Lincoln penned these words.

By the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consiousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln

November 22, 2005

A few years ago I was handed a copy of The Purpose Driven Life and told that I really ought to read it. I knew almost nothing of Rick Warren or his Purpose Driven material, so decided I would read this book that, judging by the shelf space it had been given at the Christian bookstore, was “the next big thing” for Evangelicals. It turned out to be a bestseller in a class all its own, selling over twenty five million copies. As I read the book I became increasingly concerned with what I was reading and provided several articles and reviews that expressed this concern. These articles became part of the foundation for this site. In the years and months since then I have become known as one who is staunchly opposed to Warren and his teaching.

It has been quite a while since I have written anything of any real substance about Warren so I thought it would be helpful for me to reassess what I believe about him. This may help clarify my position. I have decided to present to you my three primary concerns with Rick Warren, his ministry and all things Purpose Driven. These concerns are: Warren’s ongoing abuse of Scripture, the all-encompassing nature of the Purpose Driven programs and Warren’s ecumenism.

I do not wish to indicate that these are the only concerns I have with Warren, nor do I wish to indicate that there is nothing beneficial happening because of his ministry. I merely wish to express what I feel are three serious, overarching concerns that Christians should be aware of because of Warren’s increasing profile as America’s pastor and as a leader of the Evangelical church.

Warren’s Ongoing Abuse of Scripture

When I speak to people about The Purpose Driven Life or when I read reviews of this book or any of the Purpose Driven material, a constant theme that emerges is a concern over Rick Warren’s treatment of Scripture. This is, to say the least, a major concern.

Rick Warren claims that he quotes the Bible over 1,200 times in the text of The Purpose Driven Life. To do so, he uses fifteen different translations and paraphrases. Appendix 3 contains his rationale for this and he provides two reasons for the number of translations. The first is that in any single translation “nuances and shades of meaning can be missed, so it is always helpful to compare translations.” The second is “the fact that we often miss the full impact of familiar Bible verses, not because of poor translating, but simply because they have become so familiar” (author’s emphases). He believes this will “help you see God’s truth in new, fresh ways.” (author’s emphasis)

While I agree that some translations are clearly superior to others, even on a verse-by-verse basis, and further agree that it is helpful to compare translations, Warren’s logic is faulty as the two reasons he provides contradict each other. If a translation introduces something in a new and fresh way it will necessarily introduce new nuances and shades of meaning. The way to remove nuances and shades of meaning is to use as literal a translation as possible so that the words are God’s alone and are not interpreted by the translator. The author can then exposit the text, clarifying what might require clarification. This is nothing more than the traditional means of teaching what the Bible says. This is similar to the form Jesus used where He said, “You have heard it said…but I say.” He took what was unclear and made it clear.

Warren is also correct that after a while verses can lose their full impact. I know that this happens to all Christians and it is to our shame. But rather than use poor Scripture translations, a teacher should help the reader focus on the fact that as a Christian he should love the Bible as God gave it to us. As with David, God’s Law is to be our delight day and night and not something we grow tired of. Changing the translation does nothing to remedy this problem if the translation is inaccurate.

I would not be nearly so concerned about the use of multiple translations if Warren was consistently choosing translations that were close in meaning to the original manuscripts. The unavoidable fact is, though, that Warren consistently chooses translations that say what he feels needs to be said, regardless of the real meaning of a verse. A clear example of this is seen in his use of Proverbs 29:18 which, in one of his Ministry Toolbox updates, he provides in the King James translation: “without vision the people perish.” He uses this verse in an attempt to prove his statement that “To accomplish anything you must first have a mission, a goal, a hope, a vision.” Every other translation of Scripture provides a more clear translation such as “Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint” (ESV). Warren sought out the one verse that says what he wanted to say even while every other translation rendered the verse more clearly. In doing so he has certainly not clarified any nuance or shade of meaning. Rather, he has introduced one.

There is a serious impact to Warren’s use of so many translations in that it speaks volumes of his view of the inspiration and sufficiency of Scripture. While I am sure Warren would affirm the plenary inspiration of Scripture, the reality, as proven by his misuse of Scripture, is that he must not believe that the Bible as God wrote it is sufficient for people today. He must believe that a very loose paraphrase like The Message can impact people in a way that the real translations cannot. He shows that he is not a faithful expositor of the Bible. This introduces a very serious concern with his ministry.

Despite a great volume of criticism about his handling of Scripture, Warren seems to have done nothing to remedy this concern. His recent writings and interviews are filled with the same volume of translations and mistranslations of Scripture.

Beyond the problem introduced by the large number of translations there are some passages where Warren uses the Bible extremely carelessly. Perhaps the clearest example of this is in chapter 10 where he discusses the blessing of surrendering to God. As support he quotes Job 22:21 as saying “Stop quarreling with God. If you agree with him, you will have peace at last, and things will go well for you.” When we look at the larger context of this passage we see that these are the words of Eliphaz, one of Job’s infamous friends. We see that Eliphaz is giving Job poor advice which God later condemns. Warren knows better than this!

A second example is Isaiah 44:2. This is used in the heading of the second chapter and is rendered “I am your Creator. You were in my care even before you were born.” The author chooses to quote only the first part of the verse. The second part, we see, goes directly against what he wants to say. It reads “Do not fear, O Jacob My servant; And you Jeshurun whom I have chosen.” When viewed in the proper context we see that this verse applies only to a specific group (which is, once again, the Israelites). This does not mean that the verse has no relevance to us, but to suggest that it applies directly to the reader of The Purpose Driven Life is clearly wrong.

There are at least fifty similar examples where the author uses Scripture outside of its context or assigns a foreign meaning. When Scripture is not used in the way God intends, this sort of inconsistency is inevitable. Warren’s ongoing abuse of Scripture is my primary concern with his ministry. Just as we would doubt the love of a husband who abuses his wife, so we must wonder at Warren’s love of Scripture if he is so willing to abuse it.

The All-Encompassing Nature of Purpose Driven Programs

Many of the laypeople who began a study of The Purpose Driven Life through a 40 Days of Purpose program had no idea that they were part of a larger effort. It is entirely possible that by the time these people received their book, the church leadership had already begun implementing the Purpose Driven programs and had been doing so for several months. I am aware of several churches where this was done without the knowledge or consent of the congregation. The leadership simply decided to implement the program and went ahead. 40 Days of Purpose was one of the first steps in introducing an entire new paradigm for doing church.

Rick Warren feels that his program is so wholly biblical that he wants to tell you what programs you church should begin, what programs should be stopped and what programs should be put on-hold, at least during the 40 Days programs. The programs extend to every area of church life. Here is what the 40 Days of Community program involves:

  1. The 40 Days of Community Kick-Off Event. This is a message preached by Warren which will be broadcast live via satellite, though churches without satellite capabilities can obtain it on DVD or VHS.
  2. Seven weekend messages and worship plans. The messages were originally preached by Warren in his home church of Saddleback Community Church. Participating pastors are to preach his messages and employ his worship plans which direct which songs to sing. The messages are based on the book of Philippians and Warren indicates they are expository in nature. (Please note that Warren’s interpretation of what constitutes expository preaching is not consistent with what historically has been considered expository. For more, see this article).
  3. The “What on Earth Are We Here For” devotional book with 40 days of daily devotional readings and journaling pages. This book also includes study guides for weekly small group study.
  4. Six small group or Sunday school lessons. These include a video which gives teaching that is then discussed by small group members.
  5. Six weekly scripture memory verses.
  6. Multiple church-wide events which will deepen the commitment of church members are make them active in their church and local communities..

Here are some underlying principles and some prerequisites for completing this particular program. Through the 40 Days of Purpose Program, Warren discovered five principles that he says will guarantee success in the upcoming Community program. Conversely, cutting out any one of these principles will necessarily damage a campaign, curtailing the results. The principles are:

  1. Unified Prayer – everyone in the church must pray for the campaign beginning months ahead of time, for there is power in unified prayer.
  2. Concentrated Focus – The church must focus on just this one program. Multiple focuses will dilute the program and reduce its effectiveness. Each ministry and each program must carry the message of the 40 Days program.
  3. Multiple Reinforcements – The program depends on many reinforcements throughout the week - church services, small groups, daily quiet times and a weekly memory verse.
  4. Behavioral Teaching – Each aspect of the program helps people become “doers” and not mere listeners. After each section there is a homework assignment, activity or event.
  5. Exponential Thinking – Exponential thinking is thinking that stretches faith. It forces leaders to look beyond what God has done before and focus instead on believing God for greater growth, greater giving and so on.

To summarize, 40 Days of Community is a comprehensive program that impacts every area of the church’s ministry for the duration of the program and very possibly beyond. Warren warns that many other programs and activities will need to be placed on hold or even cancelled if they are not part of 40 Days of Community. He advises leadership to begin to address this in advance with those ministry leaders whose areas of ministry will be affected. The program extends not just to the corporate gatherings but also to individual quiet times. In short, if a church is to be successful in implementing the 40 Days of Community Program (and the same is true of 40 Days of Purpose), the leadership is expected and encouraged to include programs that extend to every area of the church’s life. For 40 days the pastor will preach Warren’s messages or perhaps even simply show a DVD of Warren delivering the messages. Programs that are deemed unfitting for Purpose Driven philosophy will be postponed or cancelled. Small groups will study Purpose Driven material and individuals will even be expected to study Warren’s material during their daily quiet times. Even the required Scripture verses will be memorized in the translation of Warren’s choosing.

I believe 40 Days of Purpose and 40 Days of Community are unique in the long history of the church. I cannot think of any other programs that asked a church to turn itself over completely to another pastor for the duration of a program. Warren believes the Purpose Driven principles are so important and so unique, that he asks pastors to hand them his church – programs, messages, worship and even private devotions - for 40 days. At the end of that time he promises that the principles God has revealed to him will have transformed your church. It will be bigger (growth in numbers), be bringing in more money (growth in giving) and stronger (growth in small groups). He asks members of these churches to listen to his messages, his interpretation of Scripture, sing the songs he has chosen and study the topics he has outlined. Warren casts his vision for your church and then attempts to deliver that vision to you. The program is designed to infiltrate every important area of the church and remove those areas that are not deemed important. It is all-encompassing.

Rick Warren’s Ecumenism

The third great concern I have with Rick Warren and his programs involves ecumenism and a general downplaying of the importance of theology and doctrinal distinctives. By “distinctives” I refer not to doctrines that we hold to that serve only to keep us apart, but to the essential doctrines which keep us faithful to the Scriptures.

In The Purpose Driven Life Warren writes, “God warns us over and over not to criticize, compare, or judge each other… Whenever I judge another believer, four things instantly happen: I lose fellowship with God, I expose my own pride, I set myself to be judged by God, and I harm the fellowship of the church.” As we have come to expect from Evangelicals, the “judge not” admonition is given without distinction between judging a person in matters of essential doctrine or in matters of personal preference. There is a great difference between the two - a difference Warren chooses to overlook. Instead he downplays the importance of important theological disagreements and distinctions. Earlier in the book he writes, “God won’t ask about your religious background or doctrinal views. The only thing that will matter is, did you accept what Jesus did for you and did you learn to love and trust him?” While I am sure God will not ask what denomination I was part of when I died, we certainly should not downplay doctrinal views. Our doctrine is integral to who we are and how we live for Him! But, as we see, downplaying theology is necessary for his grandiose plans to succeed.

Within The Purpose Driven Life Warren quotes Roman Catholic figures such as Mother Teresa, Henri Nouwen, Brother Lawrence, John Main, St. John of the Cross and Madame Guyon. Nowhere does he warn that these people teach and believe much that is directly opposed to the clear teaching of the Scripture.

Beyond the downplaying of theology, Warren also advocates closer ties with apostate denominations such as the Roman Catholic Church. The following is an excerpt from an article summarizing Warren’s speech at a conference hosted by the Anglican Communion Network. “He urged the churches to join a ‘new reformation’ to spread the Christian faith and use the resources of ‘the universal, worldwide church of Jesus Christ in all of its local expressions’ to help the poorest of the poor. He predicted that the meeting, which brought affluent Americans together with archbishops from some of the poorest nations on earth, would be viewed by history as a turning point. ‘Now I don’t agree with everything in everybody’s denomination, including my own. I don’t agree with everything that Catholics do or Pentecostals do, but what binds us together is so much stronger than what divides us,’ he said.” He went on to say, “I really do feel that these people are brothers and sisters in God’s family. I am looking to build bridges with the Orthodox Church, looking to build bridges with the Catholic Church, with the Anglican church, and say ‘What can we do together that we have been unable to do by ourselves?’” (link). In one short sentence, “what binds us together is so much stronger than what divides us” he equates the differences between Baptists and Pentecostals or Baptists and Reformed Christians with the differences between Baptists and Roman Catholics.

During an earlier appearence at the Pew Forum, Warren said, “The first Reformation actually split Christianity into dozens and then hundreds of different segments. I think this one is actually going to bring them together. Now, you’re never going to get Christians, of all their stripes and varieties, to agree on all of the different doctrinal disputes and things like that, but what I am seeing them agree on are the purposes of the church. … Last week I spoke to 4,000 pastors at my church who came from over 100 denominations in over 50 countries. Now, that’s wide spread. We had Catholic priests, we had Pentecostal ministers, we had Lutheran bishops, we had Anglican bishops, we had Baptist preachers. They’re all there together and you know what? I’d never get them to agree on communion or baptism or a bunch of stuff like that, but I could get them to agree on what the church should be doing in the world.” During the same appearance he said, “ ‘I’m not a politician, I’m a pastor,’ he asserted, and then noted that if evangelical Protestants teamed up with American Catholics, ‘that’s called a majority.’” Once more Warren has chosen to overlook theology in order to building bridges between all denominations, regardless of their beliefs.

Warren is willing to overlook critical theological differences that strike to the very heart of the gospel in order to press forward toward his goals. When a person is willing to overlook the differences between Protestant, Roman Catholic and Orthodox theology, I have to wonder what he truly believes. What does he understand of justification if he is willing to push away such distinctives as being of lesser concern than what is shared between Protestants and Catholics? Warren shows that he is willing to let go of the gospel.

November 22, 2005

This week’s King for a Week award goes to Rebecca who posts her Everyday Musings at Rebecca Writes. A year or two ago I said of Rebecca’s site, “…if I could recommend one, and only one, blog to people that would edify them the most, I would have a difficult time choosing any other than Rebecca’s.” I think that is still true. The quality of what she posts continues to amaze me. I always benefit from reading her site and commend it to you. For the next week the last five headlines from Rebecca’s site will be posted in the left sidebar of my site. I trust you will enjoy read her articles as much as I have.

I am now accepting nominations for King of the Week. If you have a site you would like to nominate, feel free to do so by clicking on the “suggest” button below the King of the Week box.

November 15, 2005

This week’s King of the Week honor goes to a newcomer to my blogroll. I actually met Marc, proud proprieter of Purgatorio when I was at the Desiring God conference last month but did not realize at the time that Purgatorio was his project (I’m a bit dense that way). With tens of thousands of new blogs beginning every day, it is rare that one comes along that is very different from the rest. Purgatorio is different. Very different. Short on text but long on photo essays, this site is a fascinating glimpse into the trends and fads within Evangelicalism (and occasionally beyond). Marc must spend hours scouring Google images to find all of these pictures.

Here is Marc’s introduction to the site:

“The topics posted on PURGATORIO are simply things that are present in Christian culture or a sub-culture. They are not something I necessarily agree or disagree with (although my biases and opinions will most likely show). Some of them will be more controversial, some silly, some sad and some just plain stupid. Some topics will be hot buttons, or pet peeves, or things close to your heart. So please comment! Humorous takes, serious takes, biblical takes, judgmental takes, can’t we all just get along takes, pontificating know-it-all takes, angry bile-filled vitriolic takes… but please no naughty words or blue humor.”

So for the next week, the last 6 headlines from Purgatorio will be available in the left sidebar of this site. I trust you will enjoy getting to know Marc and will be both amused and disgusted by his studies of contemporary Evangelicalism.

November 15, 2005

This morning I began to read the book of 1 Kings. Earler this year I had read through the Old Testament up to the end of 2 Samuel and, after spending some time in the New Testament, I decided to pick up where I had left off. As you know if you read this site on a regular basis, the topic of Bible translating has been much on my mind of late. As I read through the first three chapters of 1 Kings I found myself continually struck by the beauty of the language as it is translated in the English Standard Version. While I do not know how to read Hebrew, I often hear people speak of the poetic nature of the language which leads even the prose to have poetic qualities. It seems to me that the ESV does an admirable job of capturing that.

I have come to love those little literary devices, the metaphors and phrases used by the ancient writers and feel that they add so much to the reading of the text. Without a translation that accurately rendered these sayings we would lose so much of the flow and meaning of the text. I love language and the English language in particular. While I have always enjoyed using words and studying language, I found that my love of English was forged during the time I spent studying other languages, primarily those from which English is derived - Latin, Greek, and to some extent, French. I also studied linguistics and, of course, the English language itself. I came to love understanding how people use words to craft ideas. There is a good reason that people continue to study Shakespeare in high school despite increasingly antiquated language. Shakespeare was a master of the language, a master word crafter, and it benefits anyone to learn from his example. The same is true of Dickens or any other number of authors. What I learned is that words are important. Who would want to read a modern translation of Shakespeare? We would be left with nothing but a second-rate story. And author’s words are important. That may come as no great surprise and may even seem obvious, but the translators of dynamic equivalent translations would have to disagree, at least somewhat, as their translation philosophy proves that they feel ideas are more important than words.

As I read three chapters this morning I was struck by how much beauty there is in the prose of the Old Testament and I found myself profoundly thankful to have access to a translation that accurately renders the metaphors and phrases used by the original authors. Let me provide you with a few examples. I am going to use the ESV as my standard essentially-literal translation. I do this not necessary to indicate that it is superior to the others within the category, but simply because it is the translation I use for my devotional and study work.

Let’s begin with 1 Kings 2:2 where King David gives his final wishes to his son Solomon. The ESV renders this “I am about to go the way of all the earth. Be strong, and show yourself a man.” The other essentially literal translations agree with this translation as the NASB, KJV and NKJV are all very similar. There are two constructs here that I feel are essential to the text. “I am about to go the way of all the earth,” and “show yourself a man.” Let’s see how several other common translations render this particular verse:

  • “I am about to go the way of all the earth,” he said. “So be strong, show yourself a man.” (NIV)
  • “I am going where everyone on earth must someday go. Take courage and be a man.” (NLT)
  • “My son, I will soon die, as everyone must. But I want you to be strong and brave.” (CEV)
  • “I’m about to go the way of all the earth, but you—be strong; show what you’re made of!” (Message)

As we see, the NIV renders the verse in a way that is consistent with the original text. The NLT deviates a little bit, expanding the meaning of “the way of all the earth” to “where everyone on earth must someday go.” It also says, “be a man” rather than “show yourself a man.” The CEV further interprets the verse, removing any sort of literary device in both parts. The Message does a little better, maintaining the first half of the verse but removing the “show yourself a man.”

What is lost in the NLT and the CEV is the metaphor “the way of all the earth.” It is an important term, beautifully poetic, and surely one that is worth some time in meditation. There is a depth of meaning to that phrase that is clearly missing in words like “I will soon die, as everyone must.” Readers of the NLT and CEV have no access to this phrase and miss out on the wonderful opportunity to meditate upon it and learn from it.

Another example comes only one verse later. 1 Kings 2:3 continues David’s instruction to his son. David exhorts Solomon to follow God and “walk in His ways.” The ESV translates the verse as “…and keep the charge of the LORD your God, walking in his ways and keeping his statutes, his commandments, his rules, and his testimonies, as it is written in the Law of Moses, that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn.” Let’s see how other translations render “walking in his ways.”

  • …and observe what the LORD your God requires: Walk in his ways, and keep his decrees and commands, his laws and requirements, as written in the Law of Moses, so that you may prosper in all you do and wherever you go, (NIV)
  • Observe the requirements of the LORD your God and follow all his ways. Keep each of the laws, commands, regulations, and stipulations written in the law of Moses so that you will be successful in all you do and wherever you go. (NLT)
  • Do what the LORD your God commands and follow his teachings. Obey everything written in the Law of Moses. Then you will be a success, no matter what you do or where you go. (CEV)
  • Do what GOD tells you. Walk in the paths he shows you: Follow the life-map absolutely, keep an eye out for the signposts, his course for life set out in the revelation to Moses; then you’ll get on well in whatever you do and wherever you go. (Message)
  • The term “Walking in his ways” is a wonderful metaphor for living a life that honors God. We seek to emulate Him by following carefully in the footsteps of God. I am reminded of a song by the Smalltown Poets, “Call me Christian,” where they sing, “As a boy I’d put my steps / In my brother’s bigger tracks / To match his stride / And just like that I follow Jesus / Jesus is my guide.” That type of imagery is absent from the New Living Translation as well as the CEV. The Message is quite close and the NIV is, once again, accurate.

    Moving along we come to 1 Kings 2:9. David asks Solomon to exact revenge against Shimei, a man who had cursed David. “Now therefore do not hold him guiltless, for you are a wise man. You will know what you ought to do to him, and you shall bring his gray head down with blood to Sheol.” The metaphorical phrase here is “bring his gray head down with blood to Sheol.” Again, this is a wonderfully descriptive phrase that has more meaning than simply “kill.” Yet several translations provide only this meaning.

    • But now, do not consider him innocent. You are a man of wisdom; you will know what to do to him. Bring his gray head down to the grave in blood.” (NIV)
    • But that oath does not make him innocent. You are a wise man, and you will know how to arrange a bloody death for him.” (NLT)
    • Now you must punish him. He’s an old man, but you’re wise enough to know that you must have him killed. (CEV)
    • But neither should you treat him as if nothing ever happened. You’re wise, you know how to handle these things. You’ll know what to do to make him pay before he dies.” (Message)

    The NIV does a good job, only changing Sheol to grave. The NLT writes about a bloody death. This seems to miss the point for the verse is not primarily concerned with the mode of death, but with the reason for the death. The Message misses the mark altogether. Neither the NLT, the CEV or the Message see fit to render the word “grey” or “hoary” (as the King James renders it). Is that not a word God placed in the text? Is it not an important word? I do not understand why they would knowingly remove a word God saw fit to include.

    One of the most beautiful and oft-repeated phrases in the Old Testament is found in 1 Kings 2:10. “Then David slept with his fathers and was buried in the city of David.” Several essentially literal translations render “slept” as “rested” but the meaning remains the same. The Bible Knowledge Commentary says of this verse, “The picturesque phrase rested with his fathers beautifully describes David’s death and suggests that his activity did not cease forever. Indeed, the bodies of all believers who die simply ‘rest’ until they are resurrected to live with God and serve Him eternally.” David entered a temporary rest as he, along with the rest of Creation, awaits the final consumation. Here is how other translations render that verse:

    • Then David rested with his fathers and was buried in the City of David. (NIV)
    • Then David died and was buried in the City of David. (NLT)
    • David was king of Israel forty years. He ruled seven years from Hebron and thirty-three years from Jerusalem. Then he died and was buried in Jerusalem. (CEV - combines verses 10-11)
    • Then David joined his ancestors. He was buried in the City of David. (Message)

    The NIV remains consistent with the text. The NLT and CEV say simply that David died. The Message extends the verse by saying that David joined his ancestors, something that is a bit of a stretch but at least somewhat true to the meaning of the verse. The NLT and CEV do not allow their readers to see the beauty of “resting with his fathers.” Instead, David simply died. What a tragic loss! Readers of these translations will not see any hope beyond the grave. They will not know that David has gone to be with his fathers and that he is merely resting. Once more, are these not words that God deliberately placed in the text? Should readers not have access to them?

    In 1 Kings 2:12 Solomon has assumed his father’s throne. In fact, according to an essentially literal translation, “Solomon sat on the throne of David his father, and his kingdom was firmly established.” While the meaning of the phrase “sat on the throne of David his father” is clear, meaning that Solomon succeeded his father as ruler, there is an interesting sense of continuity in the original words. Doing more than simply replacing his father, Solomon actually assumed his throne. This may seem a small distinction, but I feel it is important nevertheless. It is similar to verse 3 (above) where David exhorted solomon to walk in God’s ways. Now Solomon is sitting on his father’s throne. Let’s see how other translations have rendered this verse:

    • So Solomon sat on the throne of his father David, and his rule was firmly established. (NIV)
    • Solomon succeeded him as king, replacing his father, David, and he was firmly established on the throne. (NLT)
    • His son Solomon became king and took control of David’s kingdom. (CEV)
    • Solomon took over on the throne of his father David; he had a firm grip on the kingdom. (Message)

    Once more the translations are varied with the NIV being most literal and the CEV straying furthest from the text. The NLT, CEV and Message see fit to explain the verse while the NIV, along with the essentially literal translations, leave the words as they are. Through reading a literal translation we can picture Solomon ascending his father’s throne and taking over his responsibilities. This imagery is foreign to the dynamic equivalent translations.

    Conclusion

    As I indicated earlier, I was grateful this morning that I have access to such a solid translation of Scripture. While I do not know Hebrew, I still have access to an accurate translation of the author’s original words, complete with the phrases, words and metaphors that set one author apart from another. I have access to the full meaning, or as close as I can come without access to the original language, of what was written so long ago. I simply can’t understand how anyone would be satisfied with anything less.

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