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Tim Challies

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10 years 6 months ago
Time magazine got it right, “For those who choke too easily on God and his rules…angels are the handy compromise, all fluff and meringue, kind, nonjudgemental. They are available to everyone, like aspirin. Only in the New Age would it be possible to invent an angel so mellow that it can be ignored.” My local newspaper contains constant advertisements for guides who can help any sufficiently gullible person to get in touch with angels. A Time poll found that 69 percent of respondants confirmed their belief in the existence of angels, 46 percent acknowledged their belief in a personal guardian angel and 32 percent claimed to have felt an angelic presence at some time in their lives. As the magazine says, many people who have no use for God and for His rules, have an obsession with angels, which they deem to be much more loving and gentle. But as Roger Ellsworth teaches in What The Bible Teaches About Angels (part of the “What The Bible Teaches About…” series), an interest in a biblical topic is of no value if we do not approach the topic biblically. And the vast majority of those who believe in angels have not approached the topic biblically.

What The Bible Teaches About Angels is a short book, weighing in at a mere 119 pages, and one that is easy to read. It is not a systematic theology of angels and spiritual beings, but a topical look at the biblical view of angels. The author covers topics such as what are the cherubim and seraphim, who is Satan, who are Michael and Gabriel, what are ministering spirits, and so on. The book is written in a style that is almost devotional. At the close of most of the chapters, Ellsworth asks how the truths presented apply to the reader. For example, at the close of a chapter dealing with angels as ministering spirits, he asks “what does the ministry of angels tell us about God and ourselves?” He goes on to suggest an answer that returns the focus from ourselves and from angels to God. He consistently points out that our knowledge of angels can easily become idolatrous and so we must always bring our thoughts back to God. And in so doing, we honor the angels who exist only and always to do the will of God and to bring glory to Him.

Ellsworth shows that any study of the Bible can be done in such a way that we learn truth and return all the glory to God. What The Bible Teaches About Angels is a wonderful introduction to the topic and one I recommend. It can be read and digested in only a couple of hours and is suitable for individuals or even for family reading.

10 years 7 months ago
I do believe that this will be the last book I read, at least for the next little while, on the subject of Bible translations. This is not to say that it is a bad book, nor is it to say that it is the final word on the subject. Rather, I have read several books about translating Scripture in the past weeks and am tiring of the topic.

Why Is My Choice of a Bible Translation So Important is written by Wayne Grudem and Jerry Thacker and is published by the Council for Biblical Manhood & Womanhood. The title of the book may be a little bit misleading, as the book primarily addresses the shortcomings of the TNIV translation. The actual text of the book is only 15 pages and draws quite heavily upon the excellent work of Dr. Leland Ryken on this subject. After introducing the different philosophies of translation, the authors provide several reasons for ensuring that you are reading a translation that renders, as much as is humanly possible, the words of God. The points are: every word of God is important; God’s words have more depth of meaning than anyone knows; all Christians need to make sound decisions about the Bibles they buy and use; Gender-neutral Bibles change thousands of singular verses to plural and thus diminish the Bible’s emphasis on individual responsibility and relationship with God; the real controversy is whether to water down or omit details of meaning that modern culture finds offensive.

The six-page Appendix 1 provides several examples of verses that have been changed in the TNIV. Some of these are very serious, while others are less so. For example, they show how the TNIV changes Psalm 34:20 from “He protects all his bones, not one of them will be broken” to “He protects all their bones, not one of them will be broken.” This obscures the prophetic importance of this verse which clearly looks forward to the death of Jesus.

Appendix 2, weighing in at over 60 pages, lists 3,686 translation inaccuracies in the TNIV. As I read through this list I found some that changed the meaning of a passage only a small amount, but others were marked with “Absurd!” showing that the meaning had been changed a great deal. For example, Deuteronomy 21:15 is translated in the NIV as “If a man has two wives, and he loves one but not the other…” while in the TNIV it is rendered as “If someone has two wives, and he loves one but not the other…” This is a verse where “man” is clearly the correct translation.

A final appendix contains two statements of concern about the TNIV that were signed by a large number of Evangelical leaders.

While I would not recommend Why Is My Choice of a Bible Translation So Important? as the first book a person should read on this topic, it is a sound, short treatment of some of the most serious problems with Today’s New International Version.

10 years 8 months ago
One of Satan’s greatest triumphs must surely be in convincing Christians to abandon the Bible, or at least keeping them from really mining its depths. He tries to convince us that the Bible is outdated, unimportant or less important than many other things. He tries to convince us that it is difficult to understand and that we should rely on others to interpret it for us.

R.C. Sproul wrote Knowing Scripture early in his career to address these concerns and out of a desire to see Christians dedicate themselves to a systematic study of the Bible. Written in 1977, this is one of Sproul’s earliest but most important and highly recommended books.

Sproul begins with an introduction to why we should read the Bible. He dispels myths regarding Scripture being too difficult to understand or too boring to hold our attention. From that foundation he shows how the principle of private interpretation was a pillar of the Reformation and thus remains a pillar of Protestantism. He explains what private interpretation is and what it is not. He shows, for example, that it does not preclude us from verifying our interpretations against those of others. He also stresses the need for objectivity as we read the Scripture. In short, he keeps us from viewing private interpretation as being a method of forcing Scripture to say what we want it to say.

He dedicates a chapter to an introduction to hermeneutics. Do not be scared by this technical word as it simply means “a list of rules and guidelines for interpreting Scripture.” Some of the concepts he introduces are:

  • The analogy of faith. This says that Scripture interprets Scripture, or that one passage supports and explains another. It also means that one part of Scripture never corrects another part, for Scripture needs to correction.
  • Literal Interpretation. This says that Scripture needs to be scrutinized as literature, paying attention to grammar, word choice and genre. Just because the Bible is a special book does not mean we can ignore standard literal interpretation.
  • Genre Analysis. This says that Scripture must be analyzed for genre and it is crucial that we distinguish between genres such as history and poetry.
  • Grammatico-Historical. This is a method of interpreting Scripture that focuses on, among other things, grammatical constructions and historical context. This is the traditional and most accurate method of hermeneutics.
  • Authorship and Dating. It is important to understand the dating of a particular book or passage as well as its authorship.

The bulk of the book is contained in a chapter that lays out ten rules for Biblical interpretation. They are:

  1. Do not change the rules of interpretation for the Bible. Read the Bible just like any other book
  2. Seek to empathize with the Biblical characters
  3. Narratives must be interpreted by the didactic
  4. The implicit is to be interpreted by the explicit
  5. Determine the meaning of words using lexicography, etymology and context
  6. Note the presence of parallelisms
  7. Note the difference between proverb and law
  8. Observe the difference between the spirit and the letter of the law
  9. Be careful with parables
  10. Be careful with predictive prophecy

Each of these points receives careful attention. Though some of them may sound shocking (such as “read the Bible just like any other book”) Sproul provides solid reasons for the necessity of each.

The author then turns his attention to a discussion of culture and the Bible. Just I am confined to a specific cultural setting, so were the authors of the Bible. We need to be able to discern the difference between principle and custom in regards to the Bible. Sproul provides several guidelines for doing this.

The book closes with a discussion of some resources that may help in studying the Bible. These range from commentaries to dictionaries and lexicons. If there is an area of this book that shows its age, it is in this section. There are so many more resources at our disposal now, especially on the Internet, that this section loses some of its usefulness. A discussion of modern translations and some of the newer commentaries would be helpful. Perhaps a second edition of this book is in order. One thing I found amusing is that the author says he does not agree with study Bibles, yet years later was the editor of the New Geneva Study Bible (later renamed the Reformation Study Bible). I presume his view changed!

This book does a wonderful job of introducing hermeneutics for the lay person and I would recommend it for any Christian. It presents advanced concepts in a way that it easy to read and understand. My only complaint is that it advances many rules but does not dedicate any attention to the “how’s” of hermeneutics. Some examples where the author led us through some difficult passages would have been most welcome and would have helped ensure we not only understood the rules but also understood how to use them.

10 years 9 months ago
Choosing a Bible used to be an easy task. Only a few decades ago there were only two or three translations to choose from, giving a person very little in the way of options. The situation today is far different. We are inundated with translations of Scripture and it seems that a major new translation hits the store shelves every couple of years. Terms like “dynamic equivalent,” “formal equivalent,” and “paraphrase” are tossed around but few people have any real sense of what they mean. Christians purchase Bibles expecting that what they are reading is truly the Word of God. But is it?

Leland Ryken has written extensively on the subject of Bible translations. His book The Word of God in English, which I have reviewed here, was foundational in my life as I attempted to come to terms with the multitudes of translation options available to me. I have since read an excellent essay he wrote for a recent book Translating Truth. Choosing A Bible is a short book, weighing in at only 30 pages, that provides a highly-compressed version of the most important arguments from The Word of God in English and his contribution to Translating Truth. Ryken seeks to show quickly and convincingly that Christians deserve and ought to desire nothing less than an essentially literal translation of the Bible.

The format of the book is simple. He begins by showing how Bible translations differ from each other. He writes about the goal of translation and compares thought-for-thought with word-for-word. He then provides five negative effects of dynamic equivalent (or thought-for-thought) translations. They are:

  • Taking liberties in translation
  • Destabilization of the text
  • What the Bible “means” vs. what the Bible says
  • Falling short of what we should expect
  • A logical and liguistic impossibility

The book concludes with ten reasons that we can trust essentially literal translations. These include transparency to the original text, keeping to the essential task of translation, preserving theological precision, preserving the dignity and beauty of the Bible and consistency with the doctrine of inspiration.

As with all of Ryken’s writing, this book is well-argued and convicting. He does not argue for a particular translation, though it is obvious that he prefers the English Standard Version (he did, after all, serve on the translation oversight committee for the ESV). He merely argues that we, as Christians, deserve to be given nothing less than the Word of God in English.

This book is meant to appeal to all Christians and there is little that will prove difficult to understand. Choosing A Bible is a great introduction to translation theory and to understanding the importance of translations that preserve the words of God.

10 years 9 months ago

Sometimes my sense of duty seems to come into conflict with my instincts. This almost inevitably leads to duty laying a playground beating on instincts and stealing his lunch money. You see, I attempt to respond to every email that I receive, but every now and then I receive one that just seems like bad news. This happened a couple of days ago. I received one that contained an essay in which the author, with whom I had never had previous contact, claimed that he would prove a popular Christian figure to be unregenerate. I should have just hit “delete.” Instead I elected to reply and gently suggested that people should exercise caution in attempting to prove that other professed Christians are “out.” Here is what I wrote:

You say, “I will show that the author does not personally know the Lord Jesus Christ…” That is a serious charge for one believer to make about another and I am not sure that any of us are qualified to make such statements. I also don’t feel that you proved the statement in your essay. It may be true that [Christian figure] does not believe, but I think we need to show caution and charity towards others who claim to be believers.

In other words, the authors of this article were attempting to prove that a popular Christian leader was not a Christian. Period. When I objected to this, the authors of the essay took the time to explain the reality about myself. I thought you’d be interested in knowing more about me. I received the following email that said, among other things:

Your admonition to us that “we need to show caution and charity towards others who claim to be believers” is not only contrary to Scripture and to the living examples of the Lord and His disciples, it is, as Paul tells you, an evidence of perfect unbelief. You would not be able to say what you did to us unless you have never known the Lord. Yes, you are speaking no differently than do many in nominal Christian circles, while there are few who say what we say, so surely, you might find solace in numbers. However, you will not find solace in the Truth, because Truth does not agree with you. If that is so, and it is, then you need to come to a fear of God heretofore unknown to you, before you can presume to go and teach with the false knowledge you now have of God and Jesus Christ.

The Bible says to “beware of false brethren.” That being so, do you not think that, contrary to your advice, it is a far more serious matter to call those who are not believers, believers, than it is to call those who are believers, nonbelievers? In the former, one aids others into the hands of false prophets and teachers…wolves…and gives godly credit where it is not at all due, while in the latter, true believers who are called nonbelievers, and who thus suffer defamation or denial in Christ for His sake, will endure and become the stronger for it. It happens to us all the time. We suffer persecution for His sake. Do you? We know by your fruits that you do not. Tim, you have much to reconsider. You do not have what you think you have. Thus, we write, for good.

At this point instincts, still wiping their blackened eyes from the beating they had received, glared tauntingly at duty as instinct’s older brother marched over to lay a beating on duty. Not wishing to maintain such a ridiculous exchange I replied:

It was against my better judgment that I replied to your email, but did so out of a sense of duty or perhaps charity. I regret that decision. To now accuse me of having false gods in my life that I am unwilling to forsake is a serious charge and one for which I must believe you have no foundation as you scarcely know anything about me.

I am not interested in maintaining this conversation so there is no need to reply.

But of course, human nature being what it is, these people felt they had to have the last word.

“You have an evil eye and an evil tongue, Tim. You justify the wicked and condemn the righteous. Why then would you be interested in maintaining conversation with us when we do the opposite? Go your way then. You are not prospering now, and having heard the truth, you will prosper even less. Please consider.”

So there we have it. Based on two or three sentences I wrote, the authors determined the following about me:

  • My life shows evidence of unbelief.
  • I am not a believer.
  • I have never been a believer.
  • I am merely towing the line with the rest of my nominally Christian friends.
  • I hate the truth and am thus unqualified to maintain this web site.
  • I do not suffer any type of persecution.
  • I have poor judgment.
  • I justify the wicked and condemn the righteous.
  • I have now heard the truth and will begin to suffer for rejecting this “merciful correction.

Based on this ridiculous little exchange I have added the following caveat to my contact page. “Do note that while I do love to hear from those who read this site, I will no longer read essays or articles that are forwarded to me by an author who has not first established contact with me. In other words, if you have written an article that you would like to share with me, please get to know me first. This is likely to save us both a great deal of aggravation.”

I am going to use this little exchange to springboard a brief discussion on whether or not we, as humans, are qualified to make the ultimate human judgment about another human being. In other words, can one professed Christian say with any sense of certainty that another is unregenerate?

We need to preface this discussion by admitting that it is impossible for us to know with absolute certainty whether any other person is a believer. And yes, this even extends to Martin Luther, John Calvin and Charles Spurgeon. Because faith exists entirely within the heart of another person we can never be completely certain whether or not it is real. We do not have to look far into Scripture and even into our own experience to find many examples of people who seemed to be true believers but fell away. Paul acknowledged this when he wrote, in 2 Corinthians 13:5, “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?-unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” Paul knew that some who professed to be believers were not and thus he encourages each of them to continually test their hearts. One terrifying aspect of the final judgment is that there will be many going to hell who sincerely felt they were believers.

In Who Are You To Judge?, Dave Swavely adds the following: “[R]egarding who are the wheat and who are the tares, they [the apostles] left that judgment to God - except in the case of those who were under church discipline. The biblical writers did not attempt to deterine or distinguish true believers from false believers within the church. They accepted people’s profession of faith, as long as it was a credible or biblical profession; and they treated all members of the church as believers, unless the process of discipline proved otherwise. We should therefore do the same.” It is also worth nothing that even the process of discipline dictates that we are to assume that the other person is a believer until the process has actually been completed and the individual has been excommunicated. It is not until that point that we can assume the person is unregenerate.

How we define a credible profession of faith may vary slightly from church to church, but it should definitely contain an affirmation that the person is saved by grace through faith, should affirm many of the doctrines concerning the nature of God and the person should have been identified with the church through baptism or other forms of membership. If a person has professed faith, been baptized and been received into membership his claim to be a believer has a certain level of credibility. Conversely, if he has refused to be baptized and to be received into membership we would have a good reason to be concerned about his profession.

So what are we to do with those who claim to be Christian yet say or do things that seem to contradict their faith? Swavely says the following and I agree with him.

I would suggest that when someone has professed personal faith in Christ, been baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and identified with the church, we are then under obligation from Scripture to make no negative judgment about the validity of his faith. That obligation remains even when a professing believer seems to exhibit a lack of fruit, or even if he commits repeated and heinous sin, because in those cases the other members of the body of Christ are called to encourage, admonish, and if necessary discipline him according to the process Jesus outlined in Matthew 18:15-17. Each of those means of sanctification are based on the presupposition that in most cases the Holy Spirit is present and operative in the sinner’s life. Otherwise they could not be effective in helping that person to grow in grace and to put away the sin against which we all continue to struggle.

In summary, a person who professes to be a believer and has made a credible profession of faith, should be treated as a fellow believer until such a time that he or she has been removed from fellowship through the process of church discipline or until he or she has expressly denied the primary doctrines of the church. If a person who once professed Christ declares, “I am no longer a believer and I deny Christ” we do not need to wait for church discipline to take effect before we assume that he is an unbeliever. This attitude of caution towards judging the salvation of others prevents church members from building walls between themselves and other believers that would prevent fellowship and would alienate one part of Christ’s body from another. Sinful judgment on our part can lead to a badly fractured church that does not honor God.

Based on this I believe I was justified in urging caution towards the men who wrote me attempting to disprove the faith of another professed Christian. This Christian figure has done much that would require that I urge caution in reading his books or placing oneself under his ministry. However, he professes faith in Christ and insists that he upholds the primary doctrines of the church. Thus I feel that we need to treat him as a brother, loving him as such and encouraging him to correct the obvious error in his life. We can assume that the Holy Spirit is operative in his life and is willing and able to empower him to make the necessary change. We should leave the ultimate judgment to God.

11 years 1 month ago

How does a man say goodbye to his little girls, knowing that he will never see them again? And how does he do so without letting them know that this is the last time they will see their daddy? Does he look them straight in the eyes and affirm his undying love for them, or do words fail him so that he can do little more than hug and kiss them for the last time and then send them on their way? Does he still hold out hope that he will see them again? Or does he know in his heart of hearts that this is the end? Maybe he is so worn down from his long fight with cancer that he can barely feel or express emotion anymore. Maybe he just wants to be gone.

Yesterday I heard from the wife of my friend Mike that he has been accepted into the Palliative ward of a local hospital. It was almost exactly one year ago that he was diagnosed with leukemia and since that time all treatments have failed. At this point all they can do is attempt to relieve his suffering as he succumbs to the disease. His body will probably not hold out for another week. Soon he will leave his wife and his little girls on their own.

Those little girls are five and three - the same as my children. Mike has been married as long as I’ve been married and is around the same age. A couple of years older, I guess. But he isn’t all that much different than me. I guess that’s why his approaching death is so real; so vivid.

I wonder if the girls knew. Sometimes we do not give children enough credit. Maybe their intuition told them that something was happening. Probably not. Hopefully not. I hope all they know is that daddy is going back to the hospital and that they are going to spend a week with grandma. How are they supposed to guess, after the hundreds of times daddy has gone to the hospital, that this is his last time? How can they know that they have given daddy their final kiss? Will they even remember him when they are all grown up? Or will daddy be only a face in photographs who brings a lump to the throat, even after so many years?

As far as I know, Mike does not know the Lord. We had plenty of opportunities to talk about spiritual matters when we worked for the same company and I don’t think Mike ever understood the value of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. If anything I’d say Mike was more a follower of Dr. Phil than of Jesus. There is not much I wouldn’t give at this point to be able to go and and ask him exactly what he believes. The imminence of death would surely give me the boldness I lacked even a couple of months ago when I last sat with him.

So now I sit here at the time when it is too late, wondering why I did not do more. Sure I told the family that I was praying for them and asked if I could pray with them. And sure I tried to get Mike to think about preparing for eternity. But I did so in such a pathetic way. Such a half-hearted way. I burn with shame as I write these words thinking of all I didn’t do and didn’t say. I feel burdened with guilt that Mike is days or maybe even hours away from standing before God, and that I did not make one clear, strong presentation of the gospel. I failed him. And I failed God.

Do you know what may be even worse? The likelihood that I’ll get over it. Two days from now I probably won’t even think of Mike. I’ll get busy with my life and the guilt will ease away. In a week or two I guess I’ll attend his funeral and feel this guilt again, but a few days after that I’ll conveniently put Mike out of my mind and go back to life. But you know what? I don’t want to get over it!

Truly I don’t.

This burden I feel right now - why can’t I feel this same burden for the lost all the time? Why is it a burden birthed from guilt rather than from a desire to see the lost be saved? I’ve asked God to tell me why. The only answer I find is the hardness of my own heart.

Still, with hope in my heart I pray for Mike, that maybe, just maybe, there will be someone in that hospital who can reach out to him with the message I failed to bring. Maybe God will bring to Mike’s mind some fragment of Scripture he heard as a child, or some words I shared with him years ago. Maybe. Hopefully.

With hopeful sadness I pray for Mike’s family, that somehow God would use this awful situation to draw them to Himself. That somehow God would make His presence felt and provide meaning through the pain.

And then with tears I pray for myself, that God would not allow this burden to disappear, but that he would use my shortcomings to teach me how I can do better next time, not simply to avoid this crushing, burning guilt, but to use the opportunities He provides.

Because I just don’t want to get over it. Oh God, please don’t let me get over it!

Note: - This is probably the most personal bit of writing I’ve ever shared on this site. Truth be told, I’m more than a little embarrassed to post this. I apologize if it is just far too personal for public consumption. I really wrote it as a personal reflection, but decided to share it not so I can receive absolution from others, but since I am sure there are others who have struggled with similar feelings of guilt. Perhaps we can learn from each other.

11 years 2 months ago

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?

  1. 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.
  2. 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?
  3. Be sure to distinguish between what is truly “biblical” and what is just opinion, style, or personality.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

11 years 5 months ago

Famine in the Land opens with a quote from the great preacher Martyn Lloyd-Jones. “The most urgent need in the Christian Church today is true preaching; and as it is the greatest and most urgent need in the Church, it is the greatest need of the world also.” Author Steven Lawson continues, “If the doctor’s diagnosis is correct, and this writer believes it is, then a return to preaching - true preaching, biblical preaching, expository preaching - is the greatest need in this critical hour. If a reformation is to come to the church, it must be preceded by a reformation of the pulpit. As the pulpit goes, so goes the church” (page 17). What follows is four chapters which are, appropriately, expository in nature and which examine the priority, power, pattern and passion of expository preaching.

The book is divided into four sections. In the first, the author writes about the priority of biblical preaching, using verses from Acts 2 as his text. He teaches that God’s church must be done in God’s way in order to thrive and survive in the way the Lord intends. He then goes on to show the priority Jesus and his apostles placed on biblical preaching. The second chapter examines the power of biblical preaching, and examines Jonah and his preaching to the city of Nineveh. He teaches that solid preaching needs to be courageous, compelling, confrontational and compassionate in order to conform to the biblical model. The third chapter, which examines the pattern of biblical preaching, looks back to Ezra as he read and explained the Law to the people of Jerusalem. Lawson writes about the necessary preparation for delivering an expository message and provides a call to preachers to become true teachers of the Word. The final chapter looks at Paul’s words to Timothy found in 1 Timothy 4:13-16 and speaks of the passion of biblical preaching. The author shows the pattern of reading, applying and teaching the Word and also speaks of the importance of perseverance in the ministry.

The book is laced with effective illustrations, and even better, with multitudes of wonderful quotes about preaching. A personal favorite is found on page 64. “Unfortunately much of contemporary preaching seems out of balance, having become too much like what someone described as ‘a mild mannered man standing before mild-mannered people urging them to become more mild-mannered.’” It is followed by words spoken by Philips Brokks. “If you are afraid of men and a slave to their opinion, go and do something else. God and make shoes to fit them. Go even and paint pictures which you know are bad, but which suit their bad taste. But do not keep on all your life preaching sermons which say not what God sent you to declare, but what they have you to say. Be courageous” (page 64,65).

The only addition I might have made to this book was a section on how the listener is to prepare to hear an expository sermon. There are many books describing how an expositor is to prepare and deliver such a sermon, but few include wisdom directed at the layperson. However, I acknowledge that such a section would have been outside the scope of this book which is directed primarily at pastors.

This is one of the best and most accessible books I have read on this topic. Any believer, and pastors especially, will benefit from reading it. While more and more churches are watering down their messages in order to conform to the times, it is increasingly important that pastors follow the biblical model of preaching. This book will provide biblical guidance to help correct this “famine in the land.”

11 years 11 months ago

Though I am not a preacher, I decided to read Rediscovering Expository Preaching in an attempt to discover exactly what expository preaching is and compare it to the type of teaching practiced in most modern churches. That this book was written by John MacArthur and the faculty of Master’s seminary is a strong endorsement of its value, for that institution is known as being one that upholds the value of expositional teaching. I hoped also that I would learn some techniques and disciplines that would enrich my personal Bible study as well as my writing. I was not disappointed.

Effective exposition of the Bible requires four steps and each of these receives careful analysis in this book. The steps are:

  • Personal preparation. This involves ensuring that the expositor is walking with the Lord. He must be dedicated to studying the Word and to prayer as well as other spiritual disciplines. Proper exposition cannot be done apart from the Spirit who alone can illumine the text.
  • Processing the Biblical text. This involves using study tools, engaging in hermeneutics and exegesis and generally drawing the meaning from the text in a biblical manner.
  • Pulling the message together. This involves determining the central ideas of a text and drawing up an outline. It involves an effective introduction and conclusion and moving from exegesis to exposition.
  • Preaching the exposition. This involves actually delivering the message in an effective manner.

Each of these steps is explained in sufficient, though not burdensome detail. Nine authors combined to write the nineteen chapters, and while some are more effective communicators than others, each does a good job of handling his topic.

While this book is clearly aimed at the aspiring pastor or to pastors who are attempting to make their messages expository, there is still value in reading it for people who are not pastors. Many of the principles of hermeneutics and exegesis are important for all believers to understand thoroughly in order to effectively interpret and apply the Word of God. While not all of the information will pertain to these readers, those parts can be passed over without losing the value of the book.

I recommend this book for the targeted audience (pastors and aspiring pastors) but also for lay people who are interested in learning Biblical methods of hermeneutics and exegesis. That being said, there are other options that may be better-suited for these people, such as How To Interpret the Bible For Yourself by Richard Mayhue.

12 years 1 month ago

At the conference I attended this weekend, I heard the powerful testimony of Richard Ganz as he gave his reflections on thirty years of Jewish evangelism. Richard is Jewish, and was at one time not only a practicing Jew, but a very strictly practicing Jew. His testimony caused me to think about some verses from the book of Acts. But first, the relevant parts of Ganz’s testimony which I found here.

The next few days were interesting. They were full of religious discussion. But as a man with no sense of God, seeing myself as a chance accumulation of molecules in an absurd and meaningless world, I listened and talked to these people, questioning and mocking their beliefs. Then one day a man asked me if he could read something from the Bible to me. I consented, and this is what he read.

Behold, My Servant shall deal prudently; He shall be exalted and extolled and be very high. Just as many were astonished at you, so His visage was marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men; so shall He sprinkle many nations. Kings shall shut their mouths at Him; for what had not been told them they shall see, and what they had not heard they shall consider.

Who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, and as a root out of dry ground. He has no form or comeliness; and when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him. He is despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.

I’d heard that expression “Man of sorrows” and “acquainted with grief” before, though I wasn’t sure where. But at that point I suddenly understood what was happening: they were reading to me about Jesus. I thought, Do they know what they are doing, reading this Christian stuff to a Jew? But I told myself to be patient.

Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions…

Images of Renaissance paintings leapt to my mind. I wasn’t an ordinary Jewish guy; I had a doctorate; I was cultured; I’d seen paintings with crosses; I knew that their guy had been pierced. They were trying to read me stories about Jesus and I felt the anger rising in me.

…He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all…

Jesus just bore your sins! I couldn’t stand it. That was just a cheap way out of long term psychoanalysis. What they were telling me was “the Catholic way.” From the age of seven, when I had walked into a Catholic church, I thought Jesus was a Catholic; Scandinavian, perhaps, very delicate, tall, thin—slightly anorexic—with long silken blond hair and piercing blue eyes. I had got as far as the vestibule of the church, looked at one of the statues and thought that the ground was going to open up and swallow me; that I was unalterably damned for having done that, and I ran eight blocks home to get away from what I considered an unpardonable sin.

…He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgement, and who will declare His generation? For He was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgressions of My people He was stricken. And they made His grave with the wicked—but with the rich at His death…

I remembered pictures of Jesus on the cross and the two thieves, one on either side of him. Three crosses—I knew that stuff; they weren’t going to fool me with their rhetoric.

…but with the rich at His death, because He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in His mouth. Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. When You make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days…

There was the myth about the resurrection. They get it into all their literature, don’t they. They can’t accept the fact that once a person is dead, he’s dead. Grow up! Put away your infantile neuroses and realize that when you’re dead, you’re dead; that’s it.

…He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied. By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, for He shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great, and He shall divide the spoil with the strong, because He poured out His soul unto death, and He was numbered with the transgressors, and He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

When he finished reading, he looked at me and said, “What do you think?”

I was, of course, keen to give the benefit of my insights. They were obviously quoting to me from their New Testament and I responded without a moment’s hesitation: “Anyone who was there at that cross could have written that stuff! What does that prove?”

He handed me the Bible and in a millisecond of receiving it, my life was changed. The name that I saw at the top of the page was Isaiah! They had been reading from my Bible, my Hebrew Scriptures, and I felt as though someone had taken a sword and cut me to pieces. When the man who read it told me it was written 700 years before Jesus was born, I felt dead. Why couldn’t it be Krishna? Why couldn’t it be Buddha? Why does it have to be him? I knew at that instant that if Jesus wrote history about himself in my Bible—if the Gentile God was the Jewish God and he was truly God—then I had to submit everything to him for the rest of my life.

The very instant Ganz saw the word “Isaiah” at the top of the book, his life was changed forever. He immediately came to understand who Jesus was, and that Jesus was spoken about in his Jewish Scriptures. The Spirit illuminated the words from Isaiah so suddenly he saw Jesus as the object of all this prophesy.

Knowing that this knowledge has changed his life and realizing that his Jewish Scriptures pointed to Jesus as the final sacrifice and the one these Scriptures spoke about, he assumed that this knowledge would do to other Jews what it had done to him. He immediately set about sharing these verses with other Jews, thinking they would be changed as quickly and completely as he was. It came as a shock to him that this did not happen. Though God was gracious to reach a few in the same way He had reached Rich, far more rejected Jesus as the fulfillment of the prophecy. The same words that God used to break through Rich’s hardness did nothing but further condemn others.

Now consider the testimony of another Jewish man who came to a sudden realization of just who Jesus was and finally saw Him as the fulfillment of the Scriptures that had for so long been part of his life. To do that we can turn to Acts 2 and read about the apostle Peter. In Acts 2 he has gathered a large crowd of Jews who were in Jerusalem to celebrate Passover and preaches to them, explaining who Jesus was and how they sent their long-awaited Messiah to His death. We read that they were “cut to the heart” and that three thousand of them were saved that day.

I am sure Peter was thrilled to see thousands of people saved on a single day. But at the same time, I suspect he was disappointed. After all, he probably assumed that the knowledge which had so changed his life, would change every other Jew. Just as Ganz thought that Isaiah 53 would work the same way in the hearts of his fellow Jews as it had worked in his, I’m sure Peter saw the case for Christ as being completely irrefutable and thought it would save the entire Jewish nation. But it was not to be. God had chosen some who would respond, but many more would simply walk away, unaffected by the evidence, as great as it was.

In a sense I think each of us assumes that what has worked for us will work for others. The evidence is so solid in our minds that we simply can’t understand how others can doubt it. Yet God uses different ways to reach different people. The core message must be the same – that Jesus Christ died to save sinners like us. But the means God chooses to have that message reach us, to break through the stone walls of our hearts, varies from person to person, from heart to heart.