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Tim Challies

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11 years 3 months ago
Since Rick Warren’s rise to prominence, and especially since the release of The Purpose Driven Life, a lot of criticism has been levelled at the man, his ministry and his books. Some of this has been valid, fair and even necessary. As we would expect, some has been irrational, spiteful and borne of ignorance. When people accuse Rick Warren of wanting nothing more than money and riches it shows they have obviously not done their research into the man, since from all accounts nothing could be further from the truth. However, there are many believers who have serious concerns with what Warren is teaching. As one of those people, I feel I am well-versed in the primary concerns of Warren’s detractors. Thus I was interested in reading Rick Warren and the Purpose that Drives Him.

A few months ago I began to notice Richard Abanes, an author and apologist who attends Warren’s church (Saddleback Community Church) and who used to be on staff with Warren, posting defenses of The Purpose Driven Life in various online forums, including the ones at my own site. He wrote to tell me that he had written a book which would prove false many of the claims I made in my review of The Purpose Driven Life and in subsequent articles. A couple of days ago I received the long-awaited book, Rick Warren and the Purpose that Drives Him. At a mere 127 pages it took only a couple of evenings to read it. Having done that, I would like to provide a short review.

It is important to stop here and emphasize the importance of truth. As Christians we cannot allow ourselves to form opinions of a person or his ministry based on false information. The Bible gives us the responsibility of standing against what we feel is false teaching, but only in a way that is biblical. As attractive as it may seem to believe every rumor, we must seek out the truth. It is in that spirit that I approached this book - willing to be corrected if what I have believed is shown to be false.

First, allow me to provide an overview of each of the chapters.

The book begins with an introduction to The Purpose Driven Life, starting with the often-told tale of Ashley Smith who was taken captive by an accused rapist and murderer, but was released after reading him parts of the book. It continues to provide basic information about the phenomenal bestseller. The chapter contains a lament against those who criticize Warren which reveals the reason Abanes felt it was necessary to write this book. “[T]he most vocal critics of The Purpose Driven Life are not atheists or leaders of competing religions - they are Christians, some of whom are quite well-known and influential. Interestingly, many of these individuals are either former cultists or people who entire ministerial lives are devoted to rooting out the false doctrines of cults, the occult, and world religions. Although zealous and well-meaning, they have leveled a slew of false charges against Warren, decrying his book as a presentation of “New Age” beliefs and a wide assortment of heretical concepts. Even more surprising is how their groundless accusations are now being repeated by a significant number of senior pastors throughout America. Some of these pastors, in fact, have become Warren’s harshest detractors. As a result, there now exist a growing number of lay Christians who are not only accepting such criticism as true but are repeating them to others” (page 12). He goes on to provide his credentials - he knows Warren personally, is a researcher of religious systems and was given unprecedented access to Warren’s personal files and internal church documents.

Allow me to interrupt the flow of this review for only a moment. In this book, Abanes often tells us what Rick Warren really meant when he said or wrote something. The author seems to suggest, “You were wrong, I’m right.” Ultimately, though, only Rick Warren really knows what Rick Warren meant. While Abanes’ take is valuable and perhaps even right some or most of the time, in the end he can only truly speak for his opinion of what another person said. It is not usually the job of one man to defend another. It benefits the reader to be aware of this as he approaches this book. It is not a book in which Warren defends himself.

The next chapter contains an exclusive interview with Rick Warren in which Abanes attempts to ask Warren the tough questions. Unfortunately, the interview seems to fall short of being exceedingly valuable in this regard. For example, Abanes asks, “Do you advocate watering down the Gospel to cater to seekers?” Not surprisingly, Rick Warren answers with an emphatic “No!” But I don’t know of anyone who would admit to “watering down” the Gospel in order to “cater” to anyone. Even Robert Schuller would deny doing that. Here is another question. “So you do not endorse or adhere to Robert Schuller’s teachings on things like sin, salvation and pluralism?” And of course Warren does not endorse Schuller’s aberrant teachings. Abanes asks a little bit about Warren’s opinion of the Emergent church and probes his connections with Ken Blanchard and other New Age and apostate teachers, but in most cases neither the questions nor the answers are convincing or reveal anything new. That being said, it was nice to see Warren affirm the gospel and to hear his take on the problems of postmodernism.

The next three chapters serve as a brief biography of Rick Warren, his books and his ministry.

The heart of the book is in chapters four, five and six where Abanes tries to answer the charges levelled against Warren and his ministry. Abanes is a staunch defender of Warren and his Purpose Driven teachings. Much of the information he provides is helpful. He tries to clarify Warren’s position on many issues and explains his relationship with many New Age figures, such as Ken Blanchard and Robert Schuller. He provides the text from private notes sent from Rick Warren to Robert Schuller expressing concerns with Schuller’s increasingly-poor theology. He answers approximately thirty charges that have been made against Warren. Among the questions he answers are, “Not enough mention of hell?,” “Warren the Arminian?” and “Making God too safe?”. Yet strangely, he does not answer the most common concerns levelled against Warren and his books.

The single most common concern raised about Warren (at least in my experience) is his use (or misuse) of Scripture. This comes in two forms. First, Warren often quotes verses out of context or in ways that are advantageous to the point he is trying to make. He will often quote only a half of a verse if the second half does not support what he wants to say. Second, he uses poor translations and translations that say what he wants the Bible to say, rather than what God intended for it to say. There are times when this may be an honest mistake, but there are other times when it is clear that Warren has deliberately twisted a verse or taken it from its context to make it work for his purposes. Despite these two areas being of prime importance to those who are concerned with Warren’s ministry, Abanes gives this no attention whatsoever. None. Not a sentence.

Another common criticism is Warren’s prayer in the seventh chapter of The Purpose Driven Life. He leads the reader to pray, “Jesus I believe in you and I receive you” and then welcomes to the family of God anyone who prayed that little prayer sincerely. Yet this was before the person was provided any significant information about sin or repentance. It would be easy to asssume that the person was praying to receive purpose more than to receive Christ. This is a very common criticism, yet one Abanes does not address.

Those are only two examples and I could have provided more. I realize, of course, that Abanes cannot address every charge anyone has ever levelled at Warren. But it seems odd that he overlooked some of those that are most common and most serious.

There were times in reading the book when I felt unsure if Abanes even fully understood the nature of the criticisms levelled at Warren. This became obvious in his defense of Warren against charges that he is teaching New Age philosophies. I don’t believe that Rick Warren and Neil Donald Walsch are golfing buddies or that they get together on weekends to howl at the moon with their families. I don’t know that any of Warren’s critics believe that he is knowingly and deliberately a part of the New Age Movement. But this is what Abanes feels these people believe and he spends several pages proving the obvious - that Warren is not a New Ager. Yet even a person who is not a New Ager can teach things that are consistent with the New Age, and that is what Warren often seems to do. He has spoken at events with New Age leaders and has had some involved in his church. He may deny this, but it is documented fact. So while he is clearly not a member of the New Age, he seems to be, perhaps inadvertently, blurring the lines through his ministry. And this is of great concern to those who foresee a possible convergence between many Protestants and New Agers.

Enough. Suffice it to say that while Abanes does provide some helpful information, I do not feel this book offers significant information and argumentation that will change the minds of those who do not approve of Warren’s ministry. It will be easy to say that his detractors are merely hard-headed troublemakers, but an honest assessment will show that this book falls short of being a convincing apologetic for Rick Warren and all things Purpose Driven.

As I read Rick Warren and the Purpose that Drives Him I could not help but think of Jean Cretien, the long-time Prime Minister of Canada. He was a master at avoiding conflict. When the potential for conflict arose, he always seemed to come out looking clean. How did he do this? He simply denied that there was a conflict in the first place. He refused to allow himself to be driven off-course by his detractors. He was a corrupt and rotten politician, but one who survived years in the public eye, being elected time and again, by avoiding significant conflict. It seems to me that Rick Warren (and many other church and political leaders) has generally done the same. But for an ill-advised email to Lighthouse Trails Publications he has never answered the charges of his detractors. I would guess that the vast, vast majority of Christians who know of Warren and who have read The Purpose Driven Life are not aware that there is any conflict surrounding Warren and his book. It is entirely possible that Abanes’ book will actually work against Rick Warren, making people aware of a conflict about which they had, until they read this book, been entirely ignorant.

In the end I can’t help but conclude that Abanes simply does not understand the concerns people have with Warren and The Purpose Driven Life, and thus he does not answer their charges in a way that might cause them to change their minds. This book has some value and will serve to correct some of the false information regarding Rick Warren and The Purpose Driven Life. But it will not change the minds of those Abanes writes about in the first chapter. It may satisfy the casual critic who has heard these charges and is seeking clarity, but the astute researcher and student of the Bible will continue to have and to raise concerns with Rick Warren and his Purpose Driven teachings. I walk away from this book little changed. I still believe Rick Warren is a nice man and one who is genuine in his love for the Lord and his desire to do right by Him. But I also believe that he is, in many ways, inadvertently harming the church and teaching what the Bible forbids.

* I am not entirely sure when this book will be available for purchase, as I received a pre-release copy, but I believe it will ship in the next week or so.

  Evaluation Support
What theology there is seems solid enough.
Well-written, short and easy to read.
This is only the second biography of Warren (though many more are sure to follow).
I’m not entirely sure who the intended audience is.
It’s not a bad book, but it’s also not very convincing.
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11 years 4 months ago

My mother is one of several people I know who eschews all of the Christian Living type of books that dominate the Christian publishing industry. Apart from her Bible (the most beat-up, ink-covered, personalized Bible you’ll ever see) and a few commentaries, she reads only biographies. She feels that by reading about the lives of great Christians of the past, she will learn far more than what most of the Christian Living books can teach her. She may just be right.

Faithful Women & Their Extraordinary God is Noel Piper’s second solo effort that is targetted at an adult audience (she has previously authored Treasuring God in Our Traditions and has written the children’s book Most Of All, Jesus Loves You.). The book contains five short biographies of five faithful women: Sarah Edwards, Lilias Trotter, Gladys Aylward, Esther Ahn Kim and Helen Roseveare.

I particularly enjoy short biographies of this type as they provide only a glimpse of a person. If one of the people particularly intrigues me, I can seek out a more exhaustive biography. This book serves as an introduction to five particularly fascinating servants of the Lord - women who have in some way had a significant impact on the author. While the women are bound by a common thread, their zeal in serving the Lord, they represent several countries and hundreds of years of Christian history. Sarah Edwards lived in the New World during the mid-1700’s and was best-known for selflessly supporting and extending the ministry of her husband, Jonathan Edwards; Lilias Trotter grew up in Victorian England but served God as a missionary in North Africa; Gladys Alward left her native England in 1932 so she could serve the Lord in China; Esther Ahn Kim stood strong among the persecuted ranks of believers during the Japanese occupation of Korea; Helen Roseveare became a doctor to the native population of the Congo, remaining there through years of war and bloodshed. Each of these women suffered in their own way, but did so joyfully, knowing that they suffered for the Lord.

A great deal of the value of this book lies in the author’s closing comments for each of the sections. Piper adds a personal touch to each biography, describing what it is about the person that has so touched her. She ends each of the chapters with a dedication to a person whose life and faith exhibits the same qualities as the woman just described. For example, at the end of the first chapter she writes, “Just as Sarah Edwards had little idea of the ongoing generations she would influence through her interaction with Samuel Hopkins, there are two women who probably have little notion of their impact on me and therefore also on my husband, children, friends, and church. Long before my husband was called to a pulpit ministry, I admired our pastors’ wives, one in California, one in Minnesota. God used them to help prepare me for my future role that none of us yet expected. And so this story of Sarah Edwards is dedicated to Deloris Hoeldtke and Ann Ortlund.”

I was transfixed as I read of these faithful women, and in some ways was also transformed. As I came to understand the faith of these Christians who gave so much, I came to see where I have been holding back. I came to understand that the religious freedom we enjoy as North Americans sometimes allows us to have a lazy faith. As I came to understand these women, I came to understand God just a little bit better. And if that is the ultimate purpose of any Christian biography, which I believe it ought to be, Noel Piper has done well with Faithful Women & Their Extraordinary God. I am glad to recommend this book to you.

While this book has equal appeal for men or women, I would suggest it may make an excellent text for a five- or six-part study for women’s groups. My wife is reading it right now with a view to using it for just that purpose.

  Evaluation Support
Very strong theology throughout.
Written to be accessible to nearly anyone.
Quite a unique book as biographies go.
I can’t stress too much the value of learning from the lives of other believers.
I recommend this book to any and all believers.
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11 years 6 months ago
Considering the wild popularity of Rick Warren, as pastor, author and leader within Evangelicalism, we know surprisingly little about the man. It would seem that he has deliberately withheld information about himself, which of course, fits the theme of his bestseller The Purpose Driven Life which is, “it’s not about you.” A Life With Purpose, subtitled “Reverend Rick Warren - The Most Inspiring Pastor of Our Time” is, as far as I know, the first published biography of Warren. It is not a strictly chronological biography, but instead is more topical. I have to admit that I felt quite skeptical as I began this book, knowing that it was written by George Mair, an author whose previous titles include, Paris Hilton: The Naked Truth, Inside Hbo: The Billion Dollar War Between Hbo, Hollywood, and the Home Video Revolution , Excelsior!  The Amazing Life of Stan Lee and Under the Rainbow: The Real Liza Minnelli. I was interested in seeing how an apparent tabloid author approached Rick Warren.

This book is surprisingly light on biographical details, primarily because such information is not widely available. I would estimate that truly biographical facts would comprise only 20 pages of the book. Mair conducted no interviews with Warren or anyone close to him. Instead, he seems to have relied primarily on secondary sources, collecting whatever details he could find in books and publications. The book contains no footnotes or list of sources cited. A Life With Purpose, then, represents less of a biography and more of a collection of the facts about Warren that are publically available. It also contains extensive commentary on the programs and books Warren has written.

Allow me to address the author’s commentary. After reading the book I am still uncertain as to the author’s religious background and beliefs. Generally when I read a biography of a Christian personality, it has been written from a professed Christian and the perspective is clear. In this case it seemed that Mair was perhaps even professing to be a believer. He lavishes praise on Warren throughout the book and often speaks positively of evangelism and other facets of Warren’s programs. However, he makes many clear doctrinal mistakes and rash oversimplifications that seem to cast doubt on his understanding of Christianity, both in history and theology. For example, the book begins with a short introduction to Christianity in America that immediately betrays the author’s ignorance. He mixes Christianity with New Age, and often oversimplifies. “Protestants experienced a divide between modern thinkers, who identified with modern Bible critics, and fundamental thinkers, who followed the Bible literally” (page 17). Later, when addressing “change vs status quo,” he writes, “But if we assume that everything, including religion, needs to be able to change in order to survive, then it becomes clear that status-quo churches are only destroying what they are so desperately trying to hold on to. Though the success of the mall church model can’t be completely equated to Rick Warren’s success at Saddleback, they share the passion for growth and change that some older churches lack. They are willing to take risks, to challenge the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” crowd” (page 122-123). He portrays traditional churches as blindly clinging to tradition, and thus to the status quo, rather than more accurately clinging to the instructions of the Bible. A final example is within the author’s commentary on Week 3 of The Purpose Driven Life. “Although God creates us all, we don’t immediately become a part of His spiritual family. We must have a second birth through baptism to truly become children of God” (page 145). This is neither a traditionally Protestant understanding of baptism, nor would it be Warren’s understanding. Beyond these concerns, the author also makes several factual mistakes and I was often left with the impression that he had filled-in details about Warren’s life where such information was missing.

Having addressed my concerns, allow me to comment on the book’s positive aspects. Mair rightly identifies Robert Schuller as being a profound influence upon Warren, and Norman Vincent Peale being a primary influence in Schuller’s life. He briefly traces the confluence of theology and psychology through Peale and Schuller and suggests that Warren has taken the models developed by those two men and brought them to new levels of popularity. Though he provides only a cursory examination of the topic, I have little doubt that many others will address this topic in detail in the future. He also examines other formative influences, such as Donald McGavran and Gilbert Bilezikian. Second, Mair did enough research that he was able to collect many facts that were previously unknown to me, and surely to many others. As such, this book does provide as much information about Warren as we are likely to know until the publication of an official biography. Finally, I enjoyed the author’s secular perspective. He lauded many of the aspects of Purpose Driven methodology that concerned Christians highlight as being more secular than sacred. Having read far too many Christian examinations of Warren’s ministry, it was interesting to read one that seemed to be written from outside the church.

While far from a perfect biography of Rick Warren, I still found this book interesting and somewhat informative. I am not convinced that the research is entirely honest, nor that the author truly understands Warren and, even more importantly, Christianity. Yet if you are interested in knowing more about Rick Warren, this is the only show in town, and for that reason I will provide a tentative recommendation, but a recommendation premised on the warnings above and founded more on my interest in the subject matter than in the quality of the publication. The book is quite short, at 210 pages (but with large font, wide spacing and many blank pages) and easy to read, despite poor editing for a major publishing company. In the end, it seems that this is a book designed to cash-in on the success of The Purpose Driven Life, but it is one that is not entirely without value.

11 years 7 months ago

George Muller is known as a man who lived by prayer. During the course of his life he believed he had seen some 50,000 answers to prayer. He fed, clothed and housed over 10,000 orphans during his life and distributed millions of tracts, books and Bibles. He also supported missions organizations and spoke to Christians around the world. He did all this without once asking any person for money. Instead he took his supplications to God and trusted Him to provide his every need. Never once did God let him down. Muller stands in church history as a testament to God’s providence and the value of believing the promises of Scripture that God will take care of our every need.

Apart from a preface and occasional commentary by Jim Elliff of Christian Communicators Worldwide, A Brief Account of the Life and Labors of George Muller is written almost entirely by Muller’s second wife (known in this volume only as Mrs Muller). The first section is a reprint of a short biography of Muller first published in 1883 and the second lengthy section isentitled George Muller on Money and Possessions. In this part of the book Muller provides insight on some of the Scripture’s teachings on money, possessions and a life marked by trust in God.

As this is the first biography I have read on Muller I could not help but be impressed by the depth of the man’s faith. It must have taken extraordinary faith and courage to assume such responsibility while doing so little (outwardly) to support his endeavours. Yet because he knew that all he did had to be in God’s strength and not his own, he was able to trust in the Provider. It struck me that what he did in eschewing fundraising was neither necessary nor sinful. Surely God would not have condemned him if he had decided to actively seek funding from others. But if he had not maintained his resolve, he would not stand as an inspiration to so many other Christians. Clearly God used him in a powerful way to become an example of the value of faith, and even more importantly, of the faithfulness of God to His promises.

This book is certainly not exhaustive and at only 161 pages can serve as merely an introduction to Muller’s life, especially when compared to his first biography which was published in three volumes and spanned over 1600 pages. This short volume stands as an interesting primer to Muller by the one who knew him best. And having introduced him and having shared the most important aspects of his life, the book turns to Muller himself, and allows him to provide the insights God taught him in how to live by faith.

11 years 7 months ago

“If there is a hell, Hitchens is going there for this book.” So said the New York Press in respose to The Missionary Position, subtitled Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice. Written in 1995, during the height of Mother Teresa’s popularity, this book was Hitchens’ attempt to debunk the myth that was, and remains, Mother Teresa.

Written from the perspective of one who clearly is not a Christian, this book has been likened to a cruise missle. It is narrow in scope, yet devastatingly effective, for it strikes right to the heart of the matter. How are we to reconcile Mother Teresa, who cares for the sick and destitute, and Mother Teresa who holds hands and laughs with the wife of a brutal and notorious dictator? How are we to reconcile her desire to live out Christianity when she accepts million-dollar donations from the likes of Charles Keating?

The most significant chapter in this book is one which displays Mother Teresa’s overwhelming hypocrisy. The author reproduces a letter that was sent from Mother Teresa to Judge Lance Ito, seeking clemency on his behalf. She suggests that while she knows nothing of his business dealings (in which he defrauded people of $250,000,000) what is more important is the service he has rendered to the poor. She asks that the judge to do what Jesus would do, which she evidently believes would be to let him free. Los Angeles deputy D.A., Paul Turley wrote a response to Mother Teresa, suggested that she should return the $1.25 million dollars given to her by Keating, promising he would return it to the rightful owner. He received no response.

Many others have written about Mother Teresa and have chastised her for this type of hypocrisy. Many have validated the claims that her care for the poor was more in providing a comfortable place for people to die than in seeking to heal them. Many have shown that she hoarded tens or hundreds of millions of dollars for no apparent purpose when these funds could have gone to build the finest hospitals and orphanages in India. And many Christian writers have shown that her faith bore only a passing resemblance to Christianity. But, as far as I know, this is the most significant (and only book-length treatment) of the subject, though at a mere 98 pages it reads more like an essay than a book.

As one who reads primarily books written by professed Christians, I was taken aback by Hitchens’ prevailing attitude. “Given how much this Church allows the fanatic Mother Teresa to preach, it might be added that the call to go forth and multiply, and to take no thought for the morrow, sounds grotesque when uttered by an elderly virgin whose chief claim to reverence is that she ministers to the inevitable losers in this very lottery” (page 59). He is cynical, angry, hateful and sarcastic all at once. He despises the hypocrisy he sees in Mother Teresa and seems happy to extend his disillusionment to religion in general. He attacks not only Mother Teresa, but also Roman Catholic doctrine and practice, and even further, extends his attacks to Christianity and the Bible, especially Christian teaching on the sanctity of human life. And throughout, he uses only four footnotes, providing little evidence to support his claims. Despite all that, he argues effectively and some may even say, devastatingly.

In some ways this subject hardly seems to matter anymore, now that Mother Teresa has long since died. Yet her legacy lives on. Mother Teresa is still lauded as a hero by Catholics, Protestants and people of every other creed. It seems amply clear to those who are willing to look that her legacy is largely ficticious.