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Tim Challies

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Interviews

December 08, 2005

There are few subjects more debated and more hotly debated in the church today than whether or not the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit continue to this day. We have recently seen a great deal of discussion about this issue in the blogosphere. It is an issue which leaves many believers confused, unsure as to what they believe and what they should believe. Cessationists, who believe that the miraculous gifts have ceased, often point to the excesses of the charismatic movement as proof that God surely could not stand behind such manifestations of His Spirit. Many continuationists, who believe the gifts continue to be poured out on the church, suggest that it is unfair to rely on the extremes of the movement and point instead to the more biblical, moderate charismatics, among whom are often cited Sam Storms, John Piper, Wayne Grudem and C.J. Mahaney.

November 17, 2005

This is the second and final installment of an interview with Derek Webb. You can read the first installment here: Derek Webb - The Challies Dot Com Interview.

Let me go to a reader question here. We’ll lighten it up for a minute. In your opinion, what is the most underappreciated of your songs and why?

[Laughs] That’s a great question! Here’s my moment to be completely self-indulgent and totally arrogant!

Right! So the one song that really did it for you but not for anyone else.

Yeah, that’s a good question. Okay. I’m going to have to think about that one. I don’t know! I would have to look at what songs I’ve written. There are definitely some songs over the years that I’ve felt like are going to get more attention than they did for one reason or the other and they didn’t. That maybe people were going to like more or not like and didn’t get any kind of reaction out of people. I don’t really know. I’m talking to Don Miller, whom I’ve talked to over the past few years - he’s a pretty good friend - and he was asking me “what did people think of the song ‘Reputation’ that was on my last record?” He asked, “What did people say about Reputation?” because he dug that song and he was asking me what did people think. And I was like, I don’t have a clue what people thought about that song. No one ever tells me anything. I don’t make the kind of records that get a lot of feedback. I don’t think a lot of people are necessarily paying any attention to what I’m doing.

I don’t get the feeling that you’re out trolling the Internet and message boards to find out what people are saying about you…

I don’t know that I’d really turn up anything. I don’t think what I do gets a whole bunch of attention but I think that’s good because it keeps me really free to say whatever I want and not feel any fear about if people are going to get bent out of shape because if nobody’s paying attention to you, you can do just about whatever you want.

You certainly don’t fit that Nashville mold. A lot of people have an idea in their head about what it means to be a Christian artist and I’m pretty sure Derek Webb doesn’t fit anywhere within that mold.

[Laughs] Well, from what I know of that caricature, I’d definitely take that as a compliment.

I think it is generally meant as a compliment.

I’m so bummed that I can’t think of a good answer to that question. I would have to sit down with the records in front of me and really pause to think about it.

What is one song you have to play at every concert you do?

That I feel like I have to play at every show?

Right. The one that people want to hear at every show.

Honestly, I feel like there’s something about, and this probably won’t be a big surprise, but something about the song “Wedding Dress” that seems to really strike a chord with people. I play that just about every night. I just about can’t get out of a place without playing that. And I do that for a variety of reasons. I think when I wrote the song that I knew there was something special about it. I remember playing it for my wife just after I finished it and she wept at it, which just totally shocked me. I was like, “Are you okay? What happened? Did something happen while I was playing the song? Did something bite you?” That was really the song that made me realize I needed to do this thing on my own. That was the song that made me realize that Caedmon’s was not going to be the context for these new songs but that I was going to have to do this on my own. That was really the song that did it. So I think there is something kind of special about that one.

What are three or four books you feel that every Christian absolutely needs to read?

That’s a good question. I guess the Bible goes without saying?

We’ll assume the Bible. That’s like the “Who would you like to have dinner with?” question. If you’re American and Republican you have to say Jesus, right?

[Laughs]. That’s right. I think that one book that has been tremendously helpful to me is a book by this guy Steve Turner, it’s called Imagine. Steve Turner’s a guy who studied at L’Abri under Francis Schaeffer, and he wrote this book. It’s probably the most thorough and biblical and liberating treatment of how a Christian might engage in the arts. It is one of those books that will take the roof off the house. I read it every couple of years just to remind myself of what’s true because when it comes to the arts the church has really mixed up ideas about what the role of art is in culture and especially church culture. So that book really has blown my mind a number of times and I think that should be required reading for anybody.

A book that really blew my mind when I first started studying theology on my own is a book by a guy named Arthur Pink. It’s a book called The Sovereignty of God. I just didn’t know what to do when I read that book. It just freaked me out. I think quite a bit of Arthur Pink. I think he was a tremendous writer.

Gosh, there are so many good books! I’m trying to think of what books I’m reading currently. I think another good, required reading, for believers would be just about anything by Wendel Berry. I don’t know if our readers will be familiar at all with Wendel Berry. He is a guy who lives in Kentucky and he’s a farmer. He’s an older guy, he’s a believer, and he writes the most tremendous books. He writes fiction, he writes poetry, but what I have mostly read are his collections of essays. He basically speaks to a lot of social issues but does it very subversively from a Christian worldview. He’s a great guy to recommend to folks who are not following Jesus as well because his worldview so permeates what he writes but he doesn’t write in a way that [indiscernible]. He writes about everything from war to agriculture to you name it. He’s tremendous. So just about anything by Wendell Berry. I’d probably recommend that a good starting place would be his essay collection called The Citizenship Papers. Really, really good.

I was listening to a podcast that was from the DVD you released recently. You said there about Don Miller that he is a guy who says things in a way people understand. So many of the words that Christians use are just “Christianese” - it is guys like Don Miller who say them in a way people can understand…

…I definitely recommend Don Miller. Don is a good friend and a tremendous writer. Blue Like Jazz certainly struck a chord with a lot of people and he’s definitely a guy you want to keep your eye on. He’s going to be dangerous in a few years because he’s getting so popular and people are really taken with his books. I’ve talked to Don recently about ideas about his future books he’s going to write and he is just going to turn things upside-down. He is going to have the power to do it because he’s really doing well, he’s sold a lot of books, and the Christian bookstores are going to have to carry them. I appreciate people who are willing to risk platforms they’re on in order to say things that might get them knocked off and he’s certainly going to do that. And he’s going to be doing a lot of that over the next few years.

You said there is a problem with people speaking Christianese and people stick with a Christian lexicon that they don’t really understand. What do you think the solution is there? You pointed out Don Miller as a guy who can explain things in a way that anyone can understand, not just Christians who have had the proper training. Is the solution to train people better, to train Christians more, or is it to rework the way we speak of our theology?

I do think there could be some reworking of it, but I think the thing that could really make a difference would be for people to pursue relationships with people who are not like them. That goes to near the top of the priority list for Christians anyways. But I think that as you live long-term with people around you and pursue relationships with people not like you and who don’t speak your language it’s going to become a necessity that you figure out a way to say these things and proclaim truth to people in a way that makes sense to them in the context of their story. That’s a great challenge in proclaiming the gospel to people: learning how to speak into their story and their situation. And I think that’s one thing to commend in the Emergent Church movement that’s happening right now, and that’s something they seem really concerned with, is learning how to speak truth into people’s stories in a way that is really relational and a way that’s really honest. And I appreciate that. So I really think trial by fire would be to throw yourself into a relationship with somebody who doesn’t understand what you’re talking about. You’ve used all these huge words and even you don’t really know what you’re talking about. You know, a lot of Christians use a certain shorthand that we don’t even know what we’re talking about but we all know the language so we can all speak it. I think it’s interesting for me, for instance to go out and do a lot of shows where we’re playing in very neutral venues like bars, and you find yourself not leaning on your default language of saying things in a certain way. You’re trying to be more creative about putting words on truths that might communicate that to people who don’t speak your little exclusive language. It’s really helpful to do that. So I would think pursue people who are not like you because it will force the issue of having to communicate to them.

A lot of people consider your songs offensive, or at least some of your songs, and I think we saw that especially with the first album. As I understand it the album wasn’t even sold in some stores. Do you consider your songs offensive even to you?

Yeah, actually. There are quite a few songs, especially on the first record, and I think there are lots of parallels between the first album and Mockingbird, they are similar records in spirit, though the content’s different. They are very similar records. And I am offended by, for instance the language the Scripture uses when talking about me. When Ezekiel 16 goes to the trouble of not only calling me as part of Christ’s body, as part of the church, as a member of the church, calling me a prostitute or a whore and then goes even further to say not only am I a whore but I am a whore who actually pays men to sleep with me as opposed to just taking their money. That is the language Scripture uses to talk about the heart of God’s people and how adulterous we are and how wrecked spiritually we are. Unbelievably offensive language! And it does offend me. It should offend me. It continually offends me. On some of these new songs…there is a song called “My Enemies Are Men Like Me” that is taking a hard look at the way we in the West, the language we have put on how people relate to our enemies. And it’s difficult to me to sort out how to take seriously the commands to love my neighbor and to follow the story of the Good Samaritan which is basically a story of a man’s enemy risking his life for him. And loving our enemies. Teaching like that is very difficult in the West. If we’ve made it out to be not so difficult then we’re not really hearing what it’s teaching us.

In the beginning you indicated that you see two sides of the gospel. So you feel that the offense of the gospel extends to both areas? Not just to what the unbeliever hears and rebels against, but to the continued calling of the gospel?

Yeah, it affects both my heart and the implications of my heart being changed and how that effects the people around me. It’s offensive to me all the way around. But again, just like you asked me before, “is making people uncomfortable beneficial spiritually?”, and that’s the reason I would think it most certainly is. It’s in those moments where I have to be confronted with the Scripture that tells me that I am essentially she who cheats on her husband and that I’m one who is commanded in light of how I’m loved to extend that same love to my neighbors and my enemies in a moment of history like we’re in today. These things are very difficult. Very difficult. These are hard teachings and we can’t pretend like they’re not. It’s very difficult because these are hard thoughts to think.

To wrap up, what can we expect from Derek Webb in the coming years?

Well, you might be asking the wrong guy! I just really don’t have any idea. Like I said before, I had no idea in the first place that I would make this record about the church and that I would end up solo. I don’t have one eye on the plan. I am just as surprised as anybody when these records come out. I am just on God’s good humor at this point.

It’s not a bad place to be, is it?

It’s not at all. It’s better for us to realize the status and the reality of our situation than to have some false sense of security that I do know what’s right around the corner and I can control what’s happening around me. Even in the moments that we feel the most control, that is an illusion. That’s a fiction. So better to at least realize that this whole thing could just turn on a dime.

Thanks for your time. I do appreciate it.

Yeah, I appreciate you taking the time to do this. I really dig your blog.

Thanks, I appreciate that.

I’ll be anxious to see this and perhaps we’ll get some conversations going on there.

November 16, 2005

Yesterday afternoon Derek Webb took time out of what was his first day off in a week to speak with me. We talked for almost an hour and discussed his new album, doctrine, social justice and a variety of other topics. We even discussed (or at least touched on) Reformed theology, the Emerging Church and Jim Wallis. Because of the length of the interview I will post it in two parts, the first today with the conclusion being posted tomorrow morning. In the initial part of this interview we talk primarily about the new album and the theology that led him to write these new songs.

What follows is a transcription of this conversation. While I removed many of the “um” and “uh” and stutterings that are part of verbal communication, I tried to remain as true to the original words as possible. Consider this an essentially literal, not a dynamic equivalent or paraphrastic transcription. I skipped over the initial greetings and mumblings that were not part of the interview proper.

As you know I’ll be recording this for my web site. I asked people there to leave some questions, so I’ll do some of my own mixed with some of theirs, if you don’t mind. I thought we could kick off with the new recording. You have a new album, Mockingbird, coming out soon. I noticed that there was a clear progression in theme and style from the first album to the second. What should we expect from the third?

I definitely see a progression in the new record. I felt like the first record especially was a record about the church. It was a record about trying to discover: what was the church?; what is the church?; what is the church’s role in culture?; and what is my role in the church? As I was sorting through all those questions, that is what brought the songs about and that is why that record ended up being what it was. The following couple of years doing the house shows, getting into a lot of really good discussions about some of those issues and sorting through some of that I think - having done that record really brought me to this record. I basically see two sides to the gospel story. There’s the one side that has us claiming that there is one who has come and has made a way. There is one who has showed up on the scene and has kept the law on our behalf and proclaiming his coming is one side of that gospel coin. Then there is the side that we often neglect and that is the proclamation of his kingdom coming also.

And we are to proclaim both of those things. Those are equally important things for us to proclaim when we talk about the gospel. I think my first record focused on that first side of that coin and I think that this new record, Mockingbird, is starting to focus a bit on the other side, the coming of Jesus’ kingdom, and it has direct implications on where we live and how we live and it covers a lot broader topics than maybe my first record would have. It has me trying to figure out how to use the claim of the coming of the kingdom that will have no hunger, no sickness, no poverty, no war, no disaster. The way you proclaim that kingdom is by putting your hand to the “being made right of all things.” That’s really what Jesus’ kingdom coming means: “the being made right of all things.” The way we proclaim that kingdom is by putting our hands to that. So you see someone who is hungry and you proclaim to them a kingdom where there will be no hunger by putting food in their mouth. If someone is ill or sick you proclaim to them the kingdom where there will be no sickness by caring for them or giving them lifesaving drugs. I think that is probably what St. Francis might have meant when he said to “proclaim the gospel at all times and if necessary use words.” That is his famous quote. I really think that is exactly what he could have meant. We go into culture and proclaim the coming of Jesus’ kingdom where all things will be made right by putting our hands to “the being made right of all things” and of course there is the literal proclamation of his showing up on the scene that we also need to tell people. And I really think that the other half of that gospel is so neglected that it was worth devoting a record to. But the thing is, it covers such broad topics that it’s almost the kind of thing where I could spend the rest of the records I ever make unpacking how to apply a scriptural framework to issues like poverty or the government or sexuality or politics. I could definitely write quite a few more songs about those issues because it really starts to get into the way we live and the way we love people and how we relate to our neighbors, how we relate to our enemies. It speaks to all that. It was a lot of ground to cover. That is the kind of progression I see from the first record to this - the first being about being set free because Jesus has kept the law on our behalf, and this record being about what we are set free unto.

Who guided you in this progression? Was this simply a result of your own and reading Scripture and through meeting people while you were on the road, or are there particular books or teachers who guided you?

I would say all that. I don’t have any grand plans about any of this. I didn’t set out to make a record about the church in the first place. That was the last record I thought I would have made. I have been repeatedly surprised by what strange turns my career has taken. This certainly is not exactly where I thought I would end up. I really thought I would be in Caedmon’s for my whole career. I had never had any ambition about being a solo artist. There are a lot of things I do not enjoy about it. But I do enjoy the liberty that it gives me to say things the way I believe they need to be said. I don’t have to have any reservations or fears about other reputations that I might be staking on that. It’s just me at this point so it makes me a little more fearless.

But I’m sure that one of the things that might have sparked some of that for me is that my wife and I are part of a church plant of Christ Community Church in Franklin, Tennessee, which is just a little outside of the city. Christ Community planted this church in downtown Nashville, East Nashville area, right next to downtown, and we moved over here to the east side of town to be on this side of town and to be part of that. Our church plant is very focused on the needs of the city and having a hand in racial and economic reconciliation. There are a lot of big issues when you move to the city that just start to become part of your everyday life. It’s not something you have to drive across town to participate in - it’s something you wake up to every day. I’m sure that had a lot to do with it. For me it really was like: Okay, I’ve spent two years really focused on delivering the message of the gospel, so now I start to get interested in, “so what have I been set free to do? Now that I’m set free, how do I live in light of that freedom?” And I think that anybody can tell you that when you study a lot of theology and you study a lot of God’s character and you study his attributes you get into a very theological type of discourse. That is a great thing to do. That is a great foundation to have. But if that theology never turns into ethics then it can become a real idol because the rubber of theology must meet the road of ethics at some point or the other or else it’s not informing how we truly love the people around us. It’s all very theoretical. Being very well trained in theology but having it never affect your ethics, we run the risk of being nothing more than ringing cymbals and clanging gongs.

You identify yourself as Reformed, I assume, so do you feel this is a problem that is particularly pronounced in Reformed circles?

Well, it’s interesting. It’s interesting that I’ve never gone out of my way to identify myself with any particular system of theology. But I know that that has been (and I say that with a smirk) because I know that a lot of stuff I’ve written, and especially in the early Caedmon’s days, definitely, it punctuated my theology a good bit, I would think, looking back on it [laughing]. And that’s because I was really - that was a time when I was really studying that. I was coming into that for the first time and I was starting to figure myself out theologically a little bit and those were important years and those were important songs to me.

But it’s interesting that I think I got to be a little too predictable for certain people. I became kind of like the Reformed theology poster boy in very small circles. And I don’t know if I was always really that comfortable with that. I didn’t really sign up for that. I’m just a guy writing songs trying to reflect his worldview and that’s part of my worldview. I have a certain view of the way God governs all things, I think those are the main distinctives of the Reformed tradition, and of course I believe that. And that is part of who I am and that’s part of how I see the world. But it’s interesting as people are starting to get wind of this new material and some of the songs on Mockingbird, and as I’ve been playing some of those songs live, especially the online community that has been really supportive of me over the last few years, both at my web site and at the derekwebb.net web site, there has been a little bit of a mutiny happening because there are some folks who are more into Reformed theology (and I think that might have been what first attracted them to me) and they are starting to get a little nervous. A few of them have started to jump ship because I think my views on the role of social justice in the life of the believer might begin to take a turn from typical Reformed theology on some of these points. And that’s okay with me because, again, I didn’t sign up to be the poster boy. And so what’s starting to happen is that there are some really Reformed folks who are starting to get a little nervous who have typically been the ones who have blindly come to my defense, no matter what I would do, because I think I’ve been so predictable to them. Those people are starting to get nervous. These other people who may be aligned a little more with some of the sentiment of the new record, the new material, and have a heart for social issues and political issues are starting now to come to my defense. And it’s interesting to watch how the loyalty changes and it’s interesting to watch how the people who were once kind of suspicious of me because of my Reformed theology and who never really bought into that but liked the music are now feeling like we are feeling a bond, the same type of bond that I think was felt between me and some of those Reformed folks.

And I think that’s healthy. I think it’s healthy for me and for those people who might share a theology with me. I think it’s good for all of us that we would realize that we don’t have to agree on all of this stuff. I wrote a song on my first record called “Nobody Loves Me,” and it’s interesting how a song like that - I’ve been playing it again lately and I’ve not played it, you know, much over the last year - but I’ve been playing it again lately, and strategically placing it after a couple of new songs that I think are particularly difficult for some people. It’s interesting to me how the group of people that that song represents in my head changes depending on what the content is and depending on what I’m saying. The people who don’t love me change.

On that note, let me ask you this. I recently read an article at CMCentral.com, a preview of your album, and a quote there was, “Mockingbird is sure to get people talking and even make some people uncomfortable, which is exactly what Webb wants.” Is that what you want out of this album? Do you feel that there is real spiritual benefit in making people uncomfortable?

I think there is tremendous spiritual benefit in making people uncomfortable. [laughs] Absolutely! I wouldn’t want to overstate the point, but I think the moments when we are uncomfortable are the most beneficial moments, spiritually, for us. But in regards to that particular quote, which might not mean exactly what you think it says, it’s more in the context of this record and these songs. My hope is that I would be maybe just a catalyst to get a more nuanced discussion going about the role of believers in social issues and political issues because the politics of the church have become far too predictable. It’s like once you come down the aisle responding to the call for salvation - you come down the aisle and you pray the prayer and as you’re walking out they give you your little gift bag. And your little gift bag is all of your politics and sexuality and culture and art and all wrapped up, it’s all been thought out for you. Just take your gift bag and you’re going to be fine. And we just can’t be people who are satisfied with that. That is completely oversimplifying issues that are very difficult and very detailed and are very nuanced. We must have a more meaningful discussion about these issues in the church because you simply cannot be as predictable as we have become as the Western church. You cannot be that predictable and follow Jesus. You cannot! Jesus was not predictable in his politics. I do think Jesus makes quite a few very political statements, but he was in no way predictable. There were moments where he might have looked very conservative as we might try to put our terms and categories on him today and look back, but there are also moments where he looked like a flaming liberal. There is nothing we can do about it. If your concern is in following Jesus and that is what you really want to do, as opposed to following some kind of subcultural caricature of a political idea, you’re going to have to be willing to follow him back and forth and back and forth. You’re going to have to be willing to have people, even in the church, call you a liberal, which can be very derogatory when used by these people. I think the more we align ourselves with political parties in the church the more it makes it impossible to follow Jesus.

You say this is a conversation we need to have as Evangelicals. Who do you feel is leading this conversation now? Is there anyone you would recommend we read or listen to who is addressing these topics now?

There are some folks. There are a lot of folks - there is a lot of hope for this conversation to happen right now. One of the obvious people you can point to is a guy like Jim Wallis. I think Jim has a heart for this. I think he is very concerned with the way that the Republican Party has co-opted the moral values conversation. That is not to say I recommend or agree with everything Wallis says - not by any means is that true. However, I do think there is a lot to commend about the spirit of what he is calling for. I really do. I read his book. I read God’s Politics and I thought there were some tremendous challenges in that book for believers to lay aside this pre-thought-out idea that we’re sold in the church that is punctuated by stories that we’ve seen in the news over the last few years of people wanting to vote some way other than Republican and being excommunicated from their church. While that’s a caricature, it represents something that’s happening that’s outrageous in our churches - it’s that idea that you must follow a certain way. That there is any Christian political party in a two party system is an outrageous idea. It’s an outrageous idea. Because the way that our system works in America, in our two party system, these two parties are setup to be polar opposites of each other. Every time somebody comes out and says one thing, somebody on the other side comes out and says “I completely disagree all the way over here.” You’ve got these two polar extremes, on two polar edges, and the real conversation, the real truth of how to love and help people, is lingering somewhere in the middle. You have to be willing to move in and out of the middle if you have any hope of helping anybody. Rather than name-calling - I am so sick of hearing Christians talk about the loony-left - all these outrageous derogatory terms we use for people who don’t agree with us.

And I suppose it wouldn’t be so bad if “the right” was actually in the right most of the time…

That’s true as well. But again, in a two party system that’s not going to happen. Jesus would have belonged to no party in a two party system. There is no party line for Jesus to walk. I feel like we have got to move on and stop being so childish. Move on from these categorical, derogatory statements and names for each other and start commending about each other what is commendable and then move on from that point of unity to figure out how we can love and care for people. That’s the second greatest commandment, that we love our neighbors, including our neighbors over on the loony left. How are you defending the dignity of human beings, people made in the image of God, who we are commanded to love? How are you doing that exactly by calling them derogatory names or making a caricature of their political system just because you don’t like them, because you don’t agree with them? I think people run the risk of making an idol out of their ideology.

I will post the conclusion of this interview tomorrow. In the second part we discuss book recommendations, Don Millar, the Emerging Church, the offense of the gospel and more.

August 03, 2005

dannyoertli.gifDanny Oertli is a singer, songwriter, musician and author, who encourages audiences around the world with his testimony to God’s faithfulness. His latest album, Everything Inbetween, produced by Jason Burkum, was released last month. His book, Mommy Paints The Sky, was published last year by NavPress. After reading his book and listening to his album, I was eager to talk to him about his experiences. He was gracious to grant an interview which you can read below.

Who is Danny Oertli? Tell me a little bit about yourself. And if you don’t mind, tell me how to pronounce your last name!

I’ve lived my entire life in CO. Raised in Colorado Springs, my dad was a Baptist minister and my mom was the daughter of a pastor as well. I started playing guitar in Jr. High and began leading worship when I got to college. Some of my favorite things are to play golf, fly fish, eat Italian, relax in the hot tub with my kids, go to movies with my wife, and read. I have never eaten a salad, and I once went bungee jumping in Australia.

Oh yeah, Oertli rhymnes with “shortly.”

Who do you count as formative influences in your music?

In high school, my youth leader Joe Hesh was an accomplished musician. He did much to help me get going in music. My musical tastes have always been ecclectic. Some artists and bands that have been influential in the way I write are U2, Jim Croce, Fernando Ortega, Andrew Peterson, Colorado guitarist Dave Beegle, the Kry, and any 80’s tunes.

What are three of your favorite albums from the past couple of years?

Tree63- The Answer to the Question, Norah Jones- Come Away With Me, and Andrew Peterson- Love and Thunder.

Who do you count as formative influences in your theology?

My parents were always very consistent in their relationship with the Lord. Their example taught me a great deal about walking humbly with God. C.S. Lewis was also a huge influence on me, especially in my college years. Since then, people who have challenged me spiritually are Jerry Bridges, John Piper, Fran Sciacca (my high school Bible teacher and an incredible author), and Randy Alcorn.

What are three books you feel every Christian should read?

Heaven- Randy Alcorn
The Knowledge of the Holy- A.W. Tozer
Chronicles of Narnia- C.S. Lewis

Your most recent album is “Everything In Between.” Tell me a little bit about the album and the meaning of its name.

This record is a rollercoaster of emotion. Each song tells the story of events that shaped my life over the last three years- some light and whimsical and some very deep. “Everything In Between” also alludes to the place we find ourselves here on earth as we experience the goodness of God but also the pain of a fallen world.

The lyrics for “Worship You With Tears” read, in part, “You know when I rise / You know when I sleep / You know that I need You / Desperately / I pour out my soul, oh Lord / I worship You with tears.” What is the story behind this song?

When my wife died of a sudden, unexpected heart attack, my life was flipped upside down. I didn’t know which way to turn- where to find God. One day I was driving and heard a pastor mention that sometimes our most sincere worship can come with tears. That day, I tried to write my first song since the death of my wife. I couldn’t sing very well and it was as if my fingers had forgotten how to play. But, as I look back, the croaking and fumbling of that afternoon was probably the sweetest music I had made for the Lord as my heart was sincere and focused on expressing my trust in God. I took passages directly from the book of Psalms and weaved them into my lament to the Lord.

The late pastor James Boice, when he spoke to his congregation after finding out that he had terminal cancer, addressed their prayers for him, saying, “My general impression is that the God who is able to do miracles—and He certainly can—is also able to keep you from getting the problem in the first place.” I am sure you prayed many times for God to heal your wife. Did you find that you were able to take comfort in God’s sovereignty, knowing that He can do all things, or was it easier to place your hope in His ability to bring healing? Were you able to consistently reconcile your head-knowledge with your heart-knowledge?

Sovereignty is a wonderful thing. In it, God allows us to trust him and not carry all of the burden. I found that to be the focal point of all my hope: God was sovereign. He hadn’t made a mistake. He hadn’t forgotten me or my children. All God requires is our trust. When we show our faith, peace, encouragement, and joy will soon follow. It’s incredibly painful and difficult to be pushed out of our comfortable nest, but when we begin to spread our wings of faith, God is the air that fills our wings.

How has your wife’s illness and death changed your understanding of life, death and eternity?

Over the last few years, I’ve realized how short life is. As a result, I’ve changed quite a few things in my life. For instance, I work less and play more. A lot more. And, that has been great for my family! Though the death of my wife was painful, somehow I’m not as afraid of death now as I once was. In fact, having been forced to deal with the death of someone so close to me, I’ve been reminded that we as Christians have nothing to fear and everything to look forward to at the end of our lives. Death is just the beginning!

What made you decide to write a book about the experience of losing your wife and dealing with the pain and grief?

Early in my journey, I read every book I could get my hands on concerning grief. I believe it was so that I would know that I wasn’t alone in my suffering. I was also always on the lookout for others who had experienced a tragedy in their lives. I wanted to talk with all of them. I needed to talk with all of them- to be reminded once again that I wasn’t alone. As I read and talked, God began to use those people to help with the healing process. After a few people had asked me if I was interested in sharing my story in a book, I was prayful that God would use my story as an encouragement like he had with so many others in my life.

You recently remarried. What was the transition like for yourself and Rayna in your marriage and with your children? What were some of the greatest struggles and the greatest joys for both yourself and your wife?

Many people have asked me this question and it has a simple yet incredibly complex answer: it has been wonderful! But, only by God’s grace. There were so many potential difficulties in bringing Rayna into our home. Yet, I believe that God “spiritually” smoothed what could have been a bumpy road, especially with the children. From the day I asked Rayna to marry me, the children called her mommy. It was as if God released their little hearts from the pain and potential bitterness and allowed them a fresh start. Now, there were and are still struggles. It took some time for Rayna to catch up physically from being a single girl to a wife and mother of two in one day! And it was also a struggle for me to learn to relax after I had been raising two kids on my own. But, all of the struggles seemed minor in the light of newfound happiness after a dark time.

Is it difficult for Rayna to accept that much of your ministry is based on your relationship with your first wife?

Rayna has been incredibly gracious and kind over the past two years in a situation many people would want to avoid. She’s always smiling encouragement from the back row when I’m sharing my story in concert. Amazing. And, to be honest, it can be strange at times. As Rayna and I continue to forge a life together, often we’re taken back to the past. But, our story is one of redemption, a journey through difficult times that eventually culminated in our meeting. So, there is a understood “wink” between us as I share that the story isn’t one that ended three and a half years ago, but one that is still being written.

What is your most enduring memory of Cyndi?

In the fall of 1998, Cyndi and I traveled to Guatemala to meet the child we sponsored through Compassion International. By God’s grace, someone snapped a photo as Cyndi first met this little girl. The joy on her face as they hugged exemplifies Cyndi’s heart in a way words could never express. In that moment, she was doing exactly what God has called us to do- love the broken and everything in her spirit was full of life and love.

How would you like people to remember Danny Oertli?

Not as a man who never ate salad, but as a man who lived life to the full, loved his family and friends, and served God until his last breath.

Learn more about Danny at dannyoertli.com.

You can also read my reviews of Danny’s book and album.

August 01, 2005

Little did I know when I posted my interview with Richard Abanes that it would soon cause such a ruckus. I feel that I know the blogosphere quite well, but still found myself blindsided by the reaction. I had quite a few people, including some whom I much respect, question my motives and ask why I would provide a platform for a person whose views differ so greatly from my own. My plan was simple - provide Abanes a platform and learn about his motivations, his heart. Give him an opportunity to respond to people (like myself) who found his book unconvincing and hear the things that were not or could not be published. If Abanes understood the truth in this matter, it would come out. If not, that would be equally obvious.

Through the first two parts of the interview I made very little commentary, but chose instead to just listen. I’d now like to post just a few remarks now as I reflect on the interview.

This would be much easier if Richard Abanes was an awful individual and one who had made no past contributions to the church. Thankfully, this is not the case. While it seems Richard may have something of a mean streak, he and I have always gotten along just fine. If he and I lived a little bit closer to each other, I might have lunch with the guy some time (if for no other reason than to ask him more about that brand of “soft Calvinism.”). Richard has also made some significant contributions to the church in the past. His work in challenging cults as well as perceptions of fantasy books and movies have been valuable.

And so I wish that he had stayed away from this particular issue of defending Rick Warren and his Purpose Driven teachings. I am continually drawn to a parallel with Dave Hunt, a man who had a valuable ministry but then alienated his readership when he went on an anti-Calvinist tirade that continues to this day. His friends told him not to, but he would not listen. This has cast a shadow over what was a valuable ministry and many of his readers have walked away in disgust. I see a parallel here with Abanes in that his former books have appealed to conservative Christians, but this is the very audience he is now alienating with Rick Warren and the Purpose that Drives Him.

Allow me now to highlight a few areas of the interview.

Inconsistencies. This was highlighted by Phil Johnson and rather than rehash the information I will simply direct you to Phil’s comments. Read further in the comments on Phil’s blog to read Abanes’ response.

The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” One question I asked Abanes was why Warren does not answer his critics. It seems to me this is a common and effective strategy. If Warren were to answer his critics it would do two things: first, it would give them time and attention and serve to highlight not only their complaints, but the very fact that there are complaints. I believe that the vast, vast majority of Christians are absolutely unaware that there is any controversy surrounding Warren. Second, it would distract Warren from his work (which, depending how you see it, is either a good or a bad thing).

While Warren has refused to answer critics, with the notable exception of his email to Lighthouse Trails, Abanes has dedicated much time and attention (and, of course, an entire book), to doing this very thing. I believe that this is highlighting issues that are important. While I cannot prove it, I feel that Abanes’ defense of Rick Warren may backfire, as it will make people aware of a controversy they hardly knew existed. I also wonder if this controversy has not distracted Abanes from areas that are of greater importance. I hope this is not the case.

Were I a strategist, I would warn Abanes that the sheer volume of protest coming from him is surely causing people to wonder about his true motivations and his desire to defend truth. As far as I know, Abanes has never admitted to any shortcomings in Warren’s ministry, even in cases where it is indisputible that Warren is in the wrong (such as in his use of Bible translations that blatantly contradict the true meaning of a passage - there is absolutely no excuse for such things).

Offensive. In only the last week or two, Abanes has managed to offend several men whom he claims to admire. Don Veinot, John MacArthur, Greg Koukl - all have major ministries and have been offended by Abanes. I would like to think that if I found myself alienating such people I would take a good, hard look at my words to see if perhaps I am the one in the wrong.

Answer the questions!. Once again, in the interests of keeping this article from getting too long, I will direct you to an outside source. Roger, over at the A-Team blog, also interviewed Abanes and noted his inability to answer some questions. Read more here.

Conclusion

Perhaps the source of much of this problm is really with people like me - people who look to Abanes for answers in the first place. In the end, I have to wonder how much value there is in asking a third-party to answer for Rick Warren. We all have questions we would love to ask Warren. Some people seem to believe that Abanes makes an adequate “poor man’s substitute” for Rick. But by his own admission, he does not speak for Rick. He can only provide his interpretation of the same facts we have. And as Christians we are responsible to believe this only we are convincted by Scripture and conscience.

There is something a little bit embarrassing about the whole situation - accusations thrown back-and-forth, hurt feelings and great bitterness. In the end, Abanes says that his pursuit is not in defending Warren but in defending truth. This is an admirable desire, for truth must always be our priority. But despite his motivations, I am just not convinced that Abanes is seeing, finding and defending the truth. My hope is that if he does not find it, he will just leave this issue and move on to topics on which he can write more adequately.

Overall, I guess I’d have to say that I quite like Richard Abanes and to this point have appreciated his ministry. I suspect that I will like his future ministry as well. But in so thoroughly defending Rick Warren against all charges, he is damaging his own credibility. And it is too bad. I hope this whole situation can become little more than a footnote in Abanes’ career and that it does not come to define his ministry. He has already proven that he has better things to offer the kingdom than this.

July 30, 2005

Describe, if you could, the nature of your involvement with Saddleback Community Church. I understand you were on staff there in the past.

I started attending Saddleback in 1994/95. I was on staff as the Creative Arts Director from 1998-2000, but left staff because I felt like God wanted me to write more books—which would have really been impossible if I was on staff. I have not been on staff since 2000 and I am not in any way an official spokesperson for the church or Rick Warren.

In my position on staff I was in charge of the dance ministry, the acting ministry, and helped in organizing various other special events related to music/worship (e.g., concerts). I also led worship services if Rick Muchow (the senior worship leader) was out of town, on vacation, or ill. And, of course, I usually sang on worship teams most weekends and performed special music at services, including Easter and Christmas. And my wife and I produced several CDs of music. These can be accessed from my www.abanes.com/eternitymusic.html website. My wife and I still serve in the music/worship ministry.

I also have taught “cult” classes at Saddleback, college studies, and apologetics courses for the church at purpose driven youth conferences. For the last couple of years, however, I have been devoting most of my time to writing and internet witnessing via chat rooms, bulletin boards, and blogs.

Your most recent book, of course, is Rick Warren and the Purpose That Drives Him. What made you decide to write this book?

First, let me be perfectly clear about something that I think needs to be said—I do NOT speak for Rick Warren, Saddleback Church, or purpose driven ministries. I am NOT an official spokesperson for anyone but myself. Second, no one—including Warren—had any control over the book’s content (nor did anyone—including Warren—ask me to write the book). Third, my book about Warren is just the latest in a long list of books that I have written about religious issues affecting the church, our culture, and the faith. It’s a volume that I felt needed to be written.

Now, in answer to your specific question, I decided to write this book for the same reason I have decided to write all of my other books—i.e., because I felt like there needed to be a clear presentation of accurate information on the subject. My personal writing ministry is dedicated to offering solid, documented, concise, and user-friendly material that people can use to make thoughtful/godly decisions about various issues: e.g., the end-times, near death experiences, the militias in America, The Da Vinci Code, and Harry Potter.

As with these particular topics, the subject of Rick Warren had become confused, messy, and weighted down with lies, gossip, rumors, and full-blown urban legends. It was disturbing to see false accusations being made against a movement, a man, and a ministry that was bringing so many people into God’s kingdom. I felt like someone had to step up to the plate and say, “Wait a minute, folks. Here’s the real scoop. You need to separate fact from fiction when it comes to Warren, Saddleback Church, and Warren’s purpose driven model for church health.”

It still amazes me how so many people now, even after various accusations have been proved false, are continuing to just repeat what they apparently WANT to be true about Warren—e.g., that he never talks about sin, that he thinks doctrine is unimportant, that he was mentored by Robert Schuller. The latter accusation, of course, has now become nothing less than an urban legend very akin to the Proctor & Gamble Satanism rumor (http://www.bibleistrue.com/roarlion/nlpg0999.htm) or the Madeline Murray O’Hare FCC petition rumor (see http://www.ewtn.com/expert/answers/madalyn_ohare.htm).

Expressing legitimate concerns and keeping those concerns on perspective is one thing. Such discussions are not only valid, but also important and needed. But making wild accusations against a fellow Christian to the point of calling him (or her) a liar, a non-Christian, a false teacher, a deceiver, or a New Ager is quite another thing. It is sin—plain and simple. And people who have made such false accusations need to be held accountable, especially the more influential critics of Warren such as John MacArthur, Todd Wilken, and Greg Koukl—three men whose ministries have done a great deal of good. But now their irresponsible accusations about Warren have really caused me to question their motives and their concerns for truth. At the very least, they have been terrifically careless in making the comments they have made. I deal with some of their accusations in my book. Truth—that is what is important.

It seems to me that the more conservative wing of Protestantism was been nearly unanimous in their concern for The Purpose Driven Life. We certainly don’t see conservative leaders like R.C. Sproul, John MacArthur, John Piper and the like endorsing the book or using it in their churches. Why do you think this is?

Well, this question itself strikes me as a bit odd. Conservatives have not been “nearly unanimous” in voicing concerns about The Purpose Driven Life, which by the way, is only the most notable book written by Warren. He also has written The Purpose Driven Church, which is a whole separate issue (i.e., what is the model for a healthy church?). There are plenty of conservatives (church leaders, pastors, evangelists) who have no problem with The Purpose Driven Life. Warren himself, who is a Southern Baptist, IS a conservative—not only politically and morally/ethically, but also theologically. And just a quick glance at the endorsers of my book will reveal Lee Strobel, Luke Wilson, James Walker, Don Veinot, james Bjornstad, and Ron Rhodes. These are all conservative apologists! Supporters of The Purpose Driven Life can be found across the conservative church spectrum from Lutherans, to Baptists, to Assemblies of God, to pentecostals, to many Calvary Chapel pastors. Really, you can’t much more conservative that the Assemblies of God! This is not a “conservative” vs. “liberal” issue at all, which is what some of Warren’s critics have tried to make it (e.g., Todd Wilken). This is an issue of personal preference when it comes to subjective views on how one can best: a) witness to the unsaved; and b) inspire Christians to really decide to give their all for God (not out of any works-righteousness trip or carnal desires for reward, but rather, out of gratitude and love toward God for what he has done in Christ).

So why don’t some people use The Purpose Driven Life in their churches? Well, I suppose that some people just don’t like it. Others obviously like the way they are already doing things right now, so they figure, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Some undoubtedly are not being led by God to use it in their church—which is just fine, by the way. Warren’s book is not the ultimate panacea for saving the unsaved or inspiring Christians to move on to maturity. It’s a tool that right now is bringing a lot of people closer to Christ; a basic devotional that offers a basic “Come to Christ” message, which Warren has coupled with five purposes that he sees presented in God’s Word:

1. “You were planned for God’s pleasure” (Revelation 4:11)
2. “You were formed for God’s family” (Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:4-7)
3. “You were created to become like Christ” (Ephesians 5:2; Philippians 2:5; Colossians 3:13; 1 Peter 2:21; 1 John 2:6)
4. “You were shaped for serving God” (Romans 12:1-2)
5. “You were made for a mission” (Matthew 28:19)

If people (i.e., pastors or church workers/leaders) want to use some other means to reach out to people, then go for it. I would have assumed, however, that everyone would be rejoicing about the many people now coming to a saving knowledge of the biblical Jesus because of the book, rather than joining up with some cult or simply wandering aimlessly through their godless/meaningless lives. As for the three men you mention, they are very different, in my opinion.

First, Sproul is brilliant. I love the guy. I just saw him and spoke to him in Denver at the Christian Bookseller’s Convention. He actually watched me from about three feet away as I was giving a radio interview about Warren. I was about ready to come out of my skin I was so nervous. He’s one of heroes. Anyway, Sproul is great, but I certainly don’t agree with everything he says (like his position on contemporary music). As for his views of Warren, I haven’t really heard him say a lot about about Warren specifically or about Warren’s book. I do know, however, that he has commented on the Church Growth Movement (CGM) in general and also on “seeker sensitive” services (see “Swimming Upstream” by Sproul). But this is not specifically related to Warren—although Sproul might have intended it to be so. If so, then Sproul has been fed some erroneous information. Warren has not been in the CGM since the mid-1980s. And not all seeker sensitive services at all churches are even the same. Sproul may indeed be operating under some false notions. I’ll give you an example. In his article “Swimming Upstream,” he writes: “The only seekers we tend to draw with seeker sensitive services are believers seeking a different church. By presenting a God who wants us to look at ourselves, who doesn’t judge and command, who has a wonderful set of insights on how to have a happy, healthy marriage we put God’s imprimatur on narcisism. There’s nothing evangelicals like more than to be told that God loves them just the way they are.”

IF Sproul is referring to Warren (and that’s a big IF), then this one statement tells me that Sproul doesn’t know what is going on with Warren, Saddleback, or purpose driven teachings (as well as “seeker-sensitive” services at Saddleback). In my ten years of attending Saddleback Church, the majority of people drawn to the church that I have met were NOT believers just looking for another church. They were non-Christians who eventually accepted Christ and were baptized (literally thousands of them). Moreover, the believers who HAVE come to church (such as me and my wife) were drawn by the life-application sermons that helped them put into practice God’s Word on a daily basis (i.e., become doers of the Word rather than just hearers of the Word). Also, Warren does not present a God who does not judge us or give commands that we stop sinning! He has gone so far as to specifically denounce various sins from the pulpit. Moreover, Warren does not teach that God is happy with us “just the way” we are. I have heard Warren say, on countless occasions from the pulpit, that God is in the business of transforming lives and changing us. In fact, the third purpose in Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life mentions how we were “created to be like Christ”! This is not God telling us to just stay the way we are and get happy.

Second, concerning John Piper, I have not read a lot of what he has said specifically about Warren, The Purpose Driven Life, or Saddleback Church. Again, like Sproul, he seems to be criticizing “church growth” as an issue that he may think includes Warren and The Purpose Driven Life. I’m not sure about that, but I have not read any direct accusations from him. For instance, in his 2002 article ‘My Anguish: My Kinsmen Are Accursed,” he does not name Warren, but he says: “[T]he more you adjust obscure Biblical doctrines to make Christian reality more attractive to unbelievers, the less Christian reality there is when they arrive. Which means that what looks like success in the short run, may, in the long run, prove to be failure. If you alter or obscure the Biblical portrait of God in order to attract converts, you don’t get converts to God, you get converts to an illusion. This is not evangelism, but deception.” I agree with Piper!!! But it has nothing to do with Saddleback, Warren, purpose driven, or seeker-sensitive services as they are at Saddleback. I highlight as they are at Saddleback because I know that there are some churches out there claiming to be seeker-sensitive when in reality they are not seeker-sensitive, they are seeker-driven, and they water-down the Gospel—just as Piper articulates. I think this is part of the problem—similarity of terms being used by different people. It’s caused a lot of confusion.

As for John MacArthur, he simply does not know what he is talking about and has shown himself to be a loose cannon when it comes to Warren, The Purpose Driven Life, and Saddleback Church. I am not sure who is feeding him information, but it is false. But perhaps MacArthur just doesn’t care enough about truth to be careful in his own research. Therefore, I fault MacArthur for either: a) not doing his own research; or b) not doing his own research carefully enough before falsely accusing Warrren of things that Warren has never taught. A good example would be MacArthur’s outrageous statement in CNN about what Warren preaches. In my book, I contrast MacArthur’s false CNN accusation about the purpose driven message with what Warren has actually stated—it is the exact opposite of what MacArthur alleged!

Don Veinot recently asked Harvest House Publishers to withdraw his endorsement of your book. What is your reaction to his request? [This question surprised Abanes as he had not yet read Veinot’s letter retracting his endorsement].

My only response is now here — http://abanes.com/donveinot.html

In my experience, of all the objections to The Purpose Driven Life, the most common is that it Rick Warren often misuses Scripture. There was no mention of this in your book. Why did you not address the topic?

We must be very careful here on a couple of fronts before we fire off accusations against Warren that we are not prepared to fire at just about everyone else.

First, there is the issue of translations/paraphrases. This is a highly complex issue that is complicated by the fact that far too many Christians go as far as the KJV and then, BAM, no more—everything else is a perversion of God’s Word. To these people even Warren’s use of the NIV, NASB, and other legit translations would be enough to attack him. In my original draft of the book I had about 20 pages dedicated to translations, including discussions of the KJV, the Majority Text, and related issues—but it all had to be cut in favor of what the publishers (and I) thought would be more relevant to a larger audience.

Second, we have Warren’s handling of various biblical passage from translations (paraphrases don’t really count because they are, well, paraphrases subject to drastic changes). I dealt with this issue, too, but once more the material was deleted because of other accusations about Warren not even being a Christian that HAD to be discussed. So, let me say right off that I do not agree with the way Warren used every single verse of scripture in his book. But I also do not agree with countless pastors on the way they have used various scriptures. No author or a speaker communicates everything perfectly. Warren is no exception. But one would think that fellow believers would grant a bit of room for human imperfection to someone whose goal is to bring people to the saving knowledge of Christ—not a false Christ, not a false God, and not some self-help plan rooted in the bankrupt Human Potential Movement.

Sadly, the very opposite seems to be true. In a somewhat analogous incident, John the disciple came to Jesus one day and said, “‘Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name; and we forbad him, because he followeth not with us.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us’” (Luke 9:49-50). In reference to this verse, The Wycliffe Bible Commentary observes: “The disciples were bigoted. Because this man was not of their company, they were ready to discount his work completely” (Charles F. Pfeiffer and Everett F. Harrison, eds., The Wycliffe Bible Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1962; 1987 edition], p. 1045). Are we only to smile and give approval to those pastors/teachers who always get EVERYTHING right? If so, then we have some problems.

  • Ever hear a pastor/teacher quote Rev. 3:20-21 in reference to unbelievers?? HERETIC! This passage is really written to a backsliden church.
  • Ever hear a pastor/teacher use Jer. 29:11 to assure Christians that God has great plans for them? HERETIC! This passage is really directed toward Israel.
  • Ever hear a pastor/teacher say that Matt. 18:18-20 has to do with prayer. HERETIC! This passage is really about church discipline.
  • Ever hear a pastor/teacher explain that 2 John 10-11 means you should not let Mormon missionaries or Jehovah’s Witnesses into your house? HERETIC! This passage is really about church homes in the first century and not allowing false teachers preach in that church home congregation.

The list goes on and on. I cannot count how many pastors/teachers, evangelists, radio Bible personalities, and even lay Christians have misused all of the above passage (and more)! Now, should we start labeling their entire ministries as false, lying, deceptive, liberal, New Age, watered-down, or perverted? Hardly. And yet people are being this exacting and unforgiving when it comes to Warren. Is there some kind of anti-Warren agenda going on? I suppose if some people want to be so judgmental about every little thing Warren says, then that is their choice. But they will have to be consistent and view/judge with equal harshness anyone else who has has ever committed the same unspeakable crimes—i.e., not getting every little biblical passage perfect. Let’s just be fair and denounce as heretics all pastors/teachers who have ever misused any of the above verses (yes, I am being a bit sarcastic).

I think my point is clear—nobody has it all perfect. Mistakes will happen, overstatements will be voiced, hyberbolic remarks will be made, and flawed appeals to scriptures will be given. Why? Because we are all sinners saved by grace. Warren is human. So at times, for example, he unwisely used hyberbole in The Purpose Driven Life and used some passages in ways that are not so perfect. For instance, he probably should not have said “whenever” God wanted to transform someone He used 40 day (but I will add that the biblical examples Warren gives of 40-days are not as horrific as some people have made them out to be).

This obsession with how Warren occasionally made sideways uses of a few biblical verses ignores so many other things—i.e., Warren calls his readers to Christ, tells readers that life without God has no meaning, assures readers that Jesus died on the cross for our sins, reminds people that storing up temporal treasures is waste of time, exhorts people to live like Christ, teaches everyone that sin must be avoided, says that it is important to serve in the church, and promises that one of the greatest things we can do is to tell others about Jesus. All of this is virtually ignored. The Purpose Driven Life is not perfect. Okay; fine. But goodness gracious, some people/critics are acting like it’s the Satanic Bible. And they are not even looking at what Warren has said in so many of his sermons about Jesus, the biblical way of salvation, sin, the cross, or the need to reject religion in favor of a relationship with Christ.

I am reminded at this point of Matthew 23: 23-24: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.”

Is Rick Warren largely inaccessible to the average Joe like myself (or even yourself)?

Rick is about as inaccessible as any high profile pastor, teacher, author, or politician. Things must be this way or else he would be literally swamped with hundreds (more likely thousands) of persons who want just a minute or two. Obviously, even just a minute or two that is multiplied by so many people would consume all of Rick’s time. It’s just not possible for him to live any other way. Regarding my contact with him, I usually see Rick casually during church services at which I sing—because I am backstage. But it is only small-talk, a joke here or there, a brief time to just say, “Hey, how are ya? Things going okay?” Then, both of us must do our own thing—he preaches and I get ready to sing. If I really need to speak with him, I know the people to call, who in turn set something up. But this is terrifically difficult because of Rick’s schedule, which is unbelievably busy. I don’t know how the guy does it all. So, I don’t meet with him often at all.

Many people speak about Matthew 18 in regards to Warren, teaching that before we can criticize his ministry we must approach him personally. But is this practical?

I do not, I repeat, I do not see Matthew 18 in this way. First of all, it would indeed impractical for most people when it comes to Warren. All you have to do is read my above answer about access to Warren to know that. Second, there is nothing biblical that requires us to alert someone privately before we criticize them publicly, review a book they have written, or make observations on lectures they have given—this is especially true if we are dealing with a teaching that is biblically askew or heretical (see Galatians 2:11-14). It might be considerate to notify them, but it is not mandated by scripture.

Additionally, Matthew 18 has little to do with critiquing what someone has publicly said/done either doctrinally or ministerially. We are explicitly told to publicly expose false teachers, guard the faith, and defend the purity of the gospel (Acts 20:26-28; 1 Tim 1:18-19; 6:20; 2 Tim. 4:2-5; Jude 3; also see 1 Tim. 1:20; 2 Tim. 2:17-18; 4:14-15; 3 John 9-10). Matthew 18 actually relates more to personal sins committed against you by another Christian—either privately and publicly. This should first be handled privately. In other words, we can say all we want to say about someone publicly as long as that is not the first step in notifying them of their sins against us (I would also include private sins discovered such as adultery, lying, stealing, cheating, etc. etc. etc.).

So in my opinion, Matthew 18 really does not really apply in Warren’s case. Other passages, however, do apply when it comes to Warren—most notably, Exodus 20:16: “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.” This has been violated by too many critics of Warren to count. Other passages they have violated include 2 Timothy 2:24-26 (correcting with gentleness and respect), Ephesians 4;15 (speaking the truth in love). Moreover, many of these critics have done nothing more than instigated strife and division, along with gossip, disputes, slander, and disturbances (see 1 Corinthians 1:10; 2 Corinthians 12:20). Forget about contacting Warren personally, these critics have not even bothered to get their facts straight and avoid gossip! I am especially troubled by high profile critics who actually COULD have gotten through to Warren, but did not do so.

For example, you have John MacArthur, who could easily have contacted Warren, as far back as several years ago when MacArthur first started voicing concerns about seeker-sensitive and related issues. But no contact that I know of was made. Most recently, we have MacArthur’s accusations against Warren on CNN that were outrageous, irresponsible, and a clear violation, in my opinion, of the aforementioned biblical passages. Why? Because: 1) MacArthur falsely accused Warren of teaching things that Warren does not teach; and 2) MacArthur could have indeed gotten through to Warren before making such a wild charge (in my book, as you know, I document what MacArthur stated as opposed to what Warren actually teaches). Another example would be Chuck Smith who, like MacArthur, has publicly denounced Rick Warren and his purpose driven teachings—not only on the radio, but from the pulpit as well. Smith, also like MacArthur, could have easily gotten through to Warren in a heartbeat. But Smith has, to my knowledge, never tried to contact Warren. Yet he should have done so. As a result, Smith has falsely accused Warren of basically teaching an incorrect way of salvation. That charge, in my book, would certainly qualify as a violation of the aforementioned biblical passages.

As for Warren’s many other critics, they probably never get through to him. But this does not absolve them from needing to be careful and not violating the biblical passages I have cited. I am talking at this point about folks like Deborah & Dave Dombrowski (Lighthouse Trails Research Project), Paul Proctor (News With Views), Todd Wilken (Issues, Etc. on KFUO radio), James Sundquist (“Whose Driving the Purpose Driven Church”), Warren Smith (“Deceived On Purpose”), and others. I discuss many of these individuals on my website. It is ironic that they are the ones who, to varying degrees, are infecting the church with deception and lies—i.e., deception and lies about Rick Warren. Most of these people are not only misrepresent Warren’s teachings/views/faith, but they seem quite willing to deliberately twist and pervert his words to serve their own anti-Warren agenda. This is all very sad to me, very sad indeed.

You also see in their writings a kind of mean-spirited nastiness that I have rarely run across except when dealing with hardcore cultists. I don’t just mean a light sarcasm here or there, or some clever turn of phrase that might be a bit edgy—I am talking about full-blown, vengeful, hate-filled kind of nastiness that is soaked in vicious rhetoric. To be honest, after reading some of their writings, I can only be thankful that we are not living in a Medieval Europe that they rule—I think that Warren, everyone at Saddleback (most especially me), and a large number of purpose-driven pastors would probably be either hanged or burned. I see in Warren’s harshest critics a very clear witch-hunt mentality. These people have no love in my opinion (or knowledge)—only zeal.

I also think that there are a lot of critics out there who are trying to be apologists (or defenders of the faith), but they have no idea how to do it right. They think that being an apologist is about attacking, attacking, attacking. However, that is not what being an apologist is about. It’s about bringing correction in a Christ-like manner, with gentleness and respect (2 Tim. 2:24-26), in humility, with a broken heart, and love—most importantly, love. Also what makes it difficult for them is a stunning lack of knowledge when it comes to how a person should properly conduct research and analyze information. They have no training at all, which leads them to faulty conclusions, unsubstantiated accusations, unwarranted assumptions, and plain old factual errors. You would never allow a plumber or an artist to diagnose your illness. But this is exactly what is happening when it comes to criticisms of Warren—people who have no business delving into the area of serious apologetic work are in way over their heads. Thanks to the Internet, any Tom, Dick, or Harry (or Harriet) who thinks they’ve got the inside scoop on Warren from a statement here or a word/term there runs with it and publishes some radically flawed diatribe on the Internet. That is wrong. It’s sin. It’s bearing false witness.

I’m with you. I do not understand Matthew 18 to apply in this way either. So how should we approach this with Warren or any other public figure?

  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.

July 29, 2005

This is the first interview in the Challies Dot Com Summer Interview Series. The series will feature interviews with authors, musicians and other Christian personalities.

The first interview in this series is with Richard Abanes. Richard is known around these parts as author of the newly-released book Rick Warren and the Purpose That Drives Him and as a regular defender of Warren and his teachings within the comments section within this site. This is the first part of the interview in which we get to know Richard. Part two deals more specifically with Rick Warren and will be posted tomorrow.

Who is Richard Abanes? Tell us a little bit about yourself - who you are, what you do, and how we might know about you?

Well, first and foremost, I am a Christian. Everything follows that fact with regard to my identity. In other words, I do not see myself as a writer per se, or as an apologist, or as a musician. I certainly DO those things, but it is not who/what I am. I follow Christ and find my identity in him—no matter what I am doing. I say this because I have seen too many Christians equating “who” they are with “what” they do, and this can limit their willingness go/do/be what God wants. So in my case, whatever I happen to be doing at the moment is merely an extension of serving the one who saved me. With regard to who I am, then, I would say that I AM a follower of Christ. Now, as for what I DO, that is a different question. For now, what I DO is write books dealing with: apologetics (defending the faith); pop culture as it relates to religion (particularly Christianity), and issues associated with faith/spirituality (e.g., near death experiences, the end-times).

I also do a lot of music—both worship and inspirational. I actually have a very intense show business background of music, theater, dance, and acting. I’ve performed on Broadway and off-Broadway, in TV specials/programs, and in several national commercials. In fact, I thought that a career in show business was going to be my life. But God had other plans. He showed me that what I was doing was not really affecting people for eternity. I was entertaining them, but not doing anything for their eternal souls. So, I left show business, not really knowing at all what God had planned for me. It was a real step of faith.

Several years later, God showed me that I had the ability to write. I had no idea that I had this ability. I was working at the Christian Research Institute (c. 1989), which eventually turned into my school of apologetics. I also was mentored by Bob and Gretchen Passantino. I also tried to learn apologetics from the best apologists I could find. Then, God started opening up doors for me to write (starting about 1994). So, here I am, all of these years and books later. My writing ministry is all because of Him. It’s a miracle. I have no higher education. So, really, I have to credit Christ with my success. I really am quite undeserving and still don’t know why God has been so good to me. Like Paul said, I’m the chief of sinners (just ask my wife). But I guess that is what grace is all about. God uses the foolish things of the world.

Right now I’m trying to put up as much information as possible at my website www.abanes.com for people interested in the issues that I am interested in. It’s kind of funny that you would start out this interview the way you did. I have attempted to answer at my website this very first question you have asked by putting up biographical material about me and pictures. But in response, some people have criticized me for being carnal, worldly, conceited, full of myself, etc. etc. etc. That’s kind of strange to me since I am personally always interested in people and their past, their accomplishments, and what they have done in life. It gives you insight into who they are and what has molded them. I think others are interested in that kind of stuff, too. And, of course, I like pictures—basically, I enjoy seeing pictures of people, places, and things, and happen to think that it is rather cool to be able to post photos in cyberspace (I love technology). Moreover, we live in a very visually-oriented society. I suppose, however, that some people don’t see it that way, Ah well.

What are three books every Christian should read (apart from the Bible)?

“Apart from the Bible?” NOTHING! That’s blasphemy! No, just kidding. Of course, there are many books that Christians could benefit from. And I suppose it would depend a LOT on the maturity of a Christian, their needs, and where God is leading them. But I would say at least one book by one of the great preachers/teachers is important to have in one’s library (or a compilation of quotes)—i.e., anything by C.H. Spurgeon, Oswald Chambers, or A.W. Tozer. I read all of these guys as part of my daily/weekly study and devotional. Then, I would suggest at least one solid volume of systematic theology: e.g., Systematic Theology by Louis Berkhof or Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem. Finally, hmmmm, this is tough, perhaps the now-released one volume edition of The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. I really believe that there is a wealth of insight that can be gained about Christian living and truth from something like Lewis’ fantasy series. I know I must be missing some great books out there, but limiting me to three does not leave me a lot of room.

Who do you consider the formative influences in your beliefs and theology?

Well, as for “formative,” this is difficult to say, since I was raised Roman Catholic, and then for many years after my conversion in 1979, I attended a wide variety of churches/groups in an effort to grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ. I think I would first of all have to name (in chronological order) Walter Martin since his books were the first ones I read on doctrine, cults, the occult, and world religions. Then, probably Chuck Smith and the Calvary Chapel system of churches. After that, I would say I began to be heavily influenced by Reformed teachers, especially R.C. Sproul, who I think is absolutely brilliant. I am a Calvinist, by the way, but I am what I like to call a “soft” Calvinist with Southern Baptist leanings—go figure. I’ve also been influenced a great deal by Lutheran teachings, thanks to my mentors Bob and Gretchen Passantino (Lutheran Church Missouri Synod).

I try very hard to stick to the essentials of the faith and not get too caught up in arguing over things that do little more than divide Christians and foster animosity or ungodly in-fighting. NONE OF US have every single little thing perfect. I would think that this is obvious to everyone since we are all sinners saved by grace and subject to mistakes—not to mention the fact that the heart is deceitfully wicked. But we all try as best we can to serve our Lord and Savior.

Of course, when it comes to the central teachings of Christianity, these are non-negotiable. In other words, you can’t diverge from these things or else you are in serious danger of not being a Christian at all—or at the very least being terrifically skewed in your doctrinal understandings, confused, and in danger of having serious problems in your Christian walk. This is why it is so important for new Christians to immediately begin taking steps toward doctrinal maturity—i.e., go from being a born-again baby, to a toddler, to a tween, to a teen, to a mature adult.

What are the essentials? I would say that these are any doctrines that relate directly to our identification of, and our relationship to, God—i.e., there is one God, the trinity, the full humanity/deity of Christ, the virgin birth, salvation by grace alone through faith alone, and the physical/bodily resurrection. Basically, those doctrines represented formally in the earliest creeds of the Christian church: Apostles’, Nicene, and Chalcedonian.

I can’t say I’ve ever heard the term “soft Calvinist.” Purely to satisfy my curiosity, could you clarify that a little bit?

Well, I am a Calvinist. Five points. However, I am less dogmatic on some points than others—e.g., Limited Atonement and Irresistible Grace. But it seems to all make sense, especially the idea of actually needing to be regenerated BEFORE accepting Christ since we are slaves to sin BEFORE regeneration and dead in our sins. However, choice is in there somewhere (see for example, Joshua 24:15; Is. 7:15; Romans 10:9).

I say “soft” because I don’t fight about these things. If you’re a Calvinist, great. If you’re not a Calvinist, great. I always care a lot more about whether or not someone simply knows, loves, follows, and serves Jesus. God knows how it all works out, and one day we will know, too. Until then, we do our best and have our own notions about how it all works. But such things as the EXACT moment of regeneration, supralapsarianism, infralapsarianism, free will, choice, etc. etc. etc. is beyond everyone—in my opinion.

We happen to be doing this interview only days after the release of the latest book in the Harry Potter series. I know you’ve written a book about this subject. Here is a quick chance to pitch your book! What are your thoughts on Harry Potter and whether Christian children and adults should read it?

Regarding the Harry Potter books, I have tried very hard to avoid telling people to either read them or not read them. My newest book Harry Potter, Narnia, and The Lord of the Rings is primarily about fantasy literature in general, which I happen to support. In fact, I am a major fan of fantasy, so what I have tried to do is simply show that fantasy, like so many things, can be “good” as well as “not so good.” To illustrate the differences between such types of fantasy I take an in-depth look at the Harry Potter series, The Chronicles of Narnia, and The Lord of the Rings. I also examine/discuss Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy (which is excessively anti-Christian) and R.L. Stine’s Fear Street series (as well as Goosebumps). Additionally, I cover marketing to children through TV and movies, consumerism, child development, and culture’s influence on kids.

My concern about the Harry Potter books is two-fold: 1) by J.K. Rowling’s own admission, the books contain references to real-world occult symbolism, lore, subjects, practices, and beliefs that she has gleaned from her hobby-like study of things like occultism, witchcraft, and magick (this is verified and documented); 2) the ethics and morality in the series exalt relativism—i.e., there seems to be no objective standard of right and wrong. If the good characters in the book feel like something is just fine (or fun), then they simply do it, even though it may be bad/wrong (e.g., the good characters habitually lie, steal, cheat, use foul language, break laws, deceive each other, behave hypocritically, and have no problem pursuing revenge). The books do not strive to show kids a better way, they instead, appeal to their most basic/naturalistic instincts: e.g., crass/gross humor, the desire for revenge, the want for power over adults.

Some people say, “So what?” But my worry is that children—who we all know tend to copy what they think is cool, or fun, or exciting—will begin emulating some of the poor ethical/moral behaviors exalted in Harry Potter as well as some of the occult aspects of the books. This is not a far-fetched concern. Kids are already copying various aspects of the series: e.g., registrations for boarding schools in England have sky-rocketed; a surge in buying owls for pets has taken place; and one group of kids had to be rushed to the hospital after mixing a poisonous “potion” and drinking—all in direct response to Harry Potter. We also have a 2002 Barna survey that found 12% of kids who saw the Harry Potter movies were more interested in witchcraft. And, most alarming, is how REAL wiccans/occultists/neopagans are writing their own pro-occult and pro-witchcraft books (both fiction and non-fiction) and using the popularity of Harry Potter books to lure young readers to their materials. Clearly, concerns about Harry Potter are not misplaced.

My book also debunks the absurd view of Harry Potter offered by the likes of John Granger, Connie Neal, and Francis Bridger, and John Killinger—i.e., the claim that Harry Potter is actually a Christian series in the tradition of The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings. In a nutshell, their assertions are plagued by a myriad of flaws that can be distilled down to two main issues: 1. The plainest reading of Harry Potter reveals that it is not a depiction of anything Christian, but instead, is a depiction of the magick worldview. (This has been confirmed by Witches, occultists, and neopagans.) 2. Rowling herself has explained both her work and her faith in ways that clearly contradict the assertions being made by the “Harry-Potter-is-really-Christian” group of supporters.

Should Christian children and/or adults read them? Well, what adults do is between them and God. I could no more tell an adult Christian to not read the books than tell them to not go see an R-rated movie, or not have a glass of wine with spaghetti. Reading Harry Potter as an adult, I think, would fall into the category of a freedom not explicitly discussed in scripture. Children, on the other hand, need guidance. But guiding someone else’s child is not my job. My job is to get good, solid, documented information about Harry Potter to parents, then, it is their decision. Personally, however, I do think it is a very poor idea to have some kids, particularly younger ones (e.g., ages 6-10), reading the books—especially the latter volumes (4, 5, 6, 7), which become progressively darker and more violent.

Please stay tuned for the second part of this interview. It will be posted tomorrow.

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