In the past couple of years there have been a few books written specifically to challenge the teachings and assumptions of Rick Warren’s mega-seller The Purpose Driven Life. Some of these have also discussed other Purpose Driven material and the man who has produced this successful franchise. These books have sometimes been criticized for being alarmist or for providing an unfair treatment of the subject matter. While I, having read all of that material, generally do not agree with the criticisms, I am quite sure no one could lodge those complaints against Bob DeWaay’s new book, Redefining Christianity.
Redefining Christianity is a book that has much to say on the topics of Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life and other aspects of the Purpose Driven paradigm. Despite that focus it would not be correct to say that this is a book about Rick Warren or about anything he has written or dreamed up. This is, plain and simply, a book about the gospel of Jesus Christ. The underlying message of DeWaay’s book, as might be deduced from the title, is that Rick Warren, despite all his popularity and success, has redefined many critical aspects of the Christian faith. He has redefined church, vision, Christian commitment, God’s wisdom, church health and even the gospel itself. This book, then, is primarily focused not on Rick Warren but on his treatment of the gospel.
Here is a concise summary of DeWaay’s thesis:
The version of Christianity that Rick Warren presents to world leaders redefines the message of the first century apostles. The key difference is that the Biblical version did not appeal to the world; it appealed only to those who were converted. Warren’s version is popular with the world. Rick Warren has designed a message that appeals to religious consumers whether or not the Holy Spirit has convicted them of their sins. He has devised a business system to mass-market this message to the world. Through his system, he has created a way for pastors to share his success. The sheer effectiveness of this system is rapidly transforming evangelicalism. This transformation is not just a transformation of practice; it is a transformation of message. The change in the practice makes it transferable across a wide spectrum of denominational and theological affiliations. The change in the message makes it acceptable to a wide range of religious consumers.
In this statement, and indeed in the book, he captures the essence of what has made the Purpose Driven paradigm so popular and the foremost ways in which this paradigm diverges from Scripture. Through ten chapters and just over 200 pages, DeWaay provides strong evidence to support his claims. Allow me to provide a brief overview of each of the ten chapters. While I rarely employ this technique in book reviews, I believe that in this case it will be instructive and will allow the reader to understand the systematic way in which the author builds his case.
- Rick Warren’s Ministry Philosophy. DeWaay begins by examining the men who influenced Rick Warren, and in particular, Donald McGavran who, as the founder of the discipline that came to be known as “missiology” is considered the father of the Church Growth Movement. He shows the shaky and unbiblical assumptions that form the foundation for this philosophy including the concepts of people movements and felt needs. Ultimately, the Church Growth Movement allows the unbeliever to determine the message of the church and even the mode used to deliver it. “The key idea is very simple: change the Sunday Morning church service so that non-Christians will not only attend it, but enjoy it and keep coming back.” What becomes lost in such an approach is, of course, what people most need to hear but least want to hear and that is the full gospel message. One cannot preach that message in completeness and with boldness and remain seeker-friendly.
- Redefining the Church. The second chapter wades into the issue of redefinitions. “Rather than clearly preaching the Gospel to all, knowing that God promised to use it in spite of its inherent offense to call forth His sheep from the midst of the world, Warren would like to change the nature of the church and its message so it appears attractive to people as they are in their unregenerate state.” Church Growth succeeds admirably in growing the visible church (those who at least appear to be believers) but, by stopping short of proclaiming the full message of the gospel, cannot do much to grow the invisible church (those who actually are believers). In this chapter DeWaay also discusses unity, showing that the type of unity called for by Rick Warren is not the same as the Bible’s concept of unity. “The redefined church of the Church Growth Movement has mostly ignored the matter of the invisible church. They use the best means available based on pragmatic tests to make the visible church as big as possible… If happy religious consumers living better lives than they had outside of the church is the test of validity, then these huge and rapidly growing churches must be right. I do not believe, however, there is anything in the New Testament that validates seeking to maximize the visible church by means that tend to strangle the invisible one.”
- Redefining Vision. Not only has Rick Warren redefined the church but he has also redefined the biblical concept of vision. Vision is a crucial aspect of Warren’s strategy yet, despite providing supposed biblical proof to the contrary, the way he uses this term is different than the way it is used in Scripture where it refers to a type of true or false special revelation. Within the Purpose Driven paradigm, vision is used in a business sense in which a person plans for a future he hopes to implement. Yet those who do not catch the vision of the leadership within a Purpose Driven church are considered dissenters and are often driven from the ranks.
- Redefining Christian Commitment. “In the Bible, Christian commitment is based on faith in Christ, and dependence on Him for grace to walk obediently in His ways… Now we have Rick Warren bringing back the hyper piety of pre-Reformation Rome through nothing less than religious oaths, touting this as a ‘reformation.'” Much of the commitment of members of Purpose Driven churches is based on covenants some of which are even declared irrevocable. DeWaay teaches in this chapter that oaths and covenants are forbidden within a New Testament context. To write such covenants and to demand them as a display of solidarity is an egregious offense against the members of a church. He highlights the irony that exists between the Reformation, where Protestants came to see that oaths were forbidden in the Scriptures, and Warren’s supposed second reformation where they are once more required.
- The “Gospel” According to The Purpose Driven Life. In fifth chapter the author shows how Warren continually changes or obscures the key issues of the biblical gospel. He shows that God’s purposes do not need to be discovered, for those that God wished to make available to us have already been clearly revealed in His Word. He also points out the difficulties inherent in The Purpose Driven Life which makes little in the way of distinction between believer and unbeliever, extending the same claims and promises to both groups. The offense of the gospel, for which so many Christians have suffered, has largely been removed from Rick Warren’s teachings. An incomplete gospel, one that denies key aspects such as God’s wrath or Jesus’ resurrection, is no gospel at all.
- How Misused Bible Translations Support a Journey of Self-discovery. Rick Warren makes much of the two thousand references to Scripture in his book. Yet it takes more than citations from Scripture to make a book biblical for it must also present the Word of God accurately and unashamedly. “Warren’s solution to the problem [of an offensive gospel] is to use his marketing acumen to circumvent the resistance of the target audience. His plan is to draw from dozens of translations (including loose paraphrases), to choose the ones that will support the motif of a journey of self-discovery (already proven to be popular with the world), mix these various Bible citations with citations of popular worldly writers that seem to be saying the same thing, and make a seamless, religious product that speaks the world’s language but appears to come right out of the Bible. Genius! The result is The Purpose Driven Life. This is the product for the Purpose Driven Church to market to religious consumers.” As has been shown by many reviewers since the publication of the book, The Purpose Driven Life is replete with Scripture used out of context or passages provided in translations that bear no resemblance to the original text. In a clear case of giving credit where credit is due, but still highlighting problems, DeWaay says the following: “One could conclude that Rick Warren is unable to do solid Biblical exegesis, and that the cases highlighted above, and many others, are caused by a simple preacher trying his best, but lacking scholarly tools, but this is not the case. On pages 195 and 196 he offers solid, well reasoned, and accurate exegesis of Romans 8:28-29.27 I was surprised when I found this quality of Biblical interpretation in a book filled with just the opposite. This proves that Warren is capable of sound Biblical interpretation and teaching when he sees fit. My question is, ‘If he is capable of expounding the truth of a passage accurately, what excuse does he have for not doing so with hundreds of other passages?'”
- Redefining God’s Wisdom. Rick Warren has defined God’s wisdom by making it appear to be little more than human wisdom. He often makes grandiose claims that are unsupported by Scripture and may even stand opposed to Scripture. In doing so he provides a message that is little different than the message of popular psychology and human self-discovery. He goes so far as to quote wholly unreliable sources of spiritual wisdom such as George Bernard Shaw and Anais Nin, not to mention several Roman Catholic sources. DeWaay goes so far as to provide an extensive list of instances of “Warren’s practice of combining human wisdom with poor translations or out of context Scripture that promotes his human wisdom as if it were God’s wisdom, which it is not.” Some of these include : Paul’s “secret” was a focused life; How you define life determines your destiny; There are “secrets” to friendship with God; The truth is-you are as close to God as you choose to be; You are only as sick as your secrets. “According to his own public statements, Rick Warren’s message has broad appeal, even to members of other religions. Part of the secret of his success is his ability to integrate his own aphorisms with statements from people the world admires, combining these with partial Biblical passages taken out of context, to create a hybrid message that is simultaneously marketed to the world and the evangelical church. Everyone gets something they like.”
- The Problem with Private Confession. In this chapter the author wrestles with a question that has often perplexed myself and many others. “Rick Warren believes the orthodox truths of the Christian faith. He has documents that say so. Insiders at Saddleback Church say that they know Warren is orthodox. However, when I read The Purpose Driven Life I saw many teachings that are very different from historical orthodoxy. How can this be?” How is it that what Rick Warren confesses when among Christians is so different from what we hear from him when given a public venue in which to speak? DeWaay teaches, with great sensitivity towards a difficult topic, that true profession must be public and consistent. It is what is publically stated, not privately confessed, that is taught by the Bible as being grounds for knowing a person’s faith. This consistency is lacking in Warren’s ministry and this has been shown in his media appearances and in much of his writing. Rick Warren “presents a disjunction between what he confesses privately to evangelical Christians, and what he confesses publicly to a worldly audience.” DeWaay provides, in this regard, the example of Peter who was rebuked by Paul for publically denying in action what he privately knew to be true – that there was equality between Jew and Gentile. A partial denial, as shown in Peter’s earlier denial of Jesus, is as good as a complete denial.
- The Purpose Driven Brand. The book now turns to a discussion of the Purpose Driven brand. The author shows that Purpose Driven, like the franchising models so popular in the world of business, allows a pastor of limited means, skills and capabilities, to enjoy all the success of Rick Warren. Purpose Driven is “church-in-a-box” much as McDonald’s is “burger-in-a-box.” He shows how leverage is applied to maximize the impact of the paradigm and also discusses the importance of vision casting and mission statements. I believe the following is one of the most important points made in this book: “I hope my readers see what is going on. These change agents make all the definitions, compare us to the church as they define it, declare us failures, then offer us “success” if we join their programs. Dear fellow Christians and specifically church leaders, this is American marketing pure and simple: define a problem so that you convince nearly everyone they have it, then sell them the solution. In this case the goal may not be to make money. In Rick Warren’s case, I do not think he wants money for his own benefit; I think he wants his “reformation” to succeed and go down in history as a reformer like Martin Luther. He wants to create a version of Christianity that the world loves.” “What he ‘invented’ was how to harness the latest technology, marketing strategies, management systems; couple those with a message that appeals to the unregenerate mind; then put the whole thing ‘in-a-box’ and replicate it around the world. This revival bears no resemblance to what happened in Acts. What happened in Acts was a work of the Holy Spirit through the means of uncompromised Gospel preaching. The P.E.A.C.E. plan does not depend on the Holy Spirit but on the wisdom of man.”
- Who Determines “Church Health,” Jesus Christ or Rick Warren? The final chapter compares Rick Warren’s definition of church health with that of Jesus Christ. Using seven churches in Revelation, DeWaay shows just how little resemblance there is. “The key Purpose Driven principles and protocols are very different from those in the New Testament that describe a church pleasing to Jesus Christ. If those of the New Testament prevail, the result is a church that is pleasing to Christ. If those of Rick Warren prevail, the result is a church popular with religious consumers in the world, but which is much different from Jesus’ ‘little flock.'”
All of this leads DeWaay to warn:
“Warren has so redefined the major issues (the Gospel, the Bible, the church, fellowship, worship, discipleship, evangelism, and missions), he has effectively re-defined Christianity. The new version of Christianity is popular with the world. This version has avoided the outcome that Jesus predicted to His disciples: “If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:19). The world loves a P.E.A.C.E. plan which promises to solve the problems they want solved. The problem is that the world hates the Gospel of Jesus Christ. May we boldly proclaim that Gospel so that God will use it to save some from His coming wrath. May we shun the lure of popularity and success offered by Warren’s redefined Christianity. It is so much better to be pleasing to Jesus Christ.”
There will be some who will doubt the author’s motivations in writing such a book. Some will accuse him of jealousy or of nitpicking. Others will no doubt label him a troublemaker. Those who find that they doubt his intentions or motivations may wish to begin at the end, as it were, with “A Loving Appeal to Rick Warren.” The book concludes with what is clearly a sincere, heartfelt plea for Rick Warren to return to the full message of the gospel, a message he surely knows but chooses to ignore. This appeal shows the heart of a pastor. The gospel is never far from the heart and mind of a godly pastor and this is clearly the case with Pastor DeWaay. His concern is with the gospel, and well should it be. Jesus Christ has not entrused the church with a message of purpose but with an offensive gospel message of sin, wrath, punishment, death, resurrection and forgiveness. If we leave this message we have nothing to offer. If we become ashamed of the full message or deem it somehow embarrassing we have become little more than clanging gongs and clashing cymbals. The central message of this book is not Rick Warren and neither is it The Purpose Driven Life. The central focus of Redefining Christianity is the gloriously good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
I believe that there is no more complete a resource available to Christians to understand how Rick Warren is changing the church through his Purpose Driven paradigm. Redefining Christianity is well-researched, meticulously-documented and overflowing with the gospel message. I commend it to you and trust that God, in His grace, will use it to convict many to stand firm in or return to the simple, offensive, powerful gospel delivered to us by the Holy Spirit through the Scriptures.
I am not entirely certain when the book will be available for purchase, but assume it will be early in 2006. I will let you know when it becomes available.