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The Blurring of Lines & Shame For The Gospel

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As you may know, Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Community Church and author of The Purpose Driven Life has begun to write a monthly column for Ladies Home Journal. This ought to be an exciting opportunity for a professed Christian, for this space is generally reserved for articles dealing with “spirituality” which equates to New Age (or, as it is more commonly know, New Spirituality). In fact, this month the Ladies Home Journal has an article entitled “The New Spirituality” which traces the change in American attitudes towards religion in the post-9/11 era. The article speaks of interfaith services and features an interview with John Edward (the supposed psychic medium).

Alas, it seems that Warren is squandering this opportunity, writing a column more consistent with pop-psychology than with the Scriptures. March’s column is called “Learn to Love Yourself.” He begins the column with the words, “Self-esteem still wobbly after all these years? These five simple truths will show you that you don’t need to be perfect to be priceless.” Warren then writes briefly about five different points: Accept Yourself, Love Yourself, Be True To Yourself, Forgive Yourself, Believe in Yourself. Here is a brief summary of each point:

Accept Yourself

God accepts us unconditionally, and in his view we are all precious and priceless. So instead of chasing after other people’s approval, we need to accept who we are.

Love Yourself

We are to love ourselves in the same way God loves us. In this section Warren quotes (or misquotes) Isaiah 54:10 which clearly has nothing to do with loving ourselves.

Be True To Yourself

Discover, accept and enjoy our unique “shape” (which refers to Warren’s S.H.A.P.E. assessment) and be content with our weaknesses.

Forgive Yourself

God doesn’t expect perfection but He does insist on honesty, so we need to admit our errors and ask forgiveness. We need to forgive others in the selfless way God forgives us.

Believe in Yourself

Begin to affirm the truths about ourselves – that God has created us with talents, abilities, personality and background in a way that makes us each unique.

Warren closes with the words “You can believe what others say about you, or you can believe in yourself as God does, who says you are truly acceptable, lovable, valuable and capable.

Noticeably lacking in this column is any mention of sin, repentance, Jesus, the cross or anything else distinctly Christian. The God he writes about could be consistent with the theology of the New Spirituality (where God is actually us) or with Muslim or Mormon theology. What is even worse is that the article contains many statements that are blatantly anti-Christian. God does not accept us unconditionally. If He did, there would have been no need for Jesus to die. And God does expect perfection from us. Matthew 5:48 says, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” God expects and demands absolute perfection from us. While none of us deliver, thus requiring infinite amounts of grace and forgiveness, this in no way reduces the requirement. I guess there is little reason to wonder why there is not more Scriptural content in this article – after all, the majority of what Warren writes cannot be backed up by any reasonably accurate translation of the Bible. For more detailed analysis, you can turn to Paul Proctor’s article on this topic.

On February 1 I posted an article called Purpose, PEACE and New Spirituality (it is well worth your while reading it) where I showed that the lines between what is Christian and what is New Age are becoming increasingly blurry. After comparing the writing and language of several Christian and New Age leaders I concluded, “The point is clear. The New Age, which we so often regard as being entirely foreign to us, is making increasing inroads into Christianity. The thrust of this article is not to discern whether Christianity is moving into the New Age or whether the New Age is moving into Christianity (or both). Rather, it is show that these changes provide just one more reason to be on guard, to know the Scriptures, and to be able to defend our beliefs. As the lines become blurred, we need to be able to discern Christian from New Age, truth from error. We need to know not only the language of Christianity, but also the underlying concepts and definitions, that we will be able to distinguish between ever-small differentiations.”

In a sense, then, this article serves as an addendum to that one. As an interesting test, compare the excerpts I posted from Warren’s article with the following language, and do the matching quiz at the bottom (thanks to James Allen for providing these):

  1. What will be said of us when our living is complete? Creating the memory that will be left of us is an opportunity we each have today. Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow is a maybe. But we each have today-a day to realize what sustains us in our living. Our faith in self, others, and our spirituality; our hope in self, others, and our spirituality; and our love of self, others, and our spirituality.
  2. What speaks to your soul? What opens you to possibilities previously unseen, opens you to more joy, more compassion, more hope? What puts you in touch with truth, the kind you know deep in your bones? What sustains you through times of difficulty and sorrow, through times of uncertainty and doubt? What moves you to action, to work for justice, and to strive toward ethical living? What makes you feel more alive, more connected, more whole? If you have ever pondered these, or similar questions, it is evidence of your spirituality.
  3. Many — I believe, most! — [of us] have a deep spirituality that nurtures, sustains, and empowers us.
  4. Be wise enough to make your spirituality the hub of the wheel in your life.
  5. Learn how to act on your personal passions.

Now, identify which of these are:

  1. From a “pastor” of a church self-identified as a gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered church.
  2. From A West Virginia Extension Service paper on sustainable living.
  3. From Rick Warren.
  4. From the “Center for Change” publication on social support.
  5. From a sermon by a Unitarian minister in Georgia.

As I have done in previous articles, I will say that I do not necessarily believe that Rick Warren is knowingly New Age in his teaching. However, it seems clear that what he teaches, and what so many others mimic in his teaching, is not distinctly Christian. As believers we need to ensure that we do not mask the truth of the gospel message in vague, inoffensive, language. The gospel message is clear, offensive to believers, foolish, but above all, powerful! To be ashamed of this message is to be ashamed of Christ himself. To remove the gospel from our message, is to leave ourselves with no message at all.

The answers to the quiz are as follows:

1 — B
2 — E
3 — A
4 — D
5 — C

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