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Biblical Methods of Criticism

This post has been prompted by Saturday’s post regarding IX Marks Ministries and their review of the teachings of Rick Warren, as summarized and popularized in his books, The Purpose Driven Church and The Purpose Driven Life and his program 40 Days of Purpose. We live in a very non-judgmental age. The first rule of the postmodern mindset is that “what is good for you is good for you, what is good for me is good for me.” Absolutes are out, relative values are the rule of the day. Even Christians have slipped into this mindset and constantly quote Jesus’ words that we should “judge not lest we be judged.” This verse is often quoted without any view to its proper meaning, but instead is seen as a blanket statement that we are not to pass judgment on what other believers do, think or believe.

As they released their reviews of all things Purpose-Driven, IX Marks included a letter than outlined why they felt they needed to do this. I would like to examine this a little bit, not as it deals with Warren in particular, but how it deals with any issue relevant to Christians. I find it an excellent example of how to properly approach the criticism of another believer. While it may cause pain to have to criticize the teachings or even the actions of another believer, there are many times that this is necessary. Here is the first part of that introduction:

Why Him? Why Now?

Come on. Isn’t this a little overboard? Do we really need to dedicate a whole edition of 9News solely to reviewing the Purpose Driven works of Rick Warren? After all, it’s been almost ten years now since “The Purpose Driven Church” was published; not exactly cutting edge journalism at its finest, huh? And Warren himself is a conservative, Bible-Believing Evangelical! So why not go pick on someone who’s denying the gospel, or persecuting Christians, instead of nitpicking a sincere pastor who’s helping churches grow? Besides, Warren’s books have been some of the hottest selling evangelical publications since the Bible itself! He’s got us on display tables in Barnes and Noble, Borders, even Wal-Mart sells The Purpose Driven Life in bulk. Evangelicals haven’t seen this kind of broad-based cultural acceptance since Jimmy Carter and the year of the Evangelical. And on top of all that, it’s WORKING! Warren’s program seems like one of the most successful evangelism and discipleship programs in the history of programs. So why don’t we just shut up and ride the wave?

Believe us, we’ve thought about it. These are all questions that we’ve been asking ourselves here at 9Marks for almost a year now. And that’s not to mention that it feels like we’re picking on someone a lot bigger than us. Warren has sold millions of his books. We’ve sold around…well, let’s just say we’ve sold fewer of ours – considerably fewer.

While this was evidently written particularly to address Rick Warren, with a few words changed here and there it could fit any of the “big” ministries out there. Billy Graham, John Eldredge, Bruce Wilkinson – any of these men and so many others have had their books and teachings explode in popularity and impact believers across all denominational boundaries. In many cases their teachings have even impacted unbelievers, changing perceptions of what the Gospel is and what their responsibility towards God is. These people have a very wide reach and have made a significant impact on the Christian landscape. As such they should not be surprised to find their ministries coming under ever-closer scrutiny from inside and outside the church.

The introduction continues:

First of all, let us affirm that we love and respect Rick Warren as a Christian brother, and we consider him a genuine comrade in pastoral ministry. His heart for evangelism is second to none. His passion to see people reached for Christ is pulsating, contagious, and quite frankly, convicting. His sincerity is unquestioned, and his apparent success is unparalleled. And we agree with Warren on the fundamentals of the faith. In fact, one of our primary concerns in releasing these reviews has been that we’ll be misperceived as turning our guns on our own guys if we say anything corrective. We’re not shooting at our comrade in arms here. Our intent is constructive, not destructive.

This is a paragraph that probably cannot apply to every situation. I cannot know for certain whether anyone else is a believer. The important point of this paragraph as we extend it to other situations, is that the person whose ministry is being called into question seems to hold many Christian beliefs and seems to be sincere in his desire to better the church. But now we get to the heart of the matter:

It is precisely the broad-based popularity of the Purpose Driven model that piques our curiosity. If so many churches are picking up the ball and running with it, shouldn’t we at least be concerned to figure out if they’re heading towards the right end zone? Our concern is not borne from jealousy of Warren’s success. Rather, it’s borne from jealousy for the church’s health. We want to help the church think biblically about who she is and how she works, and evaluate the Purpose Driven model in light of the biblical data.

We’ve made every effort to tread carefully. Several recognized leaders of the Reformed evangelical community have critically evaluated these reviews and given constructive feedback. We sent all three to Rick Warren himself for review, but due to the busyness of his schedule, he was understandably unable to give them attention, but graciously encouraged us to post them anyway. So, with all those caveats and disclaimers on the table, we’d invite you to think with us for a little while about the Purpose Driven works of Rick Warren. “Examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good” (1Thess 5:21).

We see that the short version of IX Marks’ answer as to why they would critically examine Purpose Driven principles is because of its wide acceptance in Christian circles. Their chief concern is with the health of the church, and obviously underlying that, is a concern for God’s glory. Jealousy for the health of the church is a noble goal and is an attitude every Christian should seek to foster. If the church was so important that Jesus died for her, it stands to reason that we should be quick to run to her defense. Any teaching that is as wide-reaching as Purpose Driven principles, Wild at Heart, Prayer of Jabez (and I could go on and on) demands close analysis, particularly by those God has especially equipped to do this. I especially appreciated IX Marks’ willingness to send their reviews to Warren for his consideration before posting them. It is unfortunate that he was unable to read them as I would have been interested to read his response. I am reminded of what Joh Calvin once said. “A dog barks when his master is attacked. I would be a coward if I saw that God’s Truth was attacked and yet would remain silent.”

In this situation I believe IX Marks Ministries has modeled a very biblical and inoffensive method of dealing with tough issues within the body of Christ. If people are offended or upset at what they have written, it will be based on their comparison of the teachings they are examining with Scripture and not on their format or methodology. And that is exactly as it should be. The men of IX Marks have shown love and grace and have gone out of their way to show that their concerns are not petty, but are rooted in a love for our Lord and a concern for His glory. Thus I hold this as a wonderful example of criticism done right.

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