Last night on “Newsnight” CNN featured The Purpose Driven Life, giving the book perhaps thirty or forty minutes of coverage. The book has enjoyed a resurgence of interest in the past few days because of the Brian Nichols case. Ashley Smith, the woman Nichols held hostage while he was a fugitive, read to him from The Purpose Driven Life. Since the press heard of that, the book has enjoyed plenty of press coverage.
As I mentioned previously, CNN contacted me about this story and I could sense that they were looking for miracle stories to share with their audience. This is what I wrote a few days ago, “They [CNN] were interested in knowing my views on the book, and in particular, if it had changed my life. I felt like I was letting the producer down when I told her that it did not. She asked how many people I knew who had read the book and how many had had their lives changed by it. I answered that I knew hundreds who had read the book but none had seen radical transformations in their lives, letting her down even further.”
In this case my feelings were correct – the producers were seeking stories of radical transformation, and stories where the credit would go directly to the book. Near the beginning of the broadcast Paula Zahn said that they were not interested in promoting the book but in examining the phenomena behind it. To do this they featured several cases of this book having a significant impact in the lives of readers. They interviewed a woman who read the book to her dying father and credits it with giving him peace and purpose in his last days. They spoke with a man who had a terrible pornography addiction, but who was able to break the addiction after reading the book. They interviewed prisoners who have studied the book and even a prison warden who credits the book with giving them a more peaceful prison.
Before I go further, allow me to say that I honestly think these are all wonderful stories and I am glad to hear that the book has been used in these ways. But any believer must admit that this does not prove the rightness or wrongness of the book. Results are left to God and must be taken separately from the book’s content.
There was one short section in the broadcast where they mentioned that not everyone believes in this book. The only person they spoke to in this regard was John MacArthur. MacArthur questioned the validity of the book’s message that God wants me to be who I am and that He will use me on my terms. Interspersed with his comments, CNN cut to other people comparing MacArthur’s ministry with Warren’s, stating that Warren’s is twice as large and stating in no uncertain terms that other pastors are merely jealous of the Purpose Driven phenomena. They even insinuated that MacArthur is one of “those fundamentalists” who believies in a stern God and played a clip of him saying “We’re going to see about devastation, wars, judgments to come.” John MacArthur was presented as a jealous, petty man and CNN made no serious attempt to show that there are serious and biblical concerns with this book.
There were a few interesting comments that made me cringe. First, the reporters said that Purpose Driven Life is a book that makes religion simple. They said also that it is a tool that by-passes the Bible, kind of like passing up a fine meal to gobble down a hamburger and fries. They presented the book as being a means to living a better life without going to the Bible. And then when examining Warren’s use of paraphrases they spoke to a person within Purpose Driven Ministries who said that paraphrases bring the Bible to life.
But perhaps what is of even more concern is what was not stated. From this presentation, one could easily assume that purpose is the gospel and there was no mention of the power of God being the tool of transformation. Instead, this book was what transformed lives. There was no mention of sin or of Jesus or of anything even beginning to resemble the gospel message. The people the presentation featured were saved, transformed, given new life, when they found their purpose. I hope they found Jesus along the way.