Pros: Well organized, Thought provoking, Easy to read and understand
Cons: Some of the author's doctrines are questionable, Some concepts are over simplified
Rick Warren's best seller, The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here For?, was written primarily to encourage Christians in their spiritual journey. If read from any other perspective, it is likely to be misunderstood, and a disappointing experience.
Warren is the founding pastor of a mega church in the Los Angeles area that was founded on principles of his previous best seller, The Purpose Driven Church. Warren reveals his premise for this book in the first paragraph:
It's not about you. The purpose of your life is far greater than your own personal fulfillment, your peace of mind, or even your happiness. It's far greater than your family, your career, or even your wildest dreams and ambitions. If you want to know why you were placed on this planet, you must begin with God. You were born by his purpose and for his purpose.
If you have difficulty accepting that premise, reading the next 319 pages will be an exercise in futility.
Warren divides his book into 40 chapters, that are designed to be read over a 40 day period. Each chapter has points to ponder, a bible verse to remember, and a question to consider. By dividing the book into 40 chapters for a 40 day period, Warren encourages his reader to reflect on the principles in each chapter before going on to the next. The book is further divided into the 5 Purposes he identifies, for which Christians are created; worship, fellowship, discipleship, mission, and evangelism. Each chapter is filled with reference to paraphrased scripture from a variety of biblical translations. There is an appendix with discussion questions from each chapter, additional resources including a journal, video, and small group curriculum, a discussion and list of the translations used for scripture, and footnotes.
The 5 Purposes for which Christians were created are broken down as follows:
Worship-We were planned for God's pleasure
Fellowship-We were formed to be a part of God's family
Discipleship-We were created to become like Christ
Mission-We were shaped for God's service
Evangelism-We were made to tell others about Christ
Each of the 5 sections of this book are based on biblical principles which are not new to people who are practicing Christians. The concepts are presented in a thought provoking manner, that are meant to re-focus the reader's thinking about his or her relationship to God and responsibility to the outside world. It's hard to argue with Warren's content, since almost every concept is taken directly from scripture. However, there are some areas in which Warren's doctrine conflicts with mine, since he comes from an ultra- conservative Baptist background.
For example, Warren states: You are not an accident. Even before the universe was created, God had you in mind, and he planned you for his purposes. The purposes will extend far beyond the few years you will spend on earth. You were made to last forever. He goes on to state that the purpose for which we were created was pre-ordained even before we were born.
These principles are awfully close to the doctrine of predestination, which has been a conflict among different religious denominations for centuries. I personally, have always had difficulty reconciling the concept of predestination with free will, and felt uncomfortable with Warren's presentation of this concept as if it were factual.
Warren also states that Life on earth is just a dress rehearsal before the real production, in other words, we are created for eternity. This seems to suggest that earthly life has little meaning. According to him, our primary purpose in everyday life should be directed toward preparing for eternity. While I agree that Christians, myself included, often get distracted by the demands of every day life and fail to spend adequate time in fellowship with God, I believe that there needs to be a healthy balance between worldly and spiritual pursuits.
The other primary quibble I have with this book is that Warren uses so many different biblical translations that the scripture winds up being diluted, and loses much of it's power. I would have been more satisfied if he used one or two modern translations instead of the constant paraphrasing, some of which sounds like it comes straight out of The Living Bible, which has been maligned by many as the Reader's Digest condensed version.
The Purpose Driven Life: What On Earth Am I Here For? is a well- organized, easy to read, practical, guide that explores the basic concepts of Christianity, with an emphasis on encouraging Christians in their spiritual journey, centered around Warren's 5 cornerstones of a purpose driven life; worship, fellowship, discipleship, mission, and evangelism. While I don't completely agree with Warren on some of his doctrinal issues, I have to admit that this book did help crystallize certain concepts for me, and it also convicted me of certain areas in my Christian walk that need to be strengthened, especially in the area of discipleship. This area basically deals with the developing the character of Christ described, in part, in the scripture as the fruit of the spirit, the Apostle Paul's famous chapter on love, 1 Corinthians 13, and the beatitudes. Warren states that God's ultimate goal for our life on earth is not comfort, but character development. He wants us to grow up spiritually so that our character is transformed into Christlikeness. Although this sounds like a daunting challenge, he explains that discipleship is a life-long process, and none of us can expect to be transformed overnight. Warren presents additional challenges in the areas of mission and evangelism, which are two of the areas with which many Christians seem to have the most difficulty. However, he tries to provide alternative approaches such as group projects and subliminal methods as opposed to witnessing.
Our church was involved in a corporate study of this book during a recent 40 day period. I can't truthfully say that I see immediate results in our congregation. However, for the most part it is a relatively small church made up of mostly older, conservative Methodists who are not known for jumping on bandwagons. Many people in the church, however, have indicated that this book has renewed their faith, and inspired them to a deeper relationship with God. While at this point, I can't say I'm driven by one specific all-encompassing purpose, I can say that Warren's book has given me food for thought on the subject, and I plan to continue to review this book periodically, and refine certain areas of my Christian life. I guess that's the real measure of the success of this book for me.