Rick Warren - The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here For

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A Purpose Driven Life – God’s Plan for you?

Jun 27, 2006
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Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Chapters 2,15 – 20, 25 – 29, 31, 32, 35

Cons:The book made me think God invented Himself just for me!

The Bottom Line: Rick Warren presents a man-centered, pragmatic view and calls it Christianity. It is way off base.


Rick Warren’s book appears to fill a significant gap, purporting to answer a legitimate question, “What on Earth am I here for?” I whole-heartedly endorse several chapters in this book (2,15 – 20, 25 – 29, 31, 32, 35), but must confess at the out-set that I believe this book has enough wrong with it to warrant careful handling. I have tried to focus on what I consider serious concerns with this book, dropping from this review over 5 pages of notes in the effort to not pick nits – at which I’m told I am quite good. As with everything, God’s Word is the authority.

One question I ponder every time a “Christian” book hits the bestseller list: “What in this book appeals to the sinful flesh?” No thinking person can honestly believe that such a high-sales book focuses on the requirements for discipleship – die to self. This country does not have enough Biblical disciples to account for this many book sales.

Let’s start out with the title, “The Purpose Driven Life”. Are we who claim Christ as King supposed to be driven? Throughout scripture, God drives His enemies – this word brings the connotation of coercion, disdain. This does not describe how God herds His people, whom He calls sheep. Opposed to cattlemen, shepherds lead their flocks. And God leads His people, just as a shepherd; He does not drive us.

In Exodus 6:1, God tells Israel that Pharaoh would drive them out with a hard heart. A few verses later, Exodus 6:8, God tells the children of Israel He will bring (to carry or pull in) them to the Promised Land. You may recall that God led the nation of Israel during their 40 years in the wilderness – by day with a pillar of cloud and by night with a pillar of fire. This contrast is repeated through many books in the Bible – none of which is accident or coincidence.

I submit that Christians should be purposeful and Spirit led, not purpose driven. I do not think this is merely semantics – there is too much clarity and consistency in scripture on this point.

Warren declares (page 9) “life’s most important question” to be, “What on earth am I here for?” Is this the most important question of life? Might scripture suggest, “Who is God?” may be more important? He goes on to declare that after you finish his book, “you will know God’s purpose for you … “ This strikes me as presumptive arrogance on Warren’s part: how can he know each reader will know God’s purpose at the completion of his book?

Still on page 9, Warren tells us, “Whenever God wanted to prepare someone for his purposes, he took forty days.” Here’s that smug assurance again, declaring this and providing no reference. Not only is this statement wrong (how long did God take to prepare Saul to become Paul? More than three years.), it is a blatantly false statement that lends numerology-based “credibility” to his premise. 40 is a significant number used myriad places in scripture – but God is not tied to numbers and no man should try to define God in ways and methods He has not revealed to us in His Word. And it was 40 YEARS, not days, that Moses and company wondered in the wilderness – and this was after Moses had spent 40 YEARS, not days, in the desert being “prepared for God’s purposes”. Note that on page 222, Warren runs down several examples of God taking long periods of time to prepare certain people. He covers himself by saying these incidents are “character building” rather than “preparing for God’s purpose.” Confused?

Warren tells us (pg 10), “Jesus was empowered by 40 days in the wilderness.” Empowered? Scripture says He was tested, severely – and was ministered to by angels after Satan left Him. The number of days has significance, no doubt, to Biblically literate Jews, but is not a formula that God relies upon to fulfill His plans. Warren prophecies that the reader will be transformed by the 40 days he plans for us in his book. A period of time never transforms a person – only God can do that and He is not tied to calendars or clocks.

Why is Rick Warren driven to make this egregious error? Why does he manipulate his source information to reinforce what can only properly be called numerology?

In closing out his introduction, Rick Warren sounds more like Benny Hinn than a disciple of Jesus: He tells us that he has special insight into our lives (pg 12), “I know all the great things that are going to happen to you.” Christian – are you reading this book? Paul tells us to test everything, hold to that which is true (1 Thess 5:21) and Christ tells us the greatest commandment is to love the Lord our God with our whole heart, soul, and mind. Are you loving Him with your mind?

Page 20, “He has clearly revealed his five purposes for our lives through the Bible.” Warren gives no evidence that there are only 5 purposes, or that God hasn’t clearly revealed only 2 purposes. Does Rick Warren have special insight? He then quotes (pg 20) from “the Message” and calls that book, “the Bible”. Throughout his book, Warren refers to this human paraphrase (which is oft quite excellent and occasionally poor, but never is it scripture) as God’s Word.

Page 27, “Everyone’s life is driven by something.” While any reasonable person would look around America and agree that many people are driven by something, who – apart from God – can say everyone is driven? Indeed, I submit that disciples of Christ, successfully walking in the Spirit, are not driven by anything but are led by the Holy Spirit.

On page 31, Warren declares another absolute without providing any reference: “Purpose-driven living leads to a simpler lifestyle and a saner schedule.” What American doesn’t want a simpler life and a saner schedule? But we must ask, is having a purpose-driven life God’s way to achieve this or does being driven cause stress and anxiety? God tells us to fix our eye on Christ.

Warren tells us on page 33, “Purpose always produces passion.” First, passion is not God’s priority – obedience is. Second, my job has been a cogent example of having purpose – both for the company and as a means of supporting my family – but it has often failed to produce passion. I can agree that many good, Godly works would be left undone if we were bereft of passion; and that many a Godly purpose can produce passion. But not always, and that isn’t God’s purpose.

Page 34, A time worn scenario, wherein God asks you “What did you do with my Son, Jesus Christ?” While this makes a good point – we should ponder this question – it doesn’t properly reflect God’s character nor His revelation of judgment day. God does not need to ask anyone this question and nobody will be asked it. Our names are either in the Book of Life or they are not. God knows the list and it remains only to be revealed to those who find themselves before the White Throne of judgment (Rev 20:12 – 15).

Page 37, Warren states, “If you learn to love and trust God’s Son, Jesus, you will be invited to spend the rest of eternity with him.” This is a poor interpretation of scripture. Consider Acts 16:30 – 31, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.” Warren’s “learn to love and trust” describes the long-term process of sanctification, not salvation. We must be called (“invited”) by the Spirit of God before we can love or trust Christ.

Page 40, “The deeds of this life are the destiny of the next.” All saints of God agree that the focus on eternity is wise, but this sentence tells the reader that his works determine his salvation. Clearly, God’s Word tells us, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8 – 9). In case this isn’t clear enough, in Colossians 2:8 – 15 we are told that Christ is supreme, the Lamb of God - who made us alive when we were dead in our sins. Christ’s deeds – His work on the cross – determined our destiny. Without His sacrifice, our destiny – hell – was sealed. By His sacrifice, called by His Spirit, and given the faith to believe, we are saved from hell and sealed for all time in Christ.

Page 69, Warren tells us that in the days of Noah, “God couldn’t find anyone on earth interested in pleasing him …” Then he tells us, referring to Noah, “But there was one man who made God smile.” Now which is it? One of these statements, separated by one sentence, must be false. “Noah found favor in the sight of the Lord.” (Gen 6:8). We know Warren’s second statement is true – it’s validated in scripture – so we know his earlier statement is false. God knew of one man on Earth who pleased Him and He knew that man was Noah.

Warren tells us (pg 105) that we are lying when we tell someone, “I’ll be there in spirit.” He claims we can only be where our physical body is. Certainly, his point about serving God with our bodies is on target, but this assertion - again, with no reference – contradicts scripture! Ephesians 2:4 – 6 tells us that we who are in Christ are at this moment seated together with Christ in heaven. This is truth – we are present in spirit where we are not present in body. When you tell a friend you will be there in spirit, this can be true if you are in prayer for that friend at that time.

Page 108, He quotes Floyd McClung, who mentions rebuking the devil as a method of seeking “spiritual feelings” (whatever those are). This is another bit of emotion baiting, used by radio personality Bob Larson, but not found in scripture. God may rebuke Satan, but man is told simply to resist him (James 4:7) as an act of humility before God. When man rebukes something, it evokes pride in him, not humility. By quoting McClung, Warren lends credence to the man and his quoted statement.

Regarding Chapter 21: Unity in and of itself is not a biblical goal for believers. Protecting our church will happen when we seek God’s Truth and strive to live as obedient children. I think Warren takes a reasonable goal – unity within the church – and makes that outcome more important than our personal pursuit of holiness. Too many churches focus on unity to the exclusion of reasoned discussion or biblical resolution of conflicts. Christians should never sacrifice truth or personal obedience to Christ for the sake of “unity”. Warren rightfully points out (pg 163) that reconciliation is God’s desire for us. Unity will be by-product of obedient living.

On page 162, Warren points out that we are not perfect, that Christians still hurt one another. But he calls Christians sinners, because we sin. God recognizes that His children sin, but He refers to His children as “saints”, and calls the unredeemed “sinners”. (Read Romans 1:1 – 7 and Romans 5:8 for an example.) It is important for us to see ourselves as God describes us.

On page 164, Warren tells the reader, “When you criticize what another believer is doing in faith and from sincere conviction, you are interfering with God’s business.” Warren focuses on two totally subjective measures (faith & conviction) and omits the one objective measure – is the other believer’s behavior in concert with or contradictory to God’s Word? Doing something wrong with sincere conviction and faith is meaningless and dangerous guidance. Many people are sincerely wrong about many things – abortion, homosexuality, divorce. They have faith in themselves – not God. Faith itself is not adequate nor is it a validation of trust in God. For it is the object of your faith, not your faith, that is significant. That’s why just a little is sufficient.

If you have a friend who trusts Christ but is sincerely pursuing that which is wrong, you need to know that God commands you to get involved (Galatians 6:1 – 2). Let us recall God’s encouragement from Proverbs, “Open rebuke is better than secret love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.” (Proverbs 27:5 – 6)

On page 166, Warren tells us that Pastors are “given the impossible task of trying to make everyone happy, which even Jesus could not do!” First, any pastor who has this task has taken it upon himself. It’s not his job, it’s not anyone’s job. Jesus did not even try to make everyone happy. He sought to please only one person – His Father in heaven. Why does Warren tell us this, to make us feel sorry for our pastors – or to think Christ can fall short at something?

Warren promotes his church’s use of membership covenants as a tool that facilitates unity (page 167). Who, at Saddleback, has the purpose of holding the clergy accountable? A church can be unified and failing to follow Christ. The record cited by Warren (Saddleback “has never had a conflict that split the fellowship.”) could reflect a.) The power of God in keeping everyone humble, b.) Conflict not worth splitting over, or c.) Conflict that is unresolved and hidden. We are not told if people have left Saddleback as a result of conflict. Check out the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches (http://www.ufmcc.com/) to see unity in apostasy.

Page 174, “Obedience unlocks God’s power.” Every author who assigns human characteristics to God that are not revealed in scripture gets himself in trouble. Where does Warren get the notion that God is dependent on sinful man’s obedience to “unlock” His power? When the children of Israel disobeyed God, He released His power and disciplined them. When Jonah disobeyed God, He displayed His power by commanding a great fish to change Jonah’s course. God alone chooses when, where, and how to use His power and no man can lock it up or control it . In the example he cites, Warren completely misrepresents God. The Lord was not held back from stopping the river Jordan until the Israeli leaders stepped out as commended. He chose to hold back until that act of faith for His glory and the good of Israel. He chose – He was not held back nor was He released by the people He chose.

On page 175, we are told, “God waits for you to act first.” Why can he not qualify this - “Often, God waits for you to act first.”? Again, he provides no reference and the Bible gives examples of God taking the initiative – most importantly, in the act of salvation (John 6:44). We would all go to hell if God waited for us to “act first” and seek Him.

Page 177, “Much confusion in the Christian life comes from ignoring the simple truth that God is more interested in building your character than he is anything else.” Where did Warren find this “simple truth”? This makes me think, “It is all about me!” But we know Rick was right on page 17 when he said otherwise. I think the Bible tells us God desires to be glorified more than He desires anything else – God’s glory is what Jesus was focused on (John chapters 14 & 16, & 17) and it is reflected in the first two commandments (Exodus 20:1 – 6). And bringing glory to God is what Christ tells us to do (Matthew 5:16). It is the one thing He won’t share.

Page 257, “God determines your greatness by how many people you serve, not how many serve you.” What is this and where did it come from? Warren provides no reference and I wonder if this perspective is what drives him to build the membership at Saddleback. I think God judges our “greatness” (I would choose “worth”) by how we serve Him and others, not how many people we serve. The old widow in Mark 12:41 – 44 didn’t serve any people, yet Christ put high value on her. It is our heart motive, not our earthly influence, which matters to Him.

We are told (pg 282) that “Introducing people to God!” is the mission of the church. (Again, I’m confused: we have one mission but five purposes?) Jesus gave us what we call “the Great Commission” (Matthew 28:18 – 20), wherein we are told to “make disciples” – not “introduce people to God.” One of the major problems in the church today is that we have too many Christians who have been introduced to God and too few disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ!

“God has never made a person he didn’t love.” (pg 294). There is no scriptural reference for this belief, yet Paul reminds us in Romans 9:7 – 13 that God hated Esau, even before he was born. Paul continues to explain how God chooses to treat people as it suits Him in Romans 9:14 – 24, making it clear that some folk are created by God as objects of His wrath. But let no man think he knows the mind of Almighty God on the specifics of this matter. Check out Proverbs 16:4

My apologies for the length of this examination of Rick Warren’s book, but I could not see clear to omit anything above. I pray God alone speaks to our hearts through His Spirit and His Word to grant us wisdom to know and love Him all the more, in truth and in humility.


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