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A Doctrinal Critique of Rick Warren’s book ‘The Purpose Driven Life’

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WHAT is a ‘purpose driven life’, and does it matter?
The TRUE Purpose of Our Lives can be summed up by several Scriptures, which reiterate the same message.
The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: “fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 —NAU).

[You would be better off reading along with the Bible, Tozer's The Knowledge of the Holy, Edwards' The Experience That Counts , Ryle's Aspects of Holiness, in lieu of The Purpose Driven Life. -Ed]

A Doctrinal Critique of Rick Warren’s book ‘The Purpose Driven Life’

WHAT is a ‘purpose driven life’, and does it matter?
There are certainly plenty of motivational speakers in the secular world, not to mention the gurus (and the like) in the pseudo-spiritual arena; all of whom try to “educate” us to finding our purpose in life; be it to find success, happiness, wealth etc.
But does God, i.e. the True God — the God of the Bible, have a purpose for every man, woman, and child on the earth?

Immediately, many may jump up and shout, “Yes — to be saved”; but the question EXCLUDES this point.
Does God have a purpose for every John and Jane Doe?
If so, can a book (apart from the Bible, or a tract of the Gospel) be written to help?
Can “Rick Warren guide you through a personal 40-day spiritual journey” so that you can find your purpose in life?
Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in California, USA, has written the book, The Purpose Driven Life.
The book is described with phrases (on the front and back cover of this book) such as, “What on earth am I here for?”,
“A groundbreaking manifesto on the meaning of life”,
“The Purpose-Driven Life is a blueprint for Christian living in the 21st century — a lifestyle based on God’s eternal purposes, not cultural values”.
Is this book truly “based on God’s eternal purposes”?
Will it be as applicable, useful or relevant to the persecuted church in China, India, Sudan — where we find today’s Christian martyrs — or is it a “nice” book for the “social” Christians of America, England, Australia and other affiuent/western nations?
Is this book about Spiritual Journey or Self-Satisfaction?
Though this article will identify, from a Christian perspective, what a purpose driven life is — the PURPOSE of this article is to evaluate the content of Rick Warren’s book since he desires to GUIDE us on a “Spiritual Journey”. If a ‘Swami’, a ‘Guru’ or the ‘Dalai Lama’ wrote an equivalent book, we, as Christians would reject it.
Let us not neglect to evaluate a book with equally high “spiritual” claims simply because it is written by a “pastor”.
In fact, this is what Jesus instructs us to do.
“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks among the seven golden lamp stands, says this: ‘I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; and you have perseverance and have endured for My name’s sake, and have not grown weary” (Revelation 2:1-3 — NAU).1
Please note that though numerous other scriptures, which talk about teachers, apostles and prophets (false or otherwise), can be referenced, this scripture emphasises that the evaluation of “ministers” and their doctrines is not a bad thing.
In fact it is a very good thing!
What God Desires
The TRUE Purpose of Our Lives can be summed up by several Scriptures, which reiterate the same message.
The conclusion, when all has been heard, is:
“fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 —NAU).

So Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects. For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, ‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.’ Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’ Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man. Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:22-31 —NAU).
A ‘spiritual journey’ this book may turn out to be, but what is the destination of this journey, one ordained by God or Rick Warren?

Furthermore, God’s purpose for our lives, as individuals, is expressed very succinctly in Paul’s epistles.
He gives directives for mothers, fathers and children; for slaves and free men.
We are to honour God by our actions.
This I say knowing that we all fail and despite this we can still run to God and seek forgiveness.
A Classic
The back cover of The Purpose Driven Life says, “A groundbreaking manifesto on the meaning of life” and makes the claim,
“This is a book of hope and challenge that you will read and re-read, and it will be a classic treasured by generations to come.
” A concluding remark from Bruce Wilkerson (The Prayer of Jabez) says, “…will set millions of people free to live the lives they were put on this planet to live.”
Classics are by such authors as John Owen (1616-1683), John Bunyan (1628-1688), Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), J.C. Ryle (1816-1900), A.W. Tozer (1897-1963) and Martin Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981).
It is presumptuous to ascribe to The Purpose Driven Life the notion of it being a classic when Rick Warren’s superficial gospel — where God just wants to be your “friend” — is a gross insult to the Holiness and Righteousness of God.
I wish it were compulsory for Christians to read, not just the Bible, but also Tozer’s The Knowledge of the Holy, Edwards’ The Experience That Counts and Ryle’s Aspects of Holiness (abridged), to name a few.
Rick Warren's book pales significantly even with just a cursory reading of these true classics.
Translations & Paraphrases
Appendix 3, of Rick Warren’s book, The Purpose Driven Life, is titled, Why Use So Many Translations?
In it he says,
I have intentionally varied the Bible translations used for two important reasons.
First, no matter how wonderful a translation is, it has limitations. … Obviously, nuances and shades of meaning can be missed, so it is always helpful to compare translations.
Second, and even more important, is the fact that we often miss the full impact of familiar Bible verses, not because of poor translating, but simply because they have become so familiar!
We think we know what a verse says because we have read it or heard it so many times. Then when we find it quoted in a book, we skim over it and miss the full meaning.
Therefore I have deliberately used paraphrases in order to help you see God’s truth in new fresh ways. English-speaking people should thank God that we have so many different versions to use for devotional reading.
Also, since the verse divisions and number were not included in the Bible until 1560 AD, I haven’t always quoted the entire verse, but rather focused on the phrase that was appropriate.
My model for this is Jesus and how he, and the apostles, quoted the Old Testament. They often just quoted a phrase to make a point.

— Appendix 3, The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren.
In the academic, journalistic and business worlds, articles, theses and letters are scrutinised for accuracy.
Though a person may quote another party, the misrepresentation of that party through misquoting (or non-referencing of quotes) can result in academic or business repercussions and even dismissal. I think it unlikely that a true Christian would accuse Jesus or the apostles of misrepresentation through partial quotation of verses of the Old Testament.
Therefore, though it may be a valid practice, this practice is ONLY acceptable through its correct contextual, and/or prophetic, use and application.
The question becomes, “Does Rick Warren quote the Bible accurately, or does he utilise “out of context” verses to justify his doctrine?”
Furthermore, we must understand that a paraphrase is NOT a translation. A paraphrase is a rewording of another piece of work (in this case the Bible) to convey the “gist” or general intention of the author.
A translation2, on-the-other-hand, is a rewriting of a piece of work, from one language into another language utilising the most comparable words and grammar so as to not lose the accuracy of the words themselves or the meaning of the author.
A Matter of Style
Rather than listing Bible References (book, chapter, verse and translation) with Bible quotations on the relevant page, The Purpose Driven Life uses a reference number.
What this means is that you must go to the Notes section of the book to determine the source of the quote. Subsequently, people will tend to read the scripture quotations as if they are just part of the book.
They will not lookup the references, nor will they validate the scriptures in their own Bibles.
I propose that this was Rick Warren’s intention and that of intentional deception.
Though the practice of using reference numbers (and/or using footnotes) is acceptable for academic and business purposes, the utilisation of this form of referencing, of scripture verses, for general readers is a concern — especially when Rick Warren quotes from numerous translations and paraphrases, and sometimes only partially quotes a verse.
In regard to his practice of the quotation of phrases (or parts of verses), Rick Warren says, “My model for this is Jesus and how he and the apostles quoted the Old Testament.
They often just quoted a phrase to make a point.” (Appendix 3, The Purpose Driven Life).
Bible chapter and verse numberings were created 1500 years after Jesus’ earthly ministry, so one cannot (in effect) say, “Jesus didn’t always quote the entire verse, so I won’t”.
A “verse” as we know it — based upon our numbering sequence — did not exist during the days of Jesus’ earthly ministry, so how could Jesus quote an “entire” verse.
However, the practice of quoting Old Testament passages during the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry alluded to the ENTIRE book or incident/prophecy being quoted — and the practice of justifying what was quoted.
Even during the ministry of Paul, the Bereans examined, “the scriptures daily to see whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11). They didn’t examine the scriptures to see if the quotation merely existed, they examined the scriptures to see if those things were SO.
“SO” being the Greek word “houtos” (Strong’s 3779) meaning “in this way” and translated in the NIV as “TRUE”.
Surely any work, article or treatise, and I do not exclude any of my own works, should be checked by those who read it — and the accuracy of its content validated.
It is pertinent to observe the way in which Warren swaps between literal translations and paraphrases throughout his book.
Your own examination of The Purpose Driven Life (if you have a copy) with a good translation of the Bible — will settle the matter for you, of why Rick Warren truly uses so many ‘translations’.
You will be left with NO doubt that Rick Warren utilises fifteen different translations/paraphrases for one simple reason: to find a verse which is rendered in a way, such that it conforms to his doctrine and theology — and not the other way round.
Getting the most from this book
In his introduction A Journey with Purpose — Getting the Most from This Book, Warren says,
• A Point to Ponder.
This is a nugget of truth that summarises a principle of purpose-driven living that you can refiect on throughout your day.
Paul told Timothy, “Refiect on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you insight into all this”.
Paul’s remark to Timothy is from 2 Timothy 2:7 (Rick Warren references the NIV).
Let us look at the context of this verse and see if it is a directive that is applicable to us, and the reading of Rick Warren’s book. “You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.
The things, which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.
Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier.
Also if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not win the prize unless he competes according to the rules.
The hard-working farmer ought to be the first to receive his share of the crops.
Consider what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything”
(2 Timothy 2:1-7 —NAU).
Paul’s directive to Timothy is in regard to considering what Paul had previously said. It follows the words, which identify that you must be faithful to God and His work, the end result of which is to receive your reward, from God. Faithfulness, according to Paul’s examples, includes being disciplined or focused on Christ — rather than this world, to run OUR race according to God’s rules (not our own), and to be diligent servants so that we are rewarded accordingly. In this light, having considered these points, “the Lord will give you understanding in everything”. Though we can certainly apply a lot of these principles to the Christian life in general, is Paul’s “the Lord will give you understanding in everything” — which was written in a letter to Timothy (whom Paul regarded as a minister of the Gospel) applicable, in general, to all Christians? I have to say, “No”.
Considering that the Holy Spirit will guide us into all truth (John 16:13), we have a limited basis for this understanding.
“But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. “He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you” (John 16:13-14).
If we compare this verse with what Peter the apostle says about Paul — and the WISDOM GIVEN HIM — we cannot assume or interpret Jesus’ statement (in John) as meaning that we will ALL be given “understanding in everything”.
But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.
Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless, and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction
(2 Peter 3:13-16).
If some are able to go “to their own destruction”, then we cannot apply Peter’s statement, or Paul’s statement to Timothy, or literally to ourselves, and it borders arrogance for Rick Warren to suggest it.
Furthermore, if we had such knowledge and/or wisdom, it would negate some of the “gifts of the Spirit”, which the Holy Spirit gives to whoever “HE WILLS” (1 Corinthians 12:11).
One thing to note is that Rick Warren, at least in the early chapters, seems to use literal translations (KJV, NKJV, NAU) rather than paraphrases (The Message, TLB etc) to justify [the] teaching [of his] doctrine, but when it comes to the doctrine itself he emphasizes paraphrases.
Later we will evaluate several chapters from Rick Warren’s book.
But, first things first, even the introduction to The Purpose Driven Life fails under examination.
Introduction: a journey with purpose
In his introduction Rick Warren encourages us to spend 40 days (out of an average life’s 25,550 days) to “figure out what God wants you to do with the rest of them”. In expounding why 40 days is significant, he says,
The Bible is clear that God considers 40 days a spiritually significant time period. Whenever God wanted to prepare someone for his purposes, he took 40 days:The next 40 days will transform your life.
--The Purpose Driven Life, p.10-11,

Forty and not ‘40 days’ is the significant factor.
Forty is a number, which means (in essence) ‘suitable for the purpose’ and, when describing a period of time, it usually represents a period of ‘trial’ and/or ‘testing’.
This period of time is usually God ordained — not Rick Warren ordained.
No person can make a guarantee that reading his/her book over the next 40 days will “transform your life”.
That is presumption and egotism.
God’s time period of “forty” can produce both positive and negative outcomes.
It identifies those who are for God versus those who are against Him, or it can be a period of judgement by God.

“Noah’s life was transformed by 40 days of rain.”
Noah’s life was transformed BEFORE the rain came.
God says that he “found favour in the eyes of the LORD…
Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his time; Noah walked with God” (Genesis 6:8-9). The WORLD was transformed by 40 days and 40 nights — the people of Noah’s generation were transformed: from life to death, i.e. a judgement.

“Moses was transformed by 40 days on Mount Sinai.”
Moses’ transformation started from his very first encounter with God.
But while Moses was 40 days on Mount Sinai, the people below were tested and tried and finally identified, those who TRULY followed God, and His servant Moses, and those who did not.
Furthermore, the Israelites wandered the desert for 40 years.
This was a period of judgement where all those who rebelled in some fashion against God would die before they entered the Promised Land, and not forgetting that the “transformed” Moses himself came under God’s judgement for smiting the rock a second time at Horeb (Ex 17:6; Num 20:8-12).

“The spies were transformed by 40 days in the Promised Land.”
Yes, the spies were transformed by 40 days in the Promised Land, some were transformed for the better (i.e. Caleb and Joshua), but the others were transformed for the worse.

“David was transformed by Goliath’s 40-day challenge.”
David was NOT transformed by Goliath’s 40-day challenge, the Philistines were.
They became arrogant in their champion’s boasts, and Israel became fearful and weak due to those boasts.
David was NOT even there, until his father sent him to take food to his brothers (1 Sam 17:17).
We must note that David was already transformed.
Samuel had anointed him and “the Spirit of the LORD came mightily upon David from that day forward” (1 Samuel 16:13).
The 40-day challenge showed Israel’s lack of faith in God.

“Elijah was transformed when God gave him 40 days of strength from a single meal.”
Elijah was NOT transformed by the single meal; and on that point it was two meals not one (1 Kings 19:1-8), but was strengthened for his journey to Horeb, the Mountain of the Lord. Elijah was NO more confident after his 40-day journey than before it, compare what Elijah says in verse 4 with verses 9 and 14 (1 Kings 19).
“The entire city of Nineveh was transformed when God gave the people 40 days to change.”
Yes, Nineveh was changed, but Jonah was not.
God ordered the Ninevites to repent, and they did.
Jonah, on the other hand, was sulking and offended that they were not destroyed.
The incident in the Book of Jonah refiects as much (if not more) on Jonah than it does on the Ninevites.
Jonah initially refused to go to Nineveh, and then when he did, he was not content doing the Lord’s work. *3

“Jesus was empowered by 40 days in the wilderness.”
Was Jesus “empowered” by 40 days in the wilderness, or was He “empowered” with the Holy Spirit? “
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.
And after He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He then became hungry.
And the tempter came and said to Him, ‘If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread’” (Matthew 4:1-3).
After 40 days of fasting the [first] temptation was food.

“The disciples were transformed by 40 days with Jesus after his resurrection.”
When were the disciples “transformed”?
“To these He also presented Himself alive after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3).
The disciples’ ultimate transformation came a week after the 40 days. “When the day of Pentecost had come … they were all filled with the Holy Spirit…” (Acts 2:1-4).

Rick Warren then goes on to say,
...I strongly urge you to read only one chapter a day, so you will have time to think about the implications for your life…
Don't just read this book.
Interact with it.
Underline it.
Write your own thoughts in the margins.
Make it your book.
Personalize it!
The books that have helped me the most are the ones that I reacted to, not just read.
--The Purpose Driven Life, p. 10

If you have a copy of Rick Warren’s book I recommend that you do what he suggests here.
Against every reference number, which does not have the actual scripture verse noted, write the book, chapter and verse reference and the translation that Rick Warren uses.
Make notes about the context that Rick Warren implies, versus the context of the actual scripture.
Think about the examples above concerning “40 days”.
The margins in Warren’s book are not big enough to write what I wrote, but I think the point is made.
Rick Warren's comments are superficial.
Did they glorify the Word of God, or God’s judgements?
Or did they glorify Rick Warren’s “40-day spiritual journey” The Purpose Driven Life?

If you have a copy of Rick Warren's The Purpose Driven Life, and you read it over forty days then in some way you may be changed; and it will be a “Spiritual Journey”; for having read this book — in the light of the CONTEXT of the WORD OF GOD — will you accept what Rick Warren says, or reject it?

It will be a real spiritual-journey only if prayer and the Word of God are your guide, for then the Holy Spirit has a basis to guide you into the Truth of God’s Word and away from the error that Mr Warren promotes.
Finally, I question how “Rick Warren can guide” anyone “through a personal 40-day spiritual journey” when:

What about the “pastors” who are recommending and encouraging their congregations to get wrapped up in “40-days of purpose”, how is it that Rick Warren’s examples failed to ‘run up a red fiag’ with them?
And He also spoke a parable to them: “A blind man cannot guide a blind man, can he?
Will they not both fall into a pit?

A pupil is not above his teacher; but everyone, after he has been fully trained, will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:39-40 —NAU).
A ‘Spiritual Journey’ this book may turn out to be, but what is the destination of this journey, one ordained by God or Rick Warren?

And who will Rick Warren’s “students” end up being like, Rick Warren or Jesus Christ?

1 NAU – New American Standard, Updated 1995.
2 By translation I mean a “literal translation” and not those translations which utilise dynamic/functional equivalence which gives “us a translation plus a commentary, but we have no way of knowing where translation ends and the translation committee’s commentary begins”. (Pg 8, Bible Translation Differences, Leland Ryken.)
3 The Book of Jonah is four chapters in length.
Jonah’s preaching and the Ninevite’s reaction to Jonah’s preaching is contained in chapter 3.
The other three chapters deal with Jonah and his relationship to God and God’s command for Jonah to preach at Ninevah.

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Appeared in Issue CETF NR329 2005
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