The new year is upon us and it seems that the theological dust in the blogosphere has settled enough to take a close look at Rick Warren's sermon at the 2010 Desiring God conference hosted by John Piper. I will reiterate once again what I have stated in earlier posts that I love John Piper, I count him as a true minister of the Gospel, and am unable to express my debt of gratitude for the biblical illumination John Piper has poured into my life through his sermons and books. His teaching has been a major factor in elevating me above the mire of the moralistic and therapeutic teaching that dominates mainstream evangelicalism these days.
With that thought in mind, I am absolutely shocked that John Piper would invite Rick Warren as a keynote speaker to the Desiring God conference. The lame man centered preaching that Piper rails against is propagated by men like Warren. In fact, if man centered seeker sensitive church growth methodology was an orchestra, then Rick Warren would be the conductor. No one has been given platforms like Warren in recent years to proclaim the Gospel. As a best selling author, as someone who spoke at the President's inauguration, as someone given one hour of prime time on the Fox Network each year, and as a major speaker at prominent "inter faith" events - Warren has continually perverted, distorted, diluted, and obscured the pure Christian Gospel. I don't have time to labor these claims further here but I have documented them and written extensively on them in many earlier posts which you can explore by clicking on either of the Rick Warren labels located beneath this post.
Many of us who have been elevated into a sense of awe and wonder over God's glory and sovereignty under the ministry of Dr Piper feel like he just dragged us back to the vomit that we gleefully abandoned. Is Piper a heretic for inviting Warren - no! Did Piper do a dumb thing - yes! Does this give Warren a dangerous legitimacy among the undiscerning who currently attend healthy churches with good Christ centered theology - yes! Does this impact negatively on the thousands of pastors who lost their pastorate over their refusal to embrace Warren's Purpose Driven philosophy (or Willow Creeks church growth strategies) - yes! Can this generate confusion over the normally clear lines of division between biblical theology and man-centered methodology - yes!
Warren has preached a lot of his purpose driven propaganda before Desiring God and most likely he will preach a lot more after it. And he is not alone in a landscape plagued by Schuller's, Hybels', and Osteen's. But this sermon can serve as a good litmus test for what is wrong with the message that these gurus proclaim. Warren could protest that he is nothing like Joel Osteen, and in one sense I would agree, but in another sense they proclaim different versions of the same religion - moralistic therapeutic deism. For a riveting expose of that insidious religion, I heartily recommend Michael Horton's book Christless Christianity. But for now, let's embark on a detailed examination of the sermon Warren preached at Desiring God 2010 in the hope that we can learn to better differentiate and discern the difference between being Christ centered and man centered. The difference between being Gospel driven and purpose driven. The difference between self esteem and esteeming Christ. The differences can be subtle but are as stark as the heaven and hell where these different gospels lead to.
The following commentary corresponds to the following video from 0:00 to 2:08
Though many of us were shocked at Rick Warren's invitation we remained massively intrigued as to what would happen when Piper interviewed him in the flesh and took him to task with some tough questions. Well, Warren didn't show up which led to plenty of murmuring that speculated that Warren had "chickened out". As this critique progresses I will be saying some very critical things of Rick Warren. But woe unto me if I venture off the narrow road of objective discernment and onto the freeway of subjective speculation. Here, Rick Warren gives his reasons for his non-attendance and I see no reason not to take him at his word. We should give criticism where it is due without being mean and judgmental about it. We can test the content of Warren's message against the sure plumbline of Scripture, but let's try and put the best construction on areas concerning the thoughts and intents of his heart. This critique is not supposed to elevate myself or my own knowledge - merely to show Scripture's clear and simple rebuke of man made cleverness. If anything, it will show that God has given the simplest of men the sharpest of tools in Scripture. But to speculate on the inner motives in Rick Warren's heart is a no go zone which is not even necessary. Let's take him at his word that he was unable to attend due to his extenuating family circumstances. (But I have to say that the tap dance joke was totally lame!)
Warren closes with his conviction that he has a message from God. I have a message from God too - it's called a Bible and we'll see how Warren's message stacks up against Scripture over the coming weeks starting on Wednesday where we'll pick up from where we left off today.
Go On To Part 2