Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Confusing Indicatives With Imperatives - Rick Warren's Sermon At Desiring God (Part 4)

I don't know why it is, but there are some great Christian leaders and thinkers who just seem to be unwilling to take Rick Warren to task. No one said boo to him at Desiring God - at least publicly. Why is this? Is he a sacred cow? This hurts many of us who have watched in censored silence as our churches have been invaded by the Purpose Driven juggernaut. This is the major reason why I am embracing this task, to take a closer look at the "sermon" Rick Warren preached at Desiring God. From it we can learn much of what is wrong in the world of mainstream seeker sensitive evangelicalism. We can also sharpen our discernment skills as we grasp the cleverly packaged man centered theology. And there is also the issue of Warren being held to account. I am just a small voice, but I hope that a bigger voice might find this ball, pick it up, and run with it. I am also aware that many small voices can make a loud noise. So if this series is resonating with you, please feel free to use it to sound the alarm in your local churches.

The following commentary corresponds to the following video from 13:55 to 20:50

Principle 2: Guard Your Mind From Garbage
Here we see an example of Warren's love for obscure, unusual, or faulty Bible translations that support his premise. This is exposition upside down and we need to watch out for it in our local churches. In this particular instance of Proverbs 15:14 from the New Living Translation it doesn't deviate too far from the Hebrew meaning. But Warren has a propensity for treating Scripture and the many various modern translations as a giant buffet that he can pick and choose from as he pleases. Warren has been roundly criticized for this in the past and refuses to respond or relent. This very issue became a problem as my old church dived into the Purpose Driven program and continually had to deal with heavily twisted Scripture particularly emanating from paraphrase translations.

For example, on page 68 of The Purpose Driven Church, Warren uses a verse from The Living Bible to biblically substantiate his conviction that intelligent Christians should be open to “new ideas”: “The intelligent man is always open to new ideas. In fact, he looks for them” (Proverbs 18:15).

But what is the literal translation of this verse? In the King James Version it reads: “The heart of the prudent getteth knowledge; and the ear of the wise seeketh knowledge.” If you look knowledge up in the Hebrew it means knowledge! And the knowledge that true Christians pursue is the eternal unchanging counsel of God found in Scripture.

Tim Challies had this to say on the very subject of Warren's handling of Scripture and penchant for bad Bible translations (especially if they support his agenda):

Warren has proven repeatedly that he does not and will not honor the Bible. He preaches from the Bible, he knows vast amounts of Scripture and I’m sure he loves studying the Bible. But his ministry makes clear that he does not truly honor it in the way he uses it. I hardly even know where to begin here. Turn to any of Warren’s books and you will see that this is the case. Time and time again he has misused and abused the Bible. Years ago I read The Purpose Driven Life day-by-day and blogged my way through each chapter. I looked up each and every Bible reference. And in almost every chapter I found that Warren had used Scripture poorly, stretching its meaning, choosing translations that, more than being true to the text, furthered his intended meaning. This is the way he always has used Scripture and the way he continues to today. Turn to just about any review of his books and you’ll find multitudes of examples. (online source)

There is a serious impact to Warren’s use of so many translations. It shows his view of the inspiration and sufficiency of Scripture. It seems that he does not believe that the Bible as God wrote it is sufficient for people today. He must believe that a very loose paraphrase like The Message can impact people in a way that the real translations cannot. He shows that he is not a faithful expositor of the Bible. (online source)

Anyway back to principle 2 - guarding our minds from garbage. In much the same way that a broken clock gets it right twice a day so too Rick Warren occasionally makes good points. We do need to guard our minds from the corruptions of the outside world that seek to permeate our lives. Warren does make excellent points about television and other influences, counseling wisely that we can be "so open minded that our brains fall out". But again, a subject like this is well served with a strong focus on human depravity, God's Holiness, and constantly seeing the kindness of Christ in His finished work on the cross.

Warren does dish out plenty of advice here and gives some strategies for guarding our minds, but as usual, his moralism gets in the way of a Christ centered solution. The best example of this is when he turns to personal ministry success as a major motivating force in this goal of guarding our minds. He certainly anticipates the objection that I would give - God calls for faithfulness rather than successfulness. But he makes a complete hash of his rebuttal to this objection by saying that we are called to faithfulness plus fruitfulness. The fact that Warren equates success with fruitfulness is debatable in and of itself. But I want to zero in on a far bigger issue here - Warren's understanding of conversion. This is another example of Warren confusing the imperative with the indicative. He is telling his audience that the imperative is to bear fruit whereas Jesus described fruit as an indicative when He said "by their fruits you shall know them". Luther understood this when he spoke of the distinctions between faith and works when he pointed out (my paraphrase) that the fruit does not make the tree but the tree makes the fruit. Fruit is a valuable indicator of whether a persons faith is genuine. Let's go back to Jesus quote in Matthew chapter 7 (which interestingly is the same chapter where we find the oft used/oft abused "judge not lest ye be judged"):

Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. (Matthew 7:15-20)

The faithful are the fruitful. Jesus also said to produce fruit in keeping with repentance (Matthew 3:8) - in other words, genuine repentance produces genuine fruit. I am laboring the point here but it is of critical importance and lies at the heart of Warren's bad understanding of conversion and the distorted gospel it produces. Mathematically stated it looks something like this:

Warren's formula is faithfulness + fruitfulness = purpose driven success
Jesus' statement is faithfulness = fruitfulness

If Warren understood this then he would withdraw a lot of his books from sale, change his preaching, and treat unfruitful church goers with a Gospel related solution rather than giving them more moralistic advice. Warren would be well served at this point to shut up and sit in the audience being taught by John Piper. False conversion is perhaps the greatest crisis that lies beneath the gleaming surface of most seeker sensitive churches today. Making the narrow gate into a wide gate might get more people through the door but it doesn't put more fruit on the tree.

Speaking of confusing indicatives and imperatives - perhaps we should stop seeing Warren's "success" as an imperative to creating a healthy church culture. But instead treat Warren's "success" as an indicative of an unhealthy church culture - cancerous some would say.

Stay tuned . . . more to come . . .

Go On To Part 5
Go Back To Part 3
Go Back To Part 1


Randy said...

I am afraid that Rick Warren has assumed the role of a sacred cow amongst evangelicals. This is especially true in Southern Baptists circles which is my denomination. I appreciate you taking him on. I addressed his faulty growth model in a sermon this past Sunday about Bibilical church growth. I have the audio of it posted on my blog.

Andrew said...

I didn't get past day 4 or 5 of the purpurse driven church one where he mangled the Gospel into "believe and receive"...

The entire Gospel message was an instruction to pray,"Jesus I believe in you, Jesus I receive you." Upon which point he then announced that people had become Christians....


blindsay said...

I have been enjoying this series so far. You are really hitting on some important points with your critiques.

For each principle you've stated (and I'm paraphrasing) that the principle itself isn't necessarily wrong, but the Christless explanation and moralism that Warren gives is nothing more than man-centered popular self-help advice.

I think it would be extremely useful to see how you would teach these things in a Christ-centered way. There are brief hints of that in your critiques, but they aren't developed, and I know I would find it useful to see the contrast.

Keep up the good work

Cameron Buettel said...

Blindsay, I will probably describe it in more detail as we progress. There is so much I could write on it and I have written extensively many other times. For now I would ask you to check out my series "Anatomy of the Gospel" scroll way down in the right hand column of my blog until you see "series" and then click on Anatomy of the Gospel. Also, check out my five part Gospel presentation video series at the top of the right hand column. Hope that gives you some idea.