A Purpose Driven Phenomena: An Interview with Rick Warren

Rick Warren
Tuesday, May 15th 2007
Jan/Feb 2004

Best-selling author Rick Warren was named by Christianity Today as the most influential pastor in America. His book, The Purpose Driven Life sold eleven million copies its first year and has remained on the New York Times best seller list for forty-four weeks. Warren's book has now become a popular spiritual growth campaign with over ten thousand participating churches. Among those churches are over a thousand Reformed, Presbyterian, Lutheran, and Episcopal/Anglican congregations. What motivates churches not normally associated with mass evangelical movements to embrace Warren's teaching? Modern Reformation asked Warren, a subscriber, to comment.

MR: Can you briefly define the purpose driven life? Is it different from the ordinary Christian life?RW: The first answer of the Westminster Shorter Catechism is the best definition of the purpose-driven life: "Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him for ever." That is our purpose, pure and simple. I just took longer to say it in the book. The first chapter, "It All Starts With God," and the opening sentence of the book, "It's Not About You!" makes it clear that we were made by God, and for God, not vice-versa. Chapter seven, "The Reason For Everything" is about soli deo gloria. The purpose-driven life is a God-centered life so I wouldn't call it "the ordinary Christian life" because that lifestyle isn't ordinary at all. Very few Christians I know live a truly God-centered life on a daily basis.

MR: What motivated you to take the message of your book, The Purpose Driven Life, and create a systematic campaign called "Forty Days of Purpose" to be used in churches across the country?RW: I love helping other pastors, especially bi-vocational ones. Since my father ministered in small churches all his life, I've always had a heart for guys who serve churches that are too small to pay a full time salary so they work another full time job during the week. I dedicated The Purpose Driven Church book to them, and for the past twenty years I've tried to help them with resources. Ministry is difficult and we need to help each other out wherever possible. We are blessed to be a blessing to others.I deeply believe that in our relativistic world we need more doctrine, not less. But because the world no longer speaks our language, we theologians must also be translators. Like missionaries, the truth cannot set people free unless we share it in their language. There is absolutely nothing new in The Purpose Driven Life. It is the "faith once delivered unto the saints." All I did was try to put it in a very simple, understandable format that captures people's attention for six weeks. It is a "stealth catechism" of sorts. It's just a tool to help pastors grow their people. I love to teach theology without using theological terms (any seminary student can do that) and without telling unbelievers it is theology! For that reason, I intentionally labored to be as plain, uncomplicated, and simple as possible in writing the book. By simple I don't mean shallow or superficial-the word means clearly understandable. Einstein once said "Your brilliance isn't worth much unless you can explain it in a simple way." It's quite easy to be complex and confusing with doctrine but it takes hard work to state truth in the simplest, shortest way. Jesus was the master at this. He stated profound truths in simple ways. Today, in our attempt to impress others, pastors and professors are more likely to do the opposite!Regarding the campaign-we've done an annual spiritual growth emphasis at Saddleback each fall for years. The power of focusing all our prayers, our sermons, and our studies on a single theme like faith (Heb 11) or love (1 Cor. 13) has incredible benefits. "40 Days of Purpose" was the most life-changing campaign in the history of our church. The number of people involved in weekly home Bible study groups grew from 8,000 to over 23,000. Membership, giving, worship attendance, and people involved in ministry and mission projects all exploded exponentially. As a result, over 4,500 of our members were sent out on a mission project somewhere in the world in the last twelve months. People who think Saddleback is a shallow, compromising megachurch just don't know the facts. The membership requirements at Saddleback are so high most American church members could not join us, and we actively practice church discipline."40 Days of Purpose" brought such revival and renewal to our congregation we offered it to a few other churches. Those churches exploded with spiritual growth too. The word got out, and the rest is history. This is a sovereign move of God that caught us all by surprise. We certainly didn't manufacture or plan this. In fact, our staff has been playing "catch-up" with the demand from other churches all year long.

MR: Does the "Forty Days of Purpose" campaign reflect any particular theological stance or is it theologically neutral?RW: It is impossible to be theologically neutral. However, it is possible to love, respect, and appreciate the ministry of godly brothers who have theological differences with you. On earth we "see through a glass darkly" so we all need a large dose of humility in dealing with our differences. God's ways are awesome and far beyond human mental capabilities. He has no problem reconciling the supposed theological conflicts that we debate when ideas don't fit neatly into our logical, rational systems (Isa. 58:8-9).Theologically, I am a monergist and firmly hold to the five solas of the Reformation. It's pretty obvious from the book that I believe in foreknowledge, predestination, (see chapter two, "You Are Not An Accident") and, especially, concurrence-that God works in and through every detail of our lives, even our sinful choices, to cause his purposes to prevail. Proverbs 19:21 (niv) is one of my life verses. It's been fascinating to see how people interpret my book through their own theological lenses. On the same day this week I received an email from a Presbyterian brother accusing me of "being an Arminian" and another email from a Lutheran brother criticizing me for being "too Calvinistic!" I just remind myself that even Jesus could not please everyone, and I refocus on living for an audience of One. I'm a fourth-generation Baptist pastor. My great grandfather was led to Christ by Charles Spurgeon, attended Spurgeon's college, and was sent by Spurgeon to America to pastor. So I guess God predestined me to be a Baptist! I would ask readers for grace in three areas:First, the book contains much of what I believe, but is does not contain ALL of what I believe about any particular doctrine. I actually removed over 400 pages of material that I wrote, but decided not to include. Exhaustive studies exhaust people. The book is a devotional, not a dissertation. Second, the book is not intended to be a systematic theology. Saddleback's systematic theology is another book called Foundations. It is a nine month doctrinal course, written by Pastor Tom Holladay and my wife Kay, for our congregation. To my knowledge, Saddleback may be the only church in America that requires a nine month systematic theology course for anyone who wants to serve on our staff or as a lay leader in our church. Over 5,000 members have completed Foundations in the past ten years, and we have over 3,000 more members studying the course right now. Saddleback members are doctrinally astute.Third, the book is about the Christian's walk, not justification. I did include a simple call to Christ in case unbelievers picked up the book (which thousands have). But to know my full view of the doctrines of grace, you'd need to have heard my two year, verse-by-verse exposition through Romans. We've gone through Romans twice since I started Saddleback.

MR: As part of the "40 Days of Purpose" campaign, your staff provides participating churches with a number of important resources: transcripts of sermons, outlines, music, Sunday school curriculum, marketing materials, etc. Is it desirable to create clones of Saddleback worship services in churches across the country?RW: It is neither desirable nor even possible to "clone" any church, because the church is people-and no two people are alike! Anyone who has read The Purpose Drive Church or attended a Purpose Driven Church seminar knows that we are adamantly opposed to wholesale copying of Saddleback's style of ministry. While fulfilling the five purposes of God is not optional, every church must have its own unique thumbprint. Every idea needs to be filtered through your personality, the culture of your congregation, and the context of your community.At the same time, it is wise to learn from other churches. Everyone shouldn't have to reinvent the wheel! Whenever I find a church that is more effective in worship, evangelism, discipleship, ministry, or fellowship, I want to learn how to do it, too. God has not called us to be original at everything we do, but he has called us to be the most effective we can be. (Vance Havner tells of a pastor who boasted "I'll be original or nothing!" and ended up being both!) One reason God resists the proud is because they are unteachable-their ego prevents them from humbly using an idea or program that God is blessing elsewhere.

MR: But, shouldn't pastors do their own work and ensure that their services fit within their own theological convictions about the corporate worship of God?RW: Of course! We only offer suggestions and "Forty Days of Purpose" is just a six week tool. But just as pastors all read the same commentaries and still come up with different messages, there is nothing wrong with giving pastors helps to get started on a particular theme.

MR: You have recently launched a new campaign, the "P.E.A.C.E. Plan," which you've called the beginning of a new Reformation. You've distinguished between the first Reformation's return to correct doctrine (the "message") from this new Reformation's return to purpose (the "mission"). Can we really separate the message from the mission?RW: No, we cannot separate our message and mission, but unfortunately most churches have done exactly that. Most Christians do not behave the way they claim to believe. Our deeds do not always match our creeds. We are only hearers, not "doers of the Word." The typical believer never shares his faith, never helps the poor, never visits those in prison, and never does many of the other things Jesus commanded us to do. We have overdeveloped ears, mouths, and brains, but underdeveloped hands, feet, and hearts.You measure the strength of an army by how many soldiers are fighting on the front lines, not how many are being fed in the mess hall or attending discussions. In the same way, the strength of a church is measured by its sending capacity, not its seating capacity. How many members are we actually mobilizing for ministry and missions? Maturity is never an end in itself. Maturity is for ministry and mission.The reformers were definitely mission-minded. They not only intended the recovery of the biblical, first century faith, they also passionately intended to convert those who confused grace and works. But today, many churches, including Reformational ones, are quite self-centered and have little or no interest at all in making the effort to reach out and evangelize the world. The church that doesn't want to grow is saying to the world, "You can go to hell." The P.E.A.C.E. plan is an effort to return the responsibility for world missions back to where it rightfully belongs-in every local church. Today, most local churches are sidelined and uninvolved when it comes to missions. The message from most mission and parachurch organizations to the local church is essentially "Pray, pay, and get out of the way." I believe that any organization that marginalizes or minimizes the local congregation's responsibility to "Go" or bypasses the local church's moral authority to fulfill the Great Commission, is out of sync with the strategy God intended and modeled in the Book of Acts.The P.E.A.C.E. plan is a strategy to have every one of Saddleback's small groups (currently over 2000 strong) help Plant a church, Equip leaders, Assist the poor, Care for the sick, and Educate the next generation somewhere in the world. We've been asked by Campus Crusade for Christ to develop a template to plant a new church everywhere the Jesus film is shown overseas. Once we figure out the template we'll give it away to other churches, just like we've done with everything we've developed.

MR: Two key aspects of the P.E.A.C.E. plan concern solving global social ills. If we reinvent the church's mission so that it is primarily responsible for assisting the poor and curing the sick will the message of the church begin to resemble Protestant Liberalism's "Social Gospel"?RW: I don't believe this is a matter of "reinventing" the church's mission, but a matter of returning to the mission Jesus gave his church 2000 years ago. To disobey what Jesus told us to do is sin. Historically, the church has always led the way in both word and deed, in both mission and ministry, in both evangelism and acts of compassion and justice. It is time to stop reacting to Rauschenbusch's outdated liberal co-opting of social ministry. He's been dead over eighty years. It's time for the church to be the church!In closing, I'd like to mention that I have personally benefited from the writings of a number of the Alliance council, especially D. A. Carson, Michael Horton, Mark Dever, Gene E. Veith, Phillip G. Ryken, Mark Talbot, and R. C. Sproul. I'd like to commend them and thank them for their works.I read every issue of MR, and I think it is a magazine that is needed in our world today. I would appreciate your prayers for my wife Kay who is battling cancer these days. God bless you all.

Tuesday, May 15th 2007

“Modern Reformation has championed confessional Reformation theology in an anti-confessional and anti-theological age.”

J. Ligon Duncan, IIISenior Minister, First Presbyterian Church