“No one has exemplified the market-driven approach better than Rick Warren, pastor of the huge Saddleback Church in southern California and author of “The Purpose Driven Church” and “The Purpose Driven Life.”
This is how author Gary Gilley opens chapter 10 of his book “This little Church Went to Market.”
I thought of doing a review of this book, but decided instead to post insightful reflections from it, and others. In forming a systematic theology of worship and specifically music, it will be necessary for me to investigate a wide range of books and sources, not all of which will be review worthy.
Gilley names chapter 10 “The Gospel According to Warren.”
Gilley highlights the cultural shifts that have lead to the modern predicament in American churches. He specifically focuses on humanistic marketing strategies exemplified in the “church growth movement.” Since Rick Warren has been such an influential force in this movement, Gilley devotes chapter 10 entirely to him.
Consider this paragraph by Gilley that quickly highlights many of Warrens inconsistencies:
“In his book The Purpose-Driven Life, his (Warren’s) opening statement is, “It is not about you”; Warren then writes a whole book about “you”. He belittles pop-psychology but repeatedly promotes it throughout the book. He publicly cuts ties with Robert Schuller, but reiterates some of the most odious things Schuller has been teaching for thirty years. He claims commitment to the Scriptures but undermines them at almost every turn. He will tell his followers that he is not tampering with the message but only re-engineering the methods, when in fact he has so altered the message that it is no longer recognizable.”
Has Warren really altered the Gospel in order to attract more people?
Warren leads people in a prayer at the end of his 40-days of purpose video that reads like this:
Dear God, I want to know your purpose for my life. I don’t want to base the rest of my life on wrong things. I want to take the first step in preparing for eternity by getting to know you. Jesus Christ, I don’t understand how but as much as I know how I want to open up my life to you. Make yourself real to me. And use this series in my life to help me know what you made me for.
After this prayer, Warren then says:
Now if you’ve just prayed that prayer for the very first time I want to congratulate you. You’ve just become a part of the family of God.
No mention of baptism, no mention of the doctrines of sin, grace, redemption, the cross, NOTHING.
Gilley builds a case against this humanistic gospel throughout his book, and makes this observation about Warrens prayer:
This is the ultimate in a mutilated, seeker-sensitive gospel: the seeker comes to Christ in order to find his purpose in life, not to receive forgiveness from sin and the righteousness of God. Then, to pronounce someone a full-fledged member of the family of God because he has prayed such a prayer (based on minimal, if any, understanding of the person and work of Christ), is beyond tragic.
Nevertheless, this is the new Christian gospel in America folks…and we better get used to it.
Anyone who denies this sort of gospel will not be considered a Christian much longer I’m afraid.
In Warrens usual presentation of the gospel, he omits most, if not all, theological knowledge. What he emphasizes, are the pragmatic benefits that joining up on God’s team will get you. We’ll find a purpose for our lives!
There are many other sad and unfortunate things about Warrens presentation of the Gospel (and his entire philosophy) that I could harp on, but this mischaracterization of the gospel is the worse.
Gilley does a great job in summing it all up:
Warrens philosophy of ministry, misuse of Scripture, weak gospel message, infiltration of psychology and disregard for theology is being embraced by evangelicalism because that is where much of evangelicalism is already residing. Warren is not so much an initiator as he is a product of his time. I believe he has caught the wave of what was already happening in evangelicalism. What he as done successfully is connect the dots – develop methods, programs and a message that seems to work.
Pragmatism has become the final arbitrator in our society and increasingly in our churches. “If it works it must be of God”, so goes conventional wisdom. But pragmatism is an unreliable trailblazer. In our more reflective moments few of us are willing to believe that success can always have the final word. For example, Mormonism is the most successful “church” in the world today. Yet, none of us is willing to believe that God is blessing the Mormon Church. If pragmatism is our guide, we will be hopelessly tossed about by every wind of doctrine (Eph. 4:14). We need something more stable – a true foundation.