The Gospel According to Warren

“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!

How great!

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.

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19 Responses to The Gospel According to Warren

  1. Blake says:

    When Jesus led the thief on the cross into the family of God, there was, to use your words, “No mention of baptism, no mention of the doctrines of sin, grace, redemption, the cross, NOTHING.” What did the thief on the cross understand about these doctrines? What should we conclude from that? Is Warren’s prayer which you reference really inconsistent with that thief’s conversion experience?

    While I appreciate Mr. Gilley’s passion for doctrinal purity (we do need him and others with his gift in our Christian culture), his critiques of Warren go so far overboard as to give the appearance that there are some personal issues which run much deeper than his concern for doctrinal purity. It borders on irrational. That always worries me.

  2. shotgunwildatheart says:

    Mr. Blake,

    Do you always negatively psychoanalyze people you “appreciate?” Or is it only Christians who stay true to the gospel by rejecting this form of humanism (subtly disguised as Christianity) that you diagnose?

    There are a few problems with your usage of the thief on the cross as an illustration. For one, Rick Warren does not have the living physical incarnation of God hanging on a cross next to him.

    Secondly, Christ didn’t look to the thief and say, “If you choose to accept my gift, you will be with me in Heaven.”

    While it wasn’t my intent to bring up the age old soteriological debate here, we can still see that Warren’s path to salvation (as Gilley highlights, and I record in my blog) is highly suspect, and presents a different religion than that of Christ.

    What is “irrational” here, are Christians who claim to follow Christ, but then write posts meant to defend the humanism of people like Warren who only give lip service to the gospel…(if they mention it at all.)

    Let God be true Mr. Blake, and all men liars.

  3. Blake says:

    I’ve offended you. My apologies. That wasn’t my intent. I’ll leave you alone. God bless you and your ministry.

  4. shotgunwildatheart says:

    I guess Blake appreciates me, because he’s tried to psychoanalyze me as well.

    I’m not offended Mr. Blake, at least, not by your attempts to defend Rick Warren. (I’m only offended if someone runs over my dog with their car…or some other travesty!)

    I AM a little discouraged at the way American Christians have so quickly abandoned the faith to which they were called.

  5. I know I’m a little late getting in on this, but I see both of y’all as wrong, so I had to step in.

    Blake, that was a good question. However, I thought I’d point out that the thief on the cross got into heaven and it wasn’t by a Rick Warren type prayer! The thief recognized that he was a sinner We receive the due reward of our deeds…” and that he was hanging next to no ordinary man. It was a righteous and holy man, “…but this man hath done nothing amiss.” Not only this, but he also cried out to Jesus Christ acknowledging Him as his savior, “Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.” This thief only got in by true redemption.

    Shotgun, what does baptism have to do with salvation?

  6. shotgunwildatheart says:

    Disagreements over baptism aside, I was trying to highlight the complete humanistic message of Warren.

    One of the ways he preaches this religion, is through emphasis on self, self hood, and the personal benefits of salvation.

    This is clearly seen by the lack of discussion about proper doctrine and theology, (including salvation and all the issues that surround the topic, like baptism.)

    (How was THAT for a politicians answer? LOL!)

    Ok ok ok… to directly answer your question though:

    A person is saved from infinity past. (God has known His own forever!) That doesn’t mean that the person doesn’t have to be born physically to be saved, nor born again spiritually to become a legal part of the church.

    You can’t enter into a covenant lightly. I believe that baptism is the legal admission of a regenerated individual into the Kingdom. (I would say “universal church” but I have a suspicion that you wouldn’t appreciate that term…grinz…)

    So…do I believe in believers baptism? Yes! Although, it is more than just some flippant motion or emotional demonstration.

    I’m no theologian though…and I have so much to learn about history, philosophy, economics, etc…that I’ve been forced to relegate the study of such things to the bottom of the stack so to speak.

    lol… so, go easy on me with any tongue lashings!

    (and thanks for the reply!)

  7. Yeah, I understand where you coming from on the Rick Warren thing.

    Before I start on your last comment, I want to make sure it’s clear that I have no intent whatsoever in offending and I hope that this comment nor any following ones will offend. Obviously, it’s happened several times as of late, and I don’t want it to happen here.

    So before I really get into this, in order to give me a better understanding of where you’re coming from, could you maybe refer me to a couple of places in Scripture where it talks about baptism being the legal admission of a Christian into the universal church? Also, where is the universal church found in the Bible? What do you mean by universal church?

    If a person is already saved, by what means are they born again? What are you referring to in your repeated mention of legally entering “the” church?

    If a person is saved from infinity past,what need is there to spread the gospel?

    Do you have enough questions now to answer? lol

  8. shotgunwildatheart says:

    Ok, I’ll answer ’em,

    but, before I do, can you answer a quck question for me?

    When are good steaks rare?

  9. Don’t!!!

    I was just meaning to have a good ol’ friendly discussion even though it’s a serious topic.

    If you don’t want to discuss this or anything else, then just tell me to my face. I won’t get offended.

  10. Shotgun says:

    My question may seem to be a little off the wall and foolish, but it really does cut to the heart of our disagreement.

    Coming from a background in apologetics, I learned a long time ago not to ever let any one’s words get to me. So, I assure you, nothing you say to me is going to “offend” or upset me.

    I can also assure you that I am not emotionally attached to any denomination or doctrine. I love Christ alone, and God help me, I have to live with that. I know in America today, it is common to pick your “team” and root for em, but if I can give up the emotional ties I had to the “denomination” I grew up in, then I am sure not going to bog myself down in any inner-denominational squabbles.

    You see, there are really two different way’s that you can answer the question I asked.

    When are good steaks rare.

    Maybe the guy asking the question likes his steaks cooked rare, or…maybe there is a shortage of cows?

    Many very pious and well meaning (God-fearing) Christians believe that they, (and their denomination) are the only ones who are truly and correctly exegeting the scriptures, when in fact, we all approach the text with certain prior ideas or “presuppositions.”

    This is true for all people. We all filter the “facts” through some sort of prior assumptions that we have.

    Case in point: I and my evolutionist buddy see a mountain. He sees the mountain having come about by vast amounts of time…while I see it to be the result of a great flood.

    The “steak” illustration is meant to show that, even though you may think you’re relying on “scripture alone” that you really are approaching the text with certain previously held ideas. These ideas cause you to read the text in certain ways that lead you to a different view of God, man, and salvation, than the way I read the text.

    The question here, Ms. Liberty, is, which of our theological systems is consistent with itself?

    I know that many denominations out there are emotionally tied to certain doctrines, and get offended easily if you disagree with their interpretation of that doctrine.

    In light of that, I’d like to make a deal with you.

    I won’t get offended if you question or challenge any of my stated theological positions, if you don’t get upset or offended if I challenge yours.

    We can e-shake on it!

  11. shotgunwildatheart says:

    Oh, and P.S.

    I think you’re a really great person, and the last thing I would want to do is upset you somehow.

    I’m so used to discussing these things in a vaccume, that I sometimes forget that these doctrines affect real people.

    So, please bare with me as I learn the subtle art of discussion.

  12. Deal! (that’s my e-shake lol)

    I understand what your saying. Yeah, everyone looks at the same thing, but each at a different angle. Although I am not of any particular denomination, and therefore have no ties, I’ll admit that my past teaching, more then likely, influences the way I believe. I try to be very careful in this area, and set aside any preconceived notions, while looking at Scripture. However, I see beliefs very clearly presented in the Bible. (Who doesn’t?) That’s why I want to see what verses you use and how you interpret them, so that I can evaluate the other side, and maybe even have a glimpse at your view.

    But, I’d also like to point out, that although you have a good point in you steak illustration, your standing on dangerous ground when it comes to the simple belief that you have your view point and I have mine, so we can live our lives happily, the way we want to. You have your view point, and I have mine, but there’s a great big object standing right in between, filtering both of ours. It happens to be a foundation that is uncompromisable: the truth. I guess my point is, there’s only one right. Now, I’m not going to go blasting you, telling you that just because you don’t believe as I do, you’re a child of the devil and on your way to hell. Not in the least. There’s not a soul out there that agrees on everything. None of us are going to be perfect in our beliefs. But, we can try to be. I’m not saying that you aren’t. I hope I’m not getting that point across. I’m just trying to say that there is a foundation that we have to base everything on.

    You wont get me upset through anything of this sort, so just have at it!

  13. shotgunwildatheart says:

    Alright, deal!

    (But i’m not e-spitting in my e-hand!)

    I’ll probably respond later today or tommorrow at some point, but, I have something for you in the meantime.


  14. shotgunwildatheart says:



    That is a link to a 19 hours of lectures. I only meant to point you to the first one…but, hey..if you’re up for all of them, even better!

  15. Hi! I don’t really want to get into this, because i think Liberty is doing an awesome job already. But i just wanted to point out that:
    You have not answered Liberty’s Question!!
    “could you maybe refer me to a couple of places in Scripture where it talks about baptism being the legal admission of a Christian into the universal church? Also, where is the universal church found in the Bible? What do you mean by universal church?”
    I would like to hear this!! :)

  16. shotgunwildatheart says:

    It’ s more of a theological system that “we” (those holding to this particular view) logically infer from the scripture.

    I continued this discussion in another blog:

    I’d love to have you join in the discussion!

  17. shotgunwildatheart says:

    Wait… I think you’re the same Amber from that thread!

    My bad! lol…

  18. Amber says:

    LOL!! You are right… It’s really me…..
    But i have read through that again, and i understand what you were saying a bit more… BUT
    I still see no answer to that question.
    There is no Scripture.
    Anyways… Things that are bugging me…. You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to… But if you do, please just say what you mean and not go around the facts. It would me help alot if you would do that. And it might help you in the future as well.

  19. shotgunwildatheart says:

    The problem here is, “Facts” don’t talk.

    Everything must be interpreted, or…in other words, everything must be fitted into an overall scheme of thinking. (I tried to demonstrate this in the other blog by using a few different illustrations.)

    While the Bible doesn’t say “Shotgun is right,” we can infer it from a solid exegetical evaluation of the text.

    That means that there are many verses I draw on to construct my view of baptism. All the same verses on Baptism you would appeal to in order to make your case…I would appeal to as well, but I would draw different conclusions from them.

    The REAL problem here is this:

    Mankind wants to reason apart from God, and so mankind likes to think of “facts” as being totally separate from God. If they are totally “other” than God, then “facts” can speak on their own.

    This is wholly unChristian, and at base, humanistic.

    We need to learn (and practice applying) the “fact” that all “facts” are first created and interpreted by God…we (His creatures) are secondary interpreters.

    This is all a bit abstract and hard to figure out at the moment, but…I’m about to write a blog that I hope will clarify it for you…(if you would honor me by reading it.)

    Anyway, thanks for the helpful pointers. I’m always looking for ways to better present my case.


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