Many people have read Rick Warren’s latest best-selling book, The Purpose Driven Life, a sequel to his previous work, The Purpose Driven Church. Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Community Church in Orange County, CA, and he is an advocate and proponent of what is termed by many to be a “Seeker-sensitive” movement within the church.
It has been requested by many of our Christian brothers and sisters that a response be given to a variety of questions and concerns raised by The Purpose Driven Life. As two men with over 50 years of combined experience as pastors in several parts of the country, we decided to put into print a response to this best-selling book.
Some of the issues we are going to respond to are in the category of intramural debate, things that Christians in the body of Christ see differently (“philosophy of ministry”); and some of our responses will express concern we have for Warren’s handling of the Scriptures.
We are in no way implying nor intending to raise any doubt concerning Warren’s personal relationship with Jesus Christ, nor that of anyone who shares his philosophy of ministry.
Neither do we want to minimize the possibility that some who have gone through Warren’s so-called “40 day spiritual journey” have been blessed and encouraged to seek a deeper relationship with God.
When some people were preaching Christ in hopes of bringing harm to the Paul, he wrote from jail to his friends in Philippi (Philippians 1:18), “What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice, yes, and I will rejoice.”
If Paul could say that about people who intended harm for him, we can certainly say that about people who are part of the seeker-sensitive movement within the church. These people certainly mean us no harm, and they are fellow believers in Jesus Christ. We ought to rejoice any time and any way that Jesus Christ is proclaimed as the only way of salvation and the only hope of eternal life.
However, we do want to say that we have concern for the fruit of the efforts of the people who are immersed in the so-called “Seeker-Sensitive” movement.
Most of us would have great concern for the U.S. Marine Corps making changes in their training or protocol based upon the personal desires of those who do not have a proper understanding of how the Marine Corps is intended to function or operate. We believe The Purpose Driven Life is being used to change the training of believers in Jesus Christ in a way which depreciates the importance of the spiritual warfare which is the Christian life.
The Purpose Driven Life has been used in thousands of churches as a textbook on the Christian life. According to its author, The Purpose Driven Life is intended to be “read only one chapter a day,” over a 40 day period.
At the bottom of page 9 of The Purpose Driven Life, Warren makes the following premise statement: “The Bible is clear that God considers 40 days a spiritually significant time period. Whenever God wanted to prepare someone for his purposes, he took 40 days:”
On page 10 Warren gives the following examples:
Noah’s life was transformed by 40 days of rain
Moses was transformed by 40 days on Mount Sinai.
The spies were transformed by 40 days in the Promised Land
David was transformed by Goliath’s 40-day challenge.
Elijah was transformed when God gave him 40 days of strength from a single meal.
The entire city of Nineveh was transformed when God gave the people 40 days to change.
Jesus was empowered by 40 days in the wilderness.
The disciples were transformed by 40 days with Jesus after his resurrection
Warren then proclaims: “The next 40 days will transform your life.”
That premise of the book raises a vital question: Is 40 days the God-ordained number by which people are prepared for God’s purposes and through which their lives are transformed? The biblical evidence says No! And therefore the premise for Warren’s 40-day spiritual journey is based upon falsehood, not biblical truth
Consider the facts from the Bible about Warren’s examples:
No doubt 40 days of rain had an effect on Noah, as did the 150 days of flood covering the earth; but it is more likely that the direct revelation given him from God and the 120 years of preaching (continually being rejected by the people), while building the ark on dry land (where it had never rained), had much more of a transforming impact upon his life than either the 40 or 150 day period.
No doubt the 40 days Moses spent on Mount Sinai created a lasting impression; but it is more likely that the 40 years Moses spent in the wilderness (leading the obstinate nation of Israel) had a transforming effect upon his life.
Yes, the spies spent 40 days in the Promised Land, but upon their return to report to Israel, 10 of the 12 gave a bad report, causing the people to be fearful and unwilling to take possession of what God had already given them. Because of their unfaithfulness, all of Israel was made to wander in the wilderness for 40 years, one year for each day that the spies spent in the Promised Land, resulting in an entire generation (except for two men) having to die as a result of the spies’ 40 day experience.
Was David really transformed by Goliath’s 40-day challenge? 1 Samuel 17:16 says that Goliath “came forward morning and evening for forty days and took his stand.” We are told (1 Samuel 17:15) that, “David went back and forth from Saul to tend his father’s flock at Bethlehem.” David was traveling over 30 miles round trip to go between his father’s flocks and where the armies of Israel were gathered for battle with the Philistines; therefore David was not present for most of Goliath’s 40-day challenge. It would seem much more likely that David’s preparation and transformation came from his trust in the Lord over many years of being delivered from lions and bears that attacked the sheep under his care (1 Samuel 17:32-37).
True, Elijah got 40 days of strength miraculously from one meal, but is that what transformed him into a mighty prophet of God? It seems very unlikely, and the Bible says absolutely nothing about those 40 days transforming Elijah.
Okay, God did indeed give Nineveh 40 days to repent. But we must ask if that proves what Warren states: “Whenever God wanted to prepare someone for his purposes, he took 40 days . . . the next 40 days will transform your life.” What about the time it took Jonah to get to Nineveh, running from away from God, tossed in the ocean, and being swallowed by a whale? Did that have anything to do with Jonah’s transformation? Did that take just 40 days?
Was Jesus “empowered” by 40 days in the wilderness, as Warren states? The biblical record does not validate that Jesus was empowered by that time; the fact is, Jesus was tempted directly by the devil, and at the end He was totally exhausted, finally being ministered to by angels. Jesus fasted for those 40 days, but that part of His experience is absent from the book claiming to transform your life in 40 days.
And the disciples? Transformed by 40 days with Jesus after His resurrection? What about the 3 1/2 years of living with and learning from Jesus? The indwelling of the Holy Spirit? The miracles God did through them? The direct revelation they received? Or was it only the post-crucifixion 40 days that prepared and transformed them?
Actually, the time span of 40 years is mentioned far more often in the Bible, but it also is not significant. The implication that a life is somehow transformed in 40 days is simply not supported by Scripture; in fact, you would have to twist the Scriptures to get them to say so.
Consider, if as Warren states, “The Bible is clear that God considers 40-days a spiritually significant time period. Whenever God wanted to prepare someone for his purposes, he took 40 days,” then why is it that the overwhelming majority of the godly men and women recorded in Scripture did not have a 40-day preparation time?
None of the following men and women of the Bible (and this is not an exhaustive list) were participants in a “40-day spiritual journey,” and yet each one of them was transformed by their relationship with God: Abraham, Jeremiah, Ezra, Enoch, Nehemiah, Isaiah, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, Ruth, Hannah, Esther, Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Mary, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, James, Peter, Jude . . . Do you get the point?
Simply put, Warren’s premise statement, “God considers 40 days a spiritually significant time period. Whenever God wanted to prepare someone for his purposes, he took 40 days,” is not based upon truth!
Warren’s 40-day journey fits right in with our American “quick-fix,” “I want it now” mentality; it plays fast and loose with God’s Word while creating a completely unrealistic idea of what it takes to become a mature believer in Jesus Christ.
To describe the essence of the Christian life in terms of a 40-day spiritual journey, as Warren does, leaving out the repeatedly-taught biblical concept of suffering and being persecuted for righteousness, is like recruiting and training someone for the Marine Corps, based upon the criterion used to enlist and train Girl Scouts.
The kind of use of Scripture exemplified throughout Warren’s book is not what is needed in an age when (2 Timothy 3:12), “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”
As Christians we are to pay special attention to how we interpret and apply the Scriptures, and yet this Christian Best Seller, The Purpose Driven Life, is based upon a very poor interpretation and application of the Scriptures.
What are we to do when influences like this are the strongest influences on the churches of America? We need to recognize it, resist it, and refute it whenever we can (2 Timothy 2:15), “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.”
We ought to be like the Bereans (Acts 17:11)who “received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were true.” If these New Testament Christians were commended for testing what they were being taught by Paul, we would be wise to test what any Christian teaches, measuring it against God’s Word.
Rick Warren is a very popular speaker, writer and communicator, along the same lines as Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Community Church, outside Chicago. Both of these very influential men believe that church should be designed to attract the unchurched, using the so-called “Seeker-Sensitive” approach.
Warren’s version of the Seeker-Sensitive” approach is outlined in his prior book, The Purpose Driven Church, which has been used as a textbook by thousands of churches who desire to increase the numbers of their congregations. Sadly, this is often done at the cost of abandoning the clear and revealed truth of God. The result of the “Seeker-Sensitive” approach to church growth may often bring more numbers, but it does not promote sound biblical equipping and exhortation leading to obedience and the seeking of righteousness among God’s people.
The Purpose Driven Life has sold millions of copies. But the idea of a 40-day plan by which you can spiritually transform your life is not biblical; in fact, it is full of Scripture-twisting and poor biblical interpretations throughout.
Many of the ideas and illustrations used in Warren’s book are okay, but the use and abuse of Scripture is appalling. In an appendix, the book explains and unabashedly defends its practice of excerpting phrases from the Bible, and selecting from 15 translations and paraphrases throughout. And yet, there does not seem to be as much as one sentence in the entire book where a verse of the Bible is explained in its historical or literary context.
All in all we are not positive about Warren’s book or the so-called 40-day spiritual journey it promotes. We do rejoice anytime Christ is proclaimed, but we fear that the version of Christianity represented in this book is more compatible with an upscale suburban American nice-guy-ism, as it never gets around to teaching what the Scriptures say and mean in context.
Willow Creek Community Church has a large facility in Chicago (Pastor Bill Hybels, not Rick Warren, but the same ministry philosophy). There is a huge bookstore (which is a good idea) that contains (as of when Jim visited in December 2003) not one single Bible commentary (bad), not one New American Standard Bible or New King James Version, and none of the good study Bibles available. Every book is experiential or psychological, and every edition of the Bible on sale there lacks tools to help you interpret accurately. Every CD in the huge music section is contemporary, without any traditional hymns.
Both Hybels and Warren planted their churches in extremely affluent areas and have seemingly unlimited budgets for high-tech professional productions they call “worship services.” To export such concepts to “normal” churches falls flat, but they do it nevertheless. Pastors can go to their seminars and join their organizations so that they can receive all their instructions for ministry canned and ready to go, rather than doing the hard work of searching the Scriptures and making disciples one by one, the “old fashioned” biblical way.
We mentioned Scripture-twisting as a major problem of this “Seeker-Sensitive” approach. We must explain what we mean. The very idea of building churches which are “Seeker-Sensitive” is contrary to Scripture. The idea of unbelievers wandering about seeking God is not what the Bible teaches.
People are not outside the church because we don’t market our product well enough to attract those who seek what we have to offer, people are outside the church because they are spiritually dead, living apart from life with God!
Romans 3:9-12: What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; as it is written, “There is none righteous, not even one; There is none who under stands, There is none who seeks for God; All have turned aside, Together they have become useless; There is none who does good, there is not even one.”
The One who seeks is God, and those who need to be sought are those who are lost. Luke 19:10: “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost”; (John 6:37, 44), “All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out. . . No one can come to Me, unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day”; (John 4:23-24), “But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”
It’s perfectly fine for unbelievers to come to church. It’s great for Christians to invite unbelievers to come see what we do, hear what we preach, and benefit from our fellowship. But church is primarily for believers to gather for worship, for edification, and to provoke each other to greater love and good deeds.
As soon as we try to make church more palatable for non-Christians, it is no longer church.
Read what Ephesians 4:11-16 says church is all about.
Gifted men. God gives certain men to the church to lead it.
Equipping. The job of the specially-gifted men is to equip the saints.
Work of service. That’s the purpose of the equipping.
Building up the body of Christ. Increasing numbers is the by-product, but not the purpose of the church coming together.
Attaining to the unity of the faith. That will never happen except through maturity.
Attaining knowledge of the Son of God. You cannot grow in the grace and knowledge of the Son of God if you haven’t come to Him by faith in the first place.
To a mature man; to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. The unborn cannot be mature.
No longer children, tossed by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine . . . Are unbelievers actually going to stand firm for the great doctrines of the faith?
Grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ, . . . That cannot happen with someone who does not belong to the Head, who is still the enemy of Christ, lost in sin.
The proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love. You have to be part of the body before you can cause growth in the body.
That’s the design of God for His church. Where do we get the right to redesign it according to the desires of people who do not belong to it?
The Day Four chapter of The Purpose Driven Life is titled “Made to Last Forever.” And although the subject of a person’s eternal destiny is raised in this chapter, it is dealt with from a softened, watered-down perspective. Even though the author no doubt believes in the gospel of Jesus Christ, what is written is clearly not it, but more a feel-good, human-effort, self-improvement version of how to live for eternity. That chapter ends with the following summary:
Point to Ponder: There is more to life than just here and now.
Verse to Remember: “This world is fading away, along with everything it craves. But if you do the will of God, you will live forever.” 1 John 2:17 (NLT)
Question to Consider: Since I was made to last forever, what is the one thing I should stop doing and the one thing I should start doing today?
Contrary to what Warren writes, the Bible is very clear concerning what is required of us in light of our eternal destiny, i.e., every person is to believe in Jesus Christ for eternal life, or perish, and the only eternal life available is that given us by God, in His Son. And that is exactly what the Bible says. John 3:16: For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. 1John 5:11-12: And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life.
The Day Eleven chapter of The Purpose Driven Life is titled “Becoming Best Friends With God,” and there is not a single word about repentance in the chapter. It says Christ “paid for our sins on the cross,” but says nothing about our need to confess or repent of our sins to be saved. A non-Christian could very possibly read this book, make some external changes, and believe he fits right in with those in the church, and in fact is a child of God.
God is not only a loving God. He is a just and loving God. He wants all to come to repentance and to be saved through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. As Christians we must be ready to share the message of Christ when we have the opportunity to do so; but we are not to subtract from or add to that which God has revealed in His Word.
God’s people are to be messengers: Christ is the Message. We are food servers: Christ is the Bread of Life and the Living Water. As we purpose to love and obey God the Father, following and exemplifying Christ the Son, by the power and wisdom of the Holy Spirit, we will reach those who belong to Him.
We don’t need to use gimmicks, marketing techniques, contemporary interpretations of the Scriptures, neutered translations, or falsehoods as we present God’s message of love and forgiveness. We must allow God’s Word to change us internally if we expect for the changes to have an effect externally, where people see us. As we grow in the light of His Word, people will notice the small, slow changes in our desire and ability to serve, to love, and to forgive, and it is not very likely that this is going to happen in 40 days.
Showing the truth through our life is essential if we want unbelievers to listen to what we have to say. We must cultivate a relationship with unbelievers so that they can see Christ in us. God uses His people to reach unbelievers, for we are to be Living Proof that Jesus really frees people from sin, and the Holy Spirit really does transform a life.
God has provided the following resources (The Purpose Driven Life 40-day spiritual journey not being one of them) which are more than sufficient to testify to His Grace, and bring about transformation to His People:
The Holy Spirit works through inner conviction and circumstances to teach us God’s Truth: “When He comes, He will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8); “He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you” (John 14:26).
The Bible is God’s sovereign record of revealed Truth: “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me” (John 5:39); “Jesus answered, I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’”(John 14:6).
The Believer is a redeemed sinner saved by Grace who humbly and boldly exemplifies God’s Truth: “Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may on account of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.” “For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men.” (1 Peter 2:12, 15).
There are no shortcuts. No quick fixes. No biblically-sanctioned 40-day spiritual journey program that will prepare us and transform us for God’s purpose. We must acknowledge, appropriate, and apply the great truths of God’s Word, allowing them to change us as we grow in our personal relationship with God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, living as if Christ makes a difference right now, right here, as well as later on, and for all eternity.
Postscript: We want to end where we began, with a reminder that our critique of The Purpose Driven Life is in response to many inquiries from Christian friends all across the United States, and our desire is to help you search the Scriptures for yourself.
Rick Warren and Bill Hybels are, by their own clear testimonies, fellow servants of Jesus Christ. There is no doubt in our minds that The Purpose Driven Life is a blessing to many.
But as shepherds of the flock of God who will one day answer to the Chief Shepherd, we provide this critique with the prayer that it will help you grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
And for those to whom we minister day in and day out, we want you to know that the transformation of your life begins at the moment you believe in Christ and continues until you are with Him in glory . . . a lot longer than 40 days . . . and we plan to continue the journey with you.
This critique was written by Pastor Mike Hale (First Baptist Church, Waldport, Oregon) and Pastor Jim Harris (Heritage Bible Church, Boise, Idaho), in February 2004. As two pastors who love God’s people, we offer this article to address questions we have answered in person on dozens of occasions.
Pastor Michael Hale may be reached via Mail: PO Box 787, Waldport, OR 97394 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org