A lot has been written about problems with the Purpose-driven Church movement, but when a friend asked me for information about those problems it seemed a shame not to share this research on this blog. This is by no means comprehensive, but I think it covers the basic major areas of concern. Even if you're familiar with the topic, you may learn something new below.
A word about using discernment ministries and apologetics
Just a word about the different types of discernment ministries that are out there, our own approach, and why we recommend the articles we do. It seems good to clarify that there are a variety of approaches to discernment and apologetics. Just because someone does have discernment about a problem doesn’t mean that the person’s theology is necessarily solid, but also, just because someone’s theology is unbiblical or unbalanced doesn’t mean that the person’s discernment of a situation is wrong. A good example is the book Faith Undone by Roger Oakland, which is very discerning about problems with the Emergent Church, but the man himself is rigidly dispensational in his theology. Lighthouse Trails also has a dispensationalist background, but their research is excellent and well documented, as is the material by the Leslies (mentioned below). We are neither dispensationalists nor fundamentalists, but we do believe that the Bible is inerrant and can recognize good research backed by facts.
Some people are wary about some of the discernment ministries because of the continuing repercussions in the Church today from the fundamentalist-modernist controversy that occurred in the U.S. in the early 1920s. It’s a complex issue, and there is a lot of stereotyping that goes on, both in pro-fundamentalist and anti-fundamentalist writings. But there are other groups of apologists who aren’t dispensational at all, like the Extreme Theology website, overseen by a conservative Lutheran. There are also critiques of Rick Warren through the White Horse Inn website, which is a radio talk show sponsored by a coalition of conservative Reformed (Calvinist) thinkers and conservative Lutherans with a very high level of theological education. So, it’s a very wise approach not to use stereotypes when dealing with theological controversies. (Incidentally, we don’t believe you’re going to hell if you don’t use the King James Version; we use the NIV.)
Following are the major problems with Rick Warren’s approach that we have identified:
I. The Purpose-driven Church = The “Drucker-driven Church”
II. The Abandonment of Orthodox Theology
III. The Misuse of the Bible
IV. The Murdoch-driven Church
V. The use of pop psychology in the Purpose-driven Church movement
VI. Summary and Conclusion
I. The Purpose-driven Church =
The “Drucker Driven” Church
Management guru Peter Drucker is Warren’s mentor.
Rick Warren views Peter Drucker as his mentor. Drucker’s vision for society combines government, business and the Church all under his master plan, which is a broad vision of social engineering. For an excellent and very comprehensive analysis of the problems with Druckerism and Rick Warren’s use of it, see “The Pied Pipers of Purpose” by Lynn D. Leslie, Sarah H. Leslie and Susan J. Conway. According to this article, the latter part of Drucker’s life was devoted to targeting churches, parachurches and charities. Yet he left dealing with sin out of his calculations.
“Peter Drucker has exerted a considerable influence on Rick Warren. A December 24th 2002 CNBC documentary about Peter Drucker (“Peter Drucker: An Intellectual Journey”) claimed that he is one of Rick Warren’s mentors and influenced the start and growth of Saddleback Church.”
The Church is NOT a business.
Though this is too big an issue to go into in depth here, the Church is NOT a business—it’s Christ’s own Body and Christ’s means of salvation. To reduce it to a business model is to radically distort and debase it with human-centered techniques and teachings not based on the truth of the Word of God and the Holy Spirit.
“In my life, I've had at least three mentors: my father, Billy Graham, and Peter Drucker. They each taught me different things. Peter Drucker taught me about competence. I met him about 25 years ago. I was invited to a small seminar of CEOs, and Peter was there. As a young kid—I was about 25—began to call him up, write him, go see him. I still go sit at the feet of Peter Drucker on a regular basis. I could give you 100 one-liners that Peter has honed into me. One of them is that there's a difference between effectiveness and efficiency. Efficiency is doing things right, and effectiveness is doing the right thing. A lot of churches—not just churches, but businesses and other organizations—are efficient, but they are not effective.”
This quote from “The Pied Pipers of Purpose” provides a solid overview of some basic problems with the way Warren has applied Drucker’s approach to the Church:
“All three of these men – Drucker, [David] Salamon and [LESTER] Hornbeck – have emphasized ‘human capital’ as foundational to the transformation of the private sector. Why would “human capital” be of relevance to the Purpose-Driven church?
II. This radical view of economic man is the chief cornerstone of all of Drucker’s management theories.
III. Drucker’s theories undergird the Purpose-Driven model.
IV. This philosophy has nothing in common with the traditional Christian doctrines about the nature of man. The humanity of Man is markedly devalued.
V. These men believe that a man’s human worth and a church’s effectiveness can be “assessed” – measured by psycho-social instruments.
VI. Intangible matters of the spirit are codified into “results,” and “ineffective” ministries are cancelled (“abandoned”). This new criteria ensures that lost souls will begin to fall through the cracks.
VII. Profit-driven models are applied to matters of ministry of the Gospel, effectually degrading private acts of charity and compassion.
VIII. The Word of God becomes secondary to systems theory implementation.
IX. Disturbing questions are raised about those precious people in our lives who do not or can not possess ‘human capital’ or ‘knowledge capital’.”
Some signs of Druckerism in the Purpose-driven church movement
1. The Church is viewed as a business model. The bottom line is that church growth means numbers. This is absolutely contrary to the Bible’s teaching. (See quote above.) See John 6, esp. vss. 60-66.
2. The movement “builds” churches with marketing surveys, e.g., “What music do people like?”
2 Timothy 4:3 NIV • “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.”
3. The movement purports to get rid of anything that might interfere with the transition to the purpose-driven model, e.g., older members who don’t want to change. Numerous reports exist of this phenomenon. For one example, see the article “Spiritual Euthanasia,” which at the bottom lists numerous pastors and church members who were driven out by these changes, along with their phone numbers.
4. Church leaders are viewed as “change agents” instead of as servant ministers of Christ. This fits in with Warren’s social engineering approach to the Church.
5. The movement constantly tests for results using humanistic psychological methods, e.g., Myers-Briggs, to fit people into slots (more on this in the section on psychology).
II. The Abandonment of Orthodox Theology
A business guide
Warren’s book The Purpose Driven Church is basically a business guide for pastors for growing the church numerically. He downplays the basics of true Christianity: the Cross, the wrath of God, the helplessness of humanity in the grip of sin and Satan; the devil; the atoning blood of Christ. These are God’s only way that we can be saved; and after we’re saved we still have to continually cope with the world, the sinful nature, and the devil, which we can only do by the continual recognition of the Gospel of grace—by grace we are saved, through faith in Christ alone (Ephesians 2).
“Deeds not creeds.”
Beware of Warren’s statements about a “new” Reformation of “deeds not creeds” for he totally ignores orthodox Christian theology, which countless Christians have died defending. Warren may claim to be loyal to the ancient creeds (the Apostle’s Creed, the Nicean Creed), but it doesn’t mean that in practice that’s what he preaches. For instance, he says that creeds (i.e., Christian doctrine) were important then but not now. Calling his approach a “new reformation” is sheer arrogance that matches that of one of his mentors, Robert Schuller. Schuller wrote a heretical book that he mailed out to pastors all over the U.S. called Self Esteem: The New Reformation. Now Rick Warren has come out with his. But the Reformation has already taken place over 400 years ago, and the Bible holds true.
Abandonment of the true Reformation. Most people in the Church don’t realize how Warren’s approach is an abandonment of the good recovery of doctrine that took place in the Reformation during the 16th century.
The Bible has both deeds and creeds (i.e., doctrine) as part of a balanced and powerful approach to living for Christ, whereas the idea of “deeds not creeds” is one of the main concepts in theological liberalism (Dr. Gresham Machen explains this well in his book, Christianity and Liberalism.)
A generic message
Warren shapes his message and his methods for “generic” religionists. His message could be given to Roman Catholics, Mormons, Jews, and perhaps even Muslims. And as of now he is making common cause with Islam—not just working with Muslims but partnering with them. One example is how he calls a valid call to ministry being a nun. With just a nod he includes Roman Catholicism in his sweep, saying nothing about them having another gospel and that they worship Mary as the Queen of Heaven, etc. This makes sense in view of his abandonment of the true Reformation that had to do with pulling out of the morass of the Roman Catholic Church and recovering the clear Gospel of grace. Although its official doctrine denies justification by grace alone a person can attend the Roman Catholic Church and still be saved (though not by its doctrines). Roman Catholicism is a church gone astray, whereas Islam and Mormonism were never part of the Christian Church.
“There are purpose driven congregations in more than 200 different denominations and associations. Our desire is to work with denominations to strengthen their churches. Each church can maintain its own heritage of doctrinal convictions while cooperating with others on accomplishing the five purposes.”
The same article quotes from USA Today: “Warren’s pastor training program welcomes Catholics, Methodists, Mormons, Jews, and ordained women.”
The same article also quotes Rick Warren when asked about the problems of training Mormons, among others. He said: “I’m not going to get into a debate over the non-essentials. I won’t try to change other denominations. Why be divisive?” But Mormonism is not just another Christian denomination; it’s another religion, a pagan religion with a Christian veneer that doesn’t have the same Christ. Warren isn’t discerning.
Syncretism / idolatry
Rick Warren is basically a syncretist, someone who combines contrary religious ideas and practices. The whole Old Testament testifies from beginning to end that syncretism is an abomination to God—spiritual adultery, also called idolatry. That doesn’t mean that there can’t be genuine fellowship between Christians of different denominations when the foundation in Christ and the orthodox doctrine of the Gospel are prominent.
Robert Schuller. Warren has enjoyed an intimate relationship with the heretical Robert Schuller and lied outright denying it. Robert Schuller is the man who said that Christians have to stop preaching what he calls “negative stuff”—like sin, judgment, the cross, wrath—and to substitute building self-esteem. (See Schuller’s book: Self-esteem: The New Reformation.)
Obama. Warren has embraced Obama, who supports abortion, and called him his “friend.” And he spoke at Obama’s inaugural address, evidence of more than a casual relationship and immensely disturbing to many evangelicals.
III. The Misuse of the Bible
Isogesis not exegesis
Many books address Warren’s misuse of the Bible. From the point of view of biblical theology he is practicing “isogesis” (or “proof texting”) – that is, reading into the Bible his own previously held doctrines. He does not do exegesis, i.e., looking at what the Bible says and taking doctrine from that. In other words, he shapes it his own way. A big example is that he first took his purpose-driven system from Drucker; then he hunted through the Scriptures and numerous versions of the Bible and its paraphrases and tried to make them support his system. (More about this a little later.) Examples re The Message:
Examples of Warren misusing The Message
In The Purpose Driven Life Warren says, “The Bible warns…” and then quotes from The Message. The way he depends upon paraphrases so much shows that he is unwilling or afraid to deal directly with the text of Scripture. The Message is full of many very subjective and psychology-driven interpretations. A paraphrase is really a commentary, and to quote from it as if it is a true translation is a poor or dishonest practice.
Warren grasps onto translations that say what he wants them to say, which shows that he is stretching the translations to reinforce his Drucker-generated theories. The book Who’s Driving the Purpose Driven Church deals with this in detail.
IV. The Murdoch-driven Church
Warren allows this obviously sinful and unrepentant worldly and wealthy person to support him and to be a member of his congregation without publicly correcting him. Murdoch is widely known in many countries as the world’s biggest pornographer. (See “Purpose-Driven Pornography.”) Murdoch owns Zondervan Publishing as well many trashy newspapers and the Fox Channel. Murdoch has contributed millions to Warren’s P.E.A.C.E. Plan and backed his books in a major way, a support that Warren covets. (Zondervan is also a big supporter of the Emergent Church gurus, such as Brian MacLaren, etc.)
When challenged about having this active pornographer in his congregation at Saddleback, Warren said only that he could work with anyone on common good goals. In other words, he didn’t want to deal with the fact that a member of his congregation and a personal supporter was sinning mightily against the Lord. You might almost say that it appears that Warren is in Rupert Murdoch’s pocket.
V. The use of Pop Psychology in the
Purpose-driven Church movement
This is too large a subject for our purposes, although it needs to be addressed. Unfortunately it isn’t unique to Saddleback for we live in a society focused on therapy and self-help. Propagating a “gospel of psychology” is a growing phenomenon in all mainline churches and in what used to be called evangelical churches. (If you want to know more about this, we can deal with it in another “brief” analysis.) The Leslies’ article points out how Warren believes that psychosocial instruments can assess a man’s human worth and a church’s effectiveness.
VI. Summary and Conclusion
Rick Warren is moving the evangelical church in a very negative direction, a direction that strongly resembles the way liberalism swept into the evangelical churches in the early 1900s. This had the devastating result of tremendously weakening them and making them extremely vulnerable to Marxism and all kinds of vain philosophies so they could not stand against abortion, the elevation of the homosexual lifestyle, and leftist politics that emerged later.
As someone who has worked with thousands of mental patients over the years, I (Richard) have to say that I think Warren exhibits a grandiosity that seems terribly inappropriate for a Christian minister. For one thing, he claims that he will unite two billion Christians around his plan to deal with the “giants” of poverty, etc., but somehow he doesn’t include the giants of the world, the flesh, and the devil. Nor does he mention salvation through Christ. Where’s humility? Where’s the Gospel? Where’s the Cross? Where’s the Lordship of Christ?
The above are only a few of the numerous reasons why many Christians today have a problem with Rick Warren. We are among them because, in addition to the above, we have personally been in churches where the purpose-driven approach has swept through and wreaked havoc.
18For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19For it is written:
"I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate."
20Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength.
 See Time magazine article (first paragraph) at http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1830147-2,00.html
 Leslies, et al., Section 1.4.
 Quote from Rick Warren at http://money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune/fortune_archive/2005/03/21/8254830/index.htm
 Section 5, “The Pied Pipers of Purpose.”
 The Purpose Driven Life, 229.
 If you’re interested in this subject, Richard can point you to some books.
 From “Rick Warren ‘Works with’ and ‘Strengthens’ Mormon Churches and other non-Christian sects” at www.alittleleaven.com/2007/05/Rick_Warren_wor.html
 For details about his relationship with Schuller, see Lighthouse Trails research Website.
 A friend of an abortion promoter: http://www.christianpost.com/article/20090407/rick-warren-clarifies-relationship-with-obama/index.html
 “Why is Obama’s evil in Rick Warren’s pulpit?” by Kevin McCullough, Nov. 17, 2006. World Net Daily at http://www.wnd.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID+52998
 P. 77.
 Who’s Driving the Purpose-driven Church: A documentary on the teachings of Rick Warren by James Sundquist (Bible Belt Publishing, Oklahoma City, 2004). Sundquist is obviously very much in the fundamentalist camp, but he is only documenting what he has observed. Appendix C of his book contains a very good article by Rev. Ed Hurd (Anglican minister), “Carl Jung, Neo-Gnosticism, and the (MBTI).” [Meyers-Briggs Temperament Indicator]
 See “Purpose-driven Pornography” at http://www.extremetheology.com/2007/05/purposedriven_p.html