By Richard Bennett
There is an underlying feature of Rick Warren’s book and movement that makes an analysis of it very difficult. It stems from the fact that Warren presents some basic teaching regarding God’s purpose to glorify Himself and what man should do in relation to God. The fact that none of these purposes is presented in a biblically accurate way makes Warren’s work all the more dangerous to the true understanding of Who God is and His Gospel in Christ. In the first part of our analysis we documented the way in which the Gospel was vitiated by the exaltation of man and so called “true self”. This error together with the corresponding neglect to show that man is in fact spiritually “dead in trespasses and sins” showed that the book is both a hindrance and a deceit. The most dangerous of heresies have always been those that have been presented in the context of general basic truth. In this section, too, we must continue to analyze the saving purpose of God from all eternity in Christ Jesus. Salvation comes from God to sinful man in and through Christ Jesus alone. The origin of free grace and eternal purpose of God is in Christ Jesus alone, “Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began.” This elementary truth would not need to be emphasized were it not for the fact that Warren misrepresents God’s saving love for mankind as being in a man himself.
The nature of God in Scripture is proclaimed to be All Holy, thus the Bible states “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.” To inspire utter reverence for God’s nature, the question is asked, “Who shall not fear Thee, O Lord, and glorify Thy name? For Thou only art Holy: for all nations shall come and worship before Thee. . .” One of the most flagrant sins of Warren and his movement is the failure to respect the nature of the Almighty, All Holy God. For example, in his chapter entitled “Becoming Best Friends with God”, God is portrayed as if He were in need, “Almighty God yearns to be your Friend!”  “Yearns” signifies “craves”, “hankers”, or “covets”, basically meaning He needs to be your Friend. The love of God, however, whereby He gave His only begotten Son, is totally sacrificial and giving. It in no way signifies a lack in God. On the contrary, the giving of His only begotten Son is the total outpouring of His perfect love and certainly not needed to complete or perfect His love. The fact that God demonstrates His love to unworthy sinners in no way implies that God needs sinners to satisfy something lacking in Him! Warren’s terminology misrepresents the nature of God.
Warren builds on this serious error by means of a modern corruption of Exodus 34:14, “He is a God who is passionate about his relationship with you.” The verse should read, “for thou shalt worship no other god: for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.” The jealousy or passion of the Lord God is against those who would worship another god. Such worship is utterly condemned. It is significant that the first part of this verse, “for thou shalt worship no other god”, is totally absent from Warren’s chapter. Yet when the terms “jealously” or “passion” are used of God in the Bible, it describes His fervor for the true worship due to His holy name. It demands exclusive devotion to Him. By teaching that God has a passion or infatuation with the reader of Warren’s book rather than a perfect zeal for His Holy Name, Warren has gotten the meaning of the verse literally backwards. His use of a corrupted and partial Bible text to depict his notion that God has a passionate devotion to man renders his work an attempt to flatter men rather than present them with God’s truth concerning their depravity. Thus Warren teaches as truth the very idolatry that a faithful rendition of the whole text condemns. This type of Scripture twisting that degrades the nature of God runs throughout Warren’s book.
Love is not the essence of God’s character apart from His righteousness Warren’s teaching that God has a saving love for everyone demeans the very nature of God. Such particular love for everyone is stated to be “the essence of God’s character”. Warren teaches,
“You were created as a special object of God’s love! God made you so he could love you. This is a truth to build your life on. The Bible tells us, “God is love.” (I John 4:8) It doesn’t say God has love. He is love! Love is the essence of God’s character. There is perfect love in the fellowship of the Trinity, so God didn’t need to create you.” (pp. 24-25)
This is still another contradiction by Warren, who had just previously implied that God was somehow lacking. Now Warren has given his readers the heady notion that God loves each one “as a special object”. With this type of assurance, the reader has security in himself and in his sins. According to Scripture, however, we cannot know that we are the objects of God’s saving love until after we have fled from His wrath against our sin, repented of it, and turned to put our faith in Christ Jesus alone. Warren’s type of god, who loves everyone as a special object of His love, is utter heresy. Love apart from His righteousness is not the essence of God’s character. Rather in Scripture God’s saving love is always in accord with His righteousness, “mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.” We must accept God’s love as He himself has defined it rather than how Warren has presented it!
In Scripture God’s love is seen in the maintenance of His law, and in the manifestation of His justice. In the Messiah there is a harmony of the divine attributes, love and righteousness. In Christ, God’s righteousness and peace have kissed each other. In the work of the Redeemer, God’s love is shown in the Messiah being “wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.” The demonstration of God is love is “that He might be just and the justifier of him, who believes in Jesus.” God is true to His wrath against sin and He is just in His government to both love and pardon sinners in Christ Jesus. He is just because Christ Jesus’ blood paid the penalty, satisfying God’s justice. He is “justifier” in that Christ’s righteousness is credited to believers. But unbelievers remain under God’s wrath because of their own unrighteousness. In that state they have no reason to believe they are special objects of God’s love.
Warren’s so-called love of God for unrepentant sinners as “a special object of God’s love” is an insult to the true love of God because it attempts to redefine the very nature of God. The true love of God upholds His truth, His commands, His Word, and His righteousness. For example consider the preaching of C. H. Spurgeon, “O Sinner, humble yourself under the mighty hand of God! Think how often He has shown His love to you by bidding you come to Himself. Think how often you have spurned His Word and refused His mercy. Think how you have turned a deaf ear to every invitation and have gone your way to rebel against a God of love. Think how often you have violated the commands of Him that loved you.” If Warren wrote and preached as Spurgeon did above, he would not be as popular with the thousands of so called “carnal Christians” across the world. However, when the commands of God are preached together with His love, true conversions are seen as righteousness and peace come together in Christ Jesus. God’s saving love is always particularized to those who are in Christ. It is always declared to be in Christ and because of His grace. Thus the Bible proclaims, “according as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him: in love having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself… To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he has made us accepted in the beloved.” Without exception, human beings are the objects of God’s saving love only in Christ Jesus; otherwise, and without exception, they are objects of God’s wrath! “Surely, shall one say, in the LORD have I righteousness and strength.”
God’s focus on Christ is changed for Warren’s focus on man In Chapter 2, “You Were Not an Accident”, Warren emphasizes God’s sovereignty in appointing every detail of each person’s birth. Warren seems to equate being born with being a child of God for he states, “While there are illegitimate parents, there are no illegitimate children….God never makes mistakes….God made you so he could love you.” Leaping over the huge difficulties such as “the vessels of wrath” in Romans 9:22, Warren moves to Ephesians 1:4 to make his case, “according as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him”. He teaches a distortion of its meaning, however. Citing The Message he teaches,
“God’s motive for creating was his love. The Bible says, ‘Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love.’” (p 24)
This corrupt text allows Warren to exclude the true focus of the Bible text that God’s choice of individuals is “in Christ” and not in unrepentant people who, Warren teaches, are loved in themselves. Nowhere in the book does he deal with Ephesians 2:1 nor any of the great passages speaking of being born dead in trespasses and sin. He totally omits dealing biblically with the problem of justification. By disregarding this central issue, Warren utterly fails to acknowledge that Paul is not addressing people who are loved in themselves but rather to “the faithful in Christ Jesus”, telling them of the riches of His grace which are theirs precisely because they are “in Him [i.e., Christ].” As a magician who with one wave of his hand changes what one sees, so Warren has with one contrived paraphrase of Scripture changed “chosen us in him” to read “he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love.” With this switch from “the faithful in Christ” to sinful individuals as they are in themselves, Warren has removed the one Mediator and His redemption as the means by which God’s active love has procured its goal. In the context of salvation, which is the whole theme of Ephesians chapter 1, this removal of the Person of Christ Jesus means that Warren presents a god who has saving love for sinful individuals as they are in themselves. His god is not the God of the Bible. Outside of God’s choice in Christ Jesus there is no salvation. The love of God finds satisfaction and delight only in his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. His love is not only particularized in Christ Jesus, but His express purpose is to uphold His own righteousness, as the Apostle Paul proclaimed, “being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus…to declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.”
In all things we rejoice that God is almighty and that there is good news for all who are “dead in trespasses and sins”. In the light of God’s Word we know, “the gospel of Christ…is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth.…” By nature we are all children of wrath, and by practice we are rebels against the Lord God and His Word. The perfect and just law of God condemned us all and the Lord God is not responsible to rescue any of us from His just wrath. Despite our sin nature and personal sin, the Lord God has given His beloved Son for all true believers. God is the All Holy One. His holiness is the distinguishing factor in all His essential characteristics. This is the reason why we need to be in right standing before the one and only All Holy God on the terms He prescribes. Turn to God in faith alone for the salvation that He alone gives, by the conviction of the Holy Spirit, based on Christ’s death and resurrection, and believe on Him alone, “to the praise of the glory of his grace.” The understanding of the Gospel causes us to proclaim in loving gratitude, “not unto us, o Lord, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory, for thy mercy, and for thy truth’s sake.”
The consequences of Warren’s trifling with the Holy and Just nature of God Warren’s saving love applied universally to all degrades God’s holy and just nature. His love is specifically “in Christ,” and for the express purpose of showing forth His righteousness. God cannot and will not accept our sin. Thus Warren significantly distorts the biblical doctrine of the just and holy God and thus disfigures the biblical concept of the nature of God. If God loved man as he is in himself He would be unrighteous. Such a concept is sacrilege. “God is light” as well as “love”, “and in him is no darkness at all.” His love is a holy love, as are all His attributes. In the Scripture His Holiness is every bit as important as His love. “Be ye holy; for I am holy.” Equal to God’s love is His wrath and judgment which produces healthy fear and awe of the Creator, “despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?”
A sinner ought not to be comforted by assurances of the love of God apart from repentance and faith in Christ. Rather a sinner should be reminded that God hates sinners as Scripture insists, “the boastful shall not stand before thine eyes; thou dost hate all who do iniquity.” “I hate the assembly of evildoers, and I will not sit with the wicked.” Without Christ Jesus “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven…” God clearly depicts His Holy and just nature in the pages of Scripture. Great is the guilt of anyone who makes it seem that God’s saving love is indiscriminate, rather than focused on sinners as they are in Christ Jesus. The Lord’s glory and redemption in Christ Jesus are what is at stake, “let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire.”
Involvement with the Catholic Church and more similarities Since Warren’s policy is to implement church growth without respect to biblical doctrine, it is no wonder that Catholic Churches such as Saint Michael the Archangel Catholic Church in Cary, NC are now enthusiastically joining in the Warren church growth program. The Webpage for this Catholic Church states, “Having finished the first 21 days of the book, our growing group decided to push on to the end (so if you’ve already read parts of the book and weren’t able to join us in November, now’s the time to hop aboard!)…” Another example: “In the Chicago area, more than 200churches are participating in ‘40 Days of Purpose’ (some used it as a Lenten series). Among them is St. Walter’s Catholic Church in Roselle which had hoped 100 people would sign up for small home groups for the ‘40 Days of Purpose’ program studying Warren’s book. Instead, 700 got involved.’”
Warren quotes from Catholic mystic Brother Lawrence, endorsing Catholic contemplative prayer techniques, which he says are “helpful ideas”. Brother Lawrence was not only traditionally Roman Catholic but also disseminated teachings that have similarities with Hinduism in the Bhagavad-Gita, and with many New Age writers. Warren endorses him and goes on later to recommend “breath prayers”. He teaches,
“Many Christians use ‘Breath Prayers’ throughout their day. You choose a brief sentence, or a simple phrase that can be repeated to Jesus in one breath: ‘You are with me.’ ‘I receive your grace.’ ‘I’m depending on you. ’ ‘I want to know you.’ ‘I belong to you.’”
For centuries Catholic mystics have practiced “breath prayers” such as these. They are simply the Catholic form of old Greek mysticism and akin to the mantras of Hindus. In this same book, Warren cites approvingly the famous Catholic mystic Madame Guyon (p. 193). He approves also of St. John of the Cross (p. 108) and the Catholic priest mystic, psychologist and ecumenist Henri Nouwen (pp. 269- 270). He warmly agrees with Mother Teresa (pp. 125, 231). These misleading techniques are thus propagated and lead further into the whole mystic plague that presently is threatening
believers. This plague is the imagination that there is a unity consciousness with God apart from the Person, unique life and sacrifice of Christ Jesus. Warren presents a mystical agenda, which the world loves and accepts, but which is an abomination before the Lord God.
Displacement of Pastors and the Consequences The “40 Days of Purpose” campaign of purpose and community is distinct from other movements we have seen in recent times. Warren asks pastors to devote their church and their people to an intensive forty days of reprogramming their understanding of God, Christ, and how one becomes a Christian. He promises at the end of forty days that the church will be transformed. Through his book and the agenda laid out, he teaches for forty days on nearly every aspect of the Christian life. This type of interference in the running of a church opens the way for an insidious take-over of that church. In Scripture the function of pastors is to teach and to be watchmen and guardians of the flocks the Lord has given to them. “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers.” To hand over their position before the Lord to
another who will for seven weeks teach his own doctrinal messages based on a multitude of flawed paraphrases of Scripture is utterly unbiblical. The church is the pastors’ and elders’ charge. It is not theirs to bring in debased ideas that infiltrate every important area of the church life. In Warren’s book and movement, God’s absolute sovereignty is flatly denied as men are counseled to determine their own destinies.
Warren and all who associate with his plans and purposes ought to fear the All Holy God for, “thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.” This is just one of the Ten Commandments Warren breaks. Another is “Thou shalt not bear false witness”. Rick Warren’s book, The Purpose Driven Life, is replete with fraudulent claims. The fact, however, is that the All Holy God reigns as proclaimed by the Holy Spirit, “The Lord reigneth; let the people tremble.” “The Lord hath prepared his throne in the heavens; and his kingdom ruleth over all.” The Lord God is ruling with complete dominion, fulfilling His eternal purpose, not only in spite of but also by means of those who would misrepresent His nature and that of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, and His glorious and invincible Gospel. The essence of sin is forsaking the Lord as truly the sovereign God and presenting Him as less, in this case a god who has needs and thereby can be manipulated.