I don’t often get worked up reading through the Christian retail magazine, Christian Marketplace, but July 2004’s issue did that to me. It was not one article but a combination of several and I was not sure at first why I was reacting. After careful consideration I boiled it down my concern to two questions; “What, as Christians are we valuing most in our reading” and, “How do we judge if we are successful Christians?”
The latter question was developed from an article authored by Peter Brierley, concerning the future of the church. I wonder if the numbers game, and how many books we sell, is really the way that we should be judging ourselves? It seems to me we have moved away from a relationship with Christ, and whether He is manifest within me, to a relationship with successful churches and whether I am part of the largest church going.
Do we really have our priorities right, or has the church been overtaken by the world? I wonder how many people, belonging to smallish churches – and that is true of me – feel they must be outside the purpose of God. If their church does not have the vision to seat 5,000 people by 2010 it cannot have the vision of God. Subtly, but surely, I believe Satan has led people down a path to success rather than sanctification. It also seems to me that the true purpose of the church – each individual member functioning in the body and interacting with other members to be built up into the true building of Christ – is dissipated the larger a church becomes.
I suppose this would not be so bad if there was something being done about it. If the top selling books were about our relationship with, and growing in Christ, or being led by the Holy Spirit – but unfortunately this was not the case. ‘Top of the pops’ was Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren.
The title puts the emphasis on man and what drives him, rather than on the God who leads by His Holy Spirit. The background is to the ‘success’ of using this, to increase the numbers within the church (see details below). So much of what we hear and read today is man-centred whereas the normal Christian life is God-centred. How many people am I going to talk to this week? How many meetings am I going to? Rather than my relationship, and the quality of that relationship with the Lord. Now, just maybe, I am making too much of the title and so I want to take a brief look at this book. We have now developed a more detailed article.
Rick Warren is pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California. He is the founder of a ministry with the registered trade mark of PurposeDriven®. Thousands of Christian leaders have read his best-selling book The Purpose Driven Church and hundreds have attended his PurposeDriven Seminars. His book, The Purpose Driven Life, a New York Times bestseller, has been purchased by millions of people since its release in September 2002. Scores of churches are also using his materials during special campaigns called 40 Days of Purpose.
The statistics for the 40 Days of Purpose at Warren’s church are impressive. Within those 40 days he tells us that 671 new believers were baptised and 1,200 new members were added to the church. The average church attendance increased by 2,000; 2,200 previously uninvolved people volunteered to serve in a ministry of the church; and another 3,700 committed to go on missions somewhere in the world. On top of this, 2,400 six-week Home Bible Study groups were started attended by nearly 25,000.
The aim of the material seems very good. It encourages months of prayer preparation; the entire church focusing on the same issue; material that centres on four vital habits that everyone needs to grow spiritually; weekly worship attendance, daily quiet time, weekly group Bible study, and a weekly Scripture memory verse. Finally, each message is designed to cause people to become doers of the Word. Surely we have no right then to criticise such a book and such a work – it has to be from God?
There is good
As with so much these days, within the book there are many good concepts, and we should learn from them, but we are encouraged to examine carefully what is being taught so that we do not get taken up with the impressive glossy outer cover but we read the small print that we are being exposed to. It is vitally important to know what drives one’s life and therefore it is vital to have the centre of that life clear.
If I leave home and set my compass one degree off target for where I want to get to, by the time I have travelled for a day I will be missing the target by miles. So the question I want to ask is not, is this successful? Nor are there good lessons? But is it truly God-centred or is it man-centred?
For the purposes of this article I want to make 4 points and back them up with at least one illustration; there are many more that can be cited and I will not make a sweeping generalisation because of one instance.
The basis of the book (The Purpose Driven ® Life, Rick Warren, Zondervan, 2002) is that,
“The next 40 days will transform your life” p.10
The premise is, that all the instances of 40 days in Scripture, are ones of Transformation. At the top of p.12 Rick Warren mentions Noah, the spies, David, Elijah and Jesus among others. However, these instances are not ones of transformation but trial and testing. Indeed 40 in Scripture does not mean transformation but testing.
Noah was not transformed in the 40 days, they were days of judgement; 10 of the spies were never transformed even with their 40 day experience; David had spent time getting ready beforehand and there was nothing further that needed to happen in “Goliath’s 40-day challenge”; and finally Jesus was led by the Spirit to be tempted in the wilderness not transformed.
Such misreading and misdirected teaching as the basis of the book does not lead one to have confidence in what is going to be said.
Further on in this introductory chapter, (pp.11/12), Warren tells how he has been praying for ‘you’ and he is excited about all the great things that are going to happen to ‘you’ as you go through this book. Can we really have such confidence for every individual ‘you’ that reads the book? Jesus had to be lead of the Spirit, indeed for each person mentioned with a 40 day experience there was a specific time that God led them into. Can we be absolutely sure it is now?
This seems to me to be giving false hope and stretching the promises of God to breaking point.
Misuse of Scripture
In the book, Scriptures are often quoted out of context and many of the verses are quoted from a paraphrase rather than a translation. The author actually explains why,
“I have intentionally varied the Bible translations used for two important reasons. First, no matter how wonderful a translation is, it has limitations… so it is always helpful to compare translations. Second… we often miss the full impact of familiar Bible verses… therefore I have deliberately used paraphrases in order to help you see God’s truth….” p.325
Herein is the problem – a paraphrase does not necessarily reveal God’s truth; it reveals what a particular Christian thinks God is saying. This can be helpful, to get an understanding of the context, but it can also be dangerous if we start claiming promises God never gave in the original! It is the latter that causes me concern within this book. Let me illustrate.
Day 20 beginning on p.152 is entitled “Restoring Broken Fellowship” and begins with a quotation from God’s Word Translation.
“[God] has restored our relationship with him through Christ, and has given us this ministry of restoring relationships. – 2 Corinthians 5:18
Further down the page, using this verse, Warren concludes, “The Bible tells us that God has given us the ministry of restoring relationships.” And the next pages are all about restoring relationships between the reader and another individual.
I would not deny that this is important but that is not the ministry we have been given. If the context of 2 Corinthians 5:18 is studied in a true translation, it becomes clear that the ministry we have been given is to declare that unbelievers can be reconciled to God through faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ. To use this text as a Biblical support for restoration of relationships between individuals is to misinterpret God’s Word. It can also lead to depression if someone starts claiming that this is a God given ministry but it is not working.
On a number of occasions there appears to be counsel which at the least is unwise. This in part comes from the fact that the book is dealing with getting you to the right place and as such sometimes misses out some areas of necessary fellowship. For instance on p.254 we read:
“You will find that people who do not understand your shape for ministry will criticize you and try to get you to conform to what they think you should be doing. Ignore them.”
Who? Everybody? Including your elders and fellow members of the body of Christ? Self-importance and even self-deception is a terrible handicap within the body of Christ. If I am so determined to be a certain shape and just know God has made me this, I can be not only deluding myself but I can be a hindrance to the body of Christ. What I am, must be determined in fellowship with those around me, who I trust, and who I know have my best interests at heart. If I just, “ignore them,” I am breaking a principle of fellowship that is clearly taught within Scripture.
This same problem comes out in a slightly different way too.
Judge or discern?
So often we hear the words these days that we must not criticise, but we must affirm others in what they believe? But supposing, what the person believes is wrong; do I just ignore it and pretend that all is well? There does appear to be a weakness in this area. For instance on pp.163 & 164 we read,
“Choose to encourage rather than criticize…God warns us over and over not to criticize, compare, or judge each other (Romans 14:13; James 4:11; Ephesians 4:29; Matthew 5:9 and James 5:9). When you criticize what another believer is doing in faith and from sincere conviction, you are interfering with God’s business. ‘What right do you have to criticize someone else’s servants? Only their Lord can decide if they are doing right’ (Rom. 14: 4 CE V)”
At the end of this day (21), the point to ponder is, “It is my responsibility to protect the unity of the church” (p.167.) However, God’s Word puts a slightly different emphasis on this, when we read in Ephesians 4:3 that we should be, “diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit…” Then in verse 12 we read that eventually as we grow up in Him we will, “attain to the unity of the faith…”
I do not believe we can protect the unity of the church; I can be aware of the things that divide and seek to ensure they are dealt with; I can seek not to be selfish and lay my life down for others; but how can I protect the Spirit of God.
He is the unity of the church, we don’t create it and so we don’t protect it; we accept what He has done and who He is.
What is also missing from this equation is discernment and a testing of the spirits; a searching of the Scriptures to see if these things are so. This is not judging people in the sense of condemning them – we must not do that. But we are called upon to judge, search and test to see if the things taught and believed are of the Spirit of God. If they are not we are to say and seek to bring the people back to the truth. If this does not happen then what we have is not true unity; it is simply an absence of dealing with things that divide.
May be this lack of understanding of true Biblical theology comes from the diet of what we are reading; this leads me to my final point regarding the magazine.
Fact or Fiction
Surely, after this, things could not get worse? Unfortunately they can. Much of this issue of the magazine is taken up with Christian Fiction. There is nothing wrong with Christian Fiction per se, but it is important to get it into balance, and if I am devoting all my attention to reading fiction I am not getting grounded within Scripture.
If this is where we are drawing our Christian teaching from we are in trouble. I never forget Frank Peretti’s books – good stories but just do not take them as doctrine. Just how many prayers does it take to make an angel’s wing flap?
May be the dearth in Christians who really know what they believe today is because of so much emphasis on Fiction and not Biblical exegesis, but fiction is just so much easier to read isn’t it!
The latest craze, following on the Left Behind series seems to be G.P.Taylor’s Shadowmancer and now his new book Wormwood. Billed as the Christian answer to J.K.Rowling, it is indeed the story of Good verses Evil but in it there is ‘Christian’ theology but is it correct theology?
Not wanting to reinvent the wheel I would encourage you to read the in-depth article by Marcia Montenegro.
With Marcia’s permission, here I want to bring some bullet points from this article that shows why we are concerned.
1. G P Taylor has clearly stated that this is not a Christian book. Indeed Taylor is described as a student of the occult and new age philosophies, and he is quoted as saying that the devilish plot “came out of the darkest depths of my imagination.” Occultic powers are used and accepted as okay by even those who are the ‘good guys,’ which puts them in opposition to the teaching of Scripture.
2. Marcia points out the worldview of the book,
“Though criss-crossed with Christian references, many of them rather ambiguous, the book presents a vague Christianity more as part of superstition and animism rather than as something set apart from occult magick and powers. Rather than the world of an omnipotent God, this book provides several incidents that evoke dualism, and a belief that God can be defeated by evil. Additionally, there is a very subjective spirituality present in the books with no clear-cut message about who Jesus is or what He did on the cross, though there are hazy and confusing references to it.”
3. When Biblical quotes are used or referred to, they are often jumbled and given another meaning to the one they have in the original Scripture. This leads at one point to even question the sovereignty of God.
4. The God of this book is not the God of fundamental Christianity. Indeed Taylor in interviews he has given shows he believes that the God of Islam and the God of Christianity are the same, but by very definition they are clearly different. This leads to confusion to anyone who wants to learn about the true God and true Christianity.
Where does that leave us? I don’t know about you but I am concerned. Concerned that young Christians may not be receiving good Biblical grounding in the Word. Concerned because they are not being taught how to study their Scriptures and receive truth. Concerned because so much (not all) of the brand of Christianity that we have today is man-centred and that I am sorry to say can only lead to disaster.