Surfing the Internet to research this article, I was amazed how many critiques there are of the Purpose Driven Life. I do not want to ‘reinvent the wheel’ and so in this article I want to concentrate on one vital aspect – the misuse of Scripture.


Earlier this year I briefly mentioned the Purpose Driven Life in one of our articles. In summary, this is what we said:

The title puts the emphasis on man and what drives him rather than on the God who leads by His Holy Spirit… So much of what we hear and read today is man-centred whereas the normal Christian life is God-centred.

Rick Warren is pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California. He is the founder of a ministry with the registered trade mark of Purpose Driven®. Thousands of Christian leaders have read his best-selling book The Purpose Driven Church and hundreds have attended his Purpose Driven 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 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… (Indeed) 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 … I want to make 4 points and back them up with at least one illustration…

Unfounded Promises

The basis of the book is that, ‘The next 40 days will transform your life’ p.10 (All italics in the original unless otherwise stated)

The premise is that all the instances of 40 days in Scripture are ones of Transformation. At the top of p.10 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… 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?

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. (We will expand further on this below.)

Unwise words

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… 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 CEV)”

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.

What is also missing from this equation is also 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.


This article brought an interesting response from both ends of the spectrum. Some, including Pastors that I know, said, “How dare you say such things, we use the course and it is changing lives”. On the other hand, there were those who requested more information.

As we said above, we are not claiming that there is nothing good that can come out of this, but are there any teachings within it that could lead you to non-Biblical beliefs, and away from the centrality of Christ.

Talking recently to the Principal of a Bible School, we were sharing our concerns about how many people do not know their Bibles; many do not even bring their own Bibles to church meetings. I have to say that it leads me to wonder, if they actually have one that they use during the week?

Acts 20:26-30 has much to say to us here:

“Therefore, I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God. Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them.”

Paul declared the ‘whole purpose of God.’ All aspects, not just favourite texts but everything they would need to know
to have wisdom and understanding as to how to live and be safe in Christ. This is shown further on when Paul warns that they were to be aware that from ‘within’ the church, men would arise, and speak ‘perverse’ things. Basically it means that they would distort the truth and try and draw away even the disciples. Not all the teachings of such ones would necessarily be wrong, but there would be enough distortion to take their listeners away from the purpose of God that Paul had preached.

With this in mind, I want, in this article, to concentrate on the Scripture used in The Purpose Driven Life, and see if there is any distortion. We will start by looking at what Rick Warren says about different versions:

“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


First, we are told that all translations have limitations and so we should compare a second translation. No problem with that so far. But, second, in order to miss the impact of familiar verses, we will use a paraphrase to discover “God’s truth”.

Herein lies the problem – a paraphrase does not necessarily reveal God’s truth; it reveals what a particular Christian thinks God is saying. This might be helpful to get an understanding of the context but it can also be dangerous if we start claiming promises that God never gave in the original! It is the latter that causes me concern within this book.

We indeed need to be like the Bereans and scrutinise, check thoroughly:

“The brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.” – Act 17:10, 11

But note what they were doing. They received Paul’s words – his paraphrases, explaining the Scriptures and they checked it out against the Scriptures themselves. A paraphrase is not the Word of God; it may be helpful to give some understanding but we need, as the Bereans, to take those words and check them with a clear translation of the Scriptures.

I do not want to look at every verse quoted, but I want to highlight some of the main ones which Rick Warren uses to make a clear point of teaching. Is the paraphrase of the text quoted, what was actually said in the original? We are encouraged to check this out in 1 Thessalonians 5, where we are told to test – examine, scrutinise – all things and only hold fast to that which is good. In so doing you have laid aside that which is ‘bad’.

Practically what happens is that you hear a sermon and it needs to be tested out. Is it true? Is this really what God is saying? Unless you go back to a good translation of the Scriptures, you will never know.

For our purpose we will show the Scriptures quoted in the original paraphrase and then

1. Show the King James Version (KJV)

2. The New American Standard Bible (NASB)

3. Make necessary comments.

You can then test these things out and decide for yourself whether we are making a ‘mountain out of a molehill’ or whether there is a problem in the texts used for teaching.

I think it is helpful to note that many of the paraphrased versions take the God-centred original texts and turn them into man-centred verses. This is my biggest concern about the Purpose Driven book and, indeed, much other preaching that we get today. It revolves around what I can do; how can I be blessed; how to feel good; rather than, what God has done; how to serve; and how to be content whatever the circumstances.


Page 19 – Matthew 16:25

“Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self.” – The Message.

“For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.” – KJV

“For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” – NASB

Rick Warren says that this is not a ‘self-help book’, you need more than that. He claims that the book will help you focus on what matters most, it is about what God created you to be. However, the verse quoted, from The Message, homes in on self, to be more precise, self-sacrifice, which is about what you do or more especially what you do not do. However, the original meaning of these verses is not about self-sacrifice, but losing your life entirely, and letting Christ live in you. There does appear to be a problem between law and grace in this book.

The problem between law and grace can be over the same issue. Let’s take as an example, reading the Bible. Self-sacrifice says, “I must give up my time to read the Bible, it is something that God expects of me”. Grace says, “I willingly give this time to the reading of God’s Word.” The Christian life is not about self-sacrifice it is about knowing we are dead in Christ and that His life now motivates me from within.

The Christmas tree has everything put on from the outside to make it nice, the apple tree has life from within and fruit is produced. So much of the teaching of the Christian Life, and I would put this book into the category, is about what I need to get, not what Christ has done and will make real in me.

Page 20 – Ephesians 1:11, 12

“It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone.” – The Message.

“In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will: That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ.” – KJV

“…also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory.” – NASB

We have a similar problem with this verse from The Message. The paraphrase says, “We find out” and puts the emphasis on us and what we get. The original version says that it is “in Him” and puts the emphasis on Him and His glory. Warren draws a conclusion from the paraphrase that you “discover your identity and purpose through a relationship with Jesus Christ.” That may be what the paraphrase indicates but the original is about us being brought in to God’s Eternal Purpose not finding out who we are and what we do.

This process of putting me at the centre and finding out about me, rather than Him, is at the root of many other verses such as the summary verse for day one:

Page 21 – Colossians 1:16b

“… everything got started in him and finds its purpose in him.” – The Message

“…all things were created by him, and for him.” – KJV

“…all things have been created through Him and for Him.” – NASB

Created by and we are for Him – nothing about finding my purpose.

Page 31 – Ephesians 3:20

“God… is able to do far more than we would ever dare to ask or even dream of – infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts, or hopes.”

“Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us…” – KJV

“Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us…” – NASB

This verse is quoted in the section dealing with 5 bene
fits for living a purpose-driven life, under the heading, Knowing your purpose gives meaning to life. Again, the message of the book is brought down to man-centred and not Christ-centred, which is not the meaning of the original Scripture. Ephesians is all about Christ at work within me – these verses are actually a prayer of Paul’s, not a direct promise of God. Such work is from the spirit of God within me, not my prayers and my desires and my thoughts etc.

I will not continue to bring such examples but there are many more of them in the book.

Page 69 – Genesis 6:8

“Noah was a pleasure to the Lord.” – The Living Bible

“But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD.” – KJV

“But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD.” – NASB

The title of the chapter that this verse is quoted in is What Makes God Smile? And just before Warren quotes this verse from the Living Bible paraphrase he says, “But there was one man that made God smile”. Indeed the chapter begins with a very bold statement, “The smile of God is the goal of your life”. And this is linked with us pleasing God.

However, the original Scripture is to do with God’s grace, not my pleasing Him, which I cannot do. To turn the word grace into having too do something is missing the point altogether. Grace means that I receive something I do not merit, and can do nothing in order to receive. Noah was not spared from the flood because of his righteousness, but because of God’s grace. By now saying that Noah was “a pleasure to the Lord”, it has made this passage say the exact opposite of what God originally said.

Page 82 – Romans 6:16-18

“Offer yourselves to the ways of God and the freedom never quits… [his] commands set you free to live openly in his freedom!” – The Message

“Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness.” – KJV

“Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness? But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.” – NASB

Warren only quotes a small part of these verses; I have quoted them all in the KJV and NASB in order to get the meaning in context. He is making the point that one of the blessings of surrender is freedom. The context puts a very different picture on this.

First, it is not any freedom, it is freedom from sin. Second, he does not add the last part of the verse, “you became slaves of righteousness.” A third, and vital issue we also need to understand, is that this is not something we grow into – this is in the past tense – you were and you became. This action is the foundation of our Christian life and without this ‘transfer of slavery’ we are not even saved. The whole message of Romans chapters 6 and 7 needs to be studied here and not just this one verse taken out of context.

In the next paragraph on p.82 we read about Joshua and because he was surrendered he won a “stunning victory at Jericho”. Was he any less surrendered at Ai? Surrendering once does not bring stunning victories all the time – it is the way we live our lives in daily drawing on the life He has given.

Page 152 – 2 Corinthians 5:18

“[God] has restored our relationship with him through Christ, and has given us this ministry of restoring relationships.” – God’s Word Translation

“And all things [are] of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation;” – KJV

“Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” – NASB

This is the text at the beginning of the chapter for Day 20 entitled, Restoring Broken Fellowship. 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 the restoration of these relationships 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.

Page 165 Matthew 18:15-17

“If a fellow believer hurts you, go and tell him–work it out between the two of you. If he listens, you’ve made a friend. If he won’t listen, take one or two others along so that the presence of witnesses will keep things honest, and try again. If he still won’t listen, tell the church.” – The Message

“Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear [thee, then] take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell [it] unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.” – KJV

“If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” – NASB

The context that Warren sets this in is for resolving ‘hurts,’ but the context of these verses is beyond that. The Greek word translated ‘hurt’ in The Message is hamartano and is more properly translated as, “sinned against”. This is not for every little hurt that there might be, this is for serious sin. There is a danger in the way that this verse is used here. The person could be ‘treated as an unbeliever’ simply because he h
urt my feelings!

Page 219 – II Corinthians 3:18

“All of us! Nothing between us and God, our faces shining with the brightness of his face. And so we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him.” – The Message

“But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, [even] as by the Spirit of the Lord.” – KJV

“But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.” – NASB

Warren actually only quotes the last part of the verse from “our lives” onwards. However, he gives ‘our’ a capital ‘O, seeming to put it at the beginning of a sentence. The point he goes on to make in the text is that growth is gradual and, “maturity is never the result of a single experience.” Yet, these verses do not speak of experiences; they deal with ‘seeing the Lord’. It is to do with the revelation of the Spirit of God, through the Word of God, not experiences along the way. We may learn from experiences, but the change takes place because of the work of the Holy Spirit making real the Word of God within us. It is about relationship not what we do.

Page 232 – Mark 8:35

“If you insist on saving your life, you will lose it. Only those who throw away their lives for my sake and for the sake of the Good News will ever know what it means to really live.” – The Living Bible

“For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it.” – KJV

“For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.” – NASB

This Scripture is applied to make it say that, “If you aren’t serving, you’re just existing, because life is meant for ministry. God wants you to learn to love and serve others unselfishly.”

That undoubtedly is true, but this verse is not about serving others, it is about laying down our lives for the Lord. In such a position, not doing anything, but being before Him.

Page 242 – Romans 12:6

“God has given each of us the ability to do certain things well.” – New Living Translation

“Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, [let us prophesy] according to the proportion of faith.” – KJV

“Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith;” – NASB

This verse is in the section headed, All our abilities come from God. That is not what Romans 12:6 says. This tells of certain God-given gifts; not any natural ability we might want to use for Him, and therefore say that it comes from Him. The interpretation that Warren gives can easily be misused, if taken to extremes.

Page 268 – Galatians 5:26

“That means we will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse. We have far more interesting things to do with our lives. Each of us is an original.” – The Message

“Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another.” – KJV

“Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another. – NASB

The emphasis in The Message is that we do not compare ourselves with others because we have better things to do with our own lives. We do what we want to do, and not look at what others are doing – this clearly centres on me again. I also have no idea where the phrase, “each of us is an original” comes from? However, the emphasis is not necessarily on what we do at all, we just do not give an attitude that could provoke someone else to jealousy.


Where does all this lead us? Well, of course it does not necessarily make us a sinful Christian and it certainly will not cause us to lose our salvation. Through the book we may also learn many good principles and hopefully the Lord will speak to us. However, it will also have led us into looking at a number of Scriptures from a man-centred, selfish point of view, instead of a God-centred perspective. This is not helpful for our growth in Christ; in fact it can severely hinder us.

It has also led us to claim certain promises from the Word of God that are not what God said. This can lead to disappointment and distrust of God.

Third, it will have encouraged us to live our lives outwardly like the Christmas tree and not inwardly like the apple tree.

In all these ways our growth and walk with Christ will be hindered.

Gary E. Gilley sums up his website article on the book with the following paragraph

“So, what difference does it make? What if Warren is misrepresenting Scripture over 40 times as well as peppering his book with extra-biblical psychological theories and other earthly pieces of wisdom, disguised as biblical principles? Overall he says many good things, and even in the sections where Scripture is abused he often says the right thing but uses wrong Scripture to support it. What’s the big deal? The big deal is this: once we sign off on this kind of Christian teaching and torturing of Scripture, the sky is the limit. It should not go without notice that every cult claims to believe in the Bible. The uniqueness of cults is that they twist the interpretation of Scripture to say what they want it to say, and failing that they write their own translations… Should we endorse these same methodologies when evangelicals promote them? Or should we refute those who openly sanction such approaches to Scripture? Remember we are not discussing different opinions on interpretations of certain passages. That too cannot be ignored. But of a more serious nature is this careless and wanton mishandling of Scripture that we have been discussing. To purposely ignore the proper translation of a passage and insert one that has no basis in the original languages in order to undergird a particular point of view is about the most dangerous thing that I can imagine.”


In May 2006 Calvary Chapel stopped supplying the various Purpose books. In this article Roger Oakland gives some insight into this decision.