Rick Warren’s real purpose and the problem with it

A little more than a week ago Rick Warren spoke at John Piper’s conference called Think..The life of the Mind and the Love of God. He shared the spotlight with some of my heroes including R.C. Sproul who is famous among other things for his “Renewing Your Mind” broadcasts. When I heard that Warren was one of the speakers I was a bit shocked at first, but then I thought Warren must have something beneficial to bring to the table on this issue so I should hear him out. I also am of the mindset that we should not be afraid to have our brothers who we don’t always agree with be part of what we do, so I even applauded Piper’s courage to take it on. Furthermore, I have even heard that Warren has called himself a Kuyper Calvinist and never knew if that was actually true or not, so I thought maybe I would actually hear something reformed come out of his mouth. 

Unfortunately most of what I heard was Warren at his worst.

Now granted, some things that Warren said were great, and I have always contended that Warren does love God and people are saved despite his error, but most of what was said made my jaw drop and I am left wondering what Sproul and Piper thought as they listened.

So if you didn’t hear or listen closely to what Warren said, he was basically in my view doing what he does best and is his true purpose. He was giving a motivational speech with some Bible thrown in to give it meaning to Christians. The problem is that the man is a pastor of 20,000 people and wrote a book that reached millions. People look to Warren as a Pastor and not a motivational speaker. If he was the latter like a Tony Robbins then I would not be so concerned, but this is a guy who leads a flock of people and who people look to for spiritual guidance. To whom much is given much is required and Warren is just not doing well with that responsibility.

So what did Warren say? Well like I said, in classic Warren style he says a lot of good things that are proper, but then he runs off the track in a motivational style, twists scripture to do so in many cases, and basically ends up all over the map from a theological standpoint leaving some of us scratching our heads. Here are just a few examples and if you notice there is one main problem that Warren has with all of these and that is the emphasis is mostly on man and his abilities and not on Christ. Ask yourself as you listen to Warren or read my examples, “Where is Christ in this?”. Remember that the topic Warren is taking on is “Developing the Mind of Christ” yet we hear very little if anything at all of Christ’s role in it.

Warren begins by throwing out some ideas that can be questioned right off the bat. “Whatever gets your mind gets you”, and “The battle for sin always starts in the mind”. I will just leave these comments for you to chew on because there is much bigger fish to fry here.

Warren proclaims that he has been studying the Bible on this topic for 30 years and found hundreds of principles but picks out these talking points. I give him all the credit if this is true, but how do you come up with this kind of stuff after studying the Bible for that long? Maybe Rick Warren is so spiritual and in tune with God that I just don’t understand him, or maybe he is not rightly dividing the Word. Let’s examine.

Warren gives 6 principles related to the mind that he says “have to be taught” for Christians to be effective. As far as I can tell he only gives three but first is don’t believe everything you think. On it’s face this does not sound bad but as he gets into the substance of this you will see the humanistic approach he exhibits as he breaks into motivational mode. He says at one point that “Everyone has a mental illness called sin” and that “If Satan can get you to believe a lie then he can get you to sin.” We see right off the bat that Warren has a different idea then Piper and Sproul about the sinful nature of man. Sin is not a mental illness and we don’t sin based on the results of belief. We sin because we are totally depraved before regeneration meaning we are corrupt to our very core. Even after we are regenerated we are still in the flesh and in a fallen world so we continue to sin thanks to the pervasiveness of sin that surrounds us. This is not some illness we can cure ourselves of by simply not believing Satan’s lies. Warren says that you can’t trust your thoughts because of sin, he says that we lie to ourselves and that ALL sin begins with a lie and if Satan can get you to believe a lie he can get you to sin. In Rick Warren’s world we can teach people not to sin by using techniques like not believing your thoughts. Where is the Biblical truth that without the Spirit we are powerless against sin by ourselves? Where is the BIblical truth that Satan would sift us like wheat if not for Christ? Where is Christ at all in this?

Number two is to guard your mind from garbage. Once again a very valid point, but here comes the motivational speaker either throwing doctrine out the window or at the very least jumping all over the Theological map from one confusing point to the next. He starts out talking about conversational prayer which is good even though I question his multitasking ideas, but then he slips into this idea of concentrated focusing and replacement thinking. He talks about how he has this ability to pray while he is talking and how he has become the ultimate multitasker and so should we, then instead of resisting bad thoughts he replaces them with other thoughts. There is nothing about Christ here, and there is nothing about grace here. You have the power and ability to just replace a bad thought with a good one if you can focus and multitask like Rick Warren does. He uses Philippians 4:6-8 to promote these ideas and says nothing about focusing on God in the process. What does the passage really say? It says to pray and ask for things so you don’t take your anxieties all on yourself but be obedient (focusing) on God in all things. Thinking about things the right way is not enough but where does Warren explain this? You can see that this begins as self-help with some Bible mixed in which is Warren’s technique, and if it stopped here I would have just been disappointed, unfortunately it didn’t.

Number 3 is never stop learning. Once again, I couldn’t agree more on the surface. Knowing God is vitally important to the Christian life and we are called to do so. He says to humble yourself which is great because the Bible says it is necessary, but then goes on about how he has done all these great things like baptizing thousands, and sending missionaries to every country, and reading all these books by Edwards and others which didn’t have an ounce of humility in it. I have no doubt that the missionaries he sent are temporary and leaving little behind and who know how many of the baptized are truly regenerated, but the point is there is no humility here. Humility is in people like Paul Washer who leads a true missions ministry where he admits it takes 10 years minimum to have effective missions. Washer speaks of observing temporary missions groups like these that have little to no impact and produce no true converts. This isn’t a numbers game or quantity issue but it is about rue regeneration. This isn’t psychology 101 or a self-help class. This is someone speaking to a supposedly reformed crowd, saying how much he respects John Piper, sharing a stage with R.C. Sproul, giving a motivational speech like he is at a pep rally. I can see why he can read so many books from Edwards in such a short amount of time because he is getting nothing from it and just playing a numbers game. Warren says since he has read all the books he can tell you the ones to skip over that are worthless. I wonder what books this man has deemed worthless that I shouldn’t read? Warren says that if it is new then it probably isn’t true. We should all take that into consideration when listening to this lecture.

He moves on to break this point down to 5 areas. Do we need knowledge of the Word and Church history? Yes indeed. Do we need to develop our minds? Yes indeed. Do we need to understand God? As much as we can yes indeed. All good things mentioned by Warren and then for the first time he talks about Christ and the cross and he blows everything right out the window. He is talking about convictions and says that Christ had the greatest convictions of all. He asks “Do you know how much Jesus loved you? He loved you so much he would rather die then live without you. He loved you so much that every drop of blood that fell to the ground was saying I love you I love you I love you” Is this the motivation for the death of Jesus? What does this even mean? Jesus loved who the Father gave before the foundation of the world and he died as the perfect sacrifice to atone for us so we would not have to face the wrath of the Father but could experience his love instead. It isn’t all about us as the theology of Rick Warren would seem to dictate here, it is about the love of the Father for the Son and how we can experience this love thanks to the sacrifice of Christ. Where is this message at?

Moral platitude after pithy comment after 5 steps to this and 6 principles of that with Bible verses thrown in to establish authority. Unfortunately it actually got worse.

Warren starts talking about how skills are needed by Christians to accomplish tasks. He uses a bad translation of Ecclesiastes 10:10 and claims it as one of his life verses. The ESV says “If the iron is blunt, and one does not sharpen the edge, he must use more strength, but wisdom helps one to succeed. Obviously this is talking about allowing the wisdom of God to help you be prepared for what he has for you to do so you don’t rely on your own strength to overcome obstacles in your life. Warren turns this into a metaphor for skill sets and begins to talk about how prayer isn’t good enough because I can’t pray that something gets done and have it be done without having the skill to do it. That is a fine statement to make in another context if you want but this verse has nothing to do with it. John MacArthur has preached before to be very careful of making these jumps to sensationalize scripture and make analogies that simply are not there and that is what Warren is doing with this passage.

Next thing Warren tells us to write down is that we only believe the part of the Bible that we do. If he stops there I can let him go and maybe glean something from that, but he follows that statement with saying that we are teaching too much. He says that we are teaching people so much that they can’t apply it. I almost fell off the sofa when I heard this one. Not only because he just got done telling us how important knowledge is, but isn’t the problem that there isn’t enough correct teaching and too much false teaching going on? Warren says that the problem in many churches is that we are giving people too much application. No, the problem in many churches is that we are not preaching the Gospel.

Warren says that Jesus always gave the How to’s……Really? This is another one that I will leave you to explore since I couldn’t possibly cover all of the things said and I need to get to the big one before I finish.

Warren closes with this last point that he says is a big one and I couldn’t agree more. Warren says that if you are going to teach people how to fight the battle of the mind you must teach them how to let God stretch their imaginations. He goes on to say that everything that happens in life begins with a dream that someone had to imagine. So Warren believes that sin is a mental illness, all sin begins with a lie, and everything that happens in life is the result of a dream. He says that every church that was started someone dreamed it. The he pulls out Proverbs 29:18 to back up this assertion and twists it to fit the narrative. The verse actually says “Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint but blessed is he who keeps the law”(ESV). True prophetic vision would be Godly vision and without this people become discouraged as the word restraint seems to mean which would lead to being out of the will of God and not keeping the law. Warren’s use of this scripture is probably his worst of all in this particular lesson and shows how people can use the Word of God for whatever pleases them at the time and makes the point that they are trying to make.

So why is this all a problem? I believe that Warren’s motives are pure and that he does love God so let us all get together and love one another in spite of issues we might have right? The problem here is that Rick Warren’s purpose is to motivate you to do something for God and instead of correctly dividing the word of truth to do this he has turned the Bible into a self-help book with moral platitudes and catchy slogans with five steps here and 6 steps over there. He is a pastor of 20,000 + people and speaking to a group of people who are looking to be fed spiritually by the truth and he gives nothing but self-help motivation techniques wrapped in Bible verses that are misinterpreted from bad translations. Finally his view of sin is simply in error and in disagreement with the Bible for one, but Piper, Sproul and every other headliner at the conference and this is a dangerous slippery slope that could potentially cross the line of essential doctrine and lead young believers and even non-believers astray.

My prayer would be that Pastor Warren would listen to his message and that those that surround him and have access to him, such as those in his own ministry and Piper and others as well, would encourage him to put the motivational self-help ideas aside and share the Word of God for what it is instead of seeking to add all of this nonsense and then make the scriptures fit.
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7 thoughts on “Rick Warren’s real purpose and the problem with it

  1. This weblog is superior it has got the entire points i sought after to speak about, it has fulfilled my wisdom, i just appreciated this weblog and that i wish to subscribe so can you please inform while your blog gets up to date and what?s the procedure to subscribe in details.

  2. You can check the box to be informed of updates below your comment. There is also an email subscription on the right side of the home page

  3. You hit the nail right on the head. The only unfortunate part is not accepting this for what it is: blatant proof that Rick is a heretic. We shouldn’t defend him based on how nice he is. He is very pleasant and kind, but that is not how we determine who is a Christian brother and who isn’t; we need to look at his doctrine. We give credit where credit is do, but his fault is seen in the error of his methods and preaching. The Scripture-twisting and Pelagianism should not be buried in what he does that’s RIGHT. It is the pinch of error among the truth, that little bit of leaven in the yeast, that one weed in the pot that poisons EVERYTHING. Rick Warren is a heretic, and he needs to step down. If you cannot say that even after all of this, I don’t know what else to say. Part of our job as Christians is to rebuke those who preach falsely, and if they refuse to repent, as Rick Warren does, they are to be considered outside of the Church. I cannot consider him a Christian brother. His methods and teachings are raping churches; sound preaching is being replaced with garbage to satisfy the hunger of goats.

  4. We have to be careful when using the word heretic or calling something a heresy. I only use these words when someone denies the basic facts of salvation and the deity of Christ. I don’t believe that Rick Warren leads a cult, I have heard him say many times that he believes in salvation through Christ alone by faith alone, however he seriously twists many scriptures in order to make them say something that he wants them to say for the moment he is in.

    Many are guilty of this seld help mentality today, and I do come out against it as I have done here. I will also not recommend Warren to anyone trying to develop a deeper understanding of Christianity and the Bible, however I will not call him a heretic until I hear him go against the essentials of Christian doctrine which I have stated above.

  5. Here is the blessing in what you present. We are called to discern right from wrong. When we see wrong, we present our argument and why it is wrong; to help the person speaking or teaching back on the right track, and to help others understand what is wrong about it. I would send him this message. I would steer anyone away from what he teaches right now. Yet, in the same light of discernment, I see no tangible heresy—again, just bad teaching.

  6. I agree Ralph, if you want a pretty list of steps to improve your life then Rick Warren might be your guy. However if understanding the Bible is what you seek there are much better resources, and I would suggest starting with one of my friends at the top of this blog (Not all Calvinists by the way).

    If only we lived in a society where Calvin’s institutes sold more copies then a Purpose Driven Life what a different world we would have.

  7. Very true that self help steps won’t do much to transform our sinful state in the long run, but perhaps gives us temporary relief that we all share the same types of weaknesses.
    Take a look at ctmiworld.com and listen to some sermons from Michel (Miki) Hardy. I think you’ll be encouraged to know that there are men of God even in these times, who still preach the Gospel without needing to be trend relevant, use clever or convincing arguments and words, but preach a Christ that confronts and sets free those who listen and hear. We so need a deeper understanding of what he did on the Cross, His Grace and the Law that is still so prevalent in all of us.

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