Book Review: The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren

As mentioned some time ago, this is one of my books of shame. I picked this up on the basis of numerous recommendations that mostly came from friends in non-denominational churches (which comprise most of my christian friends) though I had also heard and read strong criticisms from both liberal and conservative ends of the church spectrum.

The book is broken up into 40 small chapters which Warren asks the reader to read at the rate of one per day. The start of the book also contains a very cheesy ‘covenant’ between the reader and Warren (with a curiously presumptive line for “partner”). This is where the problems with the book begin. It’s that with God’s help, a covenant is made between the individual reader and the author. Forget anything about a covenant between God and his people as a collective, that doesn’t get a look in here, this is a new covenant that Warren instigates, which has very little mention of the blood of Jesus which most christians will be familiar with through communion services.

 The point at which I gave up before (OK, I actually threw the book across the room in anger) was at the end of ‘Day 7’ where Warren invites the reader to pray a ‘conversion prayer’. He writes some pithy lines and says that if you say these words then you are a christian. What this seems to imply is that it’s a book that is largely intended for non-christians, or at least for new christians. If so, then the lack of what one would generally consider ‘core theology’ of the gospel is grossly lacking. This is a book of applied theology where the theology is absent, leaving us with a vacuous self-help message dressed up in christian clothing.

The fact is, there is actually much which is commendable here. So it is not a case that I think Warren is trying to be misleading. It is the black-and-white certainty with which he pontificates that irritates me. I think it may be because I take a very different interpretation of the word “assurance” – no doubt coloured by the years I spent working as an auditor, where “assurance” simply means ‘pretty sure there’s nothing majorly wrong’ rather than ‘correct to the very last penny’. Warren presents us with his point of view (nothing wrong with that) but presents it as the only interpretation. Whilst various passages in the bible do warn against teaching a false gospel, I don’t think that means unity means conformity.

Whilst one might be impressed at ‘over 1,000 verses’ are cited, these are very often piecemeal and demonstrates this as more a work of proof-texting than of exegesis. It is as though Warren has written out his viewpoint and then gone in search of soundbites to back up his point of view, often stripping them of their context. It’s not helped when he refers the reader to a list of further resources he said he found helpful, only to find a further list of resources authored by Warren himself or otherwise produced by the church of which he is the founding pastor.

I will be going into more details about this, fisking some aspects of the book as I did with Christopher Hitchens’ God is Not Great. For now, though, I struggle to think of anyone to whom I could recommend The Purpose Driven Life. There are much better introductions to christianity available or, if it is your thing, better self-help books available.

3 responses to “Book Review: The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren

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