Fisking Rick Warren

As you will have seen, my recent review of Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life was not favourable. Rather than simply leave the review as a stand-alone, I will here embark upon a more detailed review, as I did with Christopher Hitchens’ book, God is Not Great. Here, I will draw out just some of the points with which I deeply disagreed with the author and state why. Warning: contains sardonic humour!

P12: “I am excited because I know all the great things that are going to happen to you.”

I severely doubt if Rick Warren knows what is going to happen to his readers. If so, maybe he can tell me when I will next get a job, when I will have a truly great meal or what eureka moments of understanding I may have from my bible studies.

P12: “I want to challenge you to stick with this spiritual journey for the next 40 days, not missing a single daily reading.”

Challenge all you like. But when we make arbitrary rules to stick to, we set ourselves up for all sorts of failures: pride if we succeed, condescension if we succeed and see others fail, self-chastisement if we fail and unwarranted feeling of self-inadequacies if we fail and see others succeed.

P18: “If I handed you an invention you had never seen before, you wouldn’t know its purpose, and the invention itself wouldn’t be able to tell you either. Only the creator or the owner’s manual could reveal its purpose.”

I think most of us could have a pretty good go. Maybe you just haven’t tried enough.

P19: “For thousands of years, brilliant philosophers have discussed and speculated about the meaning of life. Philosophy is an important subject and has its uses, but when it comes down to determining the purpose of life, even the wisest philosophers are just guessing.”

Maybe so, but are you really so sure that you understand better than all philosophers? Might they not have had similar considerations to you and come to alternative conclusions?

P22: “God prescribed every single detail of your body. He deliberately chose your race, the color [sic] of your skin, your hair, and every other feature.”

Hmmm….that’s rather deterministic. I suspect a literalist interpretation to the poetry of the Psalms has been taken here. Not the smartest analysis.

P23: “God knew that [your parents] possessed exactly the right genetic makeup to create the custom “you” he had in mind.”

While I wouldn’t wholly disagree with this, it’s rather simplistic, but that’s typical of the approach of the book.

P24: “The more physicists, biologists and other scientists learn about the universe, the better we understand how it is uniquely suited for our existence, custom-made with the exact specifications that make human life possible.”

Dear Rick, allow me to introduce you to The Anthropic Principle.

P25: “If there was no God, we would all be “accidents,” the result of astronomical random chance in the universe….There would be no right or wrong and no hope beyond your brief years here on earth.”

While the relation of creational theology to ethics and morality is an interesting topic, this is a total non-sequitur. As others have well demonstrated, and as I have argued before, christianity does not have monopoly on morality. One can have a sense of right and wrong without believing in God. As for the use of the term “random” I refer you my thoughts on that here.

P31: “Hope is as essential to your life as air and water.”

Hope may be important, but this is rather a hyperbolic statement.

P32: “Paul almost single-handedly spread Christianity throughout the Roman Empire.”

He may have done quite a lot, but he had a lot of help. This downplays the important role played by many other disciples, some named in Acts, many more anonymous.

P34: “One day you will stand before God and he will do an audit of your life, a final exam, before you enter eternity.”

Having worked in audit for several years, I really hope that this will not be the method used by God in a final judgement. Nor an examination. I hope God will be much more thorough.

P37: “Your earthly body is just a temporary residence for your spirit.”

Wow! I thought this was a book on christianity, not dualism.

P38: “If your time on earth were all there is to your life, I would suggest you start living it up immediately. You could forget being good and ethical and you wouldn’t have to worry about any consequences of your actions. You could indulge yourself in total self-centredness because your actions would have no long-term repercussions.”

This says more about what Warren would like to do but feels repressed from, than it does about the truth of christianity.

P42: “The Bible offers three metaphors that teach us God’s view of life: Life is a test, life is a trust and life is a temporary assignment.”

Ah yes, the old 3 point sermon which Jesus teaches us in Mark 17. Must. Never. Deviate.

P48: “Your identity is in eternity and your homeland is heaven.”

You might want to check the details of Paul’s Roman citizenship and how it informed his analogy of citizenship of heaven.

P58: “Real life begins by committing yourself completely to Jesus Christ.”

So….anyone who isn’t a christian is living in a holographic projection?

P74: “When you are sleeping, God gazes at you with love, because you were his idea. He loves you as if you were the only person on earth.”

Where to begin with this one? Extreme anthropomorphisation and am really not sure about the “only person” bit. God’s covenant promises tend to be to ‘people’ as a whole rather than to individuals.

P79: “If you want to know how much you matter to God, look at Christ with his arms outstretched on the cross, saying, “I love you this much!””

Whenever I hear or read this old statement, I want to scream. The shape of the cross is not indicative of someone depicting size.

P101: “People often say, “I like to think of God as…,” and then they share their idea of the kind of God they would like to worship.”

This is a point I would agree with Warren on. Yet its appearance in this book is incredibly ironic as the view of God is so specific to Warren’s own view that it might be almost unrecognisable by a multitude of biblically astute christians across the world.

P107: “God is real, no matter how you feel.”

Supporting evidence? I think there may be one or two atheists and agnostics who might want to see some backup to that statement. Unfortunately, none is provided.

P123: “Life is all about love.”

Really? While love may be an important part of some people’s lives, I’m yet to be convinced by the “all” of the above statement.

P134: “If you know someone who is wavering spiritually right now, it is your responsibility to go after them and bring them back into the fellowship.”

Rick, I think you’ll find that’s the controlling methodology used by Scientology, not something to be advocated in christianity!

P167: “At Saddleback Church, every member signs a covenant that includes a promise to protect the unity of the fellowship. As a result, the church has never had a conflict that split the fellowship.”

You’re not convincing me this is a church instead of a cult. Besides, sometimes good comes from a church split. The whole New Frontiers network would never have begun if Terry Virgo had not had a bitter dispute with the leadership of St Luke’s church in Brighton.

P172: “The Bible says that all people, not just believers, possess part of the image of God; that is why murder and abortion are wrong.”

Of course! That one sentence finishes all debates on capital punishment and abortion. Why did no one realise this before?

P177: “God is far more interested in building your character than he is anything else.”

I think the evidence we have in the bible may indicate that there are other matters on God’s mind. c.f. Job.

P190: “You select a verse and reflect on it over and over in your mind.”

Warren’s guide for how to meditate is a great example of understanding scripture in its textual, historical, cultural and political context. Oh, wait…

P195: “Because God is sovereignly in control, accidents are just incidents in God’s good plan for you.”

Thus, the Epicurean problem is solved and theodicy is complete! Or maybe not…

P213: “At Saddleback Church we…developed [a programme] called Celebrate Recovery. It is a biblical, eight-step recovery process…”

The bible is well-known for its eight-step programmes, isn’t it?

P231: “The last thing many believers need today is to go to another Bible study.”

While I can see the point Warren was trying to make here, he doesn’t advocate a balance between study and practice. Pity.

P263: “Unfortunately, many leaders today start off as servants but end up as celebrities.”

Says the man whose book proudly announces on the cover that he is “One of the 100 Most Influential People in the World.”

P265: “God is always more interested in why we do something than in what we do.”

An interesting idea worthy of discussion. What’s that? Oh, you just wanted it stated as plain fact without supporting evidence. I see…

P268: “…we have a group of CEOs and business owners who are trying to make as much as they can so they can give as much as they can…”

Not that old canard again! Remind us what the bible says about worldly riches and the love of money…

P282: “Your mission is so significant that Jesus repeated it five times, in five different ways, in five different books of the Bible.”

So if you read 5 different newspapers, each reporting an earthquake in California using different words, then that must mean there were 5 different earthquakes.

P286: “If you want Jesus to come back sooner, focus on fulfilling your mission, not figuring out prophecy.”

Firstly, not sure you’ve quite got the hang of the idea of prophecy. Secondly, I’m yet to be convinced that trying to work towards any goal is going to bring a second parousia; it doesn’t seem to fit in with the ‘thief in the night’ motif.

P290: “…unbelievers see pastors as professional salesmen, but see you as a “satisfied customer,” so they give you more credibility.”

Really? What survey was that research taken from? What was the methodology used? Or is it something that you just made up?

P294: “There are hundreds of great book on how to share the Good News. I can provide a list of books that have been helpful to me (see appendix 2).”

[Looks at appendix 2] Of the 8 books listed, 5 are written by Warren and another 1 is produced by his church. So when he says they “have been helpful to me” what he really means is that they “have been helpful to [my bank balance].”

P300: “People may refuse our love or reject our message but they are defenceless against our prayers.”

You do know that many people find being prayed for a form of passive-aggression? The idea of “defenceless” implies we are attacking them. Maybe not the best metaphor to use.

P307: “I strongly urge you to gather a small group of friends and form a Purpose-Driven Life Reading Group to review these chapters on a weekly basis.”

Indeed! Let’s scrap the bible and adopt The Purpose Driven Life as our new scripture. What could be better to ground people securely in God’s word?

3 responses to “Fisking Rick Warren

  1. Thank you for releasing me from the guilt of not having read this book, which some of my colleagues have been going on about!

    “God prescribed every single detail of your body. He deliberately chose your race, the color [sic] of your skin, your hair, and every other feature.” including, one is then forced to assume, haemophilia, muscular dystrophy, cystic fibrosis, sickle-cell anaemia, spinabifida, huntington’s disease, and many other inherited conditions, including quite a few types of cancer….

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