COMMENTARY ON "THE PURPOSE DRIVEN LIFE"
Many have, or are in the process of, reading Rick Warren’s, The Purpose Driven Life (PDL). This book has received rave reviews from many in the Christian community. Many Churches are having their members systematically study the material presented by Pastor Warren. Because this work by Mr. Warren is being read and studied by so many people around the world, I felt it appropriate and necessary to personally examine this book to determine what it is teaching
I want it understood at the outset that I have the utmost respect for Pastor Warren and what he and his wife have accomplished in bringing the good news of Christ to multiple thousands of people. That being said, it’s important that we critically examine his writings to determine their level of truth and applicability. Rick Warren makes many good points in his book. I will not be addressing those in this essay. You will need to read his book to discover the nuggets of truth that are there.
My purpose in this essay is to address those areas where Mr. Warren appears to make statements and draw conclusions that appear invalid. I will always quote him first and then offer commentary. I begin by examining the methodology behind his writing approach and proceed to examine a number of his statements. I will always identify what area of his book I am commenting on. Let’s begin with his appendix.
APPENDIX 3: Rick Warren uses fifteen English translations and paraphrases of Biblical scripture to support the positions he takes on various issues. He says he does this because “nuances and shades of meaning can be missed, so it is always helpful to compare translations.” He states that he “deliberately used paraphrases in order to help you see God’s truth in new, fresh ways.” He goes on to say, “I haven’t always quoted the entire verse, but rather focused on the phrase that was appropriate. My model for this is Jesus and how he and the apostles quoted the Old Testament. They often just quoted a phrase to make a point” (Page 325 PDL). Let’s look at each one of these approaches:
Comparing translations can be helpful in coming to a better understanding of the original text. There is a potential problem, however, when using a variety of translations. One can be tempted to shop around for a translation that best supports ones position. In so doing one may choose a translation that is not the most accurate and end up establishing and supporting ones position on questionable grounds.
Paraphrases can be helpful but very risky. Paraphrases tend to reflect the opinion of the writer as to how a particular scriptural text should be understood and not necessarily the thoughts of the original author. A paraphrase is the writer’s personal interpretation of the scripture. Sometimes it’s on target and sometimes it is not. While translation is interpretation as well, such interpretation is most often based on careful analysis of the original languages that are being interpreted/translated. Paraphrases, on the other hand, are generally not the result of analyzing the original languages but simply applying meaning to existing translations based on the writer’s personal understanding of the translations. Therefore paraphrases can lead to conclusions that are not reflective of what the scriptural writer was actually saying. One must be very careful when using paraphrases to support a position.
Finally, Warren says that he doesn’t always quote the entire verse but rather focuses on the phrase that is appropriate. He says he does this because Christ and the apostles did this. It is true that Christ and the apostles did this. Matthew in particular uses Old Testament passages to support New Testament events that when read in their Old Testament context mean something quite different. The writers of scripture may have had special insights given them by God to take things out of their original context to establish a point. Has Warren been given such special insights? It may be somewhat presumptuous of him to take this approach.
In reading PDL, I find that when Warren uses a paraphrased scripture or fragment of a scripture that he feels is “appropriate” in support of his particular point of view, the passage or fragment does not always support his point. I assume his purpose for backing up his statements with scripture is to give scriptural authority to what he says. If the scripture he uses does not support what he says or only weakly does so, then what he says certainly must be questioned as to validity.
CHAPTER 1: “IT ALL STARTS WITH GOD”
PAGE 18: Warren writes: “Many people try to use God for their own self-actualization, but that is a reversal of nature and is doomed to failure. You were made for God, not vice versa, and your life is about letting God use you for his purposes, not you using him for your own purpose. The Bible says, ‘Obsession with self in these matters is a dead end; attention to God leads us out into the open, into a spacious, free life’” (Romans 8:6, “The Message Bible [MSG], a paraphrase). Warren says that life is about letting God use you for his purposes, not you using him for your own purpose. Does the scripture he uses support what he is saying? Let’s take a look at several translations of Romans 8:6:
"The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace” (NIV).
“For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. (NKJ)
“For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace” (NAS).
Paul is speaking about the sinful nature leading to death while the spiritual nature leads to life. The entire context of Romans 8 is about this issue. Paul is not discussing the issue of God using you for his own purposes as opposed to you using God for your own purposes. While it could be argued that being spiritually minded is having God use you for his purpose, it would not follow that being carnally minded is using God for your own purposes. A carnally minded person generally doesn’t pay much attention to God period. While being carnally minded could include using God for your own purposes, this would be only one dynamic among many that would define the carnal nature.
Warren’s use of Romans 8:6, does not really relate well to the point he is making and therefore does not provide scriptural validation to his position. This does not mean his
point is invalid. It just means that the passage he chose to provide scriptural support for his position doesn’t necessarily do so. Therefore his position becomes his opinion and not something scripture is teaching, at least not in this passage. Additionally, the paraphrase that Warren used does not appear to accurately reflect what Paul is saying. Paul is stating emphatically that the carnal nature leads to death and the spiritual nature leads to life. You do not get this death/life emphasis with the MSG paraphrase.
PAGE 19: Warren writes that his book is not a self-help book. He says, “You need more then self-help advice.” I agree with Warren on this point. What I don’t agree with is what he does next. He uses a paraphrased scripture to support his point, He says, “The Bible says, ‘self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self’” (Matthew 16:25, MSG). Is this really what the Bible says? Let’s look at several translations of Matthew 16:25:
“For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it” (NIV).
“For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it” (KJV).
This scripture is not addressing the subject of self-help or finding you’re true self as this paraphrase suggests. When read in context, this scripture is speaking of self-sacrifice in relation to denying oneself and taking up one's cross to follow Christ. Let’s look at this scripture in context:
“Then Jesus said to his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:24-26 NIV).
Here we find Warren using a paraphrase that he feels backs up his point. The problem is that the paraphrase he is using does not accurately reflect what Christ was saying as recorded by Matthew. Therefore, this scripture does not truly support Warren’s point. I believe his point is well taken, but he is in error in using an invalid paraphrase to support his point. Furthermore, the paraphrase teaches a false concept. The paraphrase says, “Self-help is no help at all.” This is not true. Common sense tells you that self-help is important in reaching goals. Even Warren indicates that self-help can lead to success (paragraph two of page 19). Therefore, not only does this paraphrase inaccurately reflect what Christ said, it also contradicts Warren.
PAGE 19-20: Warren uses a paraphrase of Ephesians 1:11 to set the stage for what he says his book is all about. Warren says, “the Bible says……“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 eyes on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone” (Ephesians 1:11 MSG).
Warren says that, “This verse gives us three insights into your purpose.”
1. “You discover your identity and purpose through a relationship with Jesus Christ.”
2. “God was thinking of you long before you ever thought about him. His purpose for your life predates your conception. He planned it before you existed, without your input! You may choose your career, your spouse, your hobbies, and many other parts of your life, but you don’t get to choose your purpose.”
3. “The purpose of your life fits a much larger, cosmic purpose that God has designed for eternity. That’s what this book is all about.”
Does Ephesians 1:11 give us the three insights that Warren says it does? Let’s look at a translation (not a paraphrase) of this scripture in the total context in which it is found: (Ephesians 1:1-21, NIV).
1) Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus:
2) Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
3) Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4) For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love
5) he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will
6) to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.
7) In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace
8) that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.
9) And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ,
10) to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment--to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.
11) In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will,
12) in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.
13) And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession--to the praise of his glory.
14) For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints,
15) I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.
16) I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.
17) I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,
18) and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength,
19) which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms,
20) far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.
21) And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church,
22) which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.
In verse one; we see Paul is writing this letter to the saints in Ephesus. He is not writing this letter to us. We are reading someone else’s mail as is true with all the letters contained in the New Testament (NT) canon. Therefore, we must look at what Paul says within the context of what was happening in the first century Church. We know from the NT scripture that Christ came to redeem mankind from the penalty for sin. This salvation was initially made available to the Israelites and then became available to Gentiles as well. When Paul, in verse 5, speaks of being predestined to be adopted as his (God’s) sons through Christ in accordance with God’s pleasure and will, he appears to be saying that God planned to include Gentiles in the redemption process and these Ephesians, being Gentiles, were part of that process.
In verse 9 and 10, Paul speaks of God making known to them the mystery of his will which would be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment. Other scriptures show the times reached their fulfillment in the events of the first century, beginning with the birth, ministry, death and resurrection of Christ and his return in judgement in the destruction of the temple and the Old Covenant system in the 66 to 73 A.D. war. It was through these events that God facilitated salvation for not only Israel but the Gentiles as well. Up to this point in history, the potential for salvation was a potential for Israel only. The scriptures clearly show that salvation was of the Jews. The mystery being made known to the Ephesians was that they being Gentiles would be given assess to salvation. It was no longer limited to the Jews. Paul speaks of this same mystery and its association with salvation for Gentiles in letters to other of the Gentile Churches of the first century.
In verse 11, which is the verse Warren says gives us three insights into our purpose; Paul is simply repeating what he said earlier in this letter about the Ephesians being chosen, and predestined according to God’s purpose and will. The context of this chapter of Paul’s letter shows that this choosing and predestining has to do with Gentile inclusion in the redemption made available through Christ. This is how God was working out “everything in conformity with the purpose of his will.” A careful reading of the rest of this chapter supports this.
Warren takes verse 11 out of its first century context and applies it in a totally different manner. On the basis of Ephesians 1:11, Warren wants us to believe that God thinks of each and every one of us before we are born and plans some kind of specific purpose for each and every one of us. This is not what Paul is writing about. Paul is writing about Gentiles sharing in his redemptive plan and purpose. Warren individualizes the words “chosen” and “predestined” in this verse to say that every person that is born has a pre-ordained purpose. A careful look at the context of this letter and other of Paul’s letters shows he is using these words in a collective sense. There is no reason to believe that Paul is using these words to show that God choose specific Ephesians before they were born to be in this collective group he was addressing. Neither is this passage saying that the billions of individuals born since that time to the present are in someway predestined to some specific purpose that God had in mind for each one of them, before they were born.
Warren concludes that each God ordained individual purpose is part of some kind of a larger cosmic purpose that God has designed for eternity. He uses a questionable paraphrase of Ephesians 1:11 to support his position. In so doing, he is extrapolating meaning out of this verse that simply isn’t there. He then says “That’s what this book (PDL) is about.’ He is basing his book on a questionable foundation of his own making.
Scripture teaches that the purpose God has for man is to facilitate reconciliation with Himself through Christ. I do not see in scripture where God has individual, specific purposes for every individual born, other than reconciliation. Yes, there are examples of people in scriptural history that were born to a specific purpose in life. John the Baptist and Paul are two such individuals. Where people have been born with a specific God ordained purpose for this physical life, they didn’t have to seek God to discover their purpose. God saw to it that His purpose in them was carried out.
CHAPTER 2: “YOU ARE NOT AN ACCIDENT”
PAGE 22-23: Warren believers that God plans virtually every aspect of our existence. In these pages we find Warren’s foundational perspective elucidated.
“Long before you were conceived by your parents, you were conceived in the mind of God. He thought of you first. It was not fate, nor chance, nor luck, nor coincidence that you are hear breathing at this very moment. You are alive because God wanted to create you.”
“God prescribed every single detail of your body. He deliberately chose your race, the color of your skin, your hair, and every other feature. He custom made your body just the way he wanted it. He also determined the natural talents you would possess and the uniqueness of your personality.”
“Because God made you for a reason, he also decided when you would be born, and how long you would live. He planned the days of your life in advance, choosing the exact time of your birth and death.”
“God also planned where you would be born and where you’d live for his purpose. Your race and nationality are no accident. God left no detail to chance. He planned it all for his purpose.”
“ Most amazing, God decided how you would be born. Regardless of the circumstances of your birth or who your parents are, God had a plan in creating you.”
“Many children are unplanned by their parents, but they are not unplanned by God. God’s purpose took into account human error, and even sin.”
“Every plant and every animal was planned by God, and every person was designed with a purpose in mind”
Now let’s review the various scriptural passages that Warren uses to support these statements. He always prefesses his use of scripture with “The Bible says.” I believe he does this to give substantiation and authority to his position. What I find, however, is that Warren’s use of scripture often falls far short of supporting his view. The Bible is not always saying what Warren says it says. I am using the translations/paraphrases from his book as he wrote them.
“The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me” (Psalm 138:8, NIV)
This entire verse reads: “The LORD will fulfill [his purpose] for me; your love, O LORD, endures forever-- do not abandon the works of your hands” (NIV). Notice that the words, “his purpose” is in brackets, indicating a questionable rendering. Lets look at several other translations of this passage.
“The Lord will perfect that which concerneth me: thy mercy, O Lord, endureth forever: forsake not the works of thine own hands” (KJV).
“Jehovah will perfect that which concerneth me: Thy loving kindness, O Jehovah, endureth forever; forsake not the works of thine own hands” (ASV).
Warren uses this scripture to support his belief that God has a specific purpose for each and every one of us. This scripture says nothing of the sort. This scripture may not even be talking about God’s purpose as other translations indicate. Even if God’s purpose is being discussed, the writer is speaking in terms of a particular period in his life. There is nothing in this scripture to indicate that the writer is referring to some pre-birth purpose that God had ordained for him let alone all humanity. Warren then quotes Psalm 139:15.
"You know me inside and out, you know every bone in my body: You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit, how I was sculpted from nothing into something” (Psalm 139:15, MSG).
I have no argument with this. God is our creator. He therefore knows exactly how we are made. Warren, however, uses this scripture to support his statement that, “He (God) custom-made your body.” To custom make something is to make it unique and different from all the rest. The writer of this psalm is not saying anything like that. He is simply reflecting on the fact that God knows everything about how he was made. He is not suggesting that God purposefully made him in some unique way, separate and different from others. All humans have the same basic physiology. Our genetics determine our individual traits. God created genetics. I see nothing in scripture that suggests that God has/is purposefully arranging the genes in every single human birth to arrive at specific “custom made” individuals. I believe it is much more reasonable to believe that God has set in motion the human creative process and that process produces a variety of human individuals with different traits. To believe that God “Custom-made your body just the way he wanted it,” as Warren would have us believe, would raise some serious questions about the way God operates.
Is God directly responsible for the hundreds of thousands of babies born each year with AID’s, malformations, missing organs, brain damage, cancer, etc.etc? I don’t think so! It is much more reasonable to believe that humans are what they are as a result of biological dynamics that come together each time conception takes place. These biological dynamics (i.e. genetic variations) are influenced by multiple factors. The genetics of the parents, the parent’s state of health at time of procreation, environmental factors, and parental nutritional status are just some of the factors that play a role in determining the status of a newborn. To suggest that God is engineering all of this each time a baby is born in order to produce a “custom” product is nonsense.
This concept of being custom make becomes even more absurd when you consider the fact that we pray to God to heal babies with the kind of problems listed above. If God “custom-makes” these kinds of children, then why are we praying that God “re-customize” them?
Warren goes on to quote Psalm 139:16 from the Living Bible which is a paraphrase.
"You saw me before I was born and scheduled each day of my life before I began to breathe. Every day was recorded in your Book! (Psalm 139:16, LB)
Does God really schedule each day of our lives before we are born? Let’s consider several translations of this passage:
“Your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (NIV).
“Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them” (KJV).
“Thine eyes did see mine unformed substance; And in thy book they were all written, Even the days that were ordained for me, When as yet there was none of them” (ASV)
Warren uses this scripture to support his belief that God “has planned the days of your lives in advance choosing the exact time of your birth and death.” Is this really the case? Is this what this scripture is saying? Looking at several translations of this passage throws a little different light on what the writer is saying. The writer is showing how God sees all things in advance. Scripture clearly says that God knows all things from the beginning to the end. God knows when we are going to be born and when we are going to die. Knowing something in advance, however, is vastly different from determining in advance for it to happen at a certain time.
To believe, like Warren does, that God has chosen the exact time of your birth and death brings up some interesting observations. If I am walking down the street and get killed by a stray bullet, was that God’s choice that I die at that moment and in that manner? When multiple thousands of allied solders stormed the beaches of Normandy and thousands were killed, was it God’s choice that each one that got killed was killed because it was “their time” while others escaped death because it was not their time. If I get drunk and hit a tree with my car and get killed, was that God’s time for me to die? If I take poor care of my health and come down with a fatal disease and die, is that because God foreordained that this was my time to die I hope you can see the absurdity of all this.
I have no doubt that God, when necessary, determines the future to insure that his overall purpose is fulfilled. I also believe that God does intervene in individual cases to preserve a persons life while others may be unprotected. I see examples of this in scripture and in life. I do not, however, believe such determinism is present for most individuals. When we are born, when we die and multiple other aspects of our lives are not pre-determined. This is not something I see in scripture or in the realities of life.
I believe that much of what happens in life is fortuitous. Time and chance, cause and effect are the determining dynamics of life. The choices humans make largely determine what occurs in their lives and when it occurs. As with the example above: If I get drunk and ram my car into a tree and kill myself, it was my choice of behavior that led to my death. I would not think that God had anything to do with it other than foreseeing that it would happen. God could certainly intervene to prevent my accident but he certainly would not have foreordained it and take away my free will to to make my own choices.