Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The Purpose Driven Church Review - Part 2

A while ago, I posted Part 1 of a review on The Purpose Driven Church by Rick Warren. There are a few claims in the book worth close evaluation, and every idea needing review could not fit in one post.

A very important assertion made by Warren is worth reflection, where he states, "never criticize what God is blessing" (p62 and p157).

What Is Blessed?
In the context of church life, ministry and growth, how does one measure God's blessing? Heavily implied in the context of Rick Warren's statement is, "if my church is big--if I have a lot of people and resources--then it's obvious that God is blessing my ministry and you cannot speak critically against it." The problem is, big does not imply blessed.

Is Joel Osteen's church blessed? He has the largest congregation in America.

Our world is home to 1.6 billion Muslims. Does that mean God is blessing Islam? They certainly believe so, just as Rick Warren does of Saddleback.

If you research the idea of blessing in the Bible, not once in the New Testament is it applied to the Church collectively. Blessing is always of God, or Christ, or specific Christians. The only collective group who receives blessing are the nations through Abraham (Gal 3:8). Of course God blesses churches, but there is no biblical warrant to presume that large numbers implies God's blessing. In fact, if you were to read the Beatitudes (Matt 5:3-11), you would understand that it is the unimpressive, the lowly, the meek and humble who are blessed. Braggadocio is never blessed.

The Ends Justify the Means?
Never criticize what God is blessing is simply another way of saying that the ends justify the means.

Ironically, Warren reminds his readers, "Albert Einstein once lamented that one of the great weaknesses of the twentieth century is that we habitually confuse the means with the end" (p72).

Yet, the statement that no one may criticize Warren's methods is communicating that by demonstrating ministry success (ends), the way he got there (means) is not open to debate.

An illustration by reductio ad absurdum is in order. Perhaps we should simply lie about Jesus, the gospel, the Bible and the way of salvation so that people regularly attend church and say they're Christians. Perhaps you could grow a substantial "church" doing this. It could be argued that throughout the world, many are doing exactly this. If it means accomplishing the growth goal, then according to Warren's statement, the deceit is justified? After all, the results demonstrate effectiveness and God's blessing.

The warning of Matthew 7:21-23 is appropriate in this context. Having the appearance of godliness and blessing is not sufficient. Following the will of God, even in the means, is quite necessary.

Where Is the Accountability?
Finally, the statement to never criticize what God is blessing is a means of deflecting accountability. Only permitting cheerleaders to give applause while barring critics from having a voice leads to abuse. Promoting that type of environment in the face of apparent success will not lead to a healthy church. It will not be healthy even while its leaders claim health and highlight God's apparent blessings. Mars Hill Church in Seattle was a victim of this exact culture.

In another irony, Warren promotes accountability for his church members in his first Pillar of ministry (p368).

No leader is above accountability (Heb 13:17, 1 Tim 5:19). However, saying, "never criticize what God is blessing" is a spiritual stiff-arm meant to stop any opponent dead in their tracks.

Looking at Sardis
Hear what Jesus said of this church in Revelation:
I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. [Revelation 3:2]
By all human accounts, Sardis looked blessed. They had a reputation of being alive. But Jesus could see that they were dead. Their works (their means) were incomplete in God's sight.


Stating that we should never criticize what God is blessing is incredibly dangerous and entirely false. For instance, the nation of Israel was blessed by God but deserving of criticism throughout her existence.

This type of terminology that Warren uses gives an air of authority to his book that it simply does not possess. His phrase sounds biblical and spiritual, but it's just a man-made proverb designed to justify his decisions.

In reading this book, exercise extreme caution with every assertion and test everything (1 Thess 5:21).