I won’t go into it now, but as a result of a series of odd events, I decided that at some point I needed to read a book by Rick Warren. I had picked up a copy of his Purpose Driven Life at a used bookstore, and despite the fact that California evangelical megachurch land is not my home territory, I decided to venture in.
And, I have to say, I was really surprised at how good it was. This thing has had monster sales in the evangelical world — and here my bigotries come out to play, like a box full of three-week-old puppies let loose in the garage — and as everyone knows, monster book sales in the evangelical world mean that the object that is selling briskly must be a eighteen-wheeled shipment of shinola.
Well, not this book. This book deserves to have sold every copy that sold. And if it was read and did no good, it was simply that the reader wasn’t paying attention, or took a dim view of obedience. Warren begins by laying down the foundation of God-centeredness. On that bedrock, he builds out the five purposes of each person’s life. They are to be worship, ministry, evangelism, fellowship, and discipleship. The book has forty chapters total, each one of manageable size, developing each one of those five categories. Speaking as a pastor, I have to say that I know a lot of Reformed types who think they are past all this when they actually are not, and who would really be edified by what Warren has to say here.
It should go without saying that in reviewing this book, I am not signing off on anything Rick Warren may have said or done elsewhere. I am not as well-versed as I should be on the hate blogs, so I don’t want to praise anything on the index prohibitorum . . .
But I did have to get past a couple things. First, there is some Christianese, but not so much that it can’t be navigated. When Jesus stretched out His arms on the cross, it was not to say that He loved us this much. Things like that do come up in the book, and it is possible to stumble over them. I would encourage anybody from our circles who reads this book to take that kind of thing in stride, to take a few smooths with the roughs, as Wodehouse’s Anatole did. I have had the experience, more than once, of going into a pop evangelical setting where the surface culture was kind of fluffed out in this way, and expecting, as many of my fellow Tishbites would, the fluff to go all the way down. But I have been surprised, more than once, to find faithful Christians who love Jesus, and who are as hard as nails in the right ways. I don’t get the cutesy decorations in the foyer, but we were not put into this world for pleasure alone. Many of the readers of this blog came out of churches that were fluff all the way down, and so they are understandably jumpy. But this book, coming back to the point, contains real substance.
The second thing I stumbled over, and this is going to sound bad, is all the Scripture references. Warren is clearly saturated in Scripture, and he quotes it all the time. But he quotes from an array of translations, many of them from what I call the Hey, Guys school of translation. “From Paul, to my BFFs in Ephesus. Hey, guys . . .” Okay, I am exaggerating some.
But this has the effect of setting up a weird contrast, where Warren’s prose was a good deal more sober and dignified than the biblical passages he was citing to make his point. Going from Warren to the apostle Paul, it felt like I was going from a conversation with the senior pastor down to the assistant youth minister with his hat on wrong. That took some getting used to.
There was an upside to this, though. A second aspect of his Scripture citations was that I would read a Scripture quotation, and because all his references were contained in the end notes, I have absolutely no idea where in the Bible that came from. Given the latitude of translation breeziness, it could have been Ezekiel, it could have been Ephesians, who knows? So that was weird. But Warren has an appendix explaining why he used all those translations, and this part of it had a good effect on me. I had to stare at it to really see what it was saying, and that can lead to some good follow-up study. A good example was his use of Acts 13:36, NASB. Warren says, “we often miss the full impact of familiar Bible verses, not because of poor translating, but simply because they have become so familiar.”
So, there you go. Now you know. I have read a book by Rick Warren and I have returned, not with tales of harrowing survival, but with a odd expression on my face. That was pretty good.