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A question from a reader:

I was listening to Christian teacher who was criticizing the Purpose Driven Life. Do you have an opinion on the book?

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Every time I get asked about one of the books or programs that have swept the church, I quickly find myself swept up in controversy and the target of much criticism. I get hammered with anecdotal evidence of how this book or that program “changed my life”.  Rarely, in fact NEVER, does anyone write and actually Biblically refute the facts of what I’ve stated… they just impugn the overall conclusion with emotional argument.  However, the Truth is the truth and I continue to stick my neck out anyway.

There is no doubt that author of Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren, believes and teaches a Biblical Gospel message. I count him as a fellow Believer. That he has not watered down his message and wandered off into a social Gospel (social good is the major emphasis of faith, all faiths work together while not evangelizing anyone) is a matter of public record.

Purpose Driven Life 1) contains a lot of the usual humanist psychology passed off as Bible teaching and 2) is concerning because of its employment of prooftexting (ripping Bible verses out of context to support a predetermined point or lesson being taught).  It’s use of THE MESSAGE by Eugene Peterson is surprising, since THE MESSAGE is 1) a paraphrase not a translation, 2) a paraphrase by one person, and 3) a paraphrase heavily distorted by humanistic psychology.  On the other hand, given the humanist psychology in both books and the need for Warren to find verses that support the ideas in his book, it’s really not all that surprising that THE MESSAGE is used.

Purpose Driven Life stripped of Scripture and it’s Christian label would just be another self help book based on tired, ineffective and unScriptural psychology.  It could have been written by Zig Ziglar or Tony Robbins just as easily as Rick Warren (if stripped of Christian references).

A note about THE MESSAGE: I make no apologies for adamantly insisting serious Christians discard and avoid THE MESSAGE. It is simply a BAD Bible version, a dangerous combination of fluffy and often blatant humanist psychology, not to mention routinely inaccurate interpretations of the original text. Not all of it of course… in fact, not MOST of it (as the saying goes, most false teaching is 98% truth); enough for sure to make it a Bible version Christians should categorically reject. It’s flowery prose and easy reading have made it a mass favorite of unwitting or unwilling Believers. There is not nearly enough benefit to outweigh the detriment of THE MESSAGE.

As for Purpose Driven Life, if taken as sound Bible teaching it misses the mark substantially.  It’s use of prooftexting is inexcusable given Warren’s Biblical knowledge. It presents itself as having unmistakable Biblical support when in fact, even the concept of “40” so heavily pronounced in the book is blatant prooftexting and a pattern that is both insignificant and irrelevant in Scripture (when compared to how it is presented by Warren). As well, the whole idea of “purpose driven life” while not bad as a single life application point in some sermon or book, is taken to an extreme with Purpose Driven Life making it seem like that concept is a pervasive thread in Scripture and should be a dominating theme of Christian life. When measured against Scripture, it simply does not enjoy such status.

Purpose Driven Life , if taken as light, motivational, life application teaching with some good points and reasonable advice, is a decent enough book though 1) you aren’t going to suffer spiritual lack if you never read it, and 2) it can mislead many Christians into thinking the Bible ACTUALLY TEACHES what Warren writes rather than it simply being a good idea Warren came up with. As a Bible teacher, it concerns me greatly because it presents a wildly popular and accepted example of prooftexting, thereby leading other Christians to employ prooftexting in teaching.

Think about it. If I write an exposition or commentary on the Book of James, it’s a yawner… no one cares. If I come up with some catchy phrase, feel-good theme and easy to read slick message on how to be more spiritual… then write a book liberally dressed in Christian lingo with so much prooftexting no one can question it’s Biblical support… BAM! I’m a national bestselling author and the next Christian superstar. See anything wrong with that kind of fad/trend based spiritually that routinely sweeps the Church?

Big deal, right? Who cares about a little prooftexting. All Christians should. It’s the reason why we have massive amounts of false teaching, over 2500 “flavors” of Christianity, and the ability to find anyone anytime teaching any viewpoint that tickles our ears.

As with most fads that sweep the Church, it’s revealing that this book has replaced serious Bible study for masses of professing Believers. The overwhelming cult status of books like Purpose Driven Life and The Shack expose a shallow level of discernment, sound teaching and Biblical worldview in the American church today.

Throw away your copy of THE MESSAGE. Skip Purpose Driven Life… spend time reading your Bible. It’s pretty Scripturally accurate and written by a well respected author! 🙂