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Andrew

Rick Warren: Purpose-drivel or purpose-full?

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A bunch of folks at my church have been reading The Purpose-Driven ® Life, so I thought I'd see what all the fuss is about. However, after 7 of his daily devotionals, my wife and I aren't sure we can choke any more of them down.

Has anyone else read Rick Warren's work? Quite frankly, I'd be happy either way on this one, to have my views validated or challenged.

Here are the difficulties I've had with this book so far:

1) Sloppy Scriptural exegesis: Granted, my wife and I are not biblical scholars (although my wife is able to read the NT in Greek), but what we've discerned here is troubling. Warren uses about 20 different translations and paraphrases, apparently choosing whichever translation suits the particular point he's making. At times, verses are wrenched horribly out of context.

2) An ironic co-opting of pop psychology: Warren starts his book by emphasizing that this is not yet another pop psychology throwaway tome, yet his emphasis on self-worth, use of feel-good cliches, and pseudo-scientific expostulating (what is your life metaphor?) would signal otherwise.

3) An artless, dumbed-down style: Warren's poetry of choice for Day 2 is series of clunky Hallmarky verses, urging the reader to feel good no matter the trauma you've faced, because God loves you. What really irked me though was his misquotation of CS Lewis' masterful line about how everyone makes a choice: you either say to God, 'Thy will be done,' or God will eventually say to you, 'Thy will be done.' Warren mangles the latter part of the quote, so instead it reads, "Have it your way!" (He still leaves it in quotes and attributes it to Lewis, though, mind you.)

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While I have not read the book, I have had some experience with Warren's material. It is near revered at our church, and last year, the church decided we should take a six-week break from our Sunday School curriculum to teach a series going through his purposes for the church.

My wife and I found very little to like in the material and struggled through the teaching of it for those six weeks. We noticed your point about the many different translations so he could find the wording that suits his point. We also found it overly touchy-feely, something I really struggle with in the Evangelical subculture.

However, most bothersome to us was in the first lesson (an intro to the series), was that he "presented the gospel" and the presentation made no mention of the fact that humans are sinners in need of redemption. It was mostly the "ask Jesus into your heart" kind of stuff. Anyway, if this wasn't distressing enough, our church has just decided to go through 36 weeks of this stuff, an expanded version of the curriculum. Thankfully, my wife and I received permission to continue through the Gospel of Matthew, and while that keeps our students and us from this stuff, I cannot help but lament my church's decision to do this for the next nine months.

All of that to say that I echo your negative feelings about this material.

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Andrew wrote:

: What really irked me though was his misquotation of CS Lewis' masterful

: line about how everyone makes a choice: you either say to God, 'Thy

: will be done,' or God will eventually say to you, 'Thy will be done.'

: Warren mangles the latter part of the quote, so instead it reads, "Have it

: your way!" (He still leaves it in quotes and attributes it to Lewis, though,

: mind you.)

That's not a misquotation. Lewis, like many prolific writers, tended to say the same thing more than once, and sometimes in different ways. I remember quoting this "Have it your way" line in a newsletter I prepared for my College & Career group about a decade ago, and I believe I even footnoted it. Give me time (and take away all my various chores and distractions), and I could probably dig it up for you.

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John: Thanks for your comments. Wow, 36 weeks of this stuff -- thinking on that should keep me from self-pity about a mere '40 days of purpose' within my church. There's consolation in hearing from another thoughtful believer who's swimming against the tide of church fashion on this topic.

I share your concern, too, about Warren's presentation of the gospel. On Day 7 of The Purpose-Driven® Life, the reader is asked to assent to belief in Christ. The evangelistic message here seems like the salesmanlike closing of a business deal (as a Slate commentator described it in a column earlier this year). The emphasis, too, seems centered on intellectual, factual assent, rather than on the need to turn one's will and heart over to God.

Peter: Your powers of recall are astounding. Warren didn't footnote Lewis' quote, so I assumed he was misquoting the version of this statement that I'm familiar with. I appreciate your bringing this to my attention, so I won't complain falsely about this particular item to folks in my church.

Nonetheless, my complaint about Warren's poor writing aesthetic still appears valid to me, based on the subpar prose that I've waded through thus far.

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Well I don't know if this has been prompted by my reading journal or not, but anyway...

I've got 3 days left to go (2 once I've finished on here!). It wouldn't be fair to comment without explaining my whole angle.

Our church decided to use the book as a pick & choose resource for our cell groups over the summer. We bought one copy for each cell but recommended that people boiught their own, and offered to put in some leg work to find a multibuy deal. As our church Resource Base manager I had the task of finding a good deal (despite my misgivings about this sort of we should all read one book approach). Unfortunately there were various cock-ups and wranglings along the way such that by the time it came to reading the book I was already sick at the thought of it. This was not helped by Mel (my wife) reading the firt two chapters and being annoyed by his "God planned every single thing in your life (including bringing one or two of her friends to suicide attempts and rapes)" theology.

Anyway I decided to bury my pride and read the thing, and must admit I've been pleasantly surprised, considering i was expecting to hate it. I think I probably share your misgivings

1 - Sloppy scripture - Yeah I'm in two minds about the multi-translation pproach, but mainly I don't really like it (OTOH I'm prone to doing a similar thing mysefl - if anything this book has made me try to take this approach less). There's certainly a lot of quotes completely out of context - which I don't like.

2 - pop-psychology - I can also see your point here, but I don't think this bothers me too much

3 - Dumbed down style - Again I don't really like this

I think the thing is that although I don't like the above, I guess most people probably aren't where I'm at - and the gospel and spiritual growth are for all. Ultimately I just decided to get over it and read it, nd then I could feel free to rip it apart if I wanted to. It's still a bit of a chore (although the buzz of finishing is always nice), but once you get going its no so bad, and I've been challenged on a few things, and probably given a few areas back to God also.

Overall I don't think this book has significantly changed my life, and it may not do yours, but if people are going on with God through reading it (and those around me are) then I'm pleased about that, and see it as a good thing.

Matt

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I've read The Purpose Driven Church and quite liked it. I don't remember it (and may not have been old enough when I read it) to give it an exhaustive review, theological or exegetical, but I remember quite liking some of his metaphors in particular.

I specifically remember the idea of the movement of the Holy Spirit being much like a wave. They rise and fall, and our effort to create waves, or make them last longer than they should, end in ineffective treading water.

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Andrew wrote:

: Your powers of recall are astounding.

Maybe not THAT astounding -- I have since gone through a batch of those old C&C newsletters and can't find the quote in question. But the quote does sound very familiar -- it stuck in my brain because it has that colloquial manner that was very typical of Lewis's writings.

DanBuck wrote:

: I specifically remember the idea of the movement of the Holy Spirit being

: much like a wave. They rise and fall, and our effort to create waves, or

: make them last longer than they should, end in ineffective treading water.

Oh, that IS nice.

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I appreciate your replies, gentlemen. And Matt, I respect your point about rejoicing that people seem to be growing through their 40-day journey -- this strikes me as analogous to Paul's rejoicing that the Gospel is being preached, whether through base motives or pure ones.

Then again, I have to wonder: what kind of example is being held forth for young Christians, in terms of Warren's poor Scripture exegesis and spirit-numbing prose (especially when there are plenty of worthy Christian books out there for new believers)?

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I respect your point about rejoicing that people seem to be growing through their 40-day journey -- this strikes me as analogous to Paul's rejoicing that the Gospel is being preached, whether through base motives or pure ones.

Then again, I have to wonder: what kind of example is being held forth for young Christians, in terms of Warren's poor Scripture exegesis and spirit-numbing prose (especially when there are plenty of worthy Christian books out there for new believers)?

Yes, I share this dilema as well. For me personally I console myself in the knowledge that God is pretty good at sorting all these things out in the long run. Also as much as I like to think I'm right on everything, I'm not and I suppose that means there's at least the possibility that where I disagree with Warren's technique, he is right.

It also motivates me to work harder at presenting a more honest approach to scripture to those around me. It is a toughie, and frustrating, but I guess long ago I decided I should try and see what positives I could pull out of something, even if I didn't like the thing in itself.

Matt

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This is also how I feel about 90% of the "dramas" being done in churches today. As an artist, they give me chills, as achristian, I can't help but see the people moved by them.

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Do the other 10% not give you chills or do they just not move people?

Matt

Chills was meant to convey negative chills. The other 10% actually have some quality to them.

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: Chills was meant to convey negative chills.

Yeah I got that - the cultural divide isn't that big :wink:

: The other 10% actually have some quality to them.

Oh you're doing well then! If I'd been a betting man I would have guessed that the other 10% moved no-one. Over here, drama was tried a lot in the 80s and early nineties, but was generally so feeble it seems to have died out (or perhaps I just don't go to the same places anymore)

Matt

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OK, I read CT's profile of Warren and the debates that cropped up later in the "Corresponance" section. Some of Warren's stuff is occasionally available at Costco. That's all I know.

That being said, this all sounds familiar. The dumbing down of evangelical culture has got to be intentional for it to be so all pervasive. I share Dan's reservations about the quality of Drama (not seen a lot, still newfangled in these parts; the last thing I witnessed was a dramatic interpretation of Rutter's "Gloria", decent in execution other than cleanup after real sheep; "WHY?" for conception). Andrew, elegant writing style is for C. S. Lewis, never a consideration for those wanting to publish. Here's the macro-deal: while a waiter, I hit on the reason all restaurants sing inane clapping songs with one or two notes instead of "Happy Birthday". Almost nobody can survive the key change at the end. Really. I have tried to yell the change for a small group, but nobody can fallow. What has this to do with the discussion? What seems to me to be minimum expectation here is actually, at least thought to be either beyond the grasp of the vast majority of congregants, or into "eyes glaze over" territory for most who are seeking a fillup for the spiritual compartment. I'll bet that what Warren writes directly to/for pastors is a little more elevated. A little. I'm guessing because that's par for the course. It always rankled me. It's also why I can't touch most christian publishing at all. I hope I'm wrong.

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I'd be content with merely workmanlike style and prose, but Warren's ability in these areas seems well below a median level of competency. Perhaps you could peruse a chapter or two of Warren in the aisles of Costco and see if you agree with me.

Sure, I understand that Warren and co. want to write for people who don't necessarily have a college education. Yancey might be an example that contrasts positively here -- his ability to draw an apt quote or story from multiple sources, ancient or contemporary, displays his erudition, yet I think he writes elegantly in a style that's accessible to most everyone with a reasonable degree of literacy.

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Althought that may be a common reason, the sgrong reason is becuase the heirs of the writer of \"Happy Birthday\" discovered they could make a few bucks by enforcing the copyright. So commercial uses of the song (such as in a restaurant) would result in licensing fees being paid from [insert restaurant chain here] to the owners. That's also why you don't hear it in movies much any more, and when you do, you will notice that it's listed in the songs section of the credits.

I see. But two things: first, being an "older" guy, I formulated this while still singing "Happy Birthday" for free (I was lucky enough at one restaurant to be the only amateur in the official noonday quartet, with the three pros, we sounded pretty good, not just on key biggrin.gif ); it is sad, though I understand the attraction of serendipitous paydays; I thought that once public domain took over, that was it, gotta check out your link.

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Sure, I understand that Warren and co. want to write for people who don't necessarily have a college education.  Yancey might be an example that contrasts positively here -- his ability to draw an apt quote or story from multiple sources, ancient or contemporary, displays his erudition, yet I think he writes elegantly in a style that's accessible to most everyone with a reasonable degree of literacy.

I don't doubt your assessment for a minute. CT's profile gave the impression of a guy that has gone a long way on sincerity, earnestness, and personal magnetism. In fact, the impression I have is that he hit on his system precisely because of his sense of brokenness. And really, not that there is anything wrong with that. We are rare birds here, demanding eccentric (to Joe "twelve-pack-a-Coke") notions of excellence and aesthetic criteria. A very sharp and intelligent woman my former church is still almost disgusted (we are longtime friends) at my stated reasons for leaving. I may feel like a spiritual orphan right now, but that is MY problem, not the problem of others whom I have scant right to judge, seeing as they appear to be where God wants them to be!

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AlanW wrote:

: Althought that may be a common reason, the sgrong reason is becuase

: the heirs of the writer of "Happy Birthday" discovered they could make a

: few bucks by enforcing the copyright.

Yeah, in the new versions of The Wrong Trousers on DVD, when Gromit opens up the birthday card, it now plays 'For He's a Jolly Old Fellow' instead of 'Happy Birthday'. However, on the audio commenary track, you can still hear 'Happy Birthday' in the background!

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Thanks, Dan -- one of LarkNews best issues yet. I loved the ad at the top of the page, though I'm guessing Dobson wouldn't see the humor in it.

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I LOVE Hanagraff's tome at #5 with a bullett. Excuse me while I check Amazon.

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I LOVE Hanagraff's tome at #5 with a bullett. Excuse me while I check Amazon.

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DanBuck wrote:

: I specifically remember the idea of the movement of the Holy Spirit being

: much like a wave. They rise and fall, and our effort to create waves, or

: make them last longer than they should, end in ineffective treading water.

Oh, that IS nice.

Of course, that too is stolen from C. S. Lewis -- read the chapter in Screwtape Letters about the "law of undulation."

And "Happy Birthday" does not change keys at the end (unless Sandi Patti or Barry Manilow sings it) -- or are you thinking about the "and many more" tag?

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check out the http://www.larknews.com best seller list for some Rick Warren ribbing.

Oh my -- how have I managed to live so long and not know about Lark News? Haven't seen Xn. satire this good since the Door was in its glory days. Thanks, Dan!

After perusing the homeschool article, though, I must observe that any decent writer should know that Gibbon's book is The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, not the Rise and Fall. And no, I wasn't homeschooled, but my mother did use the public library as free daycare.

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