Wednesday, December 10, 2008

40 Days of Purpose: Blueprint for Revival or Recipe for Apostacy?

At first, the large congregations of churches such as Lakewood Church under Joel Osteen, Willow Creek under Bill Hybels and Saddleback under Rick Warren seem visually impressive; landmarks that testify to the fulfilment of the great commission. As such, other pastors naturally look to their methods, ideals and teachings in the hopes that the same can be achieved for their own fellowships. But when we actually take the time to weigh such strategies against scripture, such practices become highly questionable.

Ecclesiology and outreach
   Not surprisingly, the faith statements of seeker-friendly churches tend to be quite orthodox in their gospel presentation. In practice however, this is not so.
As the name of the movement suggests, the underlying assumption of seeker-friendly churches is that unbelievers are seeking the truth. In an age of consumerism, seekers have been offered numerous religious and ideological products— they are shoppers looking for the religious system with which they feel most compatible. Because the “unchurched” are seeking answers, Christians must pitch Christianity in a way that will appeal to them— helping them to understand that Christianity is superior to any of the other products available.
In contrast, the doctrine of Total Depravity argues exactly the opposite— that no one is truly seeking after God or is let alone capable of doing so on their own. In Scripture, unbelievers are portrayed,not as those who earnestly seek God, but rather as the spiritually dead (Col. 2:13), the spiritually rebellious (Eph. 2:1-3), and the spiritually hardhearted (Eph. 4:18). Even though God's self-disclosure through nature and the conscience should cause men to seek Him (Acts 17:27-29), unbelievers have rejected the truth that they know, becoming "futile in their thoughts [so that] their foolish hearts were darkened" (Rom. 1:21).

   A second tenet of seeker-sensitive methodology is that believers need to think like unbelievers in order to reach the lost. To be effective, evangelists must begin by putting themselves in the shoes of the unchurched— purposefully making their messages relevant to the felt needs of the audience.
   In other words, believers need to understand the felt needs – material, emotional, physical etc. - of seekers if those seekers are to be effectively reached.
Warren echoes this strategy, telling his readers:

The ground we have in common with unbelievers is not the Bible, but our common
needs, hurts, and interests as human beings. You cannot start with a text, expecting the unchurched to be fascinated by it. You must first capture their attention, and then move them to the truth of God's Word. By starting with a topic that interests the unchurched and then showing what the Bible says about it, you can grab their attention, disarm prejudices, and create an interest in the Bible that wasn't there before.xxviii

By understanding the specific demographic and psychographic backgrounds of those in the audience, preachers can better appeal to their felt needs— showing the lost that the gospel is relevant to their current life situation. Warren, in fact, is so confident in this strategy that he says:

"It is my deep conviction that anybody can be won to Christ if you discover the key to his or her heart. That key to each person's heart is unique so it is sometimes difficult to discover. It may take some time to identify it. But the most likely place to start is with that person's felt needs."xxix

Are demographic, psychographic, and geographic considerations the keys to evangelism? Is thinking like an unbeliever the way to effectively reach him or her? Is knowing what the unsaved audience wants to hear the biblical method for preaching the gospel? Even a brief survey of the biblical evidence quickly reveals cracks in this seeker-sensitive argument.

   The early church, for example, clearly defied the "target audience" approach of the contemporary seeker church— having been built by the Spirit rather than statistics.
   Moreover, Scripture never commands Christians to think like the unsaved, but rather commands exactly the opposite. Paul simply says

"This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardening of their heart"
Ephesians 4:17-18

In other words, Christians are to stop thinking like unbelievers. In Romans 8:6-7, he puts it even more clearly,

"The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so."

In light of this, believers are to avoid conformity with the world, allowing their minds to be transformed by God's truth (Rom. 12:2), preparing their minds for action (1 Pet. 1:13)— putting off the deeds and thoughts of the flesh (Eph. 4:22-24).
   Finally, the idea that anyone can lead anyone else to Christ, simply by unlocking the felt needs of the heart, is pure humanism at best. Only God has the ability to even know the heart (Jer. 17:9-10; Rev. 2:23), let alone change it. It is His Spirit who cleanses the heart (Titus 3:5); it is His Word that penetrates through layers of doubt and unbelief (Heb. 4:12); He is the one who calls sinners to Himself (Rom. 8:29-30)— having specifically chosen them before time began (Eph. 1:3-6). And while men are certainly His agents for preaching the gospel (Rom. 10:14-15), God is nonetheless sovereign in the entire process (Rom. 9:18).
   By asking the church to think like the world, seeker churches are filling their membership rosters with worldly Christians. In reaching out to the world, Hybels and Warren run the risk of becoming like those they are trying to reach.

   According to Gary Gilley:

   The leaders of the Market-driven church believe that “the most effective messages for
seekers are those that address their felt needs”. However, this approach is not drawn from the Bible; it is drawn from market research and the latest in psychology. No one denies that there are many benefits to the Christian life, but these benefits must not be confused with the gospel. The gospel is not about helping Harry feel better about himself and his circumstances; it is about his rebelliousness against a holy God who will ultimately condemn him to hell if he does not repent and trust in God for the forgiveness of

   The seeker-friendly approach in it’s assumption that man is not fully corrupted and as such is capable of seeking the truth of God by his own initiative rejects the biblical doctrine of Total Depravity and in effect, leans more towards the doctrines of Pelagianism that were declared anathema almost 1500 years ago.

   In Day Seven of the 40 Days of Purpose campaign, Rick Warren says to non-believers reading The Purpose Driven Life:

Wherever you are reading this, I invite you to bow your head and quietly whisper the prayer that will change your eternity: “Jesus, I believe in you and I receive you.” Go ahead.
If you sincerely meant that prayer, congratulations! Welcome to the family of God!xxxi

No mention of sin. No mention of repentance. No mention of judgement, the wrath to come, lordship, faith, grace. No mention at all of what Christ did on the cross.

During the 17th century, Jonathan Edwards personally led two hundred people to Christ through his preaching as exemplified in sermons such as “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” and “The Justification of God in the Damnation of Sinners”, which, coupled with the open-air evangelism of George Whitefield when he came to bring Methodism to America at the same time brought about the Great Awakening which forever changed the landscape the young nation:

How many sorts of wickedness have you not been guilty of! How manifold have been the abominations of your life! What profaneness and contempt of God has been exercised by you! How little regard have you had to the Scriptures, to the word preached, to sabbaths, and sacraments!
How profanely have you talked, many of you, about those things that are holy! After what manner have many of you kept God's holy day, not regarding the holiness of the time, not caring what you thought of in it! Yea, you have not only spent the time in worldly, vain, and unprofitable thoughts, but in immoral thoughts; pleasing yourself with the reflection on past acts of wickedness, and in contriving new acts. Have not you spent much holy time in gratifying your lusts in your imaginations; yea, not only holy time, but the very time of God's public worship, when you have appeared in God's more immediate presence? How have you not only attended to the worship, but have in the mean time been feasting your lusts, and wallowing yourself in abominable uncleanness! How many sabbaths have you spent, one after another, in a most wretched manner! Some of you not only in worldly and wicked thoughts, but also a very wicked outward behavior! When you on sabbath-days have got along with your wicked companions, how has holy time been treated among you! What kind of conversation has there been!
Yea, how have some of you, by a very indecent carriage, openly dishonored and cast contempt on the sacred services of God's house, and holy day! And what you have done some of you alone, what wicked practices there have been in secret, even in holy time, God and your own consciences know.

If a book such as The Purpose Driven Life which has sold 25 million copies and has been on the New York Times bestseller lists for several months truly contains the biblical gospel message and as such has been placed into the hands of one quarter of the United States’ population, then where’s the revival and the fruits associated?
To quote Marvin the Martian: “Where’s the ‘kaboom!’? There was supposed to be an earth-shattering ‘kaboom!’”

For those that still want to endorse such an approach to ecclesiology, they must in turn respond to the burden of proof regarding how exactly do they intend to structure a fellowship gathering that is specifically tailored to a group of people which scripture makes abundantly clear as not existing in the sight of God.

Liberal view and use of scripture

Furthermore, while many within the Seeker-friendly movement will say that they believe in the inspiration, inerrancy and suffieciency of scripture, in practice this is not the case.

The Heading of Chapter 7 of the Purpose Driven Life quotes Proverbs 16:4 from the New Living Translation (NLT):

The Lord has made everything for his own purposes.

But this is not whole verse!

"The LORD has made everything for its own purpose, even the wicked for punishment."

Chapter 2 begins with what is supposed to be Isaiah 44:2 from the
Contemporary English Version (CEV) as an exhortation to the reader:

"I am your Creator. You were in my care even before you were born."

But when we look at the actual verse:

I am your Creator.
You were in my care
even before you were born.
Israel, don't be terrified!
You are my chosen servant, my very favorite.

Here is the passage in context (v1-2):

1People of Israel,
I have chosen you as my servant.
2I am your Creator.
You were in my care even before you were born.
Israel, don't be terrified!
You are my chosen servant, my very favorite.

And now from a literal translation (English Standard Version):

1"But now hear, O Jacob my servant,
Israel whom I have chosen!
2Thus says the LORD who made you,
who formed you from the womb and will help you:
Fear not, O Jacob my servant,
Jeshurun whom I have chosen.

The actual passage is not an exhortation to the reader, as Warren states, but a description of the relationship between God and the nation of Israel.
It is also interesting to note that Warren avoids putting Scripture references into his chapters, choosing instead to make them all endnotes in the back. While some readers may actually double-check Warren’s biblical proof-texts, the book’s format (whether intentionally or unintentionally) makes doing so inconvenient. The result is that those who read The Purpose Driven spend just under six weeks doing daily devotions wherein God’s word is temporarily detached while simultaneously being given a great deal of spiritual input.

   Perhaps the tell-tale sign of faulty hermeneutics is the very concept of “40 Days)” as explained in the overview video

You may be wondering, "Why 40 days? What's so special about that time frame?" The Bible is clear that God considers 40 days to be a spiritually significant time period. Whenever God wanted to prepare someone for his purposes, he took 40 days:
                Noah's life was transformed by 40 days of rain.
                Moses was transformed by 40 days on Mount Sinai.
                The spies were transformed by 40 days in the Promised Land.
                David was transformed by Goliath's 40-day challenge.
                Elijah was transformed when God gave him 40 days of strength from a single meal.
                The entire city of Nineveh was transformed when God gave them 40 days to change.
                The disciples were transformed by 40 days with Jesus after his resurrection.

By comparison, the Bible describes:
- Long before the rains that brought the flood, “Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord” (Genesis 6:8) 
- Moses’ life was transformed not at Mt Sinai, but rather the Burning Bush
- Of the 12 Spies, only two returned having been changed.
- David only appeared on the scene to confront Goliath after the forty Days of the Philistine’s taunts. Prior to that, he had never even heard of Goliath.   

 Warren attempts to justify his liberal use of scripture by telling the readers of Purpose Driven Life:

We think we know what a verse says because we have read it or heard it so many times. Then when we find it quoted in a book, we skim over it and miss the full meaning. Therefore I have deliberately used paraphrases in order to help you see God's truth in new, fresh ways. English-speaking people should thank God that we have so many different versions to use for devotional reading.
Also, since the verse divisions and number were not included in the Bible until 1560 A.D., 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.xxxiv

In response, Christian Radio host Todd Friel countered by stating in a review of Rick Warren’s teachings:

With no less than 15 different Bible translations and paraphrases, Warren offers proof- texts for much of his discussion, usually without any exegetical or contextual support. The author explains his reasons for this on page 325, contending that his “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.” Unfortunately, this thinking allows Warren to pull passages completely out of context and apply them however he sees fit (using whatever loose paraphrase best fits his argument). But, unlike Jesus and the apostles, Warren is not inspired by the Holy Spirit—meaning he does not possess the authority to use God’s Word however he pleases.xxxv

A pelagian view of salvation, a liberal view of scripture; the Seeker- Friendly movement stands against the general precepts of Protestantism in general, that is, the inspiration and sufficiency of scripture alone as the revelation by which scripture derives it’s doctrine and practice and above all, salvation by faith through grace alone.
Now, many will still object to these concerns by saying "God can use anything for his kingdom! 'But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty' 1 Corinthians 1:27!"
A lot of people use 1 Corinthians 1:27 to justify the use of false doctrine on the basis that God created everything, thus he can therefore use anything. But look at the verse in context: When laying the foundations of his church, God did not choose the highly educated, the great speakers, nor politicians, nor men of wealth, and power, and interest in the world, to preach the Word. He best judges what men and what measures serve the purposes of his glory. God would never do something that went against his own word. At the end of the day, he never sits back in his throne, smugly grinning that the ends justify the means. And neither should we. Jesus did not die for our sins so that we can enter a personal relationship with a divine pragmatist.



xxviii Warren, Rick. The Purpose Driven Church. Zondervan, 1995. 

xxix Ibid.

xxx Gilley, Gary. This little church went to Market. Evangelical Press, 2005.

xxxi Warren, Rick. The Purpose Driven Life. Zondervan, 2002. 

xxxii Edwards, Jonathan. “The Justification of God in the Damnation of


xxxiv Warren, Rick. The Purpose Driven Life. Zondervan, 2002.

xxxv Friel, Todd. Talk The Walk Ministries (now Way of the Master Radio). “Purpose”.

No comments:

Post a Comment