09 June 2005

Marginal Observations about PDL®

One of the comment threads below turned into a longer-than-expected discussion about the merits and demerits of The Purpose-Driven® Life. So I decided to post some of my own thoughts about the book. The quickest, easiest way to do that is to share with you some thoughts I jotted down when I read the book.

This is not going to be a review; it's merely a record of my impressions while reading the book. Perhaps one of these days, if time permits, I'll do a proper review. But since the question people always ask is, "What did you think of The Purpose-Driven® Life?"—here (quite literally) is what I thought of it:

Notes in my copy of PDL

When I read, I use a transparent-green highlighter pen on the actual book pages, so that my marks don't show up or obscure the text if I later photocopy something. But I also keep a green FlairTM pen handy, which I use to write helpful reminders, key thoughts, and criticisms in the flyleaf. What you see above is the flyleaf— and the inside cover of my copy of The Second Best-Selling Book of All Time®.

Here's a more legible transcript:

  • This book is theologically naive, revealing little understanding of the law, divine grace, human depravity, redemption from sin, justification, sanctification (holiness), the nature of saving faith, or the lordship of Christ.
  • The Bible talks about how God fulfills His purpose through believers; it's not about Him helping us fulfill our purpose. (Romans 8:28, for example, describes Christians as those who are "called according to His purpose.")
  • In fact, Jesus called people to self-denial, not self-fulfillment. The notion of "self-fulfillment" caters to human pride and self-will, which Scripture says is sin.
  • But Rick Warren seems to think whatever you want to be is what God wants you to be ("God wants you to be yourself"—p. 103).
  • Scripture does not teach that God accepts people unconditionally in the sense Rick Warren seems to think.
  • True worship, service, sharing, and most of the other things described in The Purpose-Driven® Life are not possible at all apart from salvation. So why not give the gospel more clearly?
  • The true gospel is a message about redemption from sin, not "purpose in life." The most essential features of the gospel message are the cross of Christ and the truth of the resurrection. (Neither is given much emphasis—I don't recall that the resurrection is mentioned at all—in The Purpose-Driven® Life.) The cross is where sin was atoned for, and the resurrection is the proof Christ's atonement was accepted as payment in full for the sins of Christ's people. You haven't preached the gospel at all if you neglect those truths.
  • In short, this is basically feel-good stuff, carefully packaged to make a message that is appealing to unspiritual people. Other than that, the audience is ambiguous, and the gospel message is tamed, toned down, and obscured. The hard issues that were the most outstanding features of Jesus' message—sin, repentance, self-denial; not to mention the vital themes of righteousness, judgment, atonement, and the world to come—are all completely missing from Rick Warren's presentation.
  • The Purpose-Driven® Life epitomizes what is most wrong with the shallow, anti-theological, a-biblical message being proclaimed from most "evangelical" pulpits today.


Robocopper said...

Hi Phil.

Nice blog! We're on to it here in New Zealand!

Have you seen www.greatbibleteaching.com

Could I put your "Intro to Postmodernism" on the list? Also, it is a huge MP3 file ... 25MB.

Tim Challies said...

"The Bible talks about how God fulfills His purpose through believers; it's not about Him helping us fulfill our purpose."

And that's the great irony of the book, isn't it? It begins with the words "It's not about you" and then goes on to disprove that opening statement time and again.

There is also some irony in proclaiming PDL to be "a-biblical" (in your final comment). Warren constantly mentions the 1500 Bible verses that are in the book, but the message of the book is still a-biblical. Talk about a case of missing the forest for the trees...

Anyways, good thoughts on a bad book.

David said...

Agreed here, Tim. I think there's scope for an essay or something sometime from someone on the difference between something being 'biblically-based' and properly 'biblical'.

I think we could show that in much contemporary evangelical literature quoting the Bible is classed as something being 'biblically-based' ... but this is different from material that is biblically-shaped, so that the writing expresses the biblical worldview and is aligned with a deep grasp with how the Scripture actually works. I guess the latter kind of writing shows more exposition than quotation or mere referencing, and this exposition is itself then set within a whole-Bible biblical theology schema so that the expounded parts cohere with the revealed whole.

Biblical theology is what will prevent things like a 40-day framework, for instance, as being something that is inherently spiritual or sensible just because it's 'biblically-based'.


Renee said...

Excellent notes.

What I am seeing is that this sort of toned down Gospel is (in a round about way) producing a works based road to heaven (although no one will admit it).

For example, many who believe in the seeker freindly message spend a lot of time boasting about we need to feed the poor, how much they feed the poor, how feeding the poor (phyiscally) was A PART of Jesus' purpose for coming (and the other "physical" needs he took care of). When you bring up redeption from sin the only answer you get is "I know I am a sinner but God is forgiving". This actually occured in an exchange I had on another blog. When a few of asked if the Gospel was being shared with the poor who were being fed, the answer was... "I didn't get a chance to witness BUT they know I serve the Lord by showing compassion" or "There are many ways to witness" (????). I could go on and on but as I read back through other exchanges I have had, I am noticing this is a common exchange (just using different words at times).

I think in the other thread it was asked "how dow we guide the church back from this path"? That is what bothers me.

David said...

I guess you'll have to think of me as the david without the smiling mugshot.

Douglas, George Bush was elected chief executive of the U.S., not chief theologian. There is no reason to expect him to be more theologically savvy than anyone else.

Renee said...

I just have to add...

Phil this is a great blog and you definitely start lively discussions...


Frank Martens said...


Well, it doesn't surprise me that Celebrate Recovery® is from Rick Warren. Our Church is doing it, and I'm utterly sick to my stomach about it. I thought it was something they came up with, but now I know :)

I got in a discussion with a friend of mine (in fact, my roommate) about it, and his response was "well it's biblical". I just stood there blinking at him in disbelief as the sickness (more a feeling of sadness) just welled.

I suppose according to a majority of Christians these days, if you want to make a best seller; stick some verses to it, make it sound good, and call it biblical.

Woop! Touchdown for man-centerness!


Brad Williams said...

Okay, I know that I am probably going to get beaten half to death for saying this, but the humility will do me good.

I do not think George Bush erred in what he said. I just read a huge exchange between bloggers because someone said, "Calvinism is the gospel." (Quoting Spurgeon, of course.) My point is that if George Bush says that Rick Warren's program can change the heart, that's not necessarily inaccurate.

Further, I have read Rick Warren's books, and I generally agree with the review/thoughts given. But God has used these works to bring genuine change in people, despite the apparently obvious "watered down" stuff it contains.

My point in posting this is to say that, even though I would not use PDL material, and even though I think it is shallow, this is not necessarily something I want to rail against either. Someone affected by this book needs a God-centered re-orientation, but I'm not going to pitch such a fit about it that I turn off those who have been genuinely and divinely touched by God through this work.

Finally, I think that you should lay off George Bush's comment. I am not certain that he meant what you are trying to make him mean, anymore than someone who says, "Calvinism is the gospel" means that you can only be saved if you are a 5 point Calvinist. (Which I am.)

Sled Dog said...

Although you may be surprised, the Sled Dog is a calvinist as well (albeit only a 4 pointer!). Theologically trained at a conservative Bible college and Seminary he is, teaching expositional messages every Sunday, he does.

So, I surely don't want anyone thinking that I'm promoting a feel-good faith by any means.

I believe I'm likely reacting more to the fact that I see both sides of the issue with similar disdain. Just as fearful to me as shallow spirituality is people becoming so theological anal (I hope that doesn't prompt a deletion) that they lose sight of the fact people need the simple message of salvation. I've seen Christian leaders argue theological minutae while a dying world passes them by. I am constrained by the Great Commission to introduce people to Christ, that their sins might be forgiven. John 4 is my model, where Jesus took a shallow conversation about water to the place that the woman realized her need for living water.

CharlyG said...

Great site! I was pointed here from La Shawn;s Corner. Her sister is coming out to attend The Master's College. My daughter just graduated from there! Too hot for the ceremny tho! Anyway, I'll put you on my blgoroll. I did a bit on PDL a while ago. Not my favorite book!

Tim Challies said...

David said, "I think there's scope for an essay or something sometime from someone on the difference between something being 'biblically-based' and properly 'biblical'."

I'd volunteer but Richard Abanes is all over me anytime I even begin to mention Purpose Driven Life! :)

Jim V. said...

I think you're missing the point, sleddog. I don't think anyone here (judging by the comments mad) would dispute that people just need to hear the gospel. The point being made is that the people are not hearing the gospel in PDL...because it's not there.

Renee said...

Hey Charly,
I came over here from La Shawn's also. I am enjoying this :)

Renee said...

The Purpose-Driven®

I'm sorry but the copyright symbol says it all :)

Sled Dog said...

hey Jim V, thanks for throwing the sled dog a bone...

Interesting, in the interview Warren had with Larry King, he stated that he wrote the book for Christians. In responding to the fact that the book seems to be ending up in the hands of all types of people:

WARREN: Yes, that's a big surprise too, is that -- is I -- you know, I'm a pastor. And so I thought I was writing for church members, Christians..."

So I don't get the feel that it was intended to be a Gospel tract. That said, I agree with you that the PDL book is in many ways vapid of theology, or even a well-rounded explanatin of the Gospel.

All in all, I'm sure glad God's work is done by Him, not by me. I like what Warren Wiersbe once said (my paraphrase): "If you can always explain what God is up to, He's probably not in it."

Renee said...

I think it is also said:

If it pleases men (plural), it probably is not of God ;-)(my paraphrase)

ok, I couldn't help it :)

Sled Dog said...


You're gonna have to say what you mean the first time...no more deletions!!! ;-)

Honestly, I'm more like you...I type out my thoughts, and upon reading, I usually feel I didn't best articulate what was on my heart. But by then I've already hit the POST button.

The Sled Dog may just become the PYROMANIAC'S official whipping dog! I just wish I knew how to make one of those cool "trademark" or "registered" symbols!

Renee said...

I delete due to typo's :)

Now you know the rest of the story.

Renee said...

sled dog,
We porbably are very much a like in that regard (ptyping our thoughts out and then frantically hitting POST and then re-reading and saying...UGH!!!)
You can not possibly be the official whipping post all the time (maybe the PDL one...LOL).

I think you should get the trademark though...hmm..

sled dog, the official whipping post over PyroManiac...lol (just kidding)

Luthersrose said...

Excellent insights--spot on target. One quick FYI: I downloaded an electronic version of PDL (at MobiPocket.com) so that I could do "key-word" searches on Rick's material. The resurrection is mentioned two or three times.

In saying that, I fully agree it is the weakest part of his tome and should have been given preeminencee with a careful, lengthy explanation of the gospel at the very beginning of this book. IMHO, his five general "purposes" are all things we can say "amen" to; but the path he takes in unfolding these five purposes and their subsequent emphasis is where the biblical wheels fall off the PDL wagon.

I may be in the minority on this, but Rick is our brother in Christ; affirms monergism; and has in one interview I read supported a reformed view of sotierology. (You can read this interview at www.a1m.org).

In the wake of PDL's success one important question seems to be: how can we encourage Rick to not dumb-down the message, seemingly, for wider appeal, and yet, still express the great theological truths of Christianity in a way that the common man or woman today will clearly understand? The whole book is not pabulum--but there are troubling sections as you have rightly stated.

Let's be honest, Rick is an easy target. But it is troubling to me that there are other evangelical leaders that are embracing just as dangerous suasions (i.e., evangelical co-belligerence - political remedies for moral maladies absent of the gospel), that are given "a pass" from the same public scrutiny that Warren is subjected to, due to the fact they are part of "our camp" and share alliances with us. In light of the biblical command to use the same weights and measures in regards to all situations and people, need we might evaluate how we "take on" Warren if we are not going to address just as important biblical concerns of others that we show a bias for? (cp, Prov. 11:1; 16:11).

Thank you for letting me share on this blog. I appreciate you brother greatly and thank you again for these very refreshing and accurate insights into the PDL material.

Grace and peace,
Steve Camp
2 Cor. 4:5-7

aquascum said...

athirstysoul is on the right track with the GWB quote. Bush is saying that the church's ministry "does what government cannot -- change hearts." The idea that this wording is objectionable, much less 'heresy,' is simply mistaken. There are parallel statements in Scripture ("baptism now saves you"; "I became your father through the gospel"), and yet no one would think Peter or Paul is spouting heresy or denying God's work in salvation. The fact of the matter is that Ro 10:17 licenses the implicitly instrumental causation adverted to in the Bush quote. Just because faith comes by hearing doesn't mean that our hearing is in competition with God, or the ultimate source of our salvation.

Clearly, there is an interpretation of Bush's remarks that is theologically impeccable, so why not take it until contextually shown otherwise? There needs to be some sensitivity and charitableness in how we interpret ambiguous turns of phrase. Otherwise, you risk alienating others from a broader critique of Warren that is essentially sound. The Warren supporters and even fence-sitters won't hear what you're saying, because of misguided potshots like this that can be easily refuted.

MTG said...

Thank you thank you thank you. My sister in law was SO offended when I told her I threw the book in the garbage pail. (Shes Church of Christ). I could not get past Chapter 3, I had my trusty NKJ with me after page 1 trying to figure out WHAT the man was trying to say. Obviously me not getting it(from Warrens point of view) lets me know i am still on track theologically.

Once again...thanks.

Sled Dog said...

AQUASCUM: You nailed it right on the head. It's maddening to try and have good discourse when snippets and phrases are being analyzed, many times out of context or without any grace. How many times have someone brought my words back to me and I could only respond, "That's not what I meant."
Sled Dog says "an extra milk-bone for you." (especially because I your name is so...interesting)

STEVE: I appreciated how you weighed in on the topic. That's totally my heart as a pastor. Coaxing people to embrace Christ and the Word more and more. You seemed to take my very thoughts and put them into words.

Brad Huston said...

Personally, I think there is a lot we can learn from Warren and I have read a great deal of envy about him around the 'sphere - and a cursory review of the comments here and Philip's remarks make me wonder if this site is any exception.

What can we learn? We can examine the man, his life, his drive to to take his faith from paper and into reality. Many who understand correct doctrine, really don't understand much at all. Teaching is void without action (i.e. faith without works is dead, faith without love is nothing).

That said, while Philip raises many a correct point about TPDL, he fails to hammer the most important one: our sole purpose is to give God glory in everything we do and we do this by loving God with all and loving others (1 John 5:1-3).

Everything else mentioned by Philip here flows into this main point.


Renee said...

sled dog,:
Please expand on the quote you made below:

"Coaxing people to embrace Christ and the Word more and more."

Have you ever seen a program called Hell's Best Kept Secret? Your comment reminded me of a skit that was shown. A few demons are sitting around a card table thinking of how to get people to not believe in God and tossing ideas around. They try "let's tell them there is no God", they think no, they will eventually figure that one out... basically they toss around a bunch of ideas and then they hit a loss and one of them finally says, I got it, let's tell them there is no hurry.

I am not knocking the coaxing (and I am not exactly sure what you may mean by coaxing... I know the definition but I will not assume I know what you are saying here :)) however there is one fact of life, tomorrow is not promised to anyone (the next minute for that matter). Just watching the news shows us many examples of this on a daily basis. Anyway, that is why I am curious about the appeal of coaxing and trying to make Christ more "acceptable" or "appealing". Doesn't scripture tell us the Gospel will be offensive?

I agree with Steve, there are quite a few other books/pastors (Olsteen's Your Best Life Ever I think it is called fits the bill also)... However, Rick is the one showing up nightly on the news portraying the Gospel and Christians (so it's just obviously a good place to start the discussion, not a let's hunt down Rick Warren party... at least I don't think so).

Renee said...

I forgot to mention, when you try to correct an error or possible mistake with scripture or the Gospel, you get accused of being jealous (only second to judging). I'm so glad Christian have such thick skins these days.

Sled Dog said...

Scripture says that the cross is an offense to those are perishing. I think some believers believe that they are to be offensive in the explanation of the gospel! But it's the message that people need a savior for their sins that offends them.

I truly do appreciate your asking for an explanation of what I meant. May it never be that we as believers be slack or casual with the Gospel. By coaxing, I mean sharing the truth (the whole truth)in a caring, joyful, winsome manner. Hey, it's the GOOD NEWS!

I thought Steve's post was true, but not combative. I believe that's how we ought to communicate. What's the saying, more flies are caught with honey than with vinegar? I felt coaxed by his gentle, but true words to think correctly.


Anyway, you 5 pointers out there don't need to worry about hurrying anyway...He'll save those who he's called without your help!

Sled Dog said...

And following up Steve's comment...

I am way more stressed out about what's going on in some circles of the Emergent church right now...and in many ways it is all going on under the radar of the church.

Issues concerning the authority of Scripture, the trinity, and Christ as the only source for salvation seem to be up for grabs with some of the EC's strongest leaders. Just spend a little time on a few blogs and Rick Warren will start to look like Spurgeon...

Jacob Hantla said...

I agree with every comment that was made in the original post; however, I think that we must be careful about how we present our distrust of it. Many people respond to this book and have the seeds of the gospel sown (I know the gospel is not even really presented here, but nevertheless, after reading this book people may be interested in "God" or "spirituality") and they may then come to one of us or even stumble upon this blog looking for someone to walk with them toward God. It's our job to then point them to the cross and humbly walk with them (not lead them or tell them how to get there but walk with them) to the foot of the cross. I know that all of our concerns swirl around the the very issue of the cross (PDL simply doesn't present a great need for it because sin is minimized, the subject of the message is self and not God, repentance is non-existant, etc), but if one who was not "schooled in the ways of reformed blogging" stumbled onto this site after reading the book, I think that they would write us off as separatist lunatics and not as something attractive to offer them further guidance and they'll end up going to a seeker-sensitive church that will give them nothing but a good feeling on their way to Hell. So I just want to encourage all of you and encourage myself as well in the midst of our blogging to consider the weaker brother. I hope this is taken in the meak, self-incriminating sense in which it was intended and in no other way. I too am guilty of this even in my short blogging life.

God Bless.


aquascum said...

SLEDDOG: my three sons love _Finding Nemo_. What can I say? :-)

"Curse you, Aquascum!!!"

Renee said...

Thanks sled dog,
Your answer clarified and yes I understand it and do agree. (I think you may be write, we type so fat to get our thoughts down that we don't get it out clearly).

I was thinking, what do we do now that it is very possible that we will have family members, friends, etc... who for example read PDL or any of the other books that may be lacking (or listen to them on TV or the radio for that matter) and then come to us and say "hey, I am a Christian now based off of reading or seeing X,Y,Z". I am serious because that has happened to my mother and I and it has been hard to guide the person to scripture and away from the program or book that may have given them the half message (sometimes I want to say "ok put the book down and slowly back away" :))

Sled Dog said...

If my mom was reading PDL I'd be stoked (sorry, SoCal youth). Why? Because my mom has no interest in spiritual things. It would provide a starting point for some great conversations.

I recently took a church that is full of people who are shallow in their faith. The prior leadership failed to bring them to a fuller knowledge of the truth. I am lovingly connecting them to the Word, and God is doing the work in many hearts. Too many pastors seek out churches where everyone has it all together and everyone thinks alike. What fun is that? Give me a bunch of PDLers, Young Lifers, and scripturally stunted folks. What a blessing it is to see them begin to chew on the meat after sucking milk for far too long!

Finally, the RW interview Steve Camp mentioned is a must read.

Renee said...

sled dog,
It's not my Mom who is engrossed in PDL (actually my Mom is a very mature Christian and gave me PDL after her church had forty days of fun with it). I never made it past day three because it reminded me of all the self help books (i.e Dr. Phil, Ilyana Vanzant, etc.... basically anyone Oprah recommended :)) I tried to use (for more than 10 years) to "deal/accept" all my problems (for some reason something inside was saying...this doesn't sound like the bible no matter how many verses he quotes). The one thing it did do was make me READ my bible more and learn what in context meant (because so many verses in PDL are used out of context). BTW, I was given PDL a few months before becoming a Christian. I guess in a way, it served a purpose of sending me straigh to the scriptures because what I did read didn't sound like anything I learned growing up.

In my previous comment I was referring to my mother and I having a hard time convincing others that the scriptures have all they need (for Christian knowledge) and to step away from PDL (which you can't tell some people is not the bible).