Warren’s Twists And Turns

Twisting ScriptureIn the last few weeks, I’ve been introducing some specific topics that we will later explore in greater detail as this blog progresses. So far, we’ve touched on Charismatic teaching, hearing God’s voice, Beth Moore, Sarah Young, Gay Christians, psychology, female  church leaders and yoga. (Not too shabby for a six-week old blog!) So today I planned to address the issue of Rick Warren.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I discovered that the Grace To You Blog  started its own series on Warren today, prompted by the soon-to-be released movie The Captive (which I don’t endorse). The post explains how this movie will revive interest in Warren’s best-selling book, The Purpose-Driven Life:

In 2005, Nichols was facing trial for rape. On the morning of Friday, March 11, he attacked his guard and several others before murdering the judge and the court reporter presiding over his trial. He shot and killed another guard as he escaped the Fulton County courthouse, and led police on a lengthy manhunt. Over the course of several tense hours, he stole a string of vehicles and murdered a federal agent.

Eventually, Nichols forced his way into Smith’s apartment, and held her at gunpoint for several hours. During their time together, Smith famously read him passages from Rick Warren’s book, The Purpose-Driven Life. She also let him snort some of her methamphetamine. Smith was an addict at the time, but today she traces her sobriety and spiritual awakening back to that night in her apartment as Nichols’s hostage. In the morning, he released her. She alerted the authorities to his location, and after they surrounded the apartment, Nichols surrendered.

In a few weeks, the movie version of their story—titled Captive—will hit theaters. Based on Smith’s 2010 book Unlikely Angel, the movie will likely revive national interest in their unique ordeal, and in The Purpose-Driven Life, which figures heavily in the film’s trailer. [Read the full blog post here.]

When I read Grace To You’s full blog post this morning, I marveled at God’s providence in the timing of me broaching the topic of Rick Warren. Evidently, the movie will cause a renewed interest in The Purpose-Driven Life, and therefore in Rick Warren himself.  While I don’t want to compete with Grace To You in explaining the serious problems with the book (and with Warren’s ministry as a  whole), I’d like to agree with them that this man seriously mishandles Scripture, gives a watered-down presentation of the Gospel and promotes a man-centered “Christianity.” Since Grace To You will demonstrate most (if not all) of these problems in the  next few days, I encourage you to follow their blog this week.

Yet I want to say a few cursory things about Warren and his ministry based on first-hand contact with his ministry. Several years ago, the church John and I attended went through Rick Warren’s 40 Days of Purpose campaign. Both of us initially felt excited about the campaign, especially since the Sunday School Superintendent had asked John to lead the Adult class during those Sundays.

But as we watched the promotional videos leading up to the campaign, we noticed  how frequently Warren wrenched Scripture out of context in order to advance his agenda. Because I’d had a past history of manipulating Scripture (and had recently repented), I easily recognized what he did. In response to my discomfort about him, I researched him and discovered quite a few people who also saw serious flaws in his doctrine. After a few days of  fighting through his book, The Purpose-Driven Life, I could see that Rick Warren simply didn’t respect God’s Word. His use of multiple translations, for example, betrayed the fact that he used the Bible to legitimize his teaching rather than basing his teaching on the Bible. Therefore, John and I chose not to participate.

Rick Warren’s supporters defend his marketing techniques on the premise that “he brings so many people” into churches. Yet many people who purportedly “get saved” through his book, The Purpose-Driven Life, come through a grossly watered-down presentation that barely resembles the Biblical Gospel (page 58):

 “Right now, God is inviting you to live for his glory by fulfilling the purposes he made you for . . . all you need to do is receive and believe…. Will you accept God’s offer?” Again, he offers a sample prayer, “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.”

I’m sorry, but that’s not the Gospel! It may fill pews and, consequently, offering plates, but it neither shows people their deep depravity nor the wondrous grace and mercy of the Lord. Despite Warren’s statement, “It’s not about you,” Warren’s book revolves much more around us than around Christ’s glory. it neither exposes our sinfulness nor adores Him as  our only Savior.

Rick Warren has other problems that I’ll discuss in future posts. For now, I merely want to caution my readers that this man promotes a subtly deceitful gospel that bears little resemblance to the Biblical Gospel. Sadly, in thinking about Warren, I think of the apostle Paul’s harsh words:

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. ~~Galatians 1:6-9 (ESV)

Simply To The Cross I Cling

How easily we revert, after coming to Christ for salvation, to trusting in our works to earn His favor! Each time we do something with the attitude that He will accept us more readily because of our actions, however, we slip right back into self-righteousness. We forget that our salvation depends solely on the shed blood of Jesus Christ.

For far too many years, I pointed my various ministry involvements as evidence of my  salvation, ignoring the truth that I used my “‘service” to gain recognition and to assure myself that God would commend me for being a “good and faithful servant.” Now I grieve over such a self-aggrandizing attitude, ashamed that I turned the privilege of working for Him into filthy rags. Yet I praise the Lord that, by His grace, I can hide myself in Him!

The False Promise Of “It”

GazeboCloseUpEntering the Internet world in the summer of 1997 introduced me to evangelicals who enjoyed a much more liberal outlook on life (particularly in terms of sexual behavior) than I did. Their understanding of Scripture perplexed  me. It also intrigued me. On the one hand, they conveyed a sense of excitement about the Lord, and spoke enthusiastically about serving Him through their local churches. On the other hand, they exhibited worldly attitudes, to the point of calling me prudish because I  said sex was created exclusively for heterosexual marriage. When I questioned them about how they reconciled their Christianity with their worldliness, they saw no contradiction between the two.

In response to this online community, I privately thought of their version of Christianity as “It.” On numerous occasions, various people tried to explain that God’s forgiveness and grace liberated them to live in any way they chose, encouraging me to shed my “legalistic inhibitions” and experience my “Christian liberty.” Although their perspective sharply contradicted God’s Word, I found myself wanting to better understand how “It” could be true.

I couldn’t. The more I poured through Scripture, the more convinced I became that I could either continue walking with Christ, or I could indulge my carnal desires. As I sat in church each Sunday, contemplating the double life that I wanted to lead, I found myself totally unable to worship. “It” promised so much, but “It” would ultimately demand that I choose between the fleeting pleasures of sin and the eternal joy of being with Christ.

To put it more accurately, God the Father had chosen me (Ephesians 1:3-6), and therefore I knew that I wanted Him more than I wanted sin. And that seductive “It” that the professing Christians online held out to me was, in reality, nothing more than a life of hypocrisy than damns people. The Lord, in making me His, graciously kept me miserable when I attempted to live as a hypocrite. Furthermore, He kept reminding me of Peter’s words when Jesus asked the Twelve if they would follow the false disciples who turned from Him:

68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, 69 and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” ~~John 6:68-69 (ESV)

By God’s grace, I know that “It” promises both the world and Jesus, but only delivers an empty life of hypocrisy that results in eternal damnation. Thankfully, His grace also enables me to repent, and to live in a manner that seeks to honor Him. Moreover, He gives me an unshakable promise of eternal life in His presence! True, He calls me to turn my back on worldly pleasures, making it clear that loving the things of this world demonstrates a lack of love for Him (1 John 2:15-17). Clearly, the Holy Spirit has given me a love for the Father strong enough to help me reject “It.”

Where Worship Belongs

Even the most liberal of evangelicals would insist on the Lord being the focus of worship. Scripture makes this focus necessary by insisting not only that He created all things, but that He created them for Himself so that He might be preeminent. Less than a year ago, our pastor preached on this very topic as he approached Colossians 1:15-19. Let me expand a bit on the text to provide a  fuller context.

11 May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. 13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. ~~Colossians 1:11-20 (ESV)

I love this passage primarily because it teaches the amazing doctrine of Christ’s deity, as well as the doctrine of  His Incarnation and His atoning work on the  cross. These words  certainly draw me into an attitude of worship  as they show me Who He is and what He has graciously done. These words also remind me that everything  He has created exists for no other purpose than to bring glory to  Him.

Practitioners of so-called Holy Yoga would say that their form of yoga allows them to worship the Lord more fully. I passionately disagree with that claim based on the fact that yoga (even when it’s dressed up with Bible verses and praise music) is Hinduism. Much to my frustration, their website no longer explains what Holy Yoga actually is, but Chris Lawson of Spiritual Research Network found this quote (which I remember reading) on an earlier version of the Holy Yoga website.

Holy Yoga was created to introduce physical worship of the Lord through prayer, breath work and movement to all seekers and believers in Jesus Christ, regardless of denomination…The purpose of the ministry is to introduce people to yoga as a form of collective (mind, body and spirit) worship…as well as certifying teachers through the registered yoga school (RYS) of Holy Yoga…to facilitate Christ-centered classes in their individual churches, studios, and community spaces….Our sole purpose at Holy yoga is to introduce people to a unique and powerful yoga experience centered on our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. To deepen the experience, Holy Yoga classes are practiced to contemporary motivational Christian music…Yoga is NOT a religion; it is a practice of mind and body control. When led by scripture, prayer and worship poses; it is a practice that encourages patience and cultivates an understanding of what God can manifest in our physical and emotional bodies. 

That closing sentence betrayed the inconvenient fact that Holy Yoga is more about experiencing physical and emotional manifestations of “God” than about Biblical  worship. But according to an article by Christian  Apologetics & Research Ministry (CARM) entitled Should Christians Practice Yoga? (this title is a link), this focus on experience pretty much sums up the primary goal of yoga.

The problem is that yoga is religious in nature.  The point of the practice of yoga is to unite oneself with God.  Take this quote from the Yoga Journal: “Connecting the mind, body, and breath helps us to direct our attention inward. Through this process of inward attention, we learn to recognize our habitual thought patterns without labeling them, judging them, or trying to change them. We become more aware of our experiences from moment to moment. The awareness that we cultivate is what makes yoga a practice, rather than a task or a goal to be completed. Your body will most likely become much more flexible by doing yoga, and so will your mind.”4  As one can see, Yoga is more than just a physical exercise.  We as Christians do not want to make our mind more flexible.  We do not want to leave our mind open to false teaching.

Today, I will leave out any discussion of yoga’s worship of Hindu gods (although  I hope to address that matter at some point) and instead emphasize the point that yoga, “‘Christian” or otherwise, subtly shifts the focus from the Lord to self. As I watched video after video on the Holy Yoga  website, the preoccupation with “meeting God on your mat” came up several times. Although you have to pay the  big bucks before accessing anything that explains exactly how Holy Yoga enables you to better experience the Lord, it indeed indicates that  a wonderful experience awaits you on your mat.

Scripture always presents worship as adoring and praising the Lord. Often, such adoration does engage our emotions, but those experiences come as by-products of worship. I don’t need yoga when I have Scripture to tell me about Jesus. Instead of mystical experiences that make me feel degrees of ecstasy, let me learn to die to myself and use my life to serve and glorify Him.

That Pesky Deborah Question

Asian Lady 01 FramedScripture clearly prohibits women from positions of teaching men within a church context  (1 Timothy 2:11-14). But as fewer and fewer professing Christians take this passage seriously, they find all sorts of ways to raise objections. Most notably, whenever I express objections to women in church leadership, people waste no time in challenging me to account for women in Scripture who seem to have held leadership positions. Certainly, each of these women should be explained, and I believe it can be successfully demonstrated that not one of them sets a precedent for women taking church leadership roles.

Of all these women, Deborah usually gets mentioned the most frequently because she judged Israel during the period of the judges, and God indeed spoke through her to command Barak to fight against Sisera. Read Judges 4 to get the whole story.

Don’t expect a thorough teaching on Deborah from me. Since men, as well as women, read this blog, I need to be careful not to lapse into teaching when I explain the various biblical positions that I hold. That type of care obviously intensifies when I write about women assuming positions of  authority in churches. I can just imagine how quickly people would accuse me of hypocrisy! More importantly, I want to be obedient to the Lord, using my writing in ways that honor Him. If I then crossed the line from affirming biblical truth to actually teaching, I would be rebelling against Scripture’s prohibition against women teaching men.

That said, I feel a responsibility to grapple with the infamous “Deborah Question” while The Outspoken TULIP is still in its introductory phase. I hope that my thoughts will encourage you to examine Scripture for yourself, and that you’ll prayerfully consider the perspectives I offer.

To begin with, I notice that verse 4 of Judges 4 merely states that Deborah judged Israel, whereas Scripture generally introduces judges using the phrase, “the Lord raised up…” Couple this different introduction of Deborah with Judges 21:25, which says “everyone did what was right in their own eyes,” and ask the obvious question: Did God appoint Deborah as judge, or did she assign the role to herself? I don’t know. Frankly, neither do you! And the fact that He spoke through her in the specific instances concerning Barak may not necessarily validate her entire prophetic ministry. Has He ever used one of your sinful choices to bring about His greater will? He’s certainly done so in my life! But His blessing in no way justified my rebellion. Therefore, I suspect He used Deborah in spite of her willful rebellion.

But even if Deborah served as a judge because the Lord placed her in that position, should we assume that she therefore sets the stage for women to be pastors or to lead congregational prayer? I once  chatted with pastor and fellow blogger Dan Phillips about Deborah as a sanction for women pastors via Twitter. Dan pointed out that Old Testament Israel is not synonymous with the New Testament Church. Would we make Sampson a model for Christian pastors? Hopefully not! Than neither should Deborah serve as one.

In approaching historical narratives in the Bible, we must treat them as descriptive before determining whether or not they prescribe Christian behavior. Yes, Deborah judged Israel during a time when it had a theocratic form of government, and God graciously used her to motivate Barak to lead his army against Sisera. But God also used David’s sinful marriage to Bathsheba to produce Solomon, and I know that we mustn’t interpret that fact as a prescription for adultery and murder. Deborah’s period of leadership in Israel simply doesn’t mitigate 1 Timothy 2:11-14. We can appreciate her role in delivering Israel without misconstruing it as permission for women to usurp male leadership in church settings.

As you can see, I have studied Deborah, and I see no reason to cite her (or any of the other strong women in Scripture) as a reason to accept women pastors.  I could go into greater detail in exploring Deborah’s ministry, but again, I must  resist the temptation to establish myself as a Bible teacher. Instead, I hope you’ll see that we can question her position of judging Israel, and that we have  no reason to form a correlation between any of Israel’s judges and Christian pastors.

“Christian” Psychology’s Presuppositions

Serious Little Boy01If you’ve read my various complaints against “Christian” psychology on my old blog, you may wonder how I have the audacity to insist that Scripture could adequately address all the psychological problems that 21st Century evangelicals face. Such an inquiry seems reasonable, I must agree. But let’s think carefully about a couple underlying presuppositions of “Christian” psychology.

To begin with, the introduction of psychological principles into Christian counseling presupposes that 21st Century struggles differ in complexity from the struggles faced by ancient people. And I readily admit that present-day technology has intensified life in many ways, while at the same time reducing the depths of relationships. We get away with narcissism much more easily, and we have greater access to sexual stimulation with less perceptible consequences. Fewer children grow up in homes with married, heterosexual parents, and society increasingly redefines both gender roles and acceptable sexual conduct. As a result of all these factors (and perhaps others), of course we feel as if we suffer in ways unique to our day and age.

If we think carefully, however, we realize that the outward trappings of 21st  Century life merely expose the same tired human sins that have typified mankind since Adam first let Eve taste that forbidden fruit. The particulars may look different, and the temptations may lie more closely in reach, but the human heart and mind really haven’t changed from Paul’s description in Romans 1:18-32. In fact, Ecclesiastes 1:9 says that “there is nothing new under the sun.” Human wisdom has not advanced beyond the wisdom of God’s Word.

Isn’t it arrogant to believe that the “scientific discoveries” of modern psychology offer greater insight into the human mind than the inspired Word of God? Doesn’t such a presupposition directly contradict what the writer of Hebrews asserted?

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. ~~Hebrews 4:12 (ESV)

Biblical counseling uses Scripture alone to reshape thinking that traps people. The book, Counseling The Hard Cases presents truly stunning examples of men and women finding  freedom from very complex problems (such as multiple personality disorder, homosexuality and bipolar) by relying on the sufficiency of Scripture. The true stories chronicled in this book highlight that the Bible has not lost its power to address humanity’s deepest struggles.

Similarly, we also presuppose that our modern “understanding” of human nature gives us an intellectual advantage over the men who wrote the Bible. We  believe Freud, Jung and other pioneers of psychoanalysis gave us tools and insight that the world sadly lacked prior to their “discoveries.” Yet, as I hope to point out in future posts, Freud and Jung (the two main founders of modern psychology) based their “science” on either atheism (Freud) or a spirituality that merges “Christianity” with mysticism and Eastern religion (Jung). Thus, we betray our conviction that psychology, although an invention of men who openly rejected Christianity, can offer us a greater depth of insight than the Word of God can.

Paul’s words in Colossians directly refute that line of reasoning.

See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. ~~Colossians 2:8-10 (ESV)

Psychology’s very essence is that we can delve into ourselves to find resources for resolving our problems. Biblical counseling, on the other hand, directs us away from ourselves and human wisdom to the Lord. There’s no way for those two traditions to work together without compromising (and therefore rejecting) the sufficiency of God’s Word. We must chose between the world’s  philosophies and God’s wisdom (see James 4:4). Doctrinal purity demands that we turn away from humanistic systems like psychology.

Dear friends, the Lord Who created our minds knows us infinitely better than theorists in psychology ever could! In His generosity, He has revealed His Word through His prophets and apostles. 2 Peter 1:2-3 maintains that the knowledge of Christ (which comes through God’s Word) provides us with everything we need for godly lives.

We Christians are filled with the King of all creation! As we incorporate His Word into our  daily lives by reading, studying and acting on it, we honor Him. We may or may not “feel better about ourselves,” but we will bear fruit for His kingdom. Our energy will go into loving, serving and adoring Him, causing us to put our lives in proper perspective. We will then presuppose that Christ really is all we need!

A Sin Unto Itself?

Dual CrossAs I embark on my task of examining the phenomenon of “gay Christians,” I find myself constantly returning to the grim truth that, nearly 45 years after committing my life to the Lord Jesus Christ, I still struggle with numerous habitual sins. Some in the Gay Christians Movement might try to accuse me of being self-righteous, simply because I don’t experience same sex attractions, and therefore I believe it’s crucial for me to reiterate that I do know what it’s like to fall into attitudes, thought-patterns and (alas!) behaviors that the Bible condemns.

I do feel compassion for the Christian who, despite holding firm convictions that homosexual activity is sinful, repeatedly lapses into such behavior. I have the same problem…only I lapse into anger, worry, gossip, materialism and other manifestations of sin too numerous to mention. Dare I single out homosexuality, then, as being somehow more sinful than the sins I commit? Is homosexuality in a unique category of being more odious to God than the sins in my life?

According to the Bible, homosexuality doesn’t appear to be a sin above all others. On the contrary, the Word of God presents it as one of many sins that require the Lord’s cleansing.

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. ~~1 Corinthians 6:9-11 (ESV)


I see several items within that catalog that indict me. Homosexuality nestles right in there, no better nor no worse than other acts that offend the Holy Spirit. Yes, it is sin, and utterly unacceptable to the God who calls Christians to holiness. So are many of my behaviors. That being the case, I must be careful to broach the topic of “gay Christians” with humility, understanding and acknowledging my own failings and rejoicing in the grace of God that empowers me to repent.