Tuesday, September 27, 2005

The Purpose Driven Life

At the beginning of this year the small groups in our congregation began a study of Rick Warren's The Purpose Driven Life. I had skimmed the text fairly thoroughly before we started working with it, and at the time wasn't quite sure what all the fuss was about this book, but certainly didn't think it could doo any harm. It seemed to me to be a pretty unremarkable guide to Christian living by a man who has been successful in church planting and spreading the Gospel.

Each week I have prepared for each chapter of the book a small bible study to accompany Rick Warren's material, thinking (rightly, in this case) that the book while long on good advice for Christian living, is a little short of actually getting into the text of Scripture. These studies and sets of questions have, for the most part, been well received, and we are now in the home straight as far as completing the book is concerned. (If you would like copies of these let me know and I will see how we can get them to you).

While I wouldn't say that The Purpose Driven Life has grown on me, I would say that I am much more enthusiastic about it, because there is a lot of good sense about Christian growth and discipleship within these pages. One of our congregation said to me that she felt I wasn't that enamoured by it because lots of the substance within it is something with which I have been familiar for a long time. "For someone like me, for whom all this is such new stuff, it is a most exciting book." That's probably right.

One reason why this book is a such a winner among so many Christians, I think, is because so much of postmodern life is without shape, purpose, or objective values, and people crave these things. Here, at last, is something that tries to fill that gap and give them the essence of what living purposefully as a Christian believer is all about. Each chapter of the book focuses on one issue or doctrine only, and each is practical and helps the individual apply the lessons to their daily life. I am wondering now how we are going to follow up on this study.

My sense of Rick Warren has changed as we have taken this journey together. I don't know what I thought of him before we started, but there was a certain snootiness toward him that made me take him less than seriously. Then there was that young woman in Atlanta who used "The Purpose Driven Life" to talk that escaped murderer to give himself up to the authorities, and suddenly Rick Warren was on every news program, as was the book.

I caught him on CNN with Larry King, and was deeply impressed by the way he talked and presented himself and the Christian message. What impressed me more was when he told Larry King how he has from his royalties paid Saddleback Church back his whole salary over the last quarter century that he has been their pastor, as well as making considerable other donations. He sounds to me as if he has put money in the right perspective, and it using it to the glory of God rather than self-gratification or self-aggrandizement. Here is a man who walks the talk. I am glad that he will be speaking at an Anglican gathering in Pittsburgh in November, because we need to hear more from men like him.

Now, I have not become a Purpose-Driven junkie, but I have been given a fresh set of insights into Gospel living by a man from a tradition very different from my own -- and his teaching has been a great blessing to people I pastor. This makes me profoundly grateful for him.

Once or twice in the last year or so I have seen reviews or comments by Episcopalians who disparage the contribution Warren has made. While I respect those who have weighed up Rick Warren's book and found him wanting, I would humbly suggest to those who have discounted it because he is a Baptist, or something absurd like this, take a serious look at what Warren is saying. There are some fundamental lessons that we can learn from this man who has planted a single congregation that is much larger than many of our dioceses.

1 comment:

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