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The Purpose Driven Life - book Review

Well known men have endorsed the Purpose Driven Life book; Bruce Wilkinson, Lee Strobel, Max Lucado, Billy and Franklin Graham and many others. Churches love its message and are willing to pour everything they have into doing it.

Like Tommy Tenney who coined the phrase “God chasers” Warren has coined his phrase “Purpose-Driven” and is using to its utmost. There is Purpose-Driven attached to just about everything. Purpose-Driven Youth Ministry; Purpose-Driven children’s Ministry; Purpose-Driven worship conference; Meditations on the Purposing Driven Life; Daily Inspiration for the Purpose Driven Life, etc. (Tenney also likes his book and lists Warren as a “top influencer.”)

While beginning to read this book and hearing both the pros and cons to it before reading it, I was intrigued how it would start off and how it would finish, not just what was squeezed in between the covers. I read it without a bias hoping for the best; and it’s not all bad, but on the other hand it’s not all good. There are some problems that we cannot afford to ignore. I describe it like a scale with all the good things said on one side and instead of putting one or two large weights representing the things wrong on the other side, its numerous small marbles put on one by one until the scale tips. You can ignore some of the marbles but not all of them; you have to deal with the sheer weight of things that are wrong in his model of Church and the book

Warren begins the book by saying this is 40 day spiritual journey. An interesting number to pick to represent the time to read his book; one is to read a chapter a day for the next 40 days. I have heard that some have gone through it twice or more. I have also heard of church’s discontinuing Bible study to go through this book.

He has one sign a covenant with a partner and with HIM in the beginning to commit the next 40 days of their life to discovering God’s purpose in their life, asking the signers not to miss a single day of reading it.By the end of the journey you will know God’s purpose for your life and will understand the big picture-how all the pieces of your life fit together” (p.9)

I already had a problem with someone squeezing this life change into the time limit of the book, especially if someone is new Christian or a not a believer yet. By doing this we impose time limits on how God wants to work with us as individuals. Not everyone has the same learning curve, nor is God on the same time schedule with us all. Can we expect him to reveal what he will do with our lives before he has shaped us in our life? I wish it were true that we can find our purpose within 40 days, but it simply is not true. God has been changing lives by HIS WORD for thousands of years on his timetable. So the promise of his book to change your life in 40 days is flawed.

God’s true purpose can take time and expecting it to be revealed in 40 days is certainly putting God on mans schedule. It took Moses 40 years out in the desert to find his purpose. It took Paul 3 years being personally taught by the Lord in the desert before he was fit for ministry. How can we think that we can do in 40 days what is needed, without going through our trials and tests that forge us for our purpose we are to have in God. What about the principle of new believers being grounded in the faith, knowing the core doctrines first before they find their purpose? God first prepares us for the ministry and the ministry for us. David served as shepherd to the sheep before he was prepared to be king of Israel, and even that took many years to transpire.

One can learn God’s general will for all the believers by reading the New Testament through, which would take less than 40 days. But to tell people they will know their purpose in life in 40 days by reading this book is hardly reasonable.  

Can we do the work of God correctly without understanding the word of God first? Does God prepare people for their purpose and ministry using the same method? Everyone God used always had a time of preparation, sometimes as long as the purpose God used them for.

Warren states on p.11 “Real spiritual growth is never an isolated, individualistic pursuit. Maturity is produced through relationships and community.” Noah, Joseph, John the Baptist, Paul and many others were all individualistic in their training so to say never is not an accurate statement. This is the beginning of his premise of community in the church as necessary for finding purpose in ones life. (by the way this will be his new sequel community)

God blesses churches that are unified. At Saddleback every Church member signs a covenant that includes a promise to protect the unity of our fellowship. As a result, the church has never had conflict that split the fellowship. Just as important, because it is a loving, unified fellowship, a lot of people want to be a part of it!” (p.167)

I hear people sign covenants in how and what they are going to do service in the church and how much they commit to tithe. This is how this book is being interpreted and used by some. Covenant participation was employed by the Congregationalist church in early America as a reaction to the Catholic priesthood. In this covenantal agreement every believer was to do their share and participate in church activities. This can be a good thing if not brought to the extreme. As the Scripture teaches we are all part of the priesthood and gifted to serve.

Who can argue with seeing more participation? However “Saddleback practices church discipline -- removing hundreds of members for non-participation or for unrepented sin.” [Christianity] CT article: Rick Warren may be America's most influential pastor Item 1237, Posted: Thu., Nov. 21 2002 Weblogged by ReligionNewsBlog.com  http://www.religionnewsblog.com)

Warren says in his book on p.132 “The only Christians not members of a local fellowship were those under Church discipline…removed from the fellowship because of gross public sin.” So why is he also removing hundreds of members of his church for not covenanting in participation. Is this a good thing, what would be the standard like this for someone being active or not. This seems to imply a forced participation. This certainly bring this to practice to the extreme. People often need time to see where they fit in and it is God’s Spirit that will prompt them to participate not mans programs.

Saddleback members are required to sign a membership covenant and join a small group in which they study good Christian habits necessary for growth such as having a daily quiet time.

The Scripture Mt. 5:33-37 “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.’” But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God's throne;”nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King.”Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black.

“But let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No.' For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.”

The problem I see is when someone has a disagreement of what is taking place or is led by the Lord to go somewhere else or do something else, they have to break the covenant they signed.

Once you’ve signed a church membership/service covenant you’re committed to wherever it takes you, if the church changes direction (which may not always be a good one) you are obligated to also. Otherwise you are causing conflict that splits the fellowship. This is why Jesus commands us in Matthew 5:33-34 not make oaths. Do we need to sign on the dotted line to prove or commitment or our faithfulness? The New Testament does not impose any obligation for agreements like this nor promote it. Where is this found in the Bible? Our word is to be yea or no, we are to be people of our word.

Warren tries to find a connection with 40 days and begins his premise on p.9 “Whenever God wanted to prepare someone for his purposes, he took 40 days.”

I have no idea how he can actually say this even by finding the number 40. Warren begins his book on an assumption that is not right. Lets look at what he uses.

P.10 “Noah’s life was transformed by 40 days of rain.”

This is wrong, the Bible never implies this; Noah’s life was not “transformed by 40 days of rain.” His “purpose” was to preach righteousness for 120 years while he built the boat as a means to escape the coming judgment.

The Spies were transformed by 40 days in the Promised Land"

The number 40 is significant but Warren attributes to it something the Bible often does not. 40 is often the number of testing or judgment. Num. 14: they came back after searching the land for 40 days, were fearful started murmurings, were killed with plagues. Not a good thing. In fact, because of the spies (except Caleb) lack of faith Israel stayed in the wilderness for 40 years and failed,(Num.14:34-38) only two men made it into the promised land.

He mentions David - 1 Sam. 17; Elijah - 1 King 19; Ninevah -

Jonah 3 The entire city was transformed when God gave the people 40 days to change.

It means 40 days to repent, or judgment was coming. And it did not take Jonah 40 days.

Also “Jesus was empowered by 40 days in the wilderness.” This is wrong: He was led into the wilderness to be tempted (Mt.4:1; Mk. 1:13) Jesus was filled with the Spirit before he went into the wilderness and returned the same way (Lk.4:1,14).

The disciples were transformed by forty days with Jesus after His resurrection.” The Bible does not say this, it actually happened on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was given.

Yet Warren overlooked Moses who was in the wilderness being trained in humility for 40 years not 40 days. Warren makes the number 40 days a method to reach a goal which it is not.

It appears that the book is written mostly to non-believers Where Warren states p.20 1.You discover your identity and purpose through a relationship with Jesus Christ. If you don't have such a relationship, I will later explain how to begin one.

As Warren audience seems to be for new believers, much of what he says is redundant for those who are mature and know Scripture. But then I ran into another problem. The Purpose-Driven Life, cites over 1,000 verses of Scripture with an excessive use of paraphrases, and some that are extremely liberal in their writings. New Living Translation, the Message (in the majority, quoted over 90 times in his book), Living Bible, New Century Version, and the NIV which is accepted as a good paraphrase (and probably superior to the other paraphrases) in fact the literal translations of the KJV, NKJV and NASB were rarely used. While the intent may be to be helpful in bringing the meaning to our modern culture, many times they can hinder the meaning. Out of hundreds of verses quoted you can count the literal translations used on 2 hands, near one percent.

P.104 Warren states “This is why I encourage you to read Scripture in different translations and paraphrases.”

It would be more advantageous to study the original words of Greek and Hebrew in a Concordance, Dictionary or Interlinear? We should be pursuing to move closer to the original texts meaning, rather than further away by using a thought for thought translation in paraphrases. Before you apply Scripture you need to understand it correctly. The principle is to seek its correct meaning then give it application. A paraphrase is more like a loose commentary and many are not nearly accurate to the literal word of God.

To understand the Message translations flaws and weaknesses compare these Scriptures and see how explaining statements of Christ and Christian living are being changed.

NKJV John 10:30 “I and the Father are one.”

The Message: John 10:30 I and the Father are one heart and mind.”

NKJV John 14:28”...The Father is greater than I.”

The Message: “The Father is the goal and purpose of my life.”

The Message Rom. 8:9 “But God himself has taken up residence in your life, you can hardly bethinking more of yourselves than of him.”

NKJ Rom. 8:9 “But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you.”

The word for flesh is sarx in Greek, the very point Paul is writing about is the new nature vs. the old, to check that you possess the Holy Spirit. The Message translation completely distorts the meaning. Neither the Spirit n or the flesh mentioned in the Message.

NKJV Romans 1:26-27: “Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.”

The Message: “Worse followed. Refusing to know God, they soon didn't know how to be human either - women didn't know how to be women, men didn't know how to be men. Sexually confused, they abused and defiled one another, women with women, men with men - all lust, no love. And then they paid for it, oh, how they paid for it - emptied of God and love, Godless and loveless wretcheds.”

He inserts the word no love and loveless changing the meaning of sexual immorality the lack of love, not lust driving them to cross the human barriers of same sex partners becomes the sin,

KJV Romans 8:35-37: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?”

The Message: “Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ's love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture:”

This promotes the idea that one can do whatever they want after they are saved and be loved by God. Yet God says specifically that we are not to “even to eat with such a person”(1 Cor 5:11), “put away from yourselves the evil person.”(1 Cor 5:13).

1 Cor. 6:9-10 “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.” Rev. 21:8 “These people will “have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone”

Because of the use of the paraphrase there are many scriptures taken out of their context or softened, and formed to fit into the overall theme of his book. This is poor scholarship with the translations. His application may often be correct on much of what he says on Christian living but he at times uses the wrong passage to get his point across. I find Warren has a talent to communicate his message of application of Scripture but not always Scripture itself. The truth is eclipsed with the overuse of paraphrases and at times the Scripture is not communicated well, especially for non or new believers. There are many errors but to recognize them requires tedious work, most do not have the patience to look up each Scripture quoted in the Bible, read them in entirety in the context that they are written and look to a literal translation.

Overall I find it hard to describe this book. There are portions I really liked and I know would be helpful and then there were other portions that were a real concern, appearing detrimental. He had good things to say and it’s hard to disagree with many of his practical points. But there are some points and explanations that one must disagree with if they are to side with the Bible.

Some of his insights are very practical and clear common-sense ideas seen throughout the book. Warren writes some very good practical comments: we are not to focus on self; you were born for God’s purposes.Only the creator or the owner's manual could reveal its purpose.” “The purpose of your life is far greater than your own personal fulfillment (p.17) “What ultimately matters is not what others say of you life but what God says” (p.33) “If worship is mindless, it is meaningless” (p.103). You exist for God’s purposes, that he as not provided heaven on earth when he’s planned the real thing in eternity,” refined by trials people can see Jesus in you (p.197).“The bible must become the authoritative standard for my life” (p.186).Warren puts down seeking experiences and affirms knowing God by his word. He does mention the cross (p.78) being born again (p.118) and God as trinity, however these are spread through out the book and not concentrated on when mentioned. He speaks against earthly prosperity and controlling God with prayer. The book has points one can say amen to and then right after their can be a pause, wondering, “what is this?”

Though this book is full of helpful ideas it is also weak in certain Biblical Foundations. There are contradictions within the book itself and the Bible. The way Warren advocates certain scriptures is weak as he tries to attach them to the same basic premise he is presenting throughout his book, even when they do not fit. You can’t use Scriptures and words accurately from the Bible when you force them to fit this theme.

Examples: The Bible says, “Self-help is no help at all. Self sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self” (p.19) Mt.16:25 from the Message Bible). This leans toward a different meaning even a mystical meaning that is popular today of “finding yourself.”

NKJ Matt 16:25 “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” This is hardly the same meaning of finding ones life is to find your true self. It is these types of free interpretations used in the paraphrases that show us Bible translations do matter if one wants to get to the accurate meaning of a verse. Yet Warren opts to use the paraphrases over the literal word translations.

It explains what no self-help or philosophy book could know. The Bible says, “God's wisdom . . . goes deep into the interior of his purposes.... It's not the latest message, but more like the oldest-what God determined as the way to bring out his best in us” 1 Cor.2:7 from the Message Bible

NKJ 1 Cor. 2:7 “But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory.” Paul is talking about God’s wisdom being revealed by the Scripture, this scripture has nothing to do with bringing the best in us, as if his wisdom is in us already.

Purpose Driven

While there are numerous good portions said on this subject there are other portions that are incorrect and muddied.

Page 20, “He has clearly revealed his five purposes for our lives through the Bible.” 

Has God clearly given 5 purposes for our lives?

There is nothing quite as potent as a focused life, one lived on purpose. The men and women who have made the greatest difference in history were the most focused. For instance, the apostle Paul almost single-handedly spread Christianity throughout the Roman Empire. His secret was a focused life. He said, “I am focusing all my energies on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead” (p.32)

If one looks at the Scripture carefully it was what Paul was focused on, not that he was looking forward forgetting the past, not just that he had a goal but what that goal was. This is missing in his explanation and is often missing in the equation of his book. He makes “purpose” a generic idea at times; it can be applied to anyone or anything. He says “never confuse activity with productivity”(p.33)  (showing the influence from business concepts of Peter Drucker.)

This Scripture in a literal translation (NKJ) makes it clear: Phil. 3:12-14 “Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ JesusIn Christ Jesus, not just a goal we have. Besides God used Paul in the message he preached and explained to win people to Christ. It was not Paul’s strength but God’s.

p.30 ‘Without God, life has no purpose, and without purpose, life has no meaning. Without meaning, life has no significance or hope. ... The greatest tragedy is not death, but life without purpose

True, without God life has no purpose, however I have to disagree with his statement The greatest tragedy is not death and the answer should be obvious: dying without Jesus Christ is the greatest tragedy, for without him you have no purpose, guidance, direction, mercy, forgiveness or life. If you die without Christ, that is by far the worst thing to happen. You can live a life filled with a good purpose and not have God. You can live your life with a wrong purpose. Many people of other religions believe in God and believe they are living God’s purpose. The concept of purpose is often widely presented in the book and can be interpreted by anyone’s own predilection.

The theme of the book is to help someone find God’s purpose in there life. I want to take this portion of the article to concentrate on what Warren says that appears to be confusing. While he presents pursuing your purpose in God which many people may never have considered, his conclusions of life before Christ and after that form you for your purpose are unclear.

In the beginning of the book he explains our purpose on earth Warren rightly states “its not about you” and that “we are to begin with God.” We ask self centered questions like ‘What do I want to be? What should I do with my life? What are my goals, my ambitions, my dreams and my future?But focusing on ourselves will never reveal our life’s purpose” (p.17)

Quoting Eph.1:11 Warren comments on the verse giving three insights, number 2. is “God was thinking of you long before you ever thought about him. His purpose to your life predates your conception. He planned it before you existed, without your input! You may choose your career, your spouse, your hobbies, and many other parts of your life, but you don't get to choose your purpose”(p.21).

Warren is saying God does not necessarily have a part in what we do after birth, who we marry, what job we train or take; yet these things we choose are from our self centeredness and these very things become part of God’s purpose for us later.

Yet he says, “He also determined the natural talents you would possess and the uniqueness of your personality” he “planned where you’d be born and where you’d live for his purpose”(p.23).

Wouldn’t the things we like and do and also where we live still fall under the category of “our choice”?

At the same time he says these are the things that form you for your purpose. If these very things are all part of your purpose then we have a contradiction in his premise. If we choose all these things, not knowing God or being led by God, how do these things that our life revolves around become part of God’s purpose, a purpose that can only be found in Christ (Eph.2:10)?

Warren later says “God is more concerned about your character than anything else. We worry when God is silent on specific issues such as “what career should I choose?” He then says there are many careers that could be God’s will for you life. What God cares about most is whatever you do, you do in a Christlike manner” (p.177)

God does not only care that we do things in a Christlike manner. Is God silent? Before we are saved and following his direction, but certainly not afterwards. This all seems confusing on how we choose whatever we want to and this forms us for God’s purposes. How can multiple choices we choose from be God’s will; all being acceptable to him if you choose it? The way you choose or not choose to use these abilities is all up to you. His concept of this is so broad and open as he leaves it in our hands. Generally he is right and specifically he is wrong.

On p. 243: “To discover God’s will for your life, you should seriously examine what you are good at doing and what you are not good at doing. “God will never ask you to dedicate your life to a task you have no talent for. On the other hand, the abilities you do have are a strong indication of what God wants you to do with your life. They are clues to knowing God’s will for you.” “God doesn’t waste abilities; he matches our calling and capabilities.

This how Warren explains how we know what God wants us to do, by what we are good at. His conclusion is erroneous. God can use what someone has learned and he can also take people beyond anything they learned.  God will often ask people to do what they are not trained for. God chose Moses to speak to Pharaoh despite his speech impediment (Exod.4:10). David was chosen to be king with no training in this matter except his caring for sheep. Neither had any training or prior experience in these matters. God will often take people beyond their natural abilities so he is glorified. This sounds like a humanistic view on finding your calling. God can change the direction of ones life as well as use them in their former training. Warren writes that God wants to be intimately and personally involved with each of us but then he leaves the details to us. God raises up to the highest those who are the lowest. 1 Cor. 1:27 “God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty.” Man’s strengths and natural abilities are often man’s hindrances to God. God uses us beyond our capabilities that are inherent to the natural man.

Warren further says, “God has given each of us the ability to do certain things well.” (Rom. 12:6 New Living Translation) and Warren makes the assumption “Since your natural abilities are from God, they are just as important and as “spiritual as your spiritual gifts. The only difference is that you were given them at birth” p.242

In Rom 12:6 NKJV Paul is speaking about the body of Christ and says “Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith.” Clearly Paul is not talking about natural but spiritual gifts. This is huge flaw in his interpretation and application. He uses the wrong Scripture, though it sounds right in the New Living Translation. More importantly, Warren confuses natural abilities with spiritual gifts from God to fulfill his purposes in us. Though our abilities can be used to give God glory it does not affirm that our natural abilities are as important as our spiritual ones, nor do they always determine how the Lord will use us for His purposes. Just because you are a good musician does not means one is called to minister in music. Should every talented musician be a worship leader? Just because one is a good speaker does not mean they are called to be a preacher. Where is God’s call on someone’s life? I’m not saying God cannot develop people with natural talents and enhance them, what I’m saying is God gives spiritual gifts enabling us far beyond our natural abilities and graces us to have abilities in a capacity we never had before. There is a difference between what is natural and what is a gift of grace from God.

What Warren is proposing is God chose “the exact time of your birth and death where you’d be born and where you’d live” (p.23) determined the natural talents you would possess, and everything else, all the details along the way you choose. The end result of all this is that we can find our purpose by assessing our natural abilities and God approves. According to Warren God is not really involved in our choices but only his purpose. Yet these abilities gives us choices that bring us to our purpose. The Bible teaches we are to pray over the choices we make so that we are following God’s lead and not our own, “not to lean on our own understanding.” How do you know the direction you are being led is to fulfill God’s purposes when there is this type of misunderstanding on how we get there!

Jesus is to be Lord of all the believer’s life, in our choosing our mate, our job etc. not just our purpose. The theme of this book is to discover the purpose of God, but it misses the main element -- the Lordship of Jesus Christ; over the daily decisions you make in what you do, not just how you do it.

Lets’ look at what the Bible specifically says concerning our purpose. God has mapped out his purpose for us before we even existed, and it is only found when we are in Christ through the new birth. “Who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began” (2 Tim 1:9-10). “In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will”( Eph. 1:11) “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them”( Eph 2:10). It is his work in us that will formulate our purpose as we walk with him by faith through our life.

Romans 8:28-29 “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.”

Everything that happens to in a believers life is under God’s sovereign control and he will work out even the bad for our benefit as we walk by faith.

Part 2 continued 


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