The Purpose Driven Life: Demeaning the Very Nature of God

What makes the analysis of Rick Warren’s book and movement so difficult is the fact that Warren presents some basic teaching of God’s purposes for man and man’s purposes to God.  This having been said, the fact that these purposes are not presented in a biblically accurate way is all the more dangerous to the true understanding of who God is and His Gospel in Christ.  In the first part of our analysis we documented the way in which the Gospel was impaired by exaltation of man and so-called “true self.”  This error, together with the corresponding neglect to show that man is in fact spiritually “dead in trespasses and sins” shows that the book is both a hindrance and a deceit.  The most dangerous of heresies have always been those that have been presented in the context of general basic truth.  In this section we must continue to analyze the saving purpose of God from all eternity in Christ Jesus.  Salvation comes from God to sinful man in and through Christ Jesus alone.  The origin of the eternal purpose of God and free grace is in Christ Jesus alone.  In the words of the Apostle, “Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began.” [1]  This elementary truth would not need to be emphasized were it not for the fact that men and women like Warren betray God’s saving love for mankind as being inman himself.

The nature of God in Scripture is proclaimed to be All Holy, thus the Bible states “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts:  the whole earth is full of his glory.”[2] To inspire utter reverence for God’s nature, the question is asked, “Who shall not fear Thee, O Lord, and glorify Thy name?  For Thou only art Holy:  for all nations shall come and worship before Thee.[3]One of the most flagrant sins by Warren and his movement is the failure to respect the nature of the Almighty, the All Holy God.  For example, in his chapter entitled “Becoming Best Friends with God,” God is portrayed as if He were in need of us, “Almighty God yearns to be your friend!”[4]  “Yearns” signifies “craves,” “hankers,” or “covets,” basically meaning He needs to be your friend.  The love of God, however, whereby He gave His only begotten Son is totally sacrificial and giving.  It in no way signifies a lack in God.  He is perfectly sufficient and fulfilled in Himself.  On the contrary, it is the total outpouring of His perfect love.  The fact that God demonstrates His love to unworthy sinners in no way implies that God needs sinners to satisfy something lacking in Him!  Warren’s terminology misrepresents the nature of God.

Warren builds on this serious error by means of a modern corruption of Exodus 34:14.  Warren’s rendering says, “He is a God who is passionate about his relationship with you.”[5] The verse should read, “for thou shalt worship no other god:  for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.”  The jealousy or passion of the Lord God is against those who would worship another god.  Such worship is utterly condemned.  It is significant that the first part of this verse, “for thou shalt worship no other god,” is totally absent from Warren’s chapter.  Yet when the terms “jealously” or “passion” are used of God in the Bible, it describes His fervor for the true worship due to His holy name.  It demands exclusive devotion to Him.  By teaching that God has a passion or infatuation with the reader of Warren’s book rather than a perfect zeal for His Holy Name, Warren has gotten the meaning of the verse literally backwards.  His use of a corrupted, paraphrased, and partial Bible text to depict his notion that God has a passionate devotion to man is an attempt to flatter men rather than present them with God’s truth concerning their depravity.  Thus, Warren teaches for truth the very idolatry that a faithful rendition of the whole text condemns.  This type of Scripture twisting that degrades the nature of God runs throughout Warren’s book.

 Love is Not the Essence of God’s Character Apart from His Righteousness

Warren’s teaching that God has a saving love for everyone demeans the very nature of God.  Such particular love for everyone is stated to be “the essence of God’s character.”  Warren teaches,

“You were created as a special object of God’s love!  God made you so he could love you.  This is a truth to build your life on.  The Bible tells us, “God is love.”[6] 
It doesn’t say God has love.  He is love!  Love is the essence of God’s character.  There is perfect love in the fellowship of the Trinity, so God didn’t need to create you.”[7]

It is important to note that Warren is not speaking of the general love that God has for all mankind as the God who “sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.”[8]  Rather, Warren proclaims to each and everyone what he calls “the saving love” of God.  Thus, he says, “His saving love for the nations, culminat[es] in the coming of His Son.  It continues to transform lives the world over.”[9]

Warren gives his readers the thrilling notion that God loves each one “as a special object.”  With this type of assurance, the reader has security in himself and in his sins.  According to Scripture, however, we cannot know that we are the objects of God’s saving love until after we have fled from His wrath against our sin, repented of it, and turned to put our faith in Christ Jesus alone.  Warren’s type of god who loves everyone as a special object of His love is utter heresy. Love apart from His righteousness is not the essence of God’s character.  Rather in Scripture, God’s saving love is always in accord with His righteousness, “mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.”[10]We must accept God’s love as He has defined it.

In Scripture God’s good will towards everyone in general is utterly different from His saving love towards individual sinners.  Those outside of Christ only experience God’s common, universal love.  God’s saving love is always restricted and unique to those who are in Christ, chosen before the foundation of the world.[11]  It is always declared to be in Christ and because of Christ.  Thus, the Bible proclaims, “according as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him:  in love having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself… To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he has made us accepted in the beloved.”[12]  Without exception, human beings are the objects of God’s saving love only in Christ Jesus.

God’s Focus on Christ is Changed for Warren’s Focus on Man

In Chapter 2, “You Were Not an Accident,” Warren emphasizes God’s sovereignty in appointing every detail of each person’s birth.  Warren seems to equate being born with being a child of God, for he states, “While there are illegitimate parents, there are no illegitimate children….God never makes mistakes….God made you so he could love you.”[13]  Leaping over the huge difficulties such as “the vessels of wrath,”[14] Warren moves to Ephesians 1:4 to make his case, “according as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him.”  However, he teaches a distortion of its meaning.  Citing The Message he teaches,

“God’s motive for creating was his love.  The Bible says, ‘Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love’” (p 24).

This corrupt text allows Warren to exclude the true focus of the Bible text that God’s choice of individuals is “in Christ” and not in unrepentant people who, Warren teaches, are loved in themselves.  Nowhere in the book does he deal with Ephesians 2:1, nor any of the great passages speaking of being born dead in trespasses and sin.  He totally omits dealing biblically with the problem of justification.  By disregarding this central issue, Warren utterly fails to acknowledge that Paul is not addressing people who are loved in themselves but rather to “the faithful in Christ Jesus,”[15] telling them of the riches of His grace which are theirs precisely because they are “in Him [i.e., Christ].”  As a magician with one wave of his hand changes what one sees, so Warren has with one contrived paraphrase of Scripture changed “chosen us in him” to read “he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love.”  With this switch from “the faithful in Christ” to sinful individuals as they are in themselves, Warren has removed the one Mediator and His redemption from the perspective of God’s love.  In the context of salvation, which is the whole theme of Ephesians chapter 1, this removal of the Person of Christ Jesus means that Warren’s presents a god who has saving love for sinful individuals as they are in themselves.

His god is not the God of the Bible.  Outside of God’s choice in Christ Jesus there is no salvation. [16]  The love of God finds satisfaction and delight only in his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.  His love is not only particularized in Christ Jesus, but His express purpose is to uphold His own righteousness, as the Apostle Paul proclaimed, “being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus…to declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.[17]

In all things we rejoice that God is almighty and that there is good news for all who are “dead in trespasses and sins.”  In the light of God’s Word we know, “the gospel of Christ…is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth.[18]  By nature we are all children of wrath, and by practice we are rebels against the Lord God and His Word.  The perfect and just law of God condemned us all and the Lord God is not responsible to rescue any of us from His just wrath.  Despite our sin nature and personal sins, the Lord God has given His beloved Son for all true believers.  God is the All Holy One.  His holiness is the distinguishing factor in all His essential characteristics.  This is the reason why we need to be in right standing before the one and only All Holy God on the terms He prescribes.  Turn to God in faith alone for the salvation that He alone gives, by the conviction of the Holy Spirit, based on Christ’s death and resurrection, and believe on Him alone, “to the praise of the glory of his grace.”[19]  The understanding of the Gospel causes us to proclaim in loving gratitude, “not unto us, o Lord, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory, for thy mercy, and for thy truth’s sake.[20]

The Consequences of Warren’s Trifling With the Holy and Just Nature of God

Warren’s saving love applied universally to all people only degrades God’s holy and just nature.  God’s saving love is specifically applied to those “in Christ,”[21] and for the express purpose of showing forth His righteousness.  God cannot and will not accept our sin.  “Despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?” [22]  Thus, Warren significantly distorts the biblical doctrine of the just and holy God, and thus disfigures the biblical concept of the nature of God.  If God loved man, as man is in himself—bound up in sin because of having a sinful nature—God would be unrighteous.  Such a concept is sacrilege.  “God is light” as well as “love,” “and in him is no darkness at all.”[23] His love is a holy love, as are all His attributes.  In the Scripture, His holiness is every bit as important as His love.  “Be ye holy; for I am holy.”[24] Equal to God’s love is His wrath and judgment that produce healthy fear and awe of the Creator.

A sinner ought not to be comforted by assurances of the love of God apart from repentance and faith in Christ.  Rather, a sinner should be reminded that God hates sinners, as Scripture insists, “the boastful shall not stand before thine eyes; thou dost hate all who do iniquity.” [25]  “I hate the assembly of evildoers, and I will not sit with the wicked.”[26]  Without Christ Jesus, “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven.
[27]God clearly depicts His Holy and just nature in the pages of Scripture.  Great is the guilt of anyone who makes it seem that God’s saving love is indiscriminate, rather than focused on “redeemed sinners” as they are in Christ Jesus.  The Lord’s glory and the redemption in Christ Jesus are at stake; therefore, “let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire.” [28]

Well might Warren and his associates fear the All Holy God for, “thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain.”[29]  The fact, however, is that the All Holy God reigns, as proclaimed by the Holy Spirit, “The Lord reigneth; let the people tremble.”[30]  “The Lord hath prepared his throne in the heavens; and his kingdom ruleth over all.”[31]The Lord God is ruling and overruling, fulfilling His eternal purpose, not only in spite of but also by means of those who would trifle with His own nature and with His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, and His glorious and invincible Gospel.  The essence of sin is forsaking the Lord as truly the Sovereign God, and presenting Him as less—a god who has needs, and thereby can be manipulated.

Church Unity by Constraint

Another sinister aspect of Warren’s megachurch program is the insistence on church unity by commitment.  The commitment is made by means of a membership covenant.  Warren states,

“At Saddleback Church, every member signs a covenant that includes a promise to protect the unity of our fellowship.  As a result, the church has never had a conflict that split the fellowship.”[32]

“All prospective members must complete a membership class and are required to sign a membership covenant.  By signing the covenant, members agree to give financially, serve in a ministry, share their faith, follow the leadership…. If you do not fulfill the membership covenant, you are dropped from our membership.  We remove hundreds of names from our roll every year.”[33]

Warren’s devised program to bring the fledgling members to full submission consists of four classes that every prospective member is required to attend.  It is a top-down management structure, hierarchical in nature.  The emphasis on the pastor and the leadership resembles the hierarchical power structure of the Roman Catholic Church.  The bylaws of the Saddleback Church state, “‘Pastors’ shall mean the Senior Pastor and the ordained pastors of the Pastor’s Management Team, such team being determined and appointed by the Senior Pastor in his sole discretion from time to time.”  Section VI Number 4a of the bylaws state, “Dismissal by the Pastors according to the following conditions.  a. The member’s life and conduct is not in accordance with the membership covenant in such a way that the member hinders the ministry influence of the Church in the community.”[34]

Control in Conscience on the Same Level as Vows to God

Warren’s purpose driven megachurch program is “religion” in the worst possible understanding of the term.  Like the Church of Rome, it is a religion of control over the souls of men and women.  The Roman Church captures people by giving a false gospel administered through her sacraments.  Once people are in, she exercises her control through her Canon Law.  Similar to the Church of Rome, Warren’s method is to win multitudes with a sham gospel and then attempt to control them with an unbiblical membership covenant.  The membership covenant is explained in the same way as marriage vows.  Warren’s teaching is,

“The most important part of a marriage ceremony is when the man and woman exchange vows.  Before witnesses and God, they make certain promises to each other.  This covenant between them is the essence of the marriage.  In the same way, I believe the essence of church membership is contained in the willingness to commit to a membership covenant.  It is the most important element of our membership class.”[35]

To attempt to put commitment to a church on the same level as marriage vows is totally inappropriate.  Marriage is a creation ordinance from God and marriage vows make public the creation of that new family unit of husband and wife.  But, in the Scripture, there are no parallel vows instituted by God regarding obedience to the pastor or elders of a church.  Though the Pharisees imposed burdens on the people, they never came anywhere near demanding a submission on the same level as the vows of marriage.  It is sinful to demand obedience to a pastoral system at a level God reserves to Himself in His creation ordinance of marriage.  These vows of membership must be exposed for what they are because, through false guilt, people can be imprisoned in the lie.  Thus, unsuspecting souls can become like cult members drawn into a trap.

Warren has devised a way to control the souls of men and women.  People are led to believe that their vow to church faithfulness is a vow to God just like a marriage vow.  This is one of the ultimate tools of empire builders.  In this case, unwary and unsaved people are enticed into a system by means of extractions from worthless corruptions of the Bible.  With persuasive techniques they are then told of the necessity of committing themselves with loyalty to Warren’s system by means of a vow.  Men and women come soon to think that because they have made such a vow, or covenant, if they criticize the church they will have sinned against God.  Such a church system thus uses these vows for control of the consciences of the members.  Pastors should not be requiring men and women to take vows for membership when they know that people have a most difficult time keeping vows.  The Bible says, “Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay.”[36]  These so-called membership church vows or covenants are false, human created, and therefore biblically void.  Warren has not invented this technique; he is simply the latest empire builder to utilize it.  While not developed to the point of law, all of this is quite similar to the Roman Catholic Church.  For example, the Vatican decrees the necessity of suppressing one’s God-given faculties, that of mind and will.

“A religious respect of intellect and will, even if not the assent of faith, is to be paid to the teaching which the Supreme Pontiff….”[37]  The law also spells out the consequences of not submitting.  “The Church has an innate and proper right to coerce offending members of the Christian faithful by means of penal sanctions.”[38]

Since, in Revelation Chapter 17, we learn that Romanism will gather unto herself the whole of apostate Christendom, called “Mystery Babylon,” we suspect that what we are seeing is not just a movement, but that it is indeed the beginning of an apostate empire that can easily work with the Church of Rome and become one of her daughters.

Since Warren’s policy is to implement church growth without respect to doctrine, it is no wonder that Catholic churches such as Saint Michael the Archangel Catholic Church in Cary, NC are now enthusiastically joining in the “growth by deception”
program.  The Web page for this Catholic Church states,

“Having finished the first 21 days of the book, our growing group decided to push on to the end (so if you’ve already read parts of the book and weren’t able to join us in November, now’s the time to hop aboard!”[39]

Another example:

“In the Chicago area, more than 200 churches are participating in ‘40 Days of Purpose’ (some used it as a Lenten series).  Among them is St. Walter’s Catholic Church in Roselle which had hoped 100 people would sign up for small home groups
for the ‘40 Days of Purpose’ program studying Warren’s book.  Instead, 700 got involved.’”[40]

More Similarity With Rome

The resemblance with Rome does not stop with the method of control that is similar to Catholicism.  Warren endorses Catholic contemplative prayer techniques as he quotes from Catholic mystic Brother Lawrence, which he says are “helpful ideas.”  Brother Lawrence was not only traditional Roman Catholic but he also disseminated teachings that have similarities with Hinduism in the Bhagavad-Gita, and with many New Age writers.  Warren, however, endorses him and goes on later to recommend “Breath Prayers,” a form of mantra.  He teaches,

“Many Christians use ‘Breath Prayers’ throughout their day.  You choose a brief sentence, or a simple phrase that can be repeated to Jesus in one breath: ‘You are with me.’  ‘I receive your grace.’  ‘I’m depending on you.’ ‘I want to know you.’  ‘I belong to you.’”[41]

Catholic mystics have practiced “breath prayers” such as these for centuries.  They are simply the Catholic form of old Greek mysticism and akin to the mantras of Hindus.  In this same book, Warren approvingly cites the famous Catholic mystic Madame Guyon.[42]  He approves of St. John of the Cross,[43] and the Catholic priest, mystic, psychologist, and ecumenist Henri Nouwen.[44]  He warmly agrees with Mother Teresa.[45]

These misleading techniques are thus propagated and lead further into the whole mystic plague that presently is threatening believers and Christian churches.  This plague is the imagination that there is a unity consciousness with God apart from the Person, unique life, and sacrifice of Christ Jesus.[46]  Warren presents a mystical agenda, which the world loves and accepts, but which is an abomination before the Lord God.

The Displacement of Pastors and the Consequences

The 40 Days Campaign of purpose and community is distinct from other movements we have seen in recent times.  Warren asked pastors to devote their church and their people to an intensive 40 days of reprogramming their understanding of God, Christ, and how one becomes a Christian.  He “promises” at the end of 40 days that the church will be transformed.  Through his book and the agenda laid out, he teaches on nearly every aspect of the Christian life for 40 days.

This type of interference in the running of some other church other than your own is completely new.  In Scripture, the function of pastors is to teach and be watchmen and guardians of the flocks the Lord has given to them, not the flocks of other pastors.  “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock [singular], over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers.”[47]

To hand over their position before the Lord to another who will for seven weeks give his messages, based on a multitude of flawed paraphrases of Scripture, is utterly unbiblical.  The individual church is the local pastors’ and elders’ charge.  It is not theirs to bring in debased ideas that infiltrate every important area of their church’s life.  In Warren’s book, and movement, God’s absolute sovereignty is flatly denied as men are counseled to determine their own destinies.

As we now have a false prophet and his budding kingdom before our eyes, we must study diligently these things, which God has recorded for our safeguard against the subtle deceptions of Satan.  True believers in Christ Jesus the Lord and His Gospel must take to heart the solemn warning of the Apostle Paul, “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.”[48]

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[1] II Timothy 1:9

[2] Isaiah 6:3

[3] Revelation 15: 4

[4] Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life (Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan, 2002) p. 85

[5] Purpose, p. 86.  Verse quotation taken from New Living Translation [an updated paraphrase of Kenneth Taylor’s paraphrased The Living Bible]
(Wheaton, IL:  Tyndale House Publishers, 1996).

[6] I John 4:8

[7] Purpose, p. 24-25

[8] Matthew 5:45

[9] 12/8/04

[10] Psalm 85:10

[11] Ephesians 1:4

[12] Ephesians 1:4, 5, 6

[13] Purpose, pp. 23, 24

[14] Romans 9:22

[15] Ephesians 1:1

[16] There is a consistent Biblical teaching that justification is positional legal righteousness in Christ.  Jeremiah 23:6; Romans 1:17, 3:21-22, 4:6, 11, 5:18-19; I Corinthians 1:30; II Corinthians 5:21; Ephesians 1:6; Colossians 2:10, 3:3; II Peter 1:1, and elsewhere.

[17] Romans 3:24, 26

[18] Romans 1:16

[19] Ephesians 1:6

[20] Psalm 115:1

[21] In Ephesians 1 and 2, such phrases as “in Christ,” “in whom,” “in him,” “in the Beloved” are spoken of 18 times.  This is
the same in all of the letters of Paul the Apostle.  Likewise, the Apostle John consistently teaches that eternal life is in Christ Jesus, e.g. “And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son
(I John 5:11).  God’s love seen in salvation is always expressed as being in Christ.

[22] Romans 2:4

[23] I John 1:5

[24] I Peter 1:16

[25] Psalm 5:5

[26] Psalm 26:5

[27] Romans 1:18

[28] Hebrews 12:28-29

[29] Exodus 29:7

[30] Psalm 99:1

[31] Psalm 103:19

[32] Purpose, p.167

[33] Purpose, p. 54

[34] 10/23/04

[35] 11/18/04

[36] Ecclesiastes 5:1-7, “Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God, and be more ready to hear, than to give the sacrifice of fools: for they consider not that they do evil. Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter any thing before God: for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few. For a dream cometh through the multitude of business; and a fool’s voice is known by multitude of words. When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for he hath no pleasure in fools: pay that which thou hast vowed. Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay. Suffer not thy mouth to cause thy flesh to sin; neither say thou before the angel, that it was an error: wherefore should God be angry at thy voice, and destroy the work of thine hands? For in the multitude of dreams and many words there are also divers vanities: but fear thou God.”

[37] Canon 752

[38] Code of Canon Law Latin-English ed. (Washington DC:  Canon Law Society of America, 1983) Canon 1311

[39] 11/12/04


[41] 10/22/04

[42] Purpose, p. 193

[43] Ibid., p. 108

[44] Ibid., pp. 269- 270

[45] Ibid., pp. 125, 231

[46] See our article on The Mystic Plague on our Web Page:

[47] Acts 20:28

[48] Ephesians 5:11