Friday, December 19, 2003

Book Review- The Purpose Driven Life 

The Purpose-Driven Life
The Purpose-Driven Life

I picked up the wildly popular book The Purpose Driven Life because a few folks in my congregation have relatives who are reading it and telling them how great it is. So I figured I’d better have an opinion.

Actually, I already had an opinion. I hated the book before I even read it. This is largely the case any time a Christian book gets on the NYT bestseller list- I assume that it’s garbage. This is totally unfair, I know, but there it is.

The first part of the book, the introduction, did nothing to dispel my pre-formed dislike of it. Mr. Warren’s got some great marketers working for him, or he’s just a great marketer himself. But then you don’t turn your church into a successful, well known brand name (Saddleback) without knowing a few things about marketing. And so, The Purpose Driven Life presents itself as A Vital Book, so much so that you need to read it one chapter at a time so that you have plenty of time to think about each chapter you read. And you will have plenty of time if you only read one chapter, because each chapter’s around five pages long in about an 18-point font, of very easy reading material. Most people could read one of these chapters in ten minutes.

And there are forty chapters. So this means that you’ll be reading it for forty days. And, Mr. Warren tells us, we will then be transformed, just like forty days of flood changed the world, or forty days on Mt Sinai transformed Moses, or forty days in the desert transformed Jesus. See, this is a life-changing book.

And Mr. Warren wants us to sign a contract to read the book in this manner, and if possible to find a friend to read it with, or better yet get your church to read it with you. Of course if you go through with this, as any good marketer can tell you, you’ve achieved buy-in, emotional commitment. Now the reader wants to be transformed by the book, to validate all of the emotional commitment he’s already invested in this book by going through the process and signing the contract, etc. And, Mr. Warren assures us, he has been praying for us, individually, the reader of the book.

See what I mean about good marketing?

So, what’s the purpose of your life? Well, he takes a few chapters to get there, but the purpose of our lives, it turns out, is to glorify God. Not to please ourselves, not to acquire wealth or even to be happy, but to serve and glorify God. He takes a week to give us the introduction to the theme of the book. He then gives us five purposes (sub-purposes, I guess) spread over the next five weeks, although he only takes five days on the last one so that he can fit it all into the “spiritually significant” forty days. These purposes are: “You were Planned for God’s Pleasure”; “You Were Formed for God’s Family”; “You Were Created to Become Like Christ”; “You Were Shaped For Serving God”; and “You Were Made For A Mission”.

The actual content of the book isn’t so terrible, apart from being totally Arminian, of course. For how does Rick know I was created to become like Christ? What if I’m actually a vessel of destruction, created for the purpose of glorifying God by my everlasting punishment?

But leaving such impolite questions aside and assuming that it’s elect Christians reading this, the book makes some good points and teaches some solid basic truths. As I said before, I went into this wanting to hate this book, but I have to admit that there’s a fair amount of good substance in it. It is true, and a lesson that all Christians need to remind themselves of, that we are here to serve and glorify God, and not ourselves. He teaches us that we need to belong to a church, that we need to love that church and serve it, that we serve Christ by serving His body. He talks on Day 20 about the need to restore broken fellowship and not let divisions fester, but address them lovingly as soon as possible.

I was perhaps most impressed with what he says on Day 13 about worship. He says, p. 128:

God is pleased when our worship is accurate. People often say, “I like to think of God as …,” and then they share their idea of the kind of God they would like to worship. But we can not just create our own comfortable or politically correct image of God and worship it. That is idolatry.
And a little later:
Today many equate being emotionally moved by music as being moved by the Spirit, but these are not the same. Real worship happens when your spirit responds to God, not to some musical tone.
This is all good stuff, and badly needed today.

But this is about as far as it goes. This is all baby Christian stuff, really. There's nothing life-transforming except in the basic sense that being converted is life-transforming. But nothing you wouldn’t hear constantly from the pulpit of any decent church, especially any Reformed or Presbyterian church.

Mr. Warren's hermeneutic is a major problem. The way he uses Scripture is simply scandalous. He is proud of the fact that he has over a thousand Scripture references, and that they come from many different paraphrases (to help us think more about them, he says), but Scripture to him is simply there to support the point he has already made. He makes his point, and then says, “The Bible says, …” and quotes some verse from some translation to add authority to his statement. He almost never even provides a reference in the text, but buries it in endnotes. Thus, the reader is not directed to Scripture in any meaningful sense. Passages are never examined according to context or interpretation, but simply are said to mean what Mr. Warren says they mean, which is always just the same as whatever Mr. Warren just said. Scripture therefore serves his purposes, rather than the other way around. It’s a terrible use (or abuse) of Scripture, but it is a very typical one, I’m afraid. Rather than his thousand references, I’d much rather he took ten and actually dealt with them in a meaningful way. It’s just classic proof-texting and is a big turn-off. You could strip every Scripture reference out of this book and lose nothing.

So, apart from the fairly shallow content, terrible hermeneutics and the extreme hubris of saying that you have written a book that God wants to use to transform someone’s life, this really isn’t a bad book. I’m not sure how much more would be added by also reading The Purpose Driven Church, doing The Purpose Driven Workbook and buying The Purpose Driven CD, but I’ll leave that to the reader to explore.

What, no "Purpose Driven Weight Loss Plan?"

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