Saturday, March 13, 2004

Saddleback Church 

So, as I said, I went to Saddleback Church over the weekend. I'll probably make some people mad right now, like the 25,000 people that go there. Yes, all those zeros are there on purpose. Twenty five thousand. Like I said, I'll probably make a lot of people mad. But oh well, it's never stopped me before.

Saddleback Church is located in Irvine, CA. It is pastored by Rick Warren, the author of Purpose Driven Life, which I reviewed here. The campus on which it is located is gorgeous. There are probably 15 or 20 buildings on the campus, some of which are quite large and none of which resemble a church. The landscaping is immaculate and the parking is well laid out. The buildings are tasteful, mostly in a kind of modern Spanish architecture, I suppose. I don't know much about architecture, though, so I could be wrong. There was also a cafe at which I was charged a dollar for a smallish cup of average-tasting coffee.

Saddleback Church is a seeker-sensitive church. One of the things that this means is that the church service should be as unintimidating as possible. Saddleback accomplishes this by making the church service bear little resemblance to a church service. As such, there is no benediction, no salutation, no liturgy. There is, in fact, no prayer. That's right, no prayer. In an hour and a half, Pastor Rick never once addressed the Lord. He said "let's pray" at the end of his message, but he then addressed us, telling us things we should remember and telling us to pray a certain prayer, but he himself never actually led us in prayer. Perhaps people find corporate prayer intimidating?

Likewise, in the hour-long message, there was no mention of sin, forgiveness of sin, the holiness of God, the law of God or any such thing. There was Scripture reading, and a text for the sermon, but I'm afraid the text was rather badly abused. Rick ignored elements of the text that would be inconvenient for the point he was trying to make, and I'm sure nobody noticed because I didn't see a Bible in the place. The Bible verses were all on the handout we got, and were also flashed on one of the five humongous screens at the front of the worship center. There wasn't much attempt to actually help us understand what the text said; rather, the text was used as a prop for Rick to make the points he wanted to make- rather like the Purpose Driven Life. Rick was dressed comfortably in slacks and a Hawaiian shirt, not drawing attention to his office as pastor at all.

What he did draw attention to, on the other hand, was himself and his spirituality. There were three references in the sermon to his personal high level of spirituality. There was also a few references to Saddleback's ongoing programs and its size. One of the assistant pastors (I think that's who it was), said "Saddleback is the best church in America!" So, quite a lot of self-promotion. Apparently people don't find that intimidating.

It was thoroughly Arminian, as well. All about us, our choice, we have to do it, God's not in control, just REALLY REALLY hoping that we'll listen. He took one of the best texts for understanding God's sovereignty in salvation, the parable of the sower and the soils (Luke 8), and said that it taught about different attitudes that we could have that would prevent us from hearing the voice of God. You might think that the part where Jesus says that the parable teaches that some are able to hear his teachings because it is given to them, but to some it is not given (Luke 8:10) might be awkward for his message, but no matter- he just skipped that verse. Never read it. You might wonder how bad soil is supposed to change itself to good soil, when the result of being bad soil is an inability to respond meaningfully to the message of truth, but don't worry. Rick's got the answer. Bad soil turns itself into good soil by turning off the cell phone, scheduling a date with God, and getting involved in programs at Saddleback.

Scheduling a date with God, huh? Actually, my big takeaway from the message was that Rick thinks God's like a woman. If you don't talk to God, God won't talk to you. And it's no good just giving God the scraps of your time. If God's not important enough to you to really make time for her him, then he just won't think that he's important to you, and he'll just clam up. Make time for God. Show him you care. During the service, I could just envision God stamping his foot, and saying, "you don't really care!" You could have replaced God with Your Significant Other, and it would have been pretty decent relationship advice.

But Rick might want to read Amos 4, just to name the first one that popped into my head. He might discover that God will indeed talk to you even if you don't listen, though you might not much like what He's got to say.

I'm sure Rick would tell me that all of the serious teaching goes on in small groups. That's the typical seeker-sensitive church growth kind of model. But Jesus said, "My sheep hear My voice, and they follow me." We shouldn't be afraid of scaring people away from church with the truth. The truth of the gospel will not scare away God's sheep. Anyone looking for Jesus' voice in that particular service wouldn't have heard much of Jesus (though they would have seen him, or James Caviezel anyway, on the big screen). Mostly, the voice I heard there was that of Rick Warren.

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