The question is: if we are going to hold cults like Mormonism to a biblical standard on this issue, then shouldn’t we hold our evangelical leaders to that same standard? Wouldn’t it be hypocritical to condemn Mormons for biblical chicanery and ignore evangelicals who do a similar disservice to the Bible?
Such is the reasoning for holding Rick Warren accountable for his hermeneutical methods in promoting his “Purpose Driven” teachings. Though we do not believe that Rick Warren is preaching a false gospel like Mormonism or Jehovah’s Witnesses, we do believe that his technique for using God’s Word is perilously similar to the way a cult twists Bible verses for their own purposes. In this case, Warren is more concerned with promoting his philosophical agenda for postmodern Christianity, at the expense of real biblical substance
Critics of The Purpose Driven Life have already pointed out Warren’s promotion of the teachings of Catholic mystics like Henri Nouwen and John of the Cross, his mixing of New Age techniques with Bible-based prayer and meditation, and his use of Jungian occult-based psychology to identify a Christian’s personality and spiritual gifts. (For more information, see our links on the left.) But our primary concern at The Sacred Sandwich is focused on how Warren has wrested the Scriptures to lend biblical credence to his misguided teachings.
Participants in the Rick Warren “Forty Days of Purpose” need to be warned that Warren’s use of scriptural paraphrases, the citing of half-verses, and the wrenching of verses out of their intended context are all evidence of mishandling God’s Word. And though we do not necessarily believe that Warren is doing this intentionally in every situation, we do feel it is important to make Christians aware that the use of this haphazard scriptural “proof-texting” in Warren’s teaching materials is sadly deficient and misleading, especially to those who are new to the faith and less than discerning.
“The intelligent man is always open to new ideas. In fact, he looks for them” (Proverbs 18:15).
For the undiscerning Christian reading his book, this verse would be taken at face value and accepted as biblical proof for Warren’s assertion that pragmatic innovation in the church is necessary, and conversely, that traditional thinking in the church should be scrapped for these “new ideas.”
But what is the literal translation of this verse? In the King James Version it reads:
“The heart of the prudent getteth knowledge; and the ear of the wise seeketh knowledge.”
In the more contemporary New American Standard it similarly reads, “The mind of the prudent acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge.” To surmise, therefore, that this verse is advocating being “open to new ideas” is wildly off the mark... and dangerous.
Open to new ideas? You mean we should be open to “new ideas” like homosexual pastors or New Age mysticism in the church? How careless a translation!
According to the literal understanding of this verse in the context of Scripture, any “knowledge” that a prudent man seeks is based on the objective truth of God’s Word and does not imply any use of “new ideas.” The terms “knowledge” and “new ideas” are not synonymous, and it is irresponsible of Warren to suggest otherwise by using this paraphrase. Yet in an attempt to bolster his pragmatic arguments, Warren has ignored the plain meaning of the text and found a dubious translation that adds a foreign element that is in line with his presupposition. Is this not similar to how Joseph Smith rewrote certain verses to prove his theological position in the Mormon religion?
In an appendix to The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren defends this blatant disregard for the clear meaning of God’s word by pronouncing two reasons why he uses so many various translations, including paraphrases:
1) To avoid missing nuances and
shades of meaning.
2) To "see God's truth in new, fresh ways."
This explanation, however, does not come without its difficulties. For starters, as some have rightly pointed out, the two objectives offer a much-too-broad spectrum of biblical interpretation. It is one thing for Christians to find edification in the subtleties of biblical text, but another to interject new interpretations into the reading for the purpose of so-called “fresh” understanding. This kind of irresponsible hermeneutics leads to eisegesis, where the reader is prone to force his personal opinions into the biblical text instead of letting the text speak for itself.
Sadly, Warren’s philosophy for viewing Scripture is promoting a subtle, yet dangerous method in which to deny thousands of years of clear biblical understanding in the Church. Worse yet, Warren seems to be proclaiming that he, alone, understands God’s truth in “new, fresh ways.” The problem with this thinking is that many false teachers throughout the history of Christendom have tried to present God’s truth in “new ways” and have found that in trying to alter our perspective of God’s truth, they have mistakenly altered the very essence of God’s truth instead.
In the heading of Chapter 7 from The Purpose Driven Life, for another example, Warren uses the following verse:
"The Lord has made everything for his own purposes." (Proverbs 16:4, NLT)
Again, to the undiscerning reader this verse would be allowed to stand on its own merit. However, this is not the complete verse, even though it is falsely cited as such. In the New Living Translation, Proverbs 16:4 fully reads, “The Lord has made everything for his own purposes, even the wicked for punishment.”
The KJV reads, “The LORD hath made all things for himself: yea, even the wicked for the day of evil”, and the NASB reads, “The LORD has made everything for its own purpose, even the wicked for the day of evil.”
The full force of this verse lies in the truth that God has made ALL THINGS for his own purpose, even making the wicked for the purpose of punishment!
So why does Warren present this verse with a sentence-ending period as if it is cited in its entirety when clearly it is not? Why did he not accurately note the reference as “Proverbs 16:4a” to avoid confusion? Could it not be fairly surmised that the second half of that verse did not fit in with Warren’s watered-down, feel-good theme of the book and therefore he felt the necessity to deliberately leave it out?
Warren does the same thing on page 76 with Psalm 14:2, where he chooses this weak rendering from The Living Bible:
“The Lord looks down from heaven on all mankind to see if there are any who are wise, who want to please God.”
By singling out this verse, without qualifying or contextualizing it, Warren is guilty of presenting a half-truth. Yes, God may be looking on all men to see who understands, but what Warren doesn't tell us is that God doesn't find one single person who fits that description! Look at the context of both verses as seen in the more literal rendering of the ESV:
Psalm 14:2: The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. 14:3: They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.
As you can see, the third verse of Psalm 14 is pivotal to understanding God’s truth about the complete sinfulness and rebellion of natural man, but Warren fails to cite it. Instead he chooses to present a weak translation of a single verse to imply that God is actively seeking out “purpose driven” God-pleasers. What Warren doesn’t tell us, however, is that God finds NONE who do good, NOT EVEN ONE. This is such an important truth about man’s utter sinfulness that Paul reiterated it in Romans 3:10-12 to emphasize the point. So why did Warren leave that part out? Because it would negate his “purpose driven” argument.
Clearly, God’s Word should not be trifled with in this way. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit this verse was presented to offer God’s truth as He saw fit, and for a Christian leader to decide to edit the inspired text as he wishes, is to play fast and loose with God’s inerrant word. In reality, Warren presented a half-truth, which in some cases is really presenting no truth at all.
And lest we be condemned for being overly critical of Warren’s sloppy hermeneutical methods, let me point out other instances where Warren has mishandled Scripture to prejudice his readers and promote his presuppositions. (For the purpose of brevity I will compare Warren’s scripture references with the more recent, yet highly literal English Standard Version, though I could readily use any of the literal translations available, including the cherished KJV.)
Today’s English Version (TEV)
Isaiah 26:3 (from pg. 32) “You, LORD, give perfect peace to those who keep their purpose firm and put their trust in you.”
English Standard Version“You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.”
Undoubtedly, Warren preferred the TEV translation because it uses one of his favorite buzz words, “purpose.” But again we ask: how is “keeping a man’s purpose firm” the same as “staying his mind on the Lord”? One phrase is promoting man’s personal pursuits, the other is presenting a mind that is completely subservient to God’s will and direction. Which translation is correctly expressing God's truth?
Romans 8:6 (pg. 18) “Obsession with self in these matters is a dead end; attention to God leads us out into the open, into a spacious, free life.”
English Standard Version
“To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.”
Again, The Message seems content to couch this verse in terms of temporal activity, and in the process misses the whole point. Paul is talking about real physical and spiritual death because of minds set on sin, not just a dead end on the road of life because of selfishness. The Message makes Paul sound like a motivational, self-help guru instead of an apostle of Christ teaching on the deadly life-or-death implications of sin.
John 4:23 (pg. 103) “That’s the kind of people the Father is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in their worship.”
English Standard Version
“But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.”
There is nothing wrong with being “simply and honestly themselves” in worship, but is this the meaning of the verse? The Message completely ignores Christ’s specific choice of words “in spirit and truth” and seems more intent on giving worshipers the green light to worship as they please. While worshiping in spirit does involve a sincere response from the heart and mind, worshiping in truth is based solely on God’s truth as revealed in Scripture and not on someone’s definition of truth for themselves. To worship outside of God’s truth is not what the Father is seeking, no matter how “honest” you are about it. Mormons may be “simply and honestly themselves” when they worship, but are they really worshiping in TRUTH?
Matthew 16:25 (pg. 19) “Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self.”
English Standard Version
“For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
Jesus is speaking of eternal life, not some psychobabble about “finding yourself.” The Message has taken the verse out of its two-fold context of self-denial and finding salvation in Christ and twisted it into an issue of personal self-discovery. Notice that the proper rendering of the verse is not about sacrifice for your “true self,” but about sacrifice for “my (Christ’s) sake.” Why does Warren prefer a rendering that elevates the aspect of “self,” instead of Christ?
Lastly, one of the most disingenuous ways in which Warren uses Scripture is when he rips God’s word out of context and misapplies it as a general proclamation to all people. Look at how he uses Jeremiah 29:11:
“I know what I am planning for you…. “I have good plans for you, not plans to hurt you. I will give you hope and a good future” (p. 31).
As correctly noted by Gary Gilley:
“this verse is a promise to Israel concerning their future, not a general promise for all people (even Christians) at all times. Just a few chapters later, the promise is reversed, Behold, I am watching over them for harm and not for good… (44:27). And in Lamentations 3:38, the same prophet writes, Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both good and ill go forth? It is strange how people love to claim Jeremiah 29:11 and ignore passages such as these last two. I have yet to find anyone who has claimed Jeremiah 44:27 as their life’s verse.”
Sadly, this is how Warren has decided to look at the Bible in "new, fresh ways": by arrogantly ignoring the rules of credible exegesis. It is almost as if Warren simply flipped around in his Bible until he singled out various nice-sounding verses, regardless of their specific context, to make his teachings appear as if they were fully grounded in God's Word. How many Christians will swallow Warren's biblical presentation whole without realizing how badly he has twisted Scripture to suit his purpose?
A CLOSER LOOK AT THE MESSAGE: WHY DOES RICK WARREN EVEN USE IT?One of the most disappointing aspects of Warren’s “Purpose Driven” teachings is his heavy reliance on the paraphrased Bible by Eugene Peterson called The Message. Though promoted as a “reading Bible” instead of a “study Bible”, The Message is a dreadful interpretation of God’s Word no matter how one uses it. In reviewing The Message, Berit Kjos wrote, “It doesn't take a Greek scholar to recognize the appalling distortions of God's holy Word. Any Bible student willing to compare Peterson's Message with a Greek/English Interlinear Lexicon and take time to look up key words in a credible New Testament Bible dictionary will discover alarming deletions, distortions and additions to the original text. If Peterson is right, then all our other Bibles - the KJV, NASV, NIV, Greek-English interlinear Bibles - are false.” (See Berit Kjos' more in-depth analysis, with comparison chart, titled What Kind of Message is The Message?)
Sadly, Mr. Warren has ignored the obvious inadequacies of this new paraphrase of the Bible and has seen fit to use it to support his biblical positions. Considering the many dangerous pitfalls of The Message, it is hard to believe that Warren would have ever used this paraphrase as a legitimate tool to help Christians better understand God’s truth, for in doing so Warren has given it his unequivocal stamp of approval. This utter lack of discernment surely brings into question the biblical integrity of Warren’s “Purpose Driven” message if he needs to rely on such an inferior resource to back up his teachings.
So what is Warren really promoting when he advocates the use of The Message as a way for Christians to see Scripture in “new, fresh ways”?
The most alarming feature of The Message is in how it has chosen to reinterpret certain scripture verses that for centuries have been mainstays of the Christian faith to combat the assault against Christ’s deity. Use any literal translation of the Bible, and any capable Christian would be able to adequately defend Christ’s divinity against the attacks of Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses alike. Yet, The Message has taken many of those precious scriptures and mangled them beyond recognition to the delight of the community of various cults. In fact, there is probably not a Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness that wouldn’t feel comfortable using The Message alongside their extra biblical teachings. This fact by itself should be cause for great concern.
Having seen the devastating effect Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, had in reinterpreting the Bible, many are well aware of how distortions of God’s Word have been used to deceive millions to believe in a false gospel and a false Christ. Therefore, it is sad that a prominent evangelical like Rick Warren has aligned himself with a reinterpreted Bible that has watered down the pure doctrines of God to the point where it can be accepted by Mormons and other cults.
Take for example John 10:30 where Jesus proclaims:
“I and my Father are one” (KJV).
This is a pivotal verse where Jesus claims His Deity in union with the power and glory of the Father. The impact of this passage is clearly seen in the next verse (31) where the Jews who hear Jesus make this claim are immediately picking up rocks to stone Him. They were well aware of what Jesus was saying: He was claiming to be God!
Jehovah’s Witnesses would disagree with this interpretation, however. Because they believe that Jesus is a god, or an exalted created being, they would view the verse as showing that Jesus was referring to being “one” with God only in terms of their common purpose, and not in terms of their divine essence.
Interestingly enough, look at how The Message renders Jesus’ words:
"I and the Father are one heart and mind."
Not only would the Jehovah’s Witnesses be pleased with this interpretation, but any orthodox Mormon would be tickled to use it to defend their false concept of Jesus’ divinity as well. How sad that in the process of adding words to Jesus’ bold declaration, The Message has fallen in league with the false teachings of cults.
Why should we as Christians be appalled by the propagation of weak paraphrases of God’s Word like we find here in The Message? Here is what the apostle Peter said on the subject:
“Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability.” 2 Peter 3:14-17 (ESV)
As Gary Gilley wrote in his evaluation of The Purpose Driven Life:
“Remember, we are not discussing different opinions on interpretations of certain passages. That too cannot be ignored. But of a more serious nature is this careless and wanton mishandling of Scripture that we have been discussing. To purposely ignore the proper translation of a passage and insert one that has no basis in the original languages in order to under gird a particular point of view is one of the most dangerous things imaginable. The only thing more concerning would be to discover large segments of the evangelical community being incapable of discerning this kind of problem -- and/or not caring.”
In light of this fact, we ask our Christian readers this crucial question: Do you care? Are you really so cavalier about God’s written revelation given to you that you don’t mind that prominent teachers like Rick Warren are carelessly handling the Scriptures?
If you are planning to go through the 40 Days of Purpose, individually or with a group, do not be influenced by the subtle pressure to accept Warren’s teachings and Bible references at face value. Whether it takes 40 days or 40 months, test everything in this study against God’s sacred word. Don’t be taken in by the lame argument by Warren that some of you don’t need more Bible study because you already know too much.
Christian, do not believe this lie. You can never have too much Bible study! Jesus prayed for us, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth!” John 17:17 (ESV). Do you see how important our Lord understood the Scriptures to be in the believer's life?