Q Many congregations are studying The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren. Having read the first few chapters, I’ve concluded that this is a somewhat simplified way of looking at God; others have pointed out that Warren makes the gospel read as if people are to please God rather than to fear God.
What is the official position of the Christian Reformed Church on Rick Warren’s book The Purpose Driven Life and his subsequent book The Purpose Driven Church?
A To be honest, when I first came across Warren’s book The Purpose Driven Life, I, too, had the impression that it was simplistic. But in reading this book and The Purpose Driven Church, I realized they are full of common-sense biblical concepts applied in ways that communicate to the average person.
I think what Rick Warren has been doing is offering a fresh look at the Christian message in today’s context and applying it to his own ministry. While doing that, others have discovered they can do the same in many other settings around the world. We must recognize that as the amazing working of the Holy Spirit. The Christian life is full of such jewels to discover along the way.
The marketing efforts of Warren’s publisher, which are designed to create an entire industry around the “Purpose Driven” brand, are a completely different story. About this subject (as well as the subject of the industry of producing customer-specific Bibles) I have deep reservations.
It is unfortunate and sad, though, to see churches divided over the use of Warren’s book. Many times people take the teachings of an author and radicalize them to a point that was never intended by him or her. The history of the Christian church and of denominationalism in North America has been plagued with such bad experiences.
Regarding your comment about pleasing versus fearing God, I don’t think we should put one against the other; on the contrary, we must do both. We have inherited these words from Old Testament covenantal language. The Bible is full of passages that illustrate our need to both please and fear God, not only through symbolic actions like offerings, but in concrete and practical ways in daily life. This issue was the very same one that the prophets of the Old Testament addressed: the dissonance between what Israel believed (or had forgotten) and what Israel did. In a way, the prophets called Israel back to a “purpose driven” life, with Israel’s purpose being to regain its vocation as people in covenant with God, a covenant that carries tremendous privileges and responsibilities.
As far as an official Christian Reformed position on Rick Warren’s teachings, there is none.
Rev. Alejandro Pimentel is a theological educator in Mexico City with Christian Reformed World Missions.
Q I’m part of a prayer group at church that gathers once a week. I’ve got a tough relationship issue I’d like to ask prayers for, but I’m afraid others will judge me. I need their spiritual support, but do not feel I can be honest in my request. What should I do?
A You’re right to feel concerned about what you share with your prayer group, especially since it has to do with a difficult life decision. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t seek their prayer support.
First, let’s talk about your concern that you’ll be judged. In the prayer group your church sponsors, you face both great benefits and hurtful risks. You should expect complete confidentiality, and you should be able to speak frankly. Unfortunately, the sin of betrayal sometimes creeps in, even among Christians. Especially if your life decision is one that may prompt a strongly negative response and judgment (such as consideration of abortion, divorce, or coming out as gay or lesbian), you run the real risk of someone breaking confidentiality. This has the potential of creating an irreparable rift between you and your church.
If you express your concern to a “prayer tree,” rather than a face-to-face group, you may want to use more general language, such as, “Please pray for God’s guidance as I face a major life choice.” Doing this allows you to tap this channel of God’s grace while also shielding the group from the temptation to gossip.
However, if your group is one that has earned your trust due to the members’ wisdom and discretion, consider sharing your needs more fully. Through prayer, both their understanding of you and your reliance on them may grow.
Dr. Helen Sterk is chair of communication arts and sciences at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Mich.