Day Seven - The Reason for Everything

We have seen that here and there throughout the first seven days Mr. Warren has offered some phrases of good, biblical wisdom. He urges us, “If you want to know why you were placed on this planet, you must begin with God. You were born by his purpose and for his purpose.” (p.17) He warns us, “You can usually succeed in reaching a goal if you put your mind to it. But being successful and fulfilling your life’s purpose are not at all the same issue!” (p.19) He assures us, “Your birth was no mistake or mishap, and your life is no fluke of nature. Your parents may not have planned you, but God did.” (p.22) He counsels us, “The most damaging aspect of contemporary living is short-term thinking. To make the most of your life, you must keep the vision of eternity continually in your mind and the value of it in your heart.” (p.38) And again, “It is a fatal mistake to assume that God’s goal for your life is material prosperity or popular success, as the world defines it.” (p.50) It is not unusual then that we should see him begin this chapter with a few paragraphs of sound orthodoxy. “The ultimate goal of the universe it to show the glory of God.” (p.53) He elaborates upon this idea quite eloquently. However, what can all these quotations of Mr. Warren mean in the larger context of his thought? What can it really mean to say that the ultimate goal of the universe is to show the glory of God along side of already having said that the ultimate goal of the universe is the “central fact” of human life (p.24)? Many of Mr. Warren’s sayings have the form of truth, but what we have found is that the most truthful in form of his sayings have the least place in the system that is possible to build out of the totality of his sayings. Let us proceed to see what Mr. Warren can make of this.

Several times over the previous days we have had occasion to note that the deficiencies in Mr. Warren’s presentation result directly from his almost total disregard of sin. We find this no less the case in this Day Seven. In context of expounding upon the glory of God as the reason for everything, he states quite simply, “Jesus came to earth so we could fully understand God’s glory.” (p.54) Such a statement surely is effective in emphasizing the preeminence of God’s glory, however, upon examination we must find that this really is an instance of hyperbole - of going way out of bounds for the sake of emphasis. In the first place, it is not possible - and it never will be possible - for us to “fully understand God’s glory.” Only God fully understands anything, which He does by fully understanding everything. Exhaustive knowledge is the province of the infinite and uncreated mind of God alone. The finite and created mind of man cannot know anything exhaustively. Nor is exhaustive knowledge necessary for the creature. The Revelation of his Creator is the anchor of truth for the human mind. The believer may know truly without having to know fully. The sinner makes exhaustive knowledge seem necessary, for having denied Revelation he thereby paints himself into the intellectual corner of having to know everything fully in order to know anything truly. Such was the plight of Plato and the neo-Platonists. Such was the plight of the Gnostics after them. So, the mission of Jesus, in their eyes, was to impart such knowledge. Mr. Warren’s idea of Christ’s mission is couched in these same terms. In Biblical terms salvation for man consists not in “fully understanding God’s glory,” but in the Redemption secured for him by God in Christ.

It seems beyond dispute to invoke the glory of God as the mission of Christ. However, this is a very nebulous concept apart from particularities. It is most necessary to speak specifically about the glory of God. Of what does the glory of God consist? How did Christ glorify the Father? In citing John 1:14 Mr. Warren has centered upon a text that simply refers to this glory as residing in Christ. It will be necessary to look much further for a systematic understanding of this glory. In John 17:4 Christ addresses the Father more particularly: “I glorified Thee on earth, having accomplished the work which Thou hast given Me to do.” What was this work? He came to call sinners to repentance (Mt. 9:13, Mk. 2:17, Lk. 5:32). He came to seek and to save that which was lost (Lk. 19:10). He came to give His life as a ransom for many (Mt. 20:28, Mk. 10:45), He came to die on the Cross and rise again for the sins of His people (Jn. 12:27). He came to do his Father’s will by saving His people (Jn. 6:38-40, Heb. 10:9), He came to save sinners (I Tim. 1:15). It is impossible properly to construe the mission of Christ apart from a biblical understanding of sin, for Christ came to save His people from their sins. Mr. Warren’s treatise is gravely deficient in presenting a true and biblical understanding of sin. Thus, he characterizes Christ’s mission as to bring us comprehensive knowledge of God’s glory rather than to bring us redemption from our sins.

Just as we have come once again to question the place of sin in Mr. Warren’s view of things, we find that this subject now makes another of its rare appearances. He muses that of all of God’s creatures there are only two that fail to glorify Him: demons and people. He then offers: “All sin, at its root, is failing to give God glory.” (p.54) Here is the clearest statement of Mr. Warren thus far along the lines of defining sin. It certainly is true, as attested by Mr. Warren’s supporting text, Romans 3:23, that sin falls short of the glory of God. However, it is far from clear whether failure to glorify God is the root of sin. Indeed, it would be more biblical to reverse this, i.e., to say that sin is the root of failing to glorify God. The root of sin is disobedience against the Law of God, as we already have recounted from I John 3:4 in our discussion of Day Three. If sin is not rightly construed, then neither can the remedy of sin rightly be construed. If the root of sin is failure to glorify God, then the remedy of sin may be simply a greater knowledge of God’s glory, and the mission of Christ may be to bring us this knowledge, all of which Mr. Warren suggests. Thus, Mr. Warren turns to a summary of ways in which we might glorify God, which serves as an outline of the remainder of his book.

We glorify God, he says, by fulfilling “God’s five purposes for your life.” (p.55) In brief these are: 1) to worship God, 2) to love other believers, 3) to become like Christ, 4) to serve others, 5) to tell others about him. We will reserve discussion of these things for the subsequent five sections of this book in which he elaborates upon them. Here he makes no defense for his idea that God’s purposes for human life may be distilled down to these five. A reading of the Bible easily would yield any number of other purposes to add to this list. We might read Genesis 1:28 and conclude that God’s purposes are for us to “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over [it].” We might read Exodus Chapter 20 and find 10 Commandments that we easily might construe as God’s ten purposes for our lives. By the time we finished a careful reading of Paul’s Epistle to the Colossians we might have filled several pages with enumerated purposes. The problem in reading the Bible is not to find something that we may construe as a purpose to drive our lives; the problem is how to distill it all into a simplified and systematic statement that may be held in view. We may commend Mr. Warren for attempting this, however, we rue his lack of defense or even explanation. This presents another case of a recurring theme of our journal: What can his five purposes mean in light of biblical orthodoxy, and what can they mean in light of the only possible system that may be gleaned from his overall presentation?

Citing a loose paraphrase of John 17:4, Mr. Warren states, “Jesus honored God by fulfilling his purpose on earth. We honor God the same way.” (p.55) Mr. Warren seems oblivious to the fact that Christ’s purpose on earth was to redeem His people from their sins via His death, burial, and resurrection, as is indicated by his suggestion that our course of remedying the problem of failing to glorify God is to learn how to glorify Him in the same way as did Christ. This is an expression of the view that Christ’s ministry to us was to “model” true spirituality. Mr. Warren’s thesis progresses thus: 1) Christ glorifies God; 2) we fail to glorify God, which we will call “sin”; 3) the remedy for this “sin” is full understanding of God’s glory; 4) “Jesus came to earth so we could fully understand God’s glory” (p.54); 5) He “modeled” glorifying God by fulfilling His purpose; 6) “Nothing matters more than knowing God’s purposes for your life” (p.30); “It defines what you do and…becomes the standard” (p.31). Mr. Warren speaks of Christ facing His crucifixion as a “struggle.” He comments not a word on why Christ went to the cross nor on what He accomplished in doing so. He portrays it as, “Jesus stood at a fork in the road,” and quickly adds, “You face the same choice.” (p.57) The Grace of God in such a scheme can only be the greater resources of a more powerful and more enlightened being, which may avail to us in case we choose to please him. As he says, “God will give you what you need if you will just make the choice to live for him.” (p.58)

At the close of this chapter, Mr. Warren addresses himself directly to those readers who may not share his idea of pursuing God’s purposes. In terms of orthodox and biblical Christianity, we would say that these are ones who are unregenerate and unrepentant. Mr. Warren has not constructed his scheme in these terms, and so neither does he characterize them as such, nor does he approach them in these terms. Their need, according to him, is to “believe and receive.” (p.58) What is the content of the requisite belief? The closest Mr. Warren comes to the truly biblical message is to say, “Believe God has chosen you to have a relationship with Jesus, who died on the cross for you.” (p.58) However, nowhere does he provide any insight into what quality of Jesus’ death makes it a death “for” anyone. In the first six “Days” of his treatise he never even so much as mentioned the death of Christ. Also, what is the content of what we are to receive? “Receive his forgiveness for your sins.” (p.58) However, Mr. Warren never has provided a satisfactorily biblical discussion of sin. Absent such discussion, what can “receive his forgiveness for you sins” possibly mean to the reader? In terms of the system Mr. Warren builds in this treatise this phrase is meaningless. If Christ’s mission was to bring us full understanding of God’s glory, if sin consists of failing to bring God glory, and if Christ’s death is not a substitutionary propitiation, then how can forgiveness be more contentful than “a fresh start”? (p.28) Though his ideas of “believe” and “receive” are devoid of content, Mr. Warren nevertheless presses on to direct his readers to utter this prayer: “Jesus, I believe in you and I receive you.” (p.58) What can this mean? He presents this to the reader as “…the prayer that will change your eternity.” (p.58) If the creature has the initiative and the power to determine eternity for himself, and therefore to determine eternity for God also, then how can any remotely biblical content attend his notions of “believe” and “receive”? Indeed, it cannot.

We find that as he closes this section of his book he brings us back to the point at which he began it: he urges those who have recited his prayer, and thus have determined for themselves the nature of all eternity, that, “You are now ready to discover and start living God’s purpose for your life.” (p.59) He has told us that we cannot find the purpose of life through speculation, and that we must turn to the “revelation” of God. He does not tell us how the Bible constitutes this revelation exclusively, nor does he compare and contrast general and special revelation, yet continues to speak of man “discovering” what in some sense is “revealed.” Indeed, he presents the story that “all by itself a phrase appeared” in the mind of an atheist as an example of this “discovering.” (p.21) We may, he tells us, discover life’s purpose only as we are in relationship with Christ, but has not told us how the creature may exist without relation to his “creator,” and if this were possible, how the creature may possess the initiative and the power to begin such relationship. He has told us, not that sin brings the sinner under the wrath of God, but that it “disconnects” us from God’s presence (p.28). He has told us that Christ came that we might “fully understand God’s glory” (p.54), that this somehow allows us to have a “fresh start” (p.28) with God, so we might “discover” our purpose. He has told us that “nothing matters more” than our “purpose”, and so “purpose” becomes the “standard” and “foundation” of our lives (p. 30-31). He has told us that our lives constitute the “central fact” giving meaning to the universe (p.24). But, he says, we nevertheless ought not to become too attached to our lives in this world, since life is only an incubation period, after which we die, death actually being a birth into a new life in eternity (p.39). All of the foregoing rides squarely upon speculation and indeed cannot ride elsewhere. It all is involved in the speculation that Mr. Warren claims to reject and has nothing to do with any orthodox idea of revelation. Mr. Warren has left biblically orthodox Christianity so far behind at the close of this section of his book that the studious reader can entertain no anticipation, but only apprehension, for what is to follow.


Anonymous Dave Opperman said...

Score one for the ordinary guy. It's sobering to think of the stranglehold this type of thinking has on modern day Christianity. Aside from Warren's glaring theological error, I'm altogether uncomfortable with how he peddles his merchendise. He encourages readers to keep journals, notebooks, do Purpose-Driven studies, etc, and he'll sell you everything you need to do them! I commend Mr. Mooney for his bold confrontation of Rick Warren's error. I think it would be awesome if Mr. Mooney would follow this up with critiques of Purpose-Driven church, and Purpose-Driven youth ministry.

12:03 AM  

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