Day Six - Life Is a Temporary Assignment

In this chapter Mr. Warren takes up the third of three metaphors that he believes the Bible presents as “God’s view of life.” He states, “Life on earth is a temporary assignment.” (p.47) This chapter contains some very good teaching concerning Christian spirituality vs. worldliness, e.g. “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. The abundant life has nothing to do with material abundance, and faithfulness to God does not guarantee success in a career or even in ministry. Never focus on temporary crowns.” (p.50) This is wise and biblical counsel. However, since Mr. Warren’s thinking is not systematic, this counsel does not find a solid place in his overall message.

The Apostle John tells us two things concerning “the world.” In John 3:16 we read, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.” In I John 2:15 we read, “Do not love the world, nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” The term translated world in the original Greek is the same in both verses: kosmos, from which we get our word cosmos. Clearly, there are differing senses in which the Bible uses this term. John 3:16 is speaking about the created order, or the human population of this order, as God originally created it. His great love for His creation is evidenced in His design to accomplish Redemption of it in Christ. I John 2:15 is speaking about the world-system as corrupted in sin, an order of wickedness that has grown up around a nucleus of sin contrary to the original goodness of God’s created order. This is a distinction that seems entirely lost to Mr. Warren. In his eloquent plea for us to pursue true abundance of life, contrary to sinful worldliness, he generalizes an identity between the seen and worldliness, and the unseen and righteousness. This is a very similar line to what we have seen in Day Four: Life is just a dress rehearsal; this life is preparation for the next.

In this chapter Mr. Warren takes this outlook a step further. We are told not only that life is brief in comparison with eternity, but also that “…earth is only a temporary residence. You won’t be here long, so don’t get too attached” (p.47) He further elaborates, “The fact that earth is not our ultimate home explains why, as followers of Jesus, we experience difficulty, sorrow and rejection in this world.” (p.49), and again, “In order to keep us from becoming too attached to earth, God allows us to feel a significant amount of discontent and dissatisfaction in life…” (p.50) The ad. hoc. nature of the foregoing is attested by the fact that on page 24 Mr. Warren already told us a much different story. Let the reader recall that on Day Two we were told, “God was thinking of you even before he made the world. In fact, that’s why he created it!” (p.24) Mr. Warren then went on to quote Dr. Michael Denton, “…the cosmos is a specially designed whole with life and mankind as its fundamental goal and purpose, a whole in which all facets of reality have their meaning and explanation is this central fact,” and immediately added, “The Bible said the same thing thousands of years earlier.” (p.24) Since Mr. Warren’s thinking is not systematic, therefore, he is caught in a tension where on one hand human life is the “central fact” comprising the “fundamental goal and purpose” of the cosmos, and on the other hand we are not to become too attached to this world or this life, and God sees to that by filling our lives with discontent and dissatisfaction.

Mr. Warren’s two ways of looking at life in this world both are wide of their marks and thus require one another as mutually limiting concepts. There is no resolution to this tension because the elements of the tension are misconstrued. On Day Two we corrected Mr. Warren and expounded that Man really is not the “central fact” that gives meaning and explanation to the whole of existence. The “central fact” explaining all things in reality is Creation. Man has his meaning and his place in Creation in terms of the all-comprehensive plan of the Sovereign Creator. On page 24 Mr. Warren grossly over-stated Man’s meaning and place in the Universe. This requires adjustment, such as we now see on pages 47-50. However, what we read on these pages is not a correction, but a compensation. The idea that this life is meant by God to be characterized by sorrow and disappointment does not correct the notion that our lives comprise the central fact giving meaning to the Universe, but stands in a perpetual tension with it. It is not a correction because it, too, is a gross over-statement. These two over-statements compensate and limit one another, and thus require one another. The tension between them is perpetual and unavoidable for anyone whose thinking lacks systematic, biblical rigor. On Day Two we examined the Man as the “central fact” idea. Here let us examine more closely the “don’t get too attached” idea.

According to Mr. Warren, the Bible teaches that we are to relate to life on earth as a foreigner living in a foreign country. He cites Psalm 119:19, where the Psalmist says, “I am a stranger in the earth.” Of course, Mr. Warren chose a paraphrase where the term “foreigner” is used. Out of context, the reader may not appreciate that the Psalmist is driven into the status of a “sojourner” by the wicked who pursue him. He also cites a paraphrase of I Peter 1:17, “If you call God your Father, live out your time as temporary residents on earth,” which bears almost no resemblance to an actual translation, such as NASB, “And if you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each man’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay upon earth.” The view espoused here is perhaps summed up in his citation of James 4:4. The paraphrase he quotes reads, “You’re cheating on God. If all you want is your own way, flirting with the world every chance you get, you end up enemies of God and his way.” A proper translation reads, “You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” Once again a proper understanding of these things requires a proper understanding of Sin, which Mr. Warren has not provided.

It was Sin that made “the world” an enemy of God. It was Sin that made life difficult, sorrowful, and disappointing. “The world,” in the sense of John 3:16, is beloved of God, and His Redemption in Christ saves not only the souls of men, but also their bodies and all of creation (Romans 8:18-23). Being a “friend of the world” in the James 4:4 and I John 2:15 sense is not defined as working for truth, peace, righteousness, justice, beauty, and so forth, in this life in this world; biblically it is understood as sinfully embracing the corruption of the world. As redeemed of God we are aliens vis-à-vis the world of corruption. However, over the world of God’s Redemption we are vice-regents under Christ. Mr. Warren’s view in this chapter arises from a focus upon the individual. If the satisfaction and fulfillment of the individual in his own individual experience is the focus of attention, then it is very difficult indeed to find a way to achieve this in this life in this world. The individual has little hope but to look forward to Eternity. However, the Christian life is not a focus upon the individual. Properly, the individual must see himself as standing in the stream of the People of God and of what He is doing among His people. Great satisfaction and fulfillment derive from materially contributing to this work in God’s Grace. This does not imply that corporate Man is the proper focus of Christianity. Corporate Man vs. the Individual is another way of expressing the same tension as described above. It was Corporate Man who was the “central fact” of Day Two. It is the Individual who is the stranger in a strange land today. This at bottom is a tension of Unity vs. Diversity, or the One and the Many. Outside a fully biblical idea of Creation and Sin, this tension is unavoidable. Man can be understood for who he really is, both in his corporate and individual traits, only as he is held to be the creature of God who is spoiled by sin. Mr. Warren thus far has not brought us this message. As a result we see the inevitable tensions emerging, and in the present example the pendulum has begun to sway between Man and Individual. Sound biblical wisdom does not resolve this tension: it totally dismisses it. If the tension is embraced, then this leads to distortions of biblical wisdom, such as the confusion of the John 3:16 sense of “world” and the I John 2:15 sense that we have seen in this chapter.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. Warren seems to have no qualms with taking hands with other religions to make this world a better place. He once said: Who's the man of peace in any village - or it might be a woman of peace - who has the most respect, they're open and they're influential? They don't have to be a Christian. In fact, they could be a Muslim, but they're open and they're influential and you work with them to attack the five giants. And that's going to bring the second Reformation

Having agreed that life is but a short assignment, he should rather focus on the one great assignment in Matthew 28. Sadly he never expounds the Gospel of salvation in his book.

6:42 AM  

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