The Purpose Driven Life. What On Earth Am I Here For?

By Rick Warren
Grand Rapids : Zondervan (2002). 334 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. James Rosscup
15.2 (Fall 2004) : 272-275

A famous pastor of the booming Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California follows up on his earlier book, The Purpose Driven Church. Laity of many churches have used his 40-day plan, keyed to this latest book’s 40 chapters, and claimed spiritual renewal. The flow is easy to read on aspects of spiritual life, from receiving the Lord initially to developing God-given gifts in service.

A great number of statements offer a healthy, accurate outlook. These Warren crafts in practicality and passion that show the attractiveness of living allout for the Lord. However, many claims need to be thought through soundly and changed to be correct, freed from opinions that do not represent anything that God’s Word says. Warren does not qualify many of his ideas to reflect a reliable balance. Quotes of more than 1,200 verses, conveniently picked from more than a dozen translations or paraphrases often express the author’s arbitrary ideas read in rather than what the verses say. Though much in the lengthy book can be a catalyst for spiritual life, recurring misrepresentations hurt the overall dependability. Unfortunately, this age sometimes gravitates to and is satisfied with the shallow, and many are susceptible to writings that give imbalanced treatments. Easy tolerance is restless about exercising discernment, often falsely claims discernment is unloving or divisive, and jumps on a bandwagon with blithe unawareness or carelessness that approves what misleads.

Still, Warren is rich in the apt and helpful. He sees it as vital to know God and His purpose (17-18). He sharply distinguishes getting success by achieving a goal the world applauds from realizing the purpose God created one to achieve (19, 24-25). People err in being driven by guilt, resentment, fear, materialism, need for approval, and missing the key of God’s purpose (27 -30). The present life is the dress rehearsal before eternity (36). When one lives in light of eternity, values change in the use of money, relationships, character prized over fame, wealth, achievements, and pleasure (38). It is important each day to make it one’s business to prepare for the final day (4 0). Warren rightly says that “faithfulness to God does not guarantee success in a career or even in ministry” (50). Paul was put in prison, and many of the saved were martyred or lost material things (50). But when life is hard for a Christian, it helps to think that he or she is not home yet, for this life is not the end (50-52; cf. 2 Cor 4:18).

Other good points appear. The ultimate goal of the universe is to show God’s glory (53-59, 63), as Jesus did (John 17:4). God will give what a person needs to live for Him (58). A life driven by the purpose of living for eternity has as its focus not “how much pleasure am I getting out of life?” but “how much . . . is God getting . . .?” (76). Warren sees in Rom 12:1 a moment of surrender to serve Christ as Lord and, as in Luke 9:23, also an ongoing daily submission (83-84). This will sometimes mean “doing inconvenient, unpopular, costly, or seemingly impossible tasks” (84), not always what one feels like doing.

A good focus occurs on meditating in God’s Word through the day (90-91), on faith that obeys (95; cf. John 15:14), and on true worship (100-106). One section shows that God can help a believer grow even through seasons of dryness (108-9). Warren feels it crucial to be related to and committed to others in the church (130- 37), and offers good points about restoring broken fellowship in love and in peacemaking ways that foster unity (152-67). Concrete steps discuss how believers grow (179-83). Another uplifting part urges things vital for growth, such as the Word (Acts 20:32), abiding in the Word by accepting its authority, assimilating it, applying it, being transformed by it in a right response to trials, and believers developing fruitfulness by defeating temptations (201). It is also good to see the emphasis of chapters 29–30 on God placing those He saves on earth, each one a servant to Him and to others (229), no one with an insignificant ministry (230), with all held accountable for service (232). Warren shows that God has given abilities (gifts) to all believers, and all can glorify Him as they offer these to Him and to the church unselfishly (242-58). The part on “Thinking Like a Servant” (265-71) makes profitable comments.

Shortsighted misstatements, which abound, could have been avoided. One such claim is that “whenever God wanted to prepare someone for his purposes, he took 40 days” (9). Yes, in a few cases. But Warren should have said “in some cases,” for in many situations 40 days had nothing to do with people’s lives. Romans 8:6 gets misquoted as “obsession with self in these matters is a dead end; attention to God leads us out into the open, into a spacious, free life” (18). The verse mentions death, which offers no hope, quite different from a dead end where one might turn around and try another way. And how does “peace” become lost in favor of “a spacious, free life”? And where is reference to the Spirit? As often, even while sincere, Warren’s recasting into his own rather different words sacrifices the actual or full thought in God’s Word, which is better. One can achieve a helpful reading and be accurate too.

Some passages which in their primary meaning refer to Israel are referred to any person, without clarification. An example is Isa 44:2, where the Lord says He is “your creator” and adds that the people of Israel were in His care before they were born. It is true that God cares for Gentiles also, as those of “all nations” were included in the Abrahamic Covenant (Gen 12:1-3). A further passage referring to Israel (Jer 29:11) is linked with all believers today (31). A little qualifying by Warren on how he derived this (24-25) would help with accuracy about primary meaning of a text and a valid principle having application to other cases.

One man’s opinion or arbitrary rating is rather frequent. An example is, “The greatest tragedy is not death, but life without purpose” (30). Biblically, what can be worse to the unsaved than death without ever having come to salvation? They will face “the second death” (Rev 2:11; 20:12-15; 21:8), an eternity apart from God and bliss, with conscious suffering in “the lake of fire.” And what can be better from the standpoint of believers than God, and being in the New Jerusalem with Him (Rev 21:7)? Also troublesome is Warren’s mislead, “You weren’t put on earth to be remembered. You were put here to prepare for eternity” (33-34). Actually both are true. God’s Word gives examples of people He remembered—e.g., Noah, Abraham in the covenant God made with him, Hannah, David. God remembered and used some believers as special examples, such as Moses and Samuel in prayer (Ps 99:6; Jer 15:1), or Daniel in wisdom (Ezek 28:3). Daniel came up for remembrance before God as “greatly beloved” (Dan 9:23). God remembers to reward people (Mal 3:16; Heb 6:10). Many other details in God’s Word could be added. In some sense God remembers men’s deeds in relation to future reward (2 Cor 5:10).

Some statements reflect an overlooking of aspects in truth. A case is, “Nothing energizes like a clear purpose” (33). What ever happened to God, and more particularly the Holy Spirit, who energizes (Eph 3:16-17)? Warren also says, “It is usually meaningless work, not overwork, that wears us down, saps our strength, and robs our joy” (33). How did he verify his rating of “usually”? Hard work even with a meaningful purpose very often wears people down, and saps their strength, but need not rob their joy. Yet a further example is the claim that God treasures simple acts of obeying “more than our prayers, praise, or offerings” (96), then citing 1 Sam 15:22, “to obey is better than sacrifice.” In that instance, yes, obedience is better if the sacrifice is done in disobedience that makes the sacrifice a sham. Warren does not qualify his statement responsibly. Prayer, praise [and praise is also an aspect of prayer], or offerings are, if done as God wills, obedient acts. Qualifying things would bring the true, balanced situation into focus.

Another instance is Warren’s “There is nothing that God won’t do for the person . . .” (76). There are many things God will not do for a particular person, since He has a differing role and plan for each, so some things He will do for one He will not do for another. A better statement could be, “No good thing will He withhold from them that walk uprightly” (cf. Ps 84:9-11), for God in His knowledge, purpose, and working with each person decides things that are good to give in each unique case.

Often claims fit a biblically illiterate age. Such a case is, God “wants all his lost children found! That’s the whole reason Jesus came to earth” (97). It is one great reason, yet not the whole reason! Jesus also came as King set to fulfill kingdom promises; to give an example of glorifying the Father, of love, and of prayer; to speak further promises of a future kingdom and of heaven and hell; to build His church; to teach holiness; to pray that the Father would send another comforter; and other reasons. It is also more accurate to say that people while still spiritually lost are not yet God’s children, on the contrary they are children of a different father, the devil (John 8:44; 1 John 3:10). The author and editors so often, as here, have let misleading things slide by. Inaccurate, careless words keep cropping up, and they cast a shadow over careful ones. Within its 334 pages, the work covers various good facets in sync with God and His plan. For the undiscerning it can do some good in many ways, but mislead in numerous others. For the discerning, who count as very important interpreting God’s Word along with a life of vital purpose, the book, if used at all, will be used with many responsible cautions. Or it will be bypassed in favor of works that are more often carefully aware and consistently responsible. True, the author’s program has met with rapid church growth, and God’s people should rejoice about any who truly draw close to Him. But crowds at a church or in buying a book do not equate with correctness. Mark that many spiritual movements, evangelical as Warren’s is, or even cults, have had booms in attendance. What way will most fully glorify God? For a great number, it will be a way that keeps a purpose-driven life in much closer harmony with God’s purpose-driven Word.