By Lee Hemen
August 22, 2008
You may or may not agree with me about Rick Warren, however, he has a problem that just will not go away. He desires to take the middle ground theologically and thereby gain the respect of everyone. Usually those who stay in the middle of the road, get run over. Recently, he moderated a question and answer debate between McCain and Obama. According to Richard Olivastro “the idea for the forum did not originate with Warren or his Saddleback Church. Rather, the idea came from the liberal social justice group, Faith in Public Life, the event’s other co-sponsor. Pressed with questions, Warren insisted that he, and the questions he planned to ask, would not be influenced by Meg Riley, Faith in Public Life board president, or the groups other board members which ‘include other theological liberals, among them pro-abortion Muslim and Jewish leaders’. Riley, a Unitarian Universalist minister, previously ran the denominations homosexual advocacy office.”
Herein displays the problematic self-positioning of Warren. He is a self-proclaimed schmoozer that loves to be liked. And it has become so much a part of his personality that he cannot escape its effects on his theological worldview. Whereby most conservative evangelicals would never think of going into partnership with an extremely theologically liberal group like Faith in Public Life, Warren sees them as a kind of a means to an end. Kind of like those boys at the San Francisco zoo who got mauled and one killed by a tiger they had deliberately provoked. They wanted a result and got one, just not the one they wanted. Oddly, I frankly believe Warren actually thinks this approach makes him more like Jesus and gives him a purpose in life. However, as hard as I have tried I have never found this concept in any of the New Testament, nor do I discover Jesus responding to people this way or basing His theology on this methodology. The provoked tiger has come back to bite Warren in his theological rear already several times for past statements and positions. When questioned, curiously, his own reasoning is rather lame, sounding more like excuses from a petulant child than theological reasoning.
What causes me to pause is the fact that I honestly believe Warren is trying to become the next Billy Graham, and thereby become, he thinks, the soul of evangelicals in America. When this is brought up by others, he smiles and changes the subject. (By the way, I am not the first to recognize this about Warren.) He would like to see all churches molded after his corporate purpose-driven model and for good or bad many have been sucked into his purpose-driven golden arches approach. The results of which are already being theologically felt throughout America and are now influencing Christianity worldwide. Sadly, not always in a very good way. Because of his influence many neo-Christian groups claiming themselves as “emergent” have come into being because of Warren’s own Ptolemaic teaching. His adherents have taken him at his theological word and formed churches that are mere shadows of orthodoxy. Church is now seen as a personal comfort zone, a place of spiritually enlightened entertainment for the worldly-minded masses, and a means of feel good service for a few. Jesus is seen as a “way” of life rather than a relationship that changes you completely. You “discover yourself” in Jesus. Congregations have often become mini coliseums for the bored Roman crowds wanting to see a really good show on Sunday to help them feel great for the week ahead. A self-defined inner self-satisfied spirituality is seen as an end all in of itself instead of the worship of God above all things and the life-changing experience it is meant to be. Much of the now chanting Starbucks-sipping hoard is not even Christian, and you have to cater to the crowd each weekend in order to get them back next week at the same time and at the same channel or the tiger will turn on you and eat you.
While I agree with many of the ideals Warren expresses in wanting to help the poor, desiring the church to be motivated right where it is, getting involved in more social issues, and that people should have a purpose in life – I just do not necessarily adhere to how Warren desires to take us all there. The danger is that his brand of theology feeds the ego of the spiritually shallow American. Those who simply show up become the mind slaves of the Warren empire whereby he pockets their money and puts it to good use. The few who float above the religious flotsam see him as a bigger than life figure, which he proudly admits he is. What happens when the crowd gets bored? The answer is you have to provide a bigger and better show. More tigers. What happens when not every church agrees to his concept of worldwide evangelism? His crusade stalls and the circus has to find new audiences. What happens if his theology comes back to bite him? He ignores it, smiles, slaps a bandage on it and thinks everyone else has spiritual problems. What happens when the majority never find true faith in Christ? Warren will be held responsible, just as all evangelicistic hucksters are. However, the big question is this: What happens if the church follows him and ends up like most mainline denominations today that are spiritually dead and dying? Few generation-nexters remember that these groups also had a popular theological guru and his name was Norman Vincent Peale. They now suffer because of his convoluted impact. Warren and emergents alike!
Warren, like Peale was, is a bestselling author, a great speaker, a dynamic individual, and I believe a man with a purpose. But how and where he wants the Christian church to go may not be where God desires it, and it could not just come prowling back to bite him but also a spiritually lazy evangelical Christianity that was willing to follow wherever Rick Warren leads. While not a tiger, Satan constantly “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8) He loves those who think they have all the answers. I just pray the church isn’t fooled into following a crowd into a tiger’s den.
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