Ortberg, a teaching pastor at Willow Creek Community Church, published The Life You’ve Always Wanted in 1997 and expanded it in 2002. The book provides a good taste of the style and content of the teaching at Willow Creek and its many clones. Concerning style Ortberg is entertaining, interesting and enjoyable. He uses freely and well numerous stories and illustrations that present his understanding of the Christian life as inviting.
As for content much of what Ortberg offers is helpful, practical and biblical. The book, however, is heavily laced with the teachings, and teachers, of mysticism and Roman Catholic traditions and rituals. The authors he draws from and quotes are a virtual Who’s—Who of mystics both past and present:
Richard Foster (pp. 9, 81, 100, 112, 113, 143)
Dallas Willard (pp. 10, 27, 35, 43, 52, 66, 92, 106)
St. John of the Cross (pp. 36, 157)
Thomas Kelly (pp. 76, 140, 150)
Thomas Merton (pp. 85, 95, 96)
Henri Nouwen (PP. 86, 99, 158, 161, 180)
Julian of Norwich (p. 91)
George Fox (p. 142)
Ignatius of Loyola (p. 142)
The Desert Fathers (pp. 171, 180)
Francois Fenelon (p. 173)
Madame Guyon (p. 186)
In addition, there are assorted liberals and Roman Catholic leaders that he quotes positively including:
James Dunn (p. 31)
G. K. Chesterton (p. 61)
Mother Teresa (pp. 66-68)
Carl Jung (p. 77)
Tony Campolo (p. 104)
Pope John XXIII (pp. 124, 207)
Soren Kierkegaard (pp. 11, 175, 218)
And as expected, since this book is about “spiritual disciplines for ordinary people,” there is much borrowed from Roman Catholic tradition, especially from the mystical wing (pp. 44, 54, 98, 102, 131, 201).
Ortberg is interested in Christians being transformed into Christlikeness—this is highly commendable. But he sees the means of this transformation as the mystical practices that finds their roots not in Scripture but in the rituals and techniques developed mostly in early Roman Catholicism. In addition, being open to and obeying supposed extrabiblical instructions from God are absolutely essential for spiritual transformation (p. 143). According to the author it is essential that the believer learn to discern the extrabiblical voice of God (pp. 140-154).
What good can be gleaned from The Life You’ve Always Wanted is poisoned by the false teachings and emphases which are predominant throughout. Ortberg is taking his readers not back to Scripture but to Roman Catholic mysticism. Yet, Joseph Stowell, former president of Moody Bible Institute and now president of Cornerstone University, can endorse the book on the back cover with these words, “John, in his winsome ‘let’s sit down and talk about this’ style, has crafted a powerful convicting book on the process of spiritual transformation.” I find this endorsement an amazing indictment on the condition of evangelicalism today.