The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren


Warren has emerged as one of the best selling authors in Christendom. His first book, The Purpose Driven Church (see our review of this book) has greatly influenced churches throughout the world, due certainly to the fact that the church he pastors, Saddleback Church, is one of the largest churches in America, and a trend setter among new paradigm churches.

There are a number of similarities between The Purpose Driven Church and the book under review at this time. Both, for instance, offer some good sound advice, helpful biblical insight and practical suggestions. And both are riddled with errors throughout. The highly discerning reader can perhaps sift through the wheat and tares and make a good loaf of bread, but most readers, I fear, will swallow the poison along with the substance. Which leads me to ask, “Who is Warren’s audience?” I realize that this book will sell in the millions but I was thoroughly bewildered as to whom the author was trying to connect. If it is a book for the unsaved then he fails, for the gospel is never at anytime clearly presented. The closest he came was when he wrote, “Real Life begins by committing yourself completely to Jesus Christ” (p. 58). In Warren’s gospel no mention is made of sin, repentance or even the Cross. Real life seems to be the reward and lack of real life the problem. The thesis of The Purpose Driven Life is stated, I believe, on page twenty five, “We discover that meaning and purpose only when we make God the reference point of our lives.” Meaning and purpose will be a benefit to the Christian, but they are not the objects of the gospel itself. This is one of the fatal flaws in the market-driven church’s message. If Warren is writing for new believers, which seems the case due to the elementary tone and substance of the whole book, he again misses the mark for he uses many expressions and biblical references that would be unfamiliar to the novice. On the other hand, if he is writing to the mature he has wasted paper, for any semi-well taught believer will be completely bored with this book. So, while much praise will surely be lavished on Purpose Driven, it escapes me as to whom will really benefit.

Be that as it may, I want to give credit where credit is due. Warren writes some good sections on a number of subjects including worship, community, the church, truth and spiritual gifts. If some of these sectors could be isolated from the main body they would make for helpful reading. But when interspersed with any number of erroneous ideas, distortions of Scripture and plain false teaching they are of little value, and may prove dangerous.

As I read this book I began marking these errors in teaching. I found 42 such references, plus 18 out of context passages of Scripture, supposedly used to prove his point, and another 9 distorted translations (one of the most disturbing features is Warren’s use of many translations, ultimately choosing the one that proved his point, no matter how untrue to the original Greek and Hebrew those translations were). Warren is obviously a disciple of pop-psychology, which is littered throughout. One example, “Most conflict is rooted in unmet needs” (p.154). Try to find some Scripture on that. He quoted a wide variety of dubious authors, from Aldous Huxley and Albert Schweitzer to George Barnard Shaw and St. John of the Cross. He apparently believes practicing Roman Catholics are true believers, several times mentioning monks and nuns as Christian examples, and of course the mandatory reference to Mother Teresa (twice).

We could go on but there is not much point. To carefully refute so many of Warren’s thoughts would take a book of equal length. He is not totally off base, and most likely is as evangelical as most evangelicals. Nevertheless when every third page of a book presents either an unbiblical, or at least a biblically unsupportable idea, there is not much sense bothering to read it. And that would be my suggestion – don’t bother.