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Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Rick Warren and the Moral Influence Theory

According to Rick Warren in his The Purpose Driven Life, many of you do not need any more Bible study. That's what he says on p. 231:

The last thing many believers need today is to go to another Bible study. They already know far more than they are putting into practice. What they need are serving experiences in which they can exercise their spiritual muscles.
I couldn't disagree more. The problem many churches face is not an overload of Biblical knowledge, but a deficit of it.

A person could try to explain comments like this one away by saying, "Well, that's not what he meant. He meant that, essentially, faith without deeds is dead." Even if that were the best construction, it is still at best, a sloppy, misleading statement. All of us are prone to making unpolished statements that we later want to clarify. I understand that. Sometimes conservative Christians are guilty of relentless nit-picking, but the quote above is just one of a thousand examples of Warren putting his foot in his mouth, and one of the more benign examples at that.

Here's one that troubled me even more:
If you want to know how much you matter to God, look at Christ wit his arms outstretched on the cross, saying, 'I love you this much! I'd rather die that live without you.'
God is not a cruel slave driver or a bully who uses brute force to coerce us into submission. He doesn't try to break our will, but woos us to himself so that we might offer ourselves freely to him. - p. 79
There are several different ways that theologians have described the work of Christ upon the cross. These are called the theories of the atonement.

One is the Christus Victor theory. This is the notion that by dying and rising, Christ's main feat was to vanquish the devil. It was a cosmic battle and Christ is the victor.

Another theory is the idea of Forensic Justification. This is the view that the cross is chiefly about God the Father acquitting sinners because Jesus, His Son, took their penalty upon Himself.

And a third theory has been called the Moral Influence theory. This is the belief that the cross is mainly God's way of showing us just how deeply He loves us in the hopes that this display of affection will melt our hearts so that we freely embrace Him.

There is, of course, truth to be found in all of these theories. But of the three listed above, the Moral Influence theory is by far the weakest and least biblically attested. And yet, that is the approach Warren uses in the above citation. God does demonstrate His love by means of the cross, but Jesus' death is not a Hallmark card (caring enough to send the very best). It is a blood sacrifice to appease God's wrath for our sin.

The Purpose Driven Life makes some good observations here and there. But it is not a Christ-centered book. The clear gospel message is barely visible, buried and obscured with the anecdotes, principles for living, and rampant scripture quotations twisted from their context.

St. James wrote: Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly (3:1)." Being a pastor of a Christian congregation and writing a book (or blog) puts one in the public eye. Some have said, "Leave the man alone. He meant well. And beside, his book has helped a lot of people." God can use very weak earthen vessels to accomplish His purposes, but that does not excuse a pastor from mis-using and mis-applying Scripture. It would be wrong and pastorally irresponsible not to point errors out.

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Anonymous said...

I recall an illustration offered by
Todd Wilkin on Issues Etc. that he
heard from a pastor (maybe it was a prof., though). Simply put, if someone set 3 glasses before you, one filled with raw sewage, the 2nd
1/2 filled with raw sewage and the
3 rd a glass of clear water to which he added an eyedropper of raw
sewage, which one would you drink?
Obviously, *none* of them. Or, as St. Paul put it, "a little leaven
leaveneth the whole lump".
"TPDL" is poison, plain and simple. Avoid it at all costs, and read instead books like "The Spirituality of the Cross," by Gene Edward Veith or Senkbeil's "Dying to Live".
Sorry to sound so impassioned, but anyone who cannot see how many are being duped by false teachers like Warren,need to "get into the Word"
Big Time!


JMFjr said...

I have come to the opinion over the past few months that the problem with people like Warren and many modern evangelical leader in the US today is that they do not have a high opinion of the Word of God. Of course they will say they do, yet look at their teaching. The Gospel does not produce good works, what produces good works is thier reason and therefore they don't preach too much Christ, but preach what we should be doing, developing our purposes...

Pastor Scott Stiegemeyer said...

Good point.

The Beast said...

This was a well written post and I agree 100%.

devi said...

I believe that the original scripture, interpreted by a learned scholar, is most valuable . In the absence of a learned scholar,(as in the case of Warren)one must choose the original and try to interpret it as best one can with an open heart and mind.

Slick commentaries designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator among us only serve to sully the message.

Pastor Scott Stiegemeyer said...

Devi, I agree. Warren is no scholar of the Bible. He constantly yanks passages out of context and forces them to say things that they do not say. And he only seems to use outlandish paraphrases that give the appearance of supporting his ridiculous ideas.

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