Rick Warren plays the Pharisee card

Rick Warren, CEO of Saddleback Church, yesterday played the Pharisee card. He wrote:

‘It drives Pharisees nuts to watch God keep blessing ministries they ridicule & despise.God’s sovereignty is often humorous.’

What’s the Pharisee card? Good question.

In my quest to become Todd Wilken’s number one fan, please allow me to direct you to his incisive article:

Now, Rick Warren’s proof of the rightness of his position (and that his opponents are wrong) seems to be based on his claim of God’s ‘blessing’. And, as CEO of Saddleback and self-proclaimed disciple of management guru Peter Drucker, he knows how to apply best 21st century management practice to his business. So, it is important for Mr. Warren to be able to quantify this blessing.

How is God’s blessing measured? Well one easy way, in Mr. Warren’s book, is by seeing how much your church grows. A numerically growing church is a blessed church. Saddleback has grown vastly over the last three decades. So, God must be blessing it. And He must approve of their theology and practice. Quod erat demonstrandum.

The only problem with this, and it is just a teensy-weeny one, is that not all growth is good growth.

Measured on the basis of numerical success, Baal-worship was doing pretty well in ancient Israel. (If you are unfamiliar with the story, now would be a good time to read 1 Kings 18.)

All but a remnant of 7,000 people had bowed the knee to Baal. Thus, the 450 prophets of Baal whom Elijah confronted must have been pretty confident of God’s favour. After all, 450–1, that’s pretty good evidence of whose side God is on, right?

At least, it must have seemed that way.

Until Elijah routed the prophets of Baal and had them all executed at Brook Kishon.

It turned out that Elijah was the one who had been listening to (and trusting in) God, after all. He was the real Prophet. The prophets of Baal? They were self-deceived impostors, false prophets with no legitimate place in God’s kingdom.

Which brings us to the question, how does Rick Warren know that God is blessing him and those ministries fashioned after his own?

This might be an appropriate point to remind ourselves of what Christ wrote to the Church of Sardis:

And to the angel of the church in Sardis write, ‘These things says He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars: “I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God. Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you.”

“You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy. He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.”

“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”’

—Revelation 3:1–6, NKJV

A name for being alive doesn’t cut it. Your works must be perfect before God.

Not sure that you can manage perfect works?


You can’t.

But what matters is what Jesus Christ has done for us. And He has lived a perfect life for us, died for us.

But this Gospel message, what Christ has done for us, isn’t what Mr. Warren has been emphasizing. He instead proclaims the need for a New Reformation, this time of ‘Deeds, not Creeds’. (Since this is itself a creed, there is, shall we say, a certain tinge of irony here.)

Rick Warren thus preaches a message of what we must do for Christ. This back-to-front gospel is from the world of Alice Through the Looking Glass.

But, let us consider seriously for one moment this creed of ‘Deeds, not Creeds’. What kind of deeds might God be interested in?

After he fed the five thousand, some of the people came to Jesus and asked exactly this question:

Then they said to Him, ‘What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?’

Jesus answered and said to them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.’

Therefore they said to Him, ‘What sign will You perform then, that we may see it and believe You? What work will You do? Our fathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written, “He gave them bread from heaven to eat.”’

Then Jesus said to them, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, Moses did not give you the bread from heaven, but My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’

Then they said to Him, ‘Lord, give us this bread always.’

And Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen Me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.’

‘This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day. And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.

—John 6:28–40, NKJV

Jesus’ message sounds remarkably like ‘Creeds, not Deeds’. What you believe about Him is everything. What you do? Well, not so much. (Which isn’t to say that what we do isn’t important. But the good works that we do are a fruit of the gospel, not the gospel itself. Never confuse the two.)

Are you believing and trusting in Christ? Yes? Then you ‘have everlasting life’, and He will raise you up ‘at the last day’.

The work that God would have you do is to believe in His Son. To trust in Him for the forgiveness of your sins. To trust in His perfect, righteous life put to your account. His death in your place for your sins. You give God glory by believing in His glorious Son.

The problem with Mr. Warren’s doctrine of ‘Deeds, not Creeds’ is thus obvious: it directly contradicts what Jesus taught.

This is why many Online Discernment Ministries (ODMs) and have for years been questioning Mr. Warren’s doctrine and practice. And perhaps, just perhaps, they might now be getting a little under his skin.

One of the two tweets Mr. Warren made immediately prior to playing the Pharisee card was:

“Father,thank u for hiding the truth from those who think themselves so wise&clever,&revealing it to the CHILDLIKE”Mt11:25

Doesn’t he sound somewhat defensive? I pray that the Holy Spirit troubles his conscience. May the Lord have mercy upon him and grant him repentance and faith in Christ for the forgiveness of all his sin, including his false gospel.

Finally, here is the other tweet that he made before playing the Pharisee card:

It takes ALL kinds of churches to reach all kinds of people. If Jesus is honored & lives transformed, I like how you do it!

It is encouraging that Mr. Warren appreciates the value of all kinds of churches.

Except, of course, those that call him out on his unsound doctrine and practice. No, they’re simply full of Pharisees. Aren’t they?


For over two years, I have refrained from naming names and making negative posts on this blog. This article marks a shift from that policy.

Why the change?

Because Rick Warren and his Leadership Network partners are responsible for immense damage to the Body of Christ.

And now, rather than respond to his critics with a Biblical defence of his position, he has resorted to the playground tactic of name-calling. The gospel is too important for this to go unchallenged. People’s eternal destinies are at stake.

15 thoughts on “Rick Warren plays the Pharisee card”

  1. Rick Warren tweeted: “It takes ALL kinds of churches to reach all kinds of people. If Jesus is honored & lives transformed, I like how you do it!”

    I wonder if that counts for churches that criticize Rick’s fake church model?

  2. Dan,
    Great post, very well said. Many blessings brother, thanks for helping sound the alarm against the purpose driven, seeker sensitive madness!!!

  3. I have edited this article to change the word teaching to emphasizing in the paragraph that starts:

    ‘But this Gospel message, what Christ has done for us, isn’t what Mr. Warren has been teaching emphasizing.’

    Whilst I stand by my original wording with respect to the overall content and thrust of Mr. Warren’s teaching, I don’t wish to imply that Mr. Warren has never proclaimed what Christ has done for us.

    This change might have the effect of slightly softening the force of my article, but my primary concern is for truth and accuracy, not rhetorical effect.

    In case anyone was wondering, no, no one raised this issue with me. But if anyone does notice any discrepancies between what I have written and what is demonstrably true, please let me know.

  4. This article is fab. 🙂

    Pharisee card, yep. I’ve heard that one too – and its variation “the Legalist card”. This post reminds me of something I heard Paul Washer say one time – that if and when Christians are persecuted in this country, they won’t be persecuted for their faith in Christ, no – but they’ll be persecuted as bigots, haters, people who hate the baby seals, etc.

    Or maybe… Pharisees.

    1. Tiffany, good point – the legalist accusation is exactly the same tactic. And you win bonus points for mentioning Paul Washer 🙂

      Oh, and baby seals. LOL.

  5. There was a time (not so long ago) that I was under the false impression that the size and growth of a church, was indicative of “how they were doing” spiritually. In other words, how much fruit were they producing. And then one day, the Holy Spirit impressed upon my heart something that stopped me in my tracks, and turned me around from that thinking. It’s not the *quantity* of fruit, but the *quality* of fruit. Talk about an epiphany!

    1. Precisely, Eli. A true or false teacher is identified by whether he bears good or bad fruit (Matt. 7:15–23), not by the quantity of fruit produced.

      Thanks for visiting and leaving a comment!

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