Pastor Bob DeWaay’s visit to ask Rick Warren to preach Christ

Bob DeWaay is pastor at Twin City Fellowship in Minnesota, and founder of Critical Issues Commentary. He is also the author of the superb book Redefining Christianity: Understanding the Purpose Driven Life Movement.

In May of 2008, Pastor DeWaay went (at Rick Warren’s invitation) to Saddleback Church. In his account of this visit, Pastor DeWaay nails the only two things that the church offers that people cannot obtain elsewhere:

The final point that I made concerned building a ministry on general revelation (what can be observed in nature as opposed to specific revelation, which is only found in Scripture). I said, “You cannot have a new reformation grounded in general revelation.” His response was, “But Jesus told us to do good works.” My response back was that Christians doing good works do not appear any different than people of other religions doing good works. I then said that the only two things the church has to offer that people cannot get anywhere else are salvation and sanctification. Neither of those can be gained through general revelation.

Pastor DeWaay’s full report of the visit concisely summarises the main problems with Purpose Drivenism. You can read it here:

9 thoughts on “Pastor Bob DeWaay’s visit to ask Rick Warren to preach Christ”

  1. Thank you for this excellent resource. I find many people respond to me with a blank stare whenever I bring up PDL as being unsubstantial (at best) and heretical at core. Still so many are unaware of the level of deception that is afoot in Christendom.

  2. I practiced the strategy of asking specific, direct questions and requesting Bible preaching and teaching myself when I met with Rick Warren several years ago. As soon as I got a chance, I pleaded with him to “preach Christ.” Then I proceeded to preach Christ to him to make sure he understood what I meant. I specifically mentioned that people needed to be warned about God’s wrath against sin and the need for the blood atonement. He did not answer. History since then has shown that the plea fell on deaf ears. Gospel preaching is not part of Warren’s PEACE plan.How the Church Growth Movement Drives the Gospel out of Churches (emphasis mine)

    Even up until the present time I believe Rick Warren is still NOT proclaiming the whole Gospel of the LORD Jesus Christ. He proclaims his false Purpose Driven™ Life gospel every opportunity he gets. I think Mr. DeWaay’s pleas have fallen upon deaf ears? Rick Warren cannot see, how blind are those who cannot see, who do not want to see. He has oh so much to lose. God help him.

  3. UGGGH! I am not sure of the wisdom here of continuing to defend Warren, especially in light of the “I get it” position that I take in regards to what people see as the error of his and others ways. I would like to take a different tact, if I may. I would like to give my version of “how we got here.” I still have great sympathy for Warren as a man mightily used by God in this era. And I will make a brief effort to help you see how he got to an ‘untenable position’ and yet how I believe that his position is justified and in our ‘church culture’ even useful. I will make assumptions and they are open to your warm critique as you see fit.

    As a point in passing, I thought brother DeWaay’s post was, well, troubling. Primarily because he refuses to let Warren define for himself, publicly, who he is. And when he does he dismisses his “conservative orthodox theology” as ‘hidden’. Whatever. For that reason, his witness is not credible in my view. And to act like Warren wouldn’t completely agree with his summary of the Gospel is embarrassing. I tried to imagine myself being Warren and hearing these men lecture him on the gospel as if he didn’t know it. Painful. And to pick on you, it isn’t very discerning of you my brother not to critique this gentleman’s post. It is filled with presumption and hubris. Ah well…

    Here’s how I think we got here… and here is a big hint, this is heading missional. 🙂

    Presup: The church (loosely defined as a gathering of saints) is by definition for saints and not for the lost. So evangelism, though the work of the church, is not the role of ‘Sunday morning’. Sunday is about worship and edifying and equipping.

    Presuming I’m close on the above statement, that is clearly not how everybody else sees it. Sunday morning (enter the ‘alter call’ here) is for many churches in our country the primary place where evangelism happens. Pastors all over our country enjoin their members to invite the lost to ‘church’ so they can hear the gospel and be saved. Given that as a reality then what follows is this precarious teeter totter. Al Mohler described it well but didn’t finish. We want to get the lost to ‘church’ (the American version of this word that I am now using is ‘the meeting on Sunday morning’). So in order to get them there I have to attract them. And to attract them I do all manner of things… music style, media, building appeal and even welcome them with fresh coffee. The idea here is based on this: I want to get the lost to church. Everything else follows. As you know, having understood Warren’s ministry from his point of view, he has the small group ministry and his Wednesday meeting for believers and Sunday a.m. for an intentionally mixed crowed. That’s how he ‘balanced the ball’.

    Here’s the problem with the ‘Sunday is for saints’ crowd, in my opinion. Just like Mohler said about the seekers guys ‘it doesn’t work (pragmatism btw), and they many times don’t get around to the gospel’. You probably know what I mean, but I’ll break it down for the others. If the critique on seekers is that they are misusing Sunday morning as a place for evangelism and using all manner of bait and switch methods to get you to hear the gospel, the critique on the other side must surely be (especially in our time) that the gathered saints on Sunday spend all their time edifying on another and have not a bit of evangelistic zeal or fruit outside the building, in their communities.

    Both are hyperbole’s of reality but both are surely representative of it.

    Enter missional: What the missional church is trying to do is address this very problem. It seeks (ours at least) to edify the saints in small group and corporate gatherings while placing major emphasis on bringing the gospel to our communities, beginning with the poor.

    Where have I missed it?

    BC

    1. Hi Bobby 🙂

      Forgive my rather tardy response. I have been very busy with work. I also wanted to take a little while to ponder your comments before I answered them.

      As a point in passing, I thought brother DeWaay’s post was, well, troubling. Primarily because he refuses to let Warren define for himself, publicly, who he is. And when he does he dismisses his “conservative orthodox theology” as ‘hidden’. Whatever. For that reason, his witness is not credible in my view.

      I really am not seeing Pastor DeWaay’s post in the same light as you. Far from refusing to let Warren define himself, I see DeWaay looking behind the facade of superficial doctrinal statements to the content of what Rick Warren actually teaches in his books, lectures, sermons and so forth. Of course, I have read DeWaay’s book on Purpose Drivenism, so I perhaps have a slightly more complete feel for where he is coming from.

      And to act like Warren wouldn’t completely agree with his summary of the Gospel is embarrassing. I tried to imagine myself being Warren and hearing these men lecture him on the gospel as if he didn’t know it. Painful. And to pick on you, it isn’t very discerning of you my brother not to critique this gentleman’s post. It is filled with presumption and hubris. Ah well…

      Again, I have a different interpretation of what DeWaay says. He appeals to Rick Warren to ‘preach Christ’, and then says ‘To make sure he understood what I meant, I shared the gospel itself according to the four points I use in my own sermons.’

      Pastor DeWaay wasn’t saying anything there about whether or not Rick Warren understood the Gospel, but was merely clarifying what he (Bob DeWaay) and Chris meant by ‘preaching Christ’.

      This was a necessary defining of terms, and I don’t think that Bob and Chris could have made their appeal to Rick to ‘preach Christ’ unless they had first defined precisely what they meant by that. Nor could they have meaningfully answered Rick’s question as to why they were opposing him with the response, ‘Our answer was that we did not hear him publicly preach Christ in a forthright manner.’

      Chris, Bob and Rick are all widely read, and well used to the good scholarly practice of defining one’s terms up-front. I don’t therefore think that what was said would have been intended, or received, as condescension.

      Presup: The church (loosely defined as a gathering of saints) is by definition for saints and not for the lost. So evangelism, though the work of the church, is not the role of ‘Sunday morning’. Sunday is about worship and edifying and equipping.

      I agree. But let me nuance this. I would define the ministry of the Word (as I am sure you would too) much more broadly than ‘Sunday mornings’. If I may, I should like to include here my prior comments to you on Ephesians 4 – they are helpful in clarifying what I understand the church and the ministry of the Word to be for.

      I also want to say that Law and Gospel should always be being proclaimed when we gather together as church. And that message will be relevant for any unbelievers who happen to be present (even if they don’t understand absolutely everything), as well as for the believers towards whom it is primarily directed.

      Thus, in one sense (proclaiming the Good News to the lost), evangelism is not the goal of our gathering together, in that we do not assemble primarily for the direct benefit of unbelievers. But, in another sense (proclaiming the Good News to all those gathered), evangelism is very much the goal, because the Good News of the forgiveness of sins in Christ will be preached in some way or another for the benefit of those present.

      Presuming I’m close on the above statement, that is clearly not how everybody else sees it.

      Yes, this is true. For example, take a look at this video, around the 3:00 mark. Steven Furtick says this:

      If you know Jesus, I am sorry to break it to you, this Church is not for you.

      ‘Yeah, but I just gave my life to Christ last week at Elevation.’

      Last week, was the last week that Elevation Church existed for you. You’re in the army now.

      There is so much wrong here (especially if you watch the entire video). But, it does illustrate the point that there are those who see the church as existing, not even primarily, but exclusively for unbelievers. Ultimately, of course, I’d say that the Church exists for the Glory of God. But it is there to equip and edify believers toward that end.

      Sunday morning (enter the ‘alter call’ here) is for many churches in our country the primary place where evangelism happens. Pastors all over our country enjoin their members to invite the lost to ‘church’ so they can hear the gospel and be saved.

      I rather think that much confusion arises from the mistaken idea that the proclamation of Law and Gospel is relevant only to unbelievers. But, of course, it is something that everyone needs to hear – believer and unbeliever alike.

      The preaching of Law shows us our sin and our very much present need of a Saviour. And the Gospel placards the only Saviour, and His wonderful work on our behalf. Thus, we believers are continually reminded not to depend upon our own works, but only to trust in Christ and His finished work on the cross. This Christian life of ours is therefore one of ongoing repentance and trusting in Christ alone for the forgiveness of our sins and favour before God. And this life is sustained by the regular preaching of the Gospel.

      And it is the same message of Law and Gospel through which unbelievers are brought to repentance and true faith.

      Incidentally, since you mention the altar call, you might find the book The Graham Formula (available as a free PDF for evaluation) to be an interesting (and perhaps discomforting) history of how that innovation came into being.

      Given that as a reality then what follows is this precarious teeter totter. Al Mohler described it well but didn’t finish. We want to get the lost to ‘church’ (the American version of this word that I am now using is ‘the meeting on Sunday morning’). So in order to get them there I have to attract them. And to attract them I do all manner of things… music style, media, building appeal and even welcome them with fresh coffee. The idea here is based on this: I want to get the lost to church. Everything else follows.

      Yes, this is a reasonable summary of the seeker-sensitive movement’s motivations. The desire (to see the lost saved) is good, and to be commended.

      But the problem of that movement’s methods arises from two related doctrinal errors. First, its failure to understand the total depravity of the fallen nature and hence man’s utter inability to do anything positive in matters of salvation. Second, its lack of confidence both in the sovereignty of God, and in the means He has provided to bring people to repentance and faith, namely, the preaching of Christ crucified for sinners and raised from the dead. (In the light of the Steven Furtick video above, the tragic irony of the seeker-sensitive movement’s errors arising from faulty doctrine should not be missed.)

      Rather than trusting in God’s sovereignty in matters of salvation, and believing what He says about the power of the Gospel, we want to ‘help’ God by attempting to do ourselves the work that is properly the prerogative of the Holy Spirit.

      This demonstration of unbelief stems from a faulty understanding of the fallen nature – we think that people are seeking God, and need only to be enticed to believe. And so we attempt to make the church attractive to the world, to bring these people within our midst. Yet Scripture tells us that, absent God’s work in us, we hate Him and have desperately wicked hearts. No one seeks God. (As Paul Washer says, there is only one Seeker and He is Jesus Christ.) And rather than being sick from sin and in need only a little good advice and bandaging of wounds, unbelievers are in fact dead, utterly incapable of responding positively to the Gospel unless the Holy Spirit first makes them alive through the hearing of His Word.

      As you know, having understood Warren’s ministry from his point of view, he has the small group ministry and his Wednesday meeting for believers and Sunday a.m. for an intentionally mixed crowed. That’s how he ‘balanced the ball’.

      If you were to dig into the content of the Wednesday meetings, I suspect you might be rather disappointed…

      Here’s the problem with the ‘Sunday is for saints’ crowd, in my opinion. Just like Mohler said about the seekers guys ‘it doesn’t work (pragmatism btw), and they many times don’t get around to the gospel’. You probably know what I mean, but I’ll break it down for the others. If the critique on seekers is that they are misusing Sunday morning as a place for evangelism and using all manner of bait and switch methods to get you to hear the gospel, the critique on the other side must surely be (especially in our time) that the gathered saints on Sunday spend all their time edifying on another and have not a bit of evangelistic zeal or fruit outside the building, in their communities.

      Both are hyperbole’s of reality but both are surely representative of it.

      There is truth to your observations. But the opposites you describe are actually symptoms of the same underlying problem: unbelief in God’s sovereignty and in the power of the proclaimed Gospel.

      Enter missional: What the missional church is trying to do is address this very problem. It seeks (ours at least) to edify the saints in small group and corporate gatherings while placing major emphasis on bringing the gospel to our communities, beginning with the poor.

      Now, we’ve discussed this before, and I admire what guys like you are trying to do. Yes, we should reach out in practical ways to those around us – and I should love to see our churches doing much more of this. As Paul says, ‘Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.’ (Gal. 6:10)

      But what you say about ‘placing major emphasis on bringing the gospel to our communities’ is key – and this is fundamentally about the proclamation of a message, not the doing of deeds.

      And that is perhaps where I start to find the term ‘missional’ not to be particularly helpful. As even Ed Stetzer (the go-to guy for all things missional) says: ‘I think that missional is like a Rorschach Test for many people.’ And he rather proves his point in his series of quite lengthy articles seeking to define the ‘Meanings of Missional’.

      Thus, ‘missional’ means different things to different people.

      If it means ‘proclaiming the Gospel of Christ crucified for sinners and raised from the dead’ to those who are around us, then I am all for it.

      But to some people it means ‘bringing the gospel to the people around us by loving them in practical ways’. And, although I am all for loving the people like that, doing so is not, by itself, to bring them the Gospel. For the Gospel is a message to be proclaimed.

      And so, rather than ‘enter missional’, I think I’d rather say, ‘enter the proclaimed Gospel’. Let us get back to the sovereignty of God in matters of salvation, understanding that every person who repents and comes to faith in Christ is a living miracle of God that demonstrates His mighty power. And let us have confidence in the means He has provided for bringing people to faith, the hearing of the Word of God. Let us therefore boldly proclaim Christ crucified for sinners such as us!

      Where have I missed it?

      Ah, now, I’m not sure you’ve missed anything, except perhaps a little charity in your interpretation of Pastor DeWaay’s piece 🙂

      Once again, thank you for your thought-provoking comments.

      1. Thanks again for your kind response, let me clarify at least one point.

        You replied, “But the problem of that movement’s methods arises from two related doctrinal errors. First, its failure to understand the total depravity of the fallen nature and hence man’s utter inability to do anything positive in matters of salvation. Second, its lack of confidence both in the sovereignty of God, and in the means He has provided to bring people to repentance and faith, namely, the preaching of Christ crucified for sinners and raised from the dead.”

        I am contending that it is possible, and in fact is a reality, that many churches and elders believe precisely those two doctrines just as you have stated them (and even if you disagree here, please stay with me and concede the point for the sake of hearing the next, I didn’t want to use hypotheticals) and still are attraction oriented. The reason they are attraction oriented is that they believe (at least in part and surely in practice) that “church” is an event two or three times a week. You bring the lost “to church”, you evangelize the “at church” you baptize them “at church” you disciple them “at church”. All that meaning “the building”. Hence the unwitting error. Once the building, and even deeper and worse, the institution gets confused with the ‘gathered people of God’ all manner of error exists. I never thought the lost sought God when I was attraction oriented. I was sure they didn’t, yet I and countless others believed that the building was the especially graced placed where the ‘captive audience’ (lost among saints) would best hear the gospel proclaimed to his hopeful conversion.

        It wasn’t that I wasn’t confident in the gospel as being the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes, it was that I wasn’t confident in the saints to do the work of an evangelist in their daily lives and they weren’t confident that they would ‘get it right’ etc. So I and others trained them, albeit unwittingly, to “bring the lost to the pastor” and the pastor is “at church”. I think the statistics that I have quoted much is that only ten percent of people who profess faith say that their ‘Damascus road’ happened “at church”. And this is why Futrick (symptomatic of a generation of pastors btw) says that the church isn’t for us, its for them. That statement is a reaction to “the church” (the building and all its activities) is for us and damn the damned.

        I think a favorite book of mine would be if someone would write an ecclesiology of our era based solely on observation. The conclusions would be staggering and frightful.

        To summarize, I think that some believe the doctrine of the sovereignty of God and the doctrine of depravity and still are attraction oriented.

        On missional: Let me be clear what I mean by it. It is the church living out Luke 10:1-10. Matthew’s has a parallel passage (9:35-10:15). I use Luke’s because of emphasis on pattern and I believe the pattern is important for the implied and stated reasons in the text. Note especially that Jesus did not have his disciples lead with proclamation (although Matt 10:7, says “as you go proclaim”). And as a matter of interest some didn’t even receive proclamation if they rejected the kindnesses that preceded it.

        On DeWaay, I appreciate you giving him the benefit of the doubt. I try to do the same with Warren.

        As always, you have been helpful and gracious.
        BC

        1. Hi Bobby,

          I fully accept your thesis that there are some congregations who believe in the sovereignty of God and the doctrine of depravity, and yet are still attraction oriented. Their practice is certainly inconsistent with their doctrine, and I daresay your analysis of why that might be also holds water – but then we are all messy and inconsistent human beings with varying flaws. (Sometimes it is easier for us to see the speck in someone else’s eye than the plank in our own – something I certainly need to be wary of.)

          And yet, if (and it is a big if) the Gospel is being preached properly, the desire to bring people to the gathered church to hear that Gospel is not an idea without merit.

          Of course, I am completely with you when it comes to seeing the local church as the people who have been saved (and who fellowship together), rather than as a building, location or institution.

          And thank you again for your restatement of what you mean by ‘missional’ – I think I recall discussing Luke 10 with you before, but my memory does go a little hazy as time passes 🙂

          Incidentally, ‘missional’ is one of those words that I want to like, as I believe in mission, and I believe in being church in (but not of) the world (cf. John 17). It’s just that the morass of conflicting definitions ruins it for me. But, I’m very happy for someone else to pick a good, Biblically-sound definition of ‘missional’ and run with it – nothing wrong at all in that, and much to be commended.

          Peace and grace to you, my dear brother in Christ.

  4. Well said, Bobby. Well said.

    Back in the 60’s and 70’s fundamentalist (in the sense of practice, not necessarily orthodoxy) preachers found great pleasure in blasting Billy Graham for his methods. My wife heard her pastor call him “anti-Christ”.

    But I well remember a professor in the fundamentalist college I attended say, “When I’ve won as many people to Christ then I can be critical of him.”

    There’s something about someone holding orthodox beliefs yet daring to introduce “strange” methods that riles the old guard. Too bad.

    I had a couple resign from membership in our church today because we are Purpose Driven. However, those purposes are nothing like DeWaay describes, because he doesn’t get it. But God’s timing is impeccable. As their letter sat in my mailbox I was explaining to a “seeker” couple and their son how God loved them enough to send Jesus to come and die for their sins so they might become children of God.

    Guess what? Because one of our purposes is evangelism, this couple had been hearing the Gospel. They had visited many churches in our community trying to find truth for their empty lives. And when I told them they could be forgiven of their sins and know their eternity was settled for them at the cross they believed it. All three of them.

    It’s totally amazing how God continues to save the lost at our heretical church through the witness of our flock out in the community and the preaching of the Gospel when we gather for worship. Why would He do that?

    Either He is inconsistent or we’re on His team. Which is it?

    1. Rick, faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God. If the Gospel – Christ crucified for our sins and raised from the dead – is being preached clearly, then I rejoice. My criticism is where the Gospel is not being preached, or where it is being obfuscated and confused with things that are not the Gospel.

      And yes, it is totally amazing how God continues to save the lost even when we get things horribly wrong. But that’s because God is gracious, and because salvation is His work, not ours.

  5. Rick, I am concerned with any church that embraces the label Purpose Driven, because I believe that methodology is rooted in a fundamentally flawed anthropology (doctrine of man) and pragmatism. But I have no knowledge of your church or its practices, so I wouldn’t try to critique anything specific you do.

    I need to point out a problem in your last question, though, because it’s illustrative of the mindset that comes from using pragmatism (i.e. “if it works, God is with it) as a justification for anything in the church, which is a large part of Dr. Warren’s approach. Your premises seem to be:

    P1: God disapproves of Purpose-Driven methodology.
    P2: People are coming to salvation through Purpose-Driven methods, which shows His approval of them.

    And your conclusion is that either P1 is wrong, or both P1 and P2 are true, so God is inconsistent.

    I’m guessing we all disagree that God is inconsistent (per Heb 13:8, Jas 1:17, and many others), so you’ve created a dilemma in saying “Either God is inconsistent or we’re on His team.” I believe your dilemma is false, however; your error is the implicit assumption of pragmatism in P2.

    Let’s assume for a moment that P2 is true: If people are being saved, then God is approving the methods used to spread the message. Logically, the contrapositive of a statement must have the same truth value as the statement. So: If people are not being saved, then God is not approving the methods used to spread the message. From my reading of Purpose Driven Church, that seems to be a statement with which Dr. Warren would agree.

    But what do you do with the OT examples of Jeremiah or Ezekiel, both of whom served God faithfully, delivering his word, but with little result (and God told them that would be the case before they began!)? What of Jesus in John 6, where his “hard” message caused many of his disciples to stop following him?

    Much more could be said here, but I assert these examples disprove the statement. Pragmatism cannot justify accepting or rejecting a method, because it’s not biblical to interpret God’s will based on results.

    But even if P2 isn’t valid, we’re still left with how to explain the blessed salvation of people using supposedly bad methods. How is that possible?

    Daniel has already given you the best answer by affirming God’s grace in working when and how He wills, and in underlining that salvation is monergistic: God does all the work, to His glory. Given that, P2 with its focus on human methodology doesn’t need to stand, and only adds confusion. There is no contradiction, there is only the appearance of one to those who want to insist on a pragmatic evaluation of method.

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