I’ve been reading a Lutheran Critique: Rick Warren’s The Purpose Drive Life (PDF, or see an HTML version), following Chris Rosebrough’s glowing recommendation. It really is an incisive review, even if I have yet to be persuaded from Scripture of the Lutheran view of infant Baptism that it espouses at one point. But it would be churlish to fault a Lutheran minister for proclaiming Lutheran doctrine.
The author, Steven R. J. Parks, contrasts the Biblical view of sanctification with that presented by the Purpose Driven Life. He writes:
Thus, man cooperates in his sanctification, but only insofar as he is involved in it. God begins, continues, and completes His work in the redeemed. We do not take the initiative, nor are we even equal partners in the endeavor. Instead, our cooperation is passive, inasmuch as “it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13).
For Warren, however, man-initiated obedience is the key to fellowship with our Lord: “However, Jesus made it clear that obedience is a condition of intimacy with God.” It is important, according to Warren, “Because it proves you really love him.” So the biblical saints, such as Mary, act as examples for us: “God chose Mary to be the mother of Jesus, not because she was talented or wealthy or beautiful, but because she was totally surrendered to him.” Thus, we are told, if we want God’s blessing on our lives, we must likewise be obediently surrendered, manifesting the beatitudes: “If you want God’s blessing on your life and you want to be known as a child of God, you must learn to be a peacemaker.” Failure to do so may result in judgment: “I lose fellowship with God…I set myself up to be judged by God.”
Steven Parks goes on with a devastating (and carefully footnoted) indictment of the guidance given in the Purpose Driven Life to would-be godly Christians:
So Warren presents readers with the following “simple” instructions: discovering the three insights into your purpose, ascertaining the five reasons to live a purpose-driven life, applying the three metaphors of God’s view of life, learning God’s five purposes for your life, living God’s five plans for your life, enacting the five acts of worship that make God smile, uncovering six secrets of friendship with God, developing the four characteristics of the kind of worship that pleases God, performing the three important truths of fruitful fellowship, six reasons for being committed and active in a local fellowship, discovering the four principles of real fellowship, learning the four steps to cultivating community, creating a covenant using the nine characteristics of biblical fellowship, following the seven steps to restoring broken fellowship, promoting six ways to ensure unity, following the three steps to conflict resolution, uncovering the three responsibilities in becoming like Christ, practicing the three activities necessary to abide in God’s Word, carefully following the three specific steps in overcoming temptation, learning the four keys to defeating temptation, avoiding the five impediments to growing in Christ, enacting the four steps to cooperate with God in the process of Christian growth, participating in the six types of experiences God uses in molding us, discerning the three steps to clarifying what God intends you to be and do, finding the six steps to becoming a true servant, developing the five attitudes of a true servant, taking the four steps to allowing God to work through your weaknesses, establishing the six steps to discovering the importance of your mission, discerning the four parts of your life message, discovering your seven life lessons, implementing the four principles for thinking like a world-class Christian, participating in the four important activities for purpose-driven living, learning the five vital signs of worship, realizing the five steps to discovering your purpose statement, and remembering life’s five greatest questions. By following these one hundred and sixty-four simple steps, readers may initiate their own sanctification and live purpose-driven lives.
Phew! I’m so glad that Pastor Warren has simplified and distilled the Law for us in this way so that we may now keep it.
But there’s just one little nagging doubt: didn’t St. Paul have something to say to the Galatians about this sort of thing?
O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified? This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh? Have you suffered so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? (Gal. 3:1–4, NKJV)
Indeed, Steven Parks makes precisely this point. He goes on:
The law, of course, has no power to sanctify, whether it be Warren’s home-spun practical wisdom, or even God’s commandments themselves. In fact, the law primarily serves to reveal sin, always convicting its hearers of their shortcoming (lex semper accusat—Rom. 7:7). Thus, Warren’s one hundred and sixty-four simple steps to living a purpose-driven life, if taken seriously, will only aggravate sin and make matters worse: “But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire. For apart from the law sin was dead” (Rom. 7:8). For this reason, the Formula of Concord testifies: “For the Law says indeed that it is God’s will and command that we should walk in a new life, but it does not give the power and ability to begin and do it.” Indeed, this power is given by the Holy Spirit only through the gospel, precious little of which is found in The Purpose Driven Life.
Go ahead and read the whole review – I suspect you’ll find it thought provoking and Gospel-focused, even if you are not quite of one accord with one or two of its Lutheran emphases. (And if you are, you’ll love it.)