It is always dangerous to make such resolutions. Particularly in respect of a person who has proved such a fecund source of – how may I phrase this charitably? – statements that are open to possible misinterpretation.
It is at this point that Bobby will wish to stop reading, and pretend that I have not written this post. (Bobby, I have failed you. I am sorry for letting you down. Forgive me.)
Which brings me to the topic of this post, and an occasion for me to write once more about the Gospel of Christ Jesus crucified for sinners and raised from the dead.
Earlier today, Ken Silva drew my attention to his latest article, Rick Warren wants us to learn from Henri Nouwen. Ken writes about this tweet from Rick Warren:
My friend Christine Pack immediately picked this up, writing her own piece asking, Why is Rick Warren quoting universalist Henri Nouwen?
That’s a good question.
But it is not one I am going to address.
I shall concern myself here with the content of the tweet, rather than its original source.
Now, Christine is generous, and suggested elsewhere that Rick Warren might respond to any concerns by saying that, by ‘hiddenness’, he simply meant ‘hidden in Christ’.
It is good for us to be charitable toward one another.
Let us therefore assume that this is indeed what Rick Warren intended to convey. The revised tweet would now read:
Hidden in Christ is the place of purification. Hidden in Christ we find our true selves.
That is better than the original, but I am afraid that I am still not buying it.
If Rick Warren means to make a statement concerning Christ and His work, why then omit mention of Christ (the crucial element!) and thereby leave so much potential for misunderstanding?
Let us take the first sentence of this (generously) modified tweet:
Hidden in Christ is the place of purification.
With respect to purification, perhaps Rick Warren was thinking either of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, or even our baptisms. Granted, the latter is unlikely, given that he’s SBC, but you never know.
Yet my justification, sanctification and glorification were not accomplished in a hidden place, but rather in full public view, the crowds watching (Matt. 27:35–56) as my Lord and Saviour shed His blood for the sins of the world (John 1:29; 1 John 2:2). And neither was my baptism performed in a secret place.
I suppose Warren might have been contemplating the Holy Spirit’s inward work of applying Christ’s life, death and resurrection to us (cf. 1 Cor. 6:11). This work may conceivably be thought ‘hidden’ in some sense, but such ‘hiddenness’ hardly seems to be a major theme of Scripture, and the results are most certainly not concealed.
Let us turn to the second sentence:
Hidden in Christ we find our true selves.
It is undoubtedly true that in Christ we become what God makes us to be:
But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. (Eph. 2:4–10, NKJV)
But ‘find’ surely is not the right verb, is it?
We do not ‘find our true selves’ when we are brought to Christ, as if unearthing something beautiful within that had hitherto lain undiscovered. Rather, God puts to death the wicked and wretched old ‘true self’ and makes us a new creation. The old has passed away; the new has come. (cf. 2 Cor. 5:17; Rom. 6.)
So again, I ask why this emphasis on ‘hiddenness’?
Yes, believers are forensically located in Christ. We dwell in Him, and the Spirit of God even now dwells within us (John 6:56; 15:1–11; 2 Tim. 1:14). But is ‘hidden in Christ’ a major theme of Scripture?
The closest Biblical reference I could find to this idea was Colossians 3:3:
For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
But there in the Greek we have σὺν τῷ χριστῷ (literally, ‘with the Christ’) and ἐν τῷ θεῷ (‘in the God’). So, not even that verse really conveys the idea of us being hidden in Christ.
In a final valiant effort to lend this verse as some sort of Biblical basis for Rick Warren’s tweet, we might further modify his words and read him as if he had written:
Hidden with Christ in God is the place of purification. Hidden with Christ in God we find our true selves.
But that is now very far removed from what was actually written:
Hiddenness is the place of purification. In hiddenness we find our true selves.
Back, then, to my original question: if Rick Warren meant to make a statement about Christ and His work – for that is the only proper focus of any discussion concerning our purification – why did he not simply do so? Why instead make a rather vague, abstract and self-directed (‘find our true selves’) allusion that many outside of Christ would find agreeable when understood in a mystical way?
Why leave people in darkness, looking for some secret, hidden true thing within themselves, rather than boldy directing them outwards to the person and work of the only One whose name has been given under heaven by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12)?