How not to speak of Christ and His work

In a comment on an earlier post, I said to my friend Bobby Capps that I have written about Rick Warren far too much already, and that ‘I shall therefore try very hard to lay off [him] for a bit’.

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:

Rick Warren tweet
(Online source)

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)?

18 thoughts on “How not to speak of Christ and His work”

  1. “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?” My sentiments exactly….

  2. Nice bait brother…

    To the Fox News ideology… uggh! and please!

    Fox News, in case you don’t know being ‘across the pond’, makes much of associations, like the fundamentalist in the American church do. For instance, if you shook the hand of a president and smiled you probably are in one accord with him. Or if you taught in a school with a professor and served a board with him, you are one with him in ideology, etc. ad nauseam, la la…

    I think in some circles they call it ‘straw manning’, that is, creating a caricature of someone based on associations or misrepresentations and then attacking the misrepresentation. Anyway, that type of stuff I expect of Mr. Silva but not of you.

    On substance, all of the Christian life is found within and in hiddeness.. for he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God. (Rom 2:29)

    All of the work of God is within, for there he justifies you etc. The new creation is an inward creation with outward manifestations… and my ‘true self’ is that born again self, hidden in Christ, my Spirit bearing witness with His Spirit that I am God’s child.

    Finally, the more serious issue that does not arise from either the popular tomfoolery of mis-characterizations made popular by American fools, or the substantive misunderstanding of what one means by what one says and says in a short tweet but this is the grave danger for which I honestly trust you will consider lest you follow after those like our brother Silva who have moved outside Christian charity and witness: We are enjoined by the Scriptures to give our brothers the benefit of the doubt in Christian love. These efforts to attack and vilify a fellow brother at every hand beg the question whether or not the love of Christ abides. It is foolishness, pure and simple. To struggle over the glaring gospel gaps in a long treatise like the Purpose Driven Life and to wish, as I, that the full glory of the gospel of our Lord Jesus may have been more fully represented to the hopeful benefit of many is one thing. To search for a gnat, to bind heavy burdens upon one, these things ought not to be. I wonder what satisfaction the Warren maligning crew derive from their continuous assaults. I don’t understand it at all. The loving correction that comes as we fiercely contend for the gospel that was set before us is glorious and loving and caring and mutually beneficial. It strengthens like a mighty workout or a 10K run. It never tears down, is never petty and mean-spirited.

    My friend I trust that you can turn away from ‘piling on’ when other sinful saints take shots at Christ’s bride, and rise to the majestic heights of love and truth, goodness and fair play.

    As you know, I love you friend,

    1. Well argued, Bobby.

      I think I have but five things to say in response:

      1. I didn’t engage in guilt by association, since I addressed the content of the tweet, not its source.

      2. Nevertheless, the source of the quote is a Roman Catholic mystic, and it is not unreasonable to ask whether the living water of the true Gospel is likely to be drawn from such a well. It is also not unreasonable to ask whether quoting such a person without giving any caveat whatsoever might not be (mis)understood as a tacit general endorsement of their doctrine, with the potential dangers that ensue. Simply, prominent figures in the church ought to be careful about whom they appear to endorse (especially if such endorsement is not intended).

      3. The quote asserts that ‘hiddenness’ is the place of justification. Although I gave a charitable interpretation, grammatically, ‘hiddenness’ is an adjective and to say that an adjective is a place is really nonsensical. It is the kind of language that invites the reader to pour into it the imaginings of his own heart, and it is not atypical of mystical thought. I question therefore whether your interpretation of what was meant is either what Nouwen intended, or what many people without your thorough Biblical background would naturally understand the quote to mean. It does not seem to me to be unreasonable to discuss the problems of such ambiguous (at best) language, especially coming from a prominent Christian pastor.

      4. You say ‘All of the work of God is within, for there he justifies you etc.’. Actually, no. Justification (being declared righteous) is a forensic (legal) declaration that is external to ourselves. (We in the Reformation traditions differ utterly on this crucial point from Roman Catholic belief as, presumably, held by Roman Catholics such as Nouwen.) And the perfect life of Christ, his obedient work on the cross, and His resurrection from the dead are all ‘the work of God’, and yet are most certainly not within. Of course, there is undoubtedly an internal application of that work, but it is far from correct to say that ‘all of the work of God is within’.

      5. You plea for charity from the likes of Ken, Christine and myself. Yet you seem to rather uncharitably assign motives to them that I do not believe they have. My goal (and I believe theirs too) is simply to use these occasions to warn others against potential error, and to proclaim the true Gospel.

      And so, in a spirit of peace and grace, and as much as I welcome all of your contributions, I respectfully disagree with your position.

      1. Ahh yes, of course justification although applied to the dead person when quicken is surely the act of the cross of Calvary which stands before the foundation of the earth. I stand corrected.

        And as to your point on assigning motive, as soon as my finger hits the send button I thought, I have become the judge I am critiquing. I stand corrected and beg forgiveness of you and your fellows for presumption of ill-will. I ought, as I tauted, to practice what I preach.

        As to the need to continually critique Warren, I shall leave that to you, even though doing so leaves me troubled. Something inside me wants to defend him and his motives. I trust that within me is the mind of Christ.

        Rebuked and blessed,

        1. Bobby, of course you are forgiven, as I hope I shall be forgiven for any unkindness that seeps through what I write on these pages.

          With regard to my writing about Rick Warren, you do me a service by being a constant check and challenge to my motives. This is a good thing, and I am in your debt for it. Thank you.

          Finally, I in no way impugn Rick Warren’s motives – it is my confident expectation that he does what he does out of a sincere desire to serve the Lord and propagate the gospel.

          He is a gifted communicator, and people listen to him. If I write about him often, that is perhaps then at least in part due to the influence he carries and the sheer volume of his output, not least on Twitter (there are times when he provides material sufficient for daily posts, but I have neither the time nor the inclination to pursue every trifle).

          Peace and grace to you in our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ, my dear brother in the Lord.

  3. A few weeks ago our youngest pastor (there are 4 at our church) gave a sermon in which he admonished us to remember we are saints, not sinners. He did somewhat salvage that (believe it or not) and, while immature, is not as bad a preacher as that might sound.

    What bothers me most about this kind of thinking is that it, as you point out, it likes to propose we are somehow secretly on the side of God at our deepest, truest core. People are tempted to think that because of our pride and wont toward self-deception, and pastors should be correcting rather than encouraging them. In that same sermon our pastor went on and on about us remembering everything is a spiritual decision, a battle, and we need to keep in mind “which side we’re on when we lace up our gloves every day”. After spraining a ligament rolling my eyes, I was just incredulous that he could really look himself in the mirror (or look out at our large, hipster youth congregation) and really claim to be a warrior for anything but sin without daily turning to Christ. Whom he did NOT mention, except maybe as some kind of general needing our help to get anywhere, poor ol’ guy.

    Truth be told, I haven’t followed much of the Warren-is-terrible stuff, and to me he just seems seriously lax in his approach to many things. I know the purpose drivel is rotten. We are going to Desiring God and will be listening to Warren, but we’ll do our darndest not to heckle (out loud, anyway).

      1. That is an excellent article!
        One small gripe- I’m not sure I agree that by changing the order within the sermon of law & gospel sections diminishes their impact, but otherwise I like what he had to say, love to read something that nicely organizes thoughts my husband and I have been having.

        We definitely have been using Rosebrough’s comments plus the ideas outlined in the article over the past year and a half. We’re in a frustrating situation where our church offers good, rightly divided teaching about 60% of the time. When we arrived there they were in the middle of a series working through Romans and it rocked… but as we tried to get connected and the year went on things went downhill.

        This summer was trying- lots of crummy topical sermons, some testimonies, and this week that Randy Alcorn (the Treasure Principal) guy who just should not ever be given Sunday time to speak at all. Most disappointing was a huge church-wide meeting/festival at a small stadium where the young pastor simply failed to give a compelling gospel at all. Honestly, I think he thought he had but in all the festivities (baptisms, rock concert) he forgot. I cried.

        It’s hard to know what to do. We do love the older pastor, they are good sometimes, and we are being fed in lots of ways- we’ve even started going to a church across town where Michael Lawrence is the new pastor. We don’t want to just dump this church because we love some of the people there and because we feel we have a duty to the leadership there to let them know what we think. We haven’t complained directly yet… I’m reading some books and we’re seeking counsel about what we should do.

        They just announced they’re going through 1st & 2nd Corinthians for a year, so I’m praying this is a turning point and they will regain their focus.

        Anyway… sorry to vent, but sometimes I hear all the furor over Warren and I think, Yeah but what about all the churches in your own dang towns? How are they doing and does anybody even care, since those littler congregations aren’t kajillionaires? I’m glad Chris and Wilkins review the less-well-known folks from time to time. I hope it makes a difference.

  4. Hi Daniel, as you can see from the pingback above, I have linked to this fine post of yours from my post. I have been writing a series on what the Word of God teaches the Christian being Spirit-filled so this tweet by Rick Warren fit in rather nicely I thought with that in that It seemed to me that he was promoting the counterfeit over what is true, Biblical being filled with the Spirit of God. He is teaching or at least agreeing with the Catholic Mystics “inner self” concept of spirituality, which our Lord never taught. This is not Christian by any means. Again, thank you for this fine article brother.
    In Christ
    Mike Ratliff

    1. Thank you, Mike. And I enjoyed your post – especially how you directed us to the Gospel, and also put Col. 3:3 into its proper context so that being ‘hidden with Christ in God’ might be properly understood. You make it very clear that the Biblical meaning of this phrase in context is alien to Nouwen’s ‘hiddenness’.

      Peace and grace.

  5. Daniel, if I may, I would like to address Bobby Capps comment.

    Bobby, what Daniel and I and my friends are doing is in no way piling on Rick Warren nor are we attempting to condemn the man by some flimsy ‘guilt by association.’ May we ask, “Did Rick Warren quote Nouwen or not?” This is far more than ‘guilt by association.’ In fact, this is a consistent teaching by Warren himself.
    If we go back to his book “The Purpose Driven Life” on page 19 he says, “self help is no help at all. Self sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self” Of course, this is a quote from The Message paraphrase of Matthew 16:25, which, in fact, totally butchers the true meaning of this passage. Here is Matthew 16:24-26 from the ESV, ‘Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?’

    It is obvious to anyone that the author of The Message and Rick Warren for choosing it to try to make an unbiblical point look biblical, are trying to teach something that us unchristian.

    Jesus is telling us that we need to deny the “true self” because we are naturally sinful. Rick Warren and those of the same mindset do the opposite. Rather than placing hope in the “true self” through self sacrifice or any other carnal means, we should deny the self. This is alien to everything Rick Warren stands for and teaches because for him to reverse course and teach it would, he thinks, destroy his earthly empire.

    As Christians we must leave behind the prideful hope we once had in self and place our trust completely in Christ as Paul did and said in Philippians 3:3.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

  6. The subject of all the blogs and comments is first and foremost Mr. Warren’s tweet, which did not in any sense mention Christ, or the God of the Bible. Yet so soon it is turned around to be those who “criticize” Warren, or have “questionable motives”, and worst of all to be lumped with someone who by implication is unorthodox in some manner, or at least “uncharitable”, in this case Pastor Silva.
    Hogwash. One may have as well slung the holy sacred grail of the “thou shalt not judge” liberal mantra. Warren’s tweet is removed from any sense or factual statement of Christianity. Did he tweet scripture? No, he willfully and knowingly sent a quote from an infamous heretic. The tweet itself is just naval gazing in it’s essence, since it captures no biblical principal.
    And then of course we have the round of forgive me brothers, I’m not as pious as you’s. Why apologize for exposing to the light of scripture a different gospel, or in this case no gospel? The quote of a dear writer:”… lest you follow after those like our brother Silva who have moved outside Christian charity and witness: We are enjoined by the Scriptures to give our brothers the benefit of the doubt in Christian love”, is simply nonsense. It is a slap at a Pastor, while sniffing at those who would dare question another Christian’s public views or comments. We are not called to “give the benefit of the doubt”, we are called to love, and the absence of pointing out false doctrine is a lie from hell, and is the opposite of love. I submit our friend owes Pastor Silva an apology.

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