Fox News broadcast a one hour special the other day titled: “The Purpose Driven Life: Can Rick Warren Save the World?” Accidentally, while channel surfing from the Red Sox vs. Yankees baseball game on ESPN to various news channels, I got in on the opening segment of the Warren special and was hooked for the whole.
Much of the Rick Warren story is widely known but some things came together in this brisk, but largely focused, video presentation. My admiration for Warren soared as a result of this broadcast. If “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God” is “to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (James 1:27) then Rick Warren is practicing the faith of true religion. There can be no doubt that Warren’s faith produces Christ-centered works (James 2:14-26). And, to his great credit, he listens to his wife Kay’s counsel, who is plainly a major reason for his clarity in this and other areas. It is a wise man who listens to such a thoughtful and insightful wife!
Frankly, evangelicals who take shots at Rick Warren ought to be ashamed. But their number increases with everything this man does on an expanding stage of public opinion. I have heard many of the attacks. Warren is too shallow and promotes pop-religion. (If this is true we could use a great deal more of his kind of religion in many of the places where I’ve been in North America.) Warren doesn’t really understand “purpose driven” life theologically enough. (On one level I agree with this criticism, and said so in an article published in our quarterly journal a few years ago.) Warren is naïve about world problems. (I wish we had more naïve evangelicals who understood the relationship of faith and works the way Rick Warren does.) And, Warren is a typical mega-church pastor who doesn’t feed his flock well. (This criticism has a stereotypical view of “feeding the flock” that is rooted in categories that need to be seriously challenged.) Finally, Warren has not proven to be a loyal conservative in many contexts, especially in his open support for the Baptist World Alliance over against the conservative elements in the Southern Baptist Convention who defunded it and protest its “liberalism.” (His actions actually prove that he can rise above fundamentalist politics and seek the greater good of the church in the world.)
Warren’s biggest project right now is Rwanda. He is working closely with President Kagame, a Roman Catholic who loves both Rick and his book (Rwanda is predominantly Roman Catholic). President Kagame was introduced to Warren through Joe Ritchie, a Chicago-area Christian businessman with a degree in philosophy from Wheaton College whom I have known and respected for some time. Ritchie has been actively engaging hot-spots in the world with a clear vision for the kingdom of Christ and its advance for many years. He has a great deal of savvy in such matters. (Ritchie appeared several times on the Fox program.) President Kagame and Rick Warren have formed a partnership that is quite impressive. The goal is to make Rwanda a successful free enterprise context where jobs and wealth are increased so that multitudes can be clothed, fed, and allowed to vote and experience basic human rights and protection from violence. In addition, the ravaging impact of AIDS has to be faced in one of Africa’s worst contexts. Progress is being made on every front but the battle is far from over.
Warren’s next target will be North Korea, slated for a major “Purpose Driven” effort in 2007. I wish him well. I have my doubts about how this effort will work given the brutality of Kim Jong-Il, one of the world’s most deadly dictators. But I have no doubt that Warren will get good advice and seek wise counsel. Who knows, if God favors this man again, as he clearly has in the past, he may do more good in North Korea than all our diplomatic efforts combined.
At the end of the television special Warren said there were four words he wanted on his tombstone when he died: “At Least He Tried.” I give him full credit, he is trying to make a real difference in this world and people who love Christ ought to love and support him in every way possible. We have far too few mega-church pastors with either the vision or integrity of Rick Warren.
John H. Armstrong is founder and director of ACT 3, a ministry aimed at "encouraging the church, through its leadership, to pursue doctrinal and ethical reformation and to foster spiritual awakening."