Given the discussion last week about the ONE campaign and it’s position as a “first step” in fighting poverty in the developing world, I thought I’d pass along this story about evangelical pastor and best-selling author of The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren. He clearly doesn’t view his participation in the ONE campaign as the last word on the matter.

Rick Warren

John Coleman blogs about Warren’s work “with his global network to turn genocide-ravaged Rwanda into the world’s first ‘Purpose-Driven Nation.’” Coleman references a TIME magazine article about the effort, which reads, “For months the clergyman has alluded in general terms to an immense volunteer effort called the PEACE plan, aimed at transforming 400,000 churches in 47 nations into centers to nurse, feed and educate the poor and even turn them into entrepreneurs. Its details remain unknown, but its Rwandan element seems to have outrun the rest.”

Warren’s efforts in Rwanda have moved forward so quickly in part because, as Warren says, he was “looking for a small country where we could actually work on a national model,” and President Kagame, impressed by Warren’s book, volunteered Rwanda as a pilot nation.

Coleman remarks observantly, “It seems to me that two of the biggest movers of political and cultural reform over the coming century will be private charity and globalization (the extension of Western security and economic rule sets–free markets, private property, etc.–to developing or war-ravaged nations); and Warren’s initiative might mark something of a turning point for both Africa and the church.”

I, along with others, have something other than unrestrained praise for The Purpose Driven Life. John H. Armstrong, for example, thanks God for Rick Warren, and thinks he “shines as a star for graciousness and balance.” But even so, Armstrong thinks Warren’s “definition of purpose is just too small. This is where a more theologically developed view of divine purpose would help him if he studied, and used, the great Protestant catechisms.” My own criticisms are no so much related to the book itself, even though after three tries I have been unable to bring myself to finish it.

It’s not that there is anything bad about the book, but I find it’s observations so basic, even pedestrian, that as a theologian I find it hard to read. It’s a bit like reading a Dr. Seuss-level book but without the humorous rhymes. This accessiblity (as it might charitably be called), strikes me at once as both the book’s greatest strength and greatest weakness. The simplicity of style and content no doubt has played a large part in the book’s popularity.

But it also is a bit disturbing that something so theologically basic can be so new and novel to so many American Christians. The rave reviews you read about the book make me wonder what in the world these Christians are hearing from the pulpit every Sunday! And this is to say nothing about what they should be learning in small groups, education classes, or, as Armstrong recommends, catechetical training.

In any case, Warren’s Rwandan effort should be celebrated as the kind of Christian work that moves beyond the political activism of the ONE campaign. The location of this effort in Rwanda is remarkable in part because of the ambivalent role clergy played in the genocide. According to TIME, “Catholic and Protestant clergy have been convicted in connection with the genocide in his country in 1994, and Kagame has repeatedly stated his disdain for religious organizations.”

If you haven’t yet seen the movie “Hotel Rwanda,” based on a true story and starring Don Cheadle, I highly recommend it (read a review here). On his recent first visit to the country, Cheadle said he is co-authoring a book about how individual Americans can responsibly engage the problem of poverty in Africa. Citing common complaints from the West, “I had the same concerns and skepticism about sending aid to some shadowy situation where I didn’t know if a warlord was going to get the money,” he said.

  • http://kimsopenbook.blogspot.com Kim Lain

    I must agree that I found Rick Warren’s encouragements in The Purpose Driven Life to be simplistic. Usually unadulterated by Christian trends I have felt compelled to join his lofty crusade. I feel that he is truly working knee deep in what God is doing right now. Something I observe about little few in the spotlight of Christian fame.