02 April 2012

Pragmatism vs. Biblical Preaching

Thoughts on The Purpose-Driven® Church (18 years late)
by Phil Johnson

In 2005, a little more than a week after I started blogging, I posted an item about Rick Warren's The Purpose-Driven® Life. It was literally just a photograph and transcript of some marginal notes I had jotted in the flyleaf when I read the book, not anything like a full review.
    Then almost exactly two years ago, when the blogosphere was abuzz with controversy over the lineup for 2010's Desiring God Conference, I posted my thoughts on the Piper-Warren connection.
    Aside from those two posts, I can't think of any other blogposts I've written that deal with Rick Warren and his deleterious influence—which has been considerable. That seems like a major omission on my part, so today I'm going to post something I would have posted in 1997 if I had been blogging then. At the time, Warren's book on the church was required reading for evangelicals. To this day, countless evangelicals uncritically accept the Purpose-Driven® philosophy as received wisdom—and far too many pastors regard The Purpose-Driven® Church as virtually canonical. Warren now even has John Piper's seal of approval.
    I have a different point of view, and I'd like to share it with you.
    This post, like that first one, is not meant to be a thorough review; it's just some thoughts on preaching that were prompted by the claim Warren makes in his book's subtitle.

ick Warren's The Purpose Driven® Church is now 18 years old. It is the best-selling book on church ministry philosophy ever.

Warren is sensitive about complaints that his overtly pragmatic strategy for church growth leads to doctrinal compromise, so he subtitled his book, "Growth Without Compromising your Message & Mission." He insists throughout the book that you can follow his "seeker-sensitive" model of ministry without compromising or watering down your message. On page 244, he writes, "A worship service does not have to be shallow to be seeker sensitive. The message doesn't have to be compromised, just understandable."

But then, just a few sentences later, he writes, "The unchurched . . . do want to hear how the Bible relates to their lives in terms they understand and in a tone that shows you respect and care about them. They are looking for solutions, not a scolding."

Notice how quickly Warren undermines his own commitment not to compromise the message. People don't want to be scolded, he tells us. And yet Paul told Timothy that Scripture is "profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness" (2 Timothy 3:16). How do you preach reproof and correction—not to mention instruction in righteousness—without someone feeling scolded?

I frankly don't think it's the business of the preacher to trouble himself with whether people feel scolded. The preacher's task is to unfold the meaning of Scripture in a clear, authoritative, and persuasive manner—and if people feel scolded when Scripture rebukes them (as they inevitably will), then that is between them and the Lord. As a matter of fact, as preachers, we are instructed to reprove and rebuke, as well as exhort—with all longsuffering and doctrine (2 Timothy 4:2).


Doctrinal preaching also takes a hit from Rick Warren. Notice in that quote that I cited above, he says, "The unchurched . . . want to hear how the Bible relates to their lives." He makes clear throughout the remainder of the book what he means by this. He is arguing for an emphasis in our preaching that is practical rather than doctrinal—more "emotional, experiential, and relational" than didactic. He is dismissively critical of what he calls "classroom churches." In Warren's words: "Classroom churches tend to be left-brain oriented and cognitive focused. They stress the teaching of Bible content and doctrine, but give little, if any, emphasis to believers' emotional, experiential, and relational development" (p. 340).

Now I happen to believe that all doctrine is inherently practical—or at least I would say that there is inherent practical value in understanding and defending sound doctrine. Furthermore, all legitimate religious emotions, experiences, and relationships are a believing heart's response to biblical truth soundly taught: doctrine.

So I don't quite agree with the dichotomy that is typically made by advocates of "seeker-sensitive" ministry. But they make this dichotomy nonetheless. They suggest that there is a significant distinction to be made between truth that is doctrinal and truth that is practical. And according to them, any style of ministry that is too didactic—more "doctrinal" than "practical"—is inappropriate for seeker-sensitive worship.

For example, a defense of the deity of Christ or a systematic presentation of justification by faith might have some academic interest, but doctrinal messages like that aren't deemed sufficiently practical and felt-needs oriented for the seeker-sensitive church environment. You are not at all likely to hear such truths dealt with from the Purpose-Driven® pulpit.

Newsweek once quoted a seeker-sensitive megachurch pastor who said it like this: "People today aren't interested in traditional doctrines like justification, sanctification, and redemption." What people want to hear, this pastor believes, are sermons that address their "felt needs"—how to improve our relationships with other people, how to have success in business, how to find peace of mind—and other things more instantly relevant to busy lives than academic doctrines like justification and sanctification.

Rick Warren is one of the foremost advocates of preaching to people's "felt needs." That is the expression he prefers: "felt needs." That's what he says should determine what we preach. He claims that is how Jesus Himself preached, and he even implies that the didactic content of Paul's epistles contrasts unfavorably with the more practical preaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. Instead of urging preachers to declare the whole counsel of God, Rick Warren expressly encourages preachers to consider what the audience wants to hear and let those "felt needs" determine what they preach.

Naturally, Warren attempts to argue that this approach in no way compromises the message. On p. 228 of his book, he writes, "The crowd does not determine whether or not you speak the truth: the truth is not optional." But then in the next breath he says, "Your audience does determine which truths you choose to speak about. And some truths are more relevant than others to unbelievers."

If that sounds like double-talk, it's because that is precisely what it is. The truth itself is not optional, but some truths are optional in practice, because they are not relevant? So much for the whole counsel of God.

Now, I realize that most evangelicals who have bought into the Purpose-Driven® philosophy wouldn't dream of attacking the doctrines of justification by faith, or the deity of Christ, or the absolute authority of Scripture. But they ignore such doctrines rather than risk boring people with academic teaching. The long-term effect is the same as a full-scale assault against those doctrines.

In short, although Rick Warren claims his brand of pragmatism doesn't compromise doctrine, it absolutely does. From the very start, pragmatic considerations determine what he will preach and how he will preach it. And because pragmatism establishes the value system by which he assesses everything, he is not even capable of appreciating how man-centered and watered down his message has become.

Phil's signature


Tom Chantry said...

Now, I realize that most evangelicals who have bought into the Purpose-Driven® philosophy wouldn't dream of attacking the doctrines of justification by faith, or the deity of Christ, or the absolute authority of Scripture. But they ignore such doctrines rather than risk boring people with academic teaching. The long-term effect is the same as a full-scale assault against those doctrines.

And herein lies the danger of this particular error, and probably the reason it has been so successful: it plays to the temptation that every biblical preacher feels sooner or later. It urges him to think that he need not give up the doctrines which animate his gospel, he only needs to avoid offending with them. Perhaps later, once the lost are "saved" in droves, they can be taught the less palatable things. Only somehow, that phase never arrives. I've actually heard the same defense made of Schuller.

Call to Die said...

I will never understand Piper's endorsement of Warren the same way I will never understand Packer's signing off on ECT.

David A. Carlson said...

what, you thought commenting was getting a little slow? A little red meat to chum the waters?

On a side note, what do you think of "40 Days in the Word"?

Anonymous said...

John MacArthur made a lot of good points in his sermon on "How to Study the Bible":

"A lady said to me at one of the conferences, she came up to me and she s id - Do you know what your preaching does to me? And I said - Have no idea. She said - It makes me want to study the Bible. She aid it very matter of factly. And I said - Well, I think that's the best compliment I ever got; it makes you want to study the Bible.
I really feel that's the whole point. I'm not here to entertain you. I'm not here to put on a show which is to be evaluated. I'm here to stimulate you to do something on your own. And that is to learn the Word of God and learn to live it. And if you don't get that message -you miss the whole point."

Anonymous said...

And this quote by MacArthur goes against the pragmatic objective to reach the lost in this manner:

"Number one - Who is able to understand the Bible? Only believers.... only believers. First of all, you have to be a Christian, a true Christian, a believer, born again, regenerated.* You say - Well, you mean if you're not a Christian you can't understand the Bible? That's right.

Let me show you that. First Corinthians chapter 2 verse 14. I want to work up to it a little bit so let me start in verse 10. This is a tremendous, tremendous insight. "But God," now watch this, "hath revealed them unto us by His Spirit." Now them refers to God's truths, God's principles or God's revelation, or God's word. Who receives it? "God hath revealed it unto us by His Spirit."

Now I want you to notice the little phrase - unto us, those two words in verse 10. Now that might not seem too important in the English but in the Greek it is because in the Greek it comes at the beginning of the sentence - unto us and it is in an emphatic form. And what Paul is saying is this that the revelation of God's truth is unto us and the us refers to believers...watch, in contrast to the ones he has been referring to. Because all the way from chapter 1 verse 18 clear down to chapter 2 verse 9 he is talking about how ignorant the philosophers of the world are regarding the truth of God.

They cannot know it. Why? Because of verse 9: "Eye hath not seen," in other words, they can't see it empirically. They can't find it out by discovery...

Bill Lonas said...

In my opinion, I think too many churches are more interested in ‘developing the leader in you’ rather than nourishing the saints with the Word of God.

Anonymous said...

"...Secondly, "Neither has it entered into their heart." They can't find it by their own feeling or their own emotion, or their own musings, or their own spiritual experience. It is not available externally; it is not available internally no matter how erudite the philosopher may be. Why? Because God has revealed it unto us, not to them. That's the implication. It isn't available. There are those in the world who speak human wisdom, the princes of this age, he says in verse 6, but none of the princes know the truth, verse 8 says, none of them know it. It's not available to them. Why? Because in their humanness they can't know it.

Verse 11, "For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of man which is in him, even so the things of God knoweth no man but the Spirit of God." If a man does not have the indwelling Spirit, he can't know anything about God. Now he may think he knows some things. May try to figure some things out but he can't really truly know, not in the sense of knowing and living out that truth in life.

But verse 12 says: "Now we have received not the spirit of the world." The spirit of the world is just the idea that human reason, it's a paraphrase for human reason. We don't depend on human reason but the Spirit of' God. And because of Him we know the things that are freely given to us by God.
And then verse 14 SUMS it Up. "The natural man," now mark -this, "under standeth not or receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, they are foolishness unto him neither can he ... what? ... know them for they're spiritually discerned." If you're not a believer you cannot really perceive with understanding and result the truth of the Word of God. It is the same and the analogy of verse 11 - a man cannot know anything about himself unless he knows it in his spirit. In other words, his body can't know. Illustration, a dead body doesn't know anything because it has no spirit. A man without the Spirit of God is like a physically dead body. He can't know anything either. That's what spiritual death is - the absence of the knowledge of God because of the absence of the Spirit of God.
And so, without knowing Christ you can't know the Bible. And that's what's so sad about the cults and all, they come along and figure out these elaborate concoctions of supposed theology and because they don't even know God to begin with because they deny Jesus Christ they are hopelessly muddled and the confusion just is added upon confusion. The truth is only available to those who know and love the Lord Jesus Christ."

donsands said...

Nice to hear from you again Tom C.

What a well written post. Warren is one of those guys everybody likes if you are with him. He's like Mike Huckabee.
But is Rick a serious preacher and teacher of the whole Word of our Lord? No.

I am reading a book by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: "Spiritual Depression". This pastor covers every part of God's Word. From peace and joy, of course, and also to the "thorns in the flesh" we need to have.
We need the whole Word of God, and so those outside the Church simply need to hear the Word as well.

And they will approach us then, and ask of the hope we have. Peter tells what to do when that happens.

Thanks for such a great post to read this morning, for in exposing the weakness of Rick you show us how we need to love the whole truth of God, and we must be willing to be scorned and mocked, knowing all the while we are no different than the mockers but for the grace of God.

Mike said...

I'll never understand why people, pastors, preachers, and teachers especially, refuse to accept that doctrinal topics like justification, sanctification, et. al. can and should be taught with practicality in mind. I seek daily to apply, accept and understand these things as much as possible to my life.

Andrew, I would say that we have to understand the actions of these great men and others the same way we understand the actions of any man. We understand them by understanding that we are all imperfect, and some of us believe and accept certain things to be true and good that others of us might not. I think we have to regard one another with a very humble, "there, but for the grace of God, go I" attitude.

Mike said...

Oh and PS. donsands, that book is amazing and has helped me through some very dark seasons in my life!

Anonymous said...

Gosh, and I thought church was for believers.

Nash Equilibrium said...

You know, this whole fixation some preachers have with not offending someone by preaching the unvarnished truth is crazy, especially in today's world: The average person in our society views preachers as irrelevant and not as people who have some authority to speak into their lives. The minute they walk into a church, though, you have to assume they are actually looking to learn something, because you know that these days they are not coming there to avoid the stigma of not being a church-goer, since there is no stigma associated with being a non-church-goer (unlike in, say, Spurgeon's time when pretending was expected of people).
So in his own way, Warren's philosophy is becoming archaic already, as society changes.
I think now people who are attending do actually want to be there, and want to learn something they won't hear at a John Maxwell or Zig Ziglar pep-talk. Maybe they actually want truth about strcitly spiritual matters?! Wouldn't that be a novel idea!

Daniel said...

I would correct you Phil, with humility; your response is quite timely, and by no means late.

Some things follow afterwards.

DJP said...

Nash, you finger an irony I've been noticing: those who make it their priority to be trendy invariably doom themselves to eventual irrelevance... and far sooner than they imagine.

FX Turk said...

The good news is that one can still shave off the soul patch and be forgiven.

Anonymous said...

One point of clarification:

I don't believe Piper was endorsing Warren based on Purpose Driven Church but rather, Purpose Driven Life. (Google: Piper Warren interview)

I think Piper likes PDL. However, I can't believe Piper could rightfully endorse PDC if he actually read it. I am not saying what a person should feel or not feel. However, given the ministry of Piper, if he actually read PDC, I seriously think that we wouldn't even be talking about Warren's invitation because there would be none to speak off.

That, of course, is strictly my opinion and perspective. Feel free to take that with a grain of salt.

Cameron Shaffer said...

On p. 228 of his book, he writes, "The crowd does not determine whether or not you speak the truth: the truth is not optional." But then in the next breath he says, "Your audience does determine which truths you choose to speak about. And some truths are more relevant than others to unbelievers."

I haven't read Warren in awhile (not really worth it), but I think you may be misunderstanding Warren's comments here. Warren could be very easily be suggesting that the congregation needs to be exegeted. I don't know if it's clear that he's suggesting that your congregation desires dictate your preaching, but that their need does. If your congregation doesn't want to hear about justification, they probably need to hear about justification. In that sense your congregation still massively influences the sermon selection without letting their desires dictate the sermon choice.

I'm not saying that's what Warren is saying there, but I'm not as ready to say that what he performed there was double-speak.

Sharon said...

When this whole Purpose Driven brouhaha came out, I had a very good friend who works on a church staff and whose entire congregation was going through the "40 Days of Purpose." I sent her materials that addressed some of the issues you bring up here. We almost lost our decades-long friendship over my concern about this book. I was shocked. And saddened.

Phil Johnson said...

Cameron Shaffer "If your congregation doesn't want to hear about justification, they probably need to hear about justification."

The problem with that is that Warren expressly advocates shaping the content of your message to meet the audience's "FELT needs," not to address their actual spiritual deficiencies.

One thing comes through very clearly in what Warren writes about and how he justifies his strategy: Rick Warren is concerned primarily with how to gather an appreciative audience. Yes, his subtitle and a few other disclaimers indicate that he wants readers to THINK he is resistant to doctrinal compromise, but that's clearly not something he himself devotes a lot of thought to, and once you get past that subtitle, his utter lack of concern about the danger of watering down the message is evident.

TimElee said...

Honestly I have been thoroughly done w Warren since He clearly "DOUBLE SPOKE" (pc for LYING) about proposition 8!! When he was being culturally relevant rather than Biblically courageous. The whole problem w Saddleback and similar churches is that their missiology precedes their theology rather than their theology being established before missions is carved out. You NEVER make a sermon outline before approaching your text. How much clearer can we say it? The cart does not precede the horse, I think you get the picture.

Cameron Shaffer said...

That's fair a point Phil, and I appreciate your response. Thanks.

Unknown said...

I totally agree with the reformed emphasis on teaching the whole counsel of God's word and on sound doctrine. I believe this positively impacts the congregation's emotional and relational life, as truth is applied and lived. Yet I do feel there's some truth to the observation that even this good kind of teaching may leave hearers with knowledge, yet not stir their love of God and neighbor. I don't think the answer is Warren's kind of pragmatism, but I have observed sometimes the reformed crowd can be a little cool or "intellectual". Somehow we need to combine cool grasp of doctrine with hot hearts that stir us into bold and courageous action.

Unknown said...

Oh, wait... you didn't tell me that JOHN PIPER endorsed Rick Warren. Well, then, that changes everything. Rick Warren can do no wrong.

My Brain in a Jar

Brandon said...

One has to ask the question: "what is meant by seeker?" When in scripture we read that no one seeks after God, but is drawn to Him; then the word "seeker" in a Christian context is meaningless; which renders "seeker friendly" as also meaningless. These are not really in the Christian vernacular.

How are we to present the gospel such that God draws people to him? I would think that the last thing we would do is water down the message with altruisms about how to live one's daily life. How to live life is already in the gospel message. But how to do it is intricately connected to doctrines such as justification by faith and the deity of Christ.

It then becomes laughable when we suggest that those who don't know Christ don't need to know these things. They absolutely do.

C. T. Bennett said...

Most Evangelical churches want growth and the respect it brings -- Warren provides the recipe and it is adopted enthusiastically, even if not wholly in every case. It isn't like they are fooled by his subtlety.

Any in the secular world who take the time to inquire into Evangelical Christianity see Warren with Piper, who is with Matt Chandler, who is with Driscoll and Furtick and Noble, who are with MacDonald, who is with Jakes, who is with Osteen and White, etc.

It is a large, amorphous, ill-defined network characterized primarily as "we can help you" outlets -- like AA, but more religion and more gimmicks. It is, they decide, what happens to popular religion when you lose the hierarchy of Catholicism and the intellectual ballast of mainstream Protestantism.

While Warren's impact is broad and visible, so are the warnings. I fear that Piper's influence in this area is deeper and closer to the foundation. Very few have so far been willing to address this issue unequivocally.

Spike said...

I don't really care for the wishy-washy-ness of Rick Warren, and nobody has covered that better than Tim Challies in the last couple years as it concerned his invitation to Desiring God Conf., a while back. That said, I think the only thing that hurts your particular argument, is the realization that when you say,

"How do you preach reproof and correction—not to mention instruction in righteousness—without someone feeling scolded?"

it unfortunately has come to be the buzz-words for moralistic law preaching. That is not to say that that is what YOU are doing, or even that that is what it is, just merely pointing out that the seeker movement and other false doctrines came about because too many marginal or non Christians had become seekers, possibly a direct result of having been scolded all their lives. So which came first, the chicken or the egg? Of course, Warren went too far out there, and others went right off the map, ie., TBN, but when Warren says "They are looking for solutions, not a scolding", what everyone seems to neglect is that they were looking for the real solution, the Gospel (Jesus), not scolding, or the law. And Warren was not too quick to use the word "Gospel" as a solution, either. That is his problem.

In pragmatic terms, out of 100 regular congregants at our church, how many really need scolding? Very few. Very, very few. But to grow deeper into our selflessness to really love more, Jesus and others, and not ourselves, we need the Gospel, not scolding. I'm not trying to change the thread to the old law/gospel debate, but rather to what caused the door to open to the Warrens (and worse) of the world, and how can we fix that? Anything else is just a band-aid, and if it's moralistic preaching still, and I believe a case can be made for that, then we need to address that, because there are still a lot of so-called Christians out there who are a conversion waiting to happen, still seeking something. It would account for a lot of the "quick growth" churches.

Kurt Michaelson said...

In 2006, I sent a letter to Frank Santora, pastor of Faith Church, in New Milford, CT (www.faithchurchct.com) and stated that upon reading the book at his request, I could not, in good conscience, continue to a member of the church if this was going to be utilized for the ministry of the church.

I stated clearly my opposition to implementation of any of the strategies from the book that clearly contradicted Scripture and stated those biblical references too.

I went on to state that I felt there would be spiritual, financial, emotional and financial devastating consequences if he continued to implement the book.

My letter was ignored by him as he stated that he did not feel lead to continue to read on any further.

I had even asked in my letter, to please correct any misunderstanding I may have had and that never happened.

John MacArthur stated in his article, Biblically-Anemic Preaching: The Devastating Consequences of a Watered-Down Message, "So they (people in PDC churches) become spiritual couch potatoes who just come in to be entertained, and whatever superficial spiritual content they get from the preacher’s weekly performance is all they will get. They have no particular interest in the Bible because the sermons they hear don’t cultivate that. They are wowed by the preacher’s creativity and manipulated by the music, and that becomes their whole perspective on spirituality."

And if we look around at those pastors today who are implementing Rick Warren's book, this is exactly what is happening.

Since I left that church in 2006, the speeches that have been given there have not been based on teaching sound doctrine at all, and the exposition of Scripture is nowhere near to be heard from the pulpit at all.

Most recently, their sermon series has been "Sexology", which was likely an inspiration from Ed Young, Jr.

Since then, I found myself attending at healthy church that preached the whole counsel of God and now, where my wife and I are, the exposition of Scripture is a high priority, which cannot but include the teaching of the whole counsel of God.

I'm thankful for you Phil, for Pastor John MacArthur and many others who have devoted their lives to preaching by exposition and to exposing those so-called teachers who usurp the authority of Scripture by proclaiming less than what Scripture has indeed said.

Unknown said...

Just to follow up on my thoughts a little-- it's not that emphasis on doctrine is a problem, but it's possible to hear a sound teaching or sermon and not allow it to really change you. And this is deceptive because the mind is elevated by the loftiness of the truth, so one thinks he is improved, but until the truth has been thoroughly digested and owned so that it becomes part of you, one is not really going to change. So I see that phenomenon as a danger reformed leaders and congregants need to watch out for. And the reason I think this is relevant to this discussion is that alternatives, presented by Rick Warren or charismatics or Emergents, may be a reaction to this perceived weakness of the traditional teaching/preaching, and to the extent that the weakness is really there, it should be addressed and corrected.

Eric said...

"People today aren't interested in traditional doctrines like justification, sanctification, and redemption."

If the church has nothing to say about justification, sanctification, and redemption, then the church has nothing truly relevant to say at all. Changed hearts lead to changed lives, not the other way around.

Barbara said...

"People today aren't interested in traditional doctrines like justification, sanctification, and redemption."

Means they don't know their need of a Savior.

Jason Brown said...

Thank you for your post. Too many seem to have forgotten (or have never understood) the doctrines of regeneration and the Holy Spirit regarding conversion and sanctification. People are primarily converted/sanctified by the Spirit working on them via the preaching and reading of the Word, not by addressing their felt needs to make them feel better. I sat under "Purpose Driven" teaching for years, and it lacks power, and it gives unbelievers assurance of salvation, which is not dong them any favors, and is making the church look just like the world. Thanks be to God that I got away from that. It's simple, really. Preach the Word! Wait on The Spirit do the rest.

Keith G said...

From the Newsweek article quoted:

"The mainline denominations may be dying because they lost their theological integrity. The only thing worse, perhaps, would be the rise of a new Protestant establishment that succeeds because it never had any."

I think that about sums it up.

Phil Johnson said...

Spike "it [what? 'reproof,correction, and instruction in righteousness'?] unfortunately has come to be the buzz-words for moralistic law preaching."

See here for a lengthy answer to the argument it seems you are trying to make.

Solameanie said...

Excellent, Phil. Couldn't have said it better.

Now, be prepared for the onslaught.... ;)

will said...

What is the Biblical basis for pragmatism preaching? I have heard Warren state he believes the Bible is the only authority for faith and practice. If so, where is a pragmatic approach taught in the New Testament?

Trying to meet "felt needs" only works if you don't believe that human beings have a fallen nature.

Nash Equilibrium said...

I get a kick out of the few comments on here defending what Warren "meant" when he said that we shouldn't compromise, and then says (seemingly in conflict) that we ought not to preach certain truths.
We really don't have to try to decipher what he meant - all you have to do is to look at what he does, that will tell you what he believes. And that's a lot more important than what he wants you to think he believes!

donsands said...

Hey Sola,


Dan said...

"The crowd does not determine whether or not you speak the truth: the truth is not optional." But then in the next breath he says, "Your audience does determine which truths you choose to speak about.

I guess I doesn't see how this is necessarily doublespeak. Surely, any good preacher takes into account where his audience is, and what they need. Even those who preach against such an approach do that. If they aren't, they aren't fulfilling their call from God as a preacher....

His comments could be doublespeak, I don't know. Since I haven't read the book, I give him the benefit of the doubt that it isn't doublespeak. But I do know it isn't *necessarily* doublespeak...

also...I am pretty much not a fan of Warren.

Spike said...

Hi Phil, "It" being whatever was making the hearer feel scolded.

If I was making a point, it would be two-fold.

1) You had said, "How do you preach reproof and correction—not to mention instruction in righteousness—without someone feeling scolded?" (as if instruction = scolding) And I think that none of this has to make someone feel scolded. Esp instruction in righteousness. I submit that a thorough understanding, owning through faith, of the Gospel changes this from scolding to rejoicing, because while the law reproofs, the gospel says God's not looking at our failures, so we can agree with the law knowing it's taken care of, and continue the "joy in the journey" of a deeper understanding of how much we need a savior, getting out of relying on ourselves and into relying on and loving Jesus. As we peel the layers of selfishness away, being corrected/convicted becomes the "norm" of gospel living not the exception, and not a scolding...but rather an exciting part of sanctification, and this begged the question:

2) Is this feeling of scolding you assume is going to happen, from a lack of gospel understanding on the hearers part, and is this why droves left the church and went into word/faith? Let's face it, if you asked 20 good preachers how the gospel affects your life, you're might get 20 different answers. People like Warren are asking that very question, as you quoted him above, "The unchurched . . . do want to hear how the Bible relates to their lives" and I say, it's a clear owning of the true gospel through faith that enables the rest of the bible to speak to us, or it just pushes people away, sorta like a scolding would, into the wrong gospel. Jesus scolded some, but by and large he preached trust in Him and Hope for salvation, as the doorway out of the human condition. Not that I am defending Warren, I'm just saying he's trying to address (wrongly) a true need that he sees, as are other seeker preachers, and we need to address why so many are seeking, as most of them, or their parents were in church once. We had 'em, and lost 'em. To heretics. Fighting the heretics is great, they've captured the face of the American church, but if we don't figure out what happened in the first place, it's just a band-aid.

Thank's for the link to the conference, I know I'll enjoy your message, and I'll see if it answers either of these points. Sorry so long a comment.

donsands said...

"Since I haven't read the book, I give him the benefit of the doubt.."-Dan

You mean you give Phil the benefit of the doubt, don't you?

Don Maurer said...

It is always troubling when fine theological distinctions are ignored, or become viewed as a ball and chain in reaching the world. I thank God for those godly men of old who knew the difference between homoousias and homoiousias. They left a spiritual heritage in their doctrinal distinctions that affects their day and our age far more then the guy with the biggest church who ignores those distinctions.

Spike said...

Nice message, Phil. I had heard some of it while looking for your interview with Dr. John a while back. And of course, it's spot on.

And I didn't disagree with your post so much, as just note that if we continue to just go after the preachers, instead of answer/address the questions they are raising and trying to answer their way, with an answer that prevents people leaving our churches and becoming seekers, we will have what happened above- one of your commenters painted Matt Chandler and John Piper with the same brush as Joel Osteen and TD Jakes. Guilt by association, and it's hurting the church's mission as much as anything else is... We can argue where to draw that line, and its the conversation we need to have. But my contention is that we need to let some of these issues go until we can present a united alternative across the evangelical front. The gospel is still all over the place. It had been my prayer that people like Matt Chandler knew what they were doing with these strange associations, and as you know, now Acts29 has the gospel as preached by Matt Chandler at it's helm, not just Mark Driscoll's version that seems to need "modern relevance" which was probably a great relief to many. So maybe he knew what he was doing. And what influence has John Piper had on Rick Warren? Time will tell, but possibly he knows what he's doing, too. (And no, I don't think James MacDonald is doing anything but drifting away). But its a conversation that has to be had, just as you spoke at your conference to try and correct some preaching. How are so many pastors coming out of seminary without an understanding of how the gospel of grace is relevant and necesary to Christian living? Is it that difficult to understand? There's a drift out of the gospel of grace, as MacDonald is doing, and there's a constant drift out of moralistic churches, too, it's still a huge problem all over the place. (3 out of 7 Protestant churches in our community are so legalistic it's hard to sit through funerals). We need to present an alternative to these gospels, and are counting on people like you to lead the conversation. Thanks for all you do.

Chris Nelson said...

Rick Warren is a false teacher, a wolf. If that is not obvious to people, they need to wake up.

Nash Equilibrium said...

I have a lot more respect for a good street preacher, than I do the typical preacher with a big church like Warren. Although many street preachers are bozoes, the really good ones are not seeking a receptive audience, they are seeking to stimulate thinking and introspection among a (usually) unreceptive audience. Warren's model seems to be to please the crowd. What a world of difference there is between those two approaches.

donsands said...

"Rick Warren is a false teacher, a wolf."

I don't think he is. I think he is a believer, and has a great personality, and sees the Gospel as so many in our Church today: Shallow. The deep depths of the Gospel, that you do find within the Church, is rare in our day. The Puritan days need to work themselves back into our day.

Unknown said...

Warren advocates that the pastor be concerned with the unchurched, unregenerate unbelievers in his audience, perhaps even more concerned with them than with the faithful believers of his flock. This is like trying to teach my dead grandfather how to knit. Being dead, it's rather impossible for him to even hear my voice or see the yarn.

As soon as a pastor begins to tailor the service and his message to the unbelievers in the pews, that means he is diverting attention away from the sheep of his flock. He might *say* he is going to return to meatier topics, but too often, as Tom Chantry said, that phase never arrives. He is more concerned with using Sunday services as a tactical weapon for converting souls, than as a sumptuous buffet from which the true sheep are taking nourishment for the week ahead, to have the weapons and strength to mortify sin and grow up in Christ.

When "church" = a blend of sheep and goats and "Sunday service" = goat-centered preschool activities, it should be no wonder that the sheep of that flock would feel starved, abandoned and betrayed.

Bill Lonas said...

Good point and I agree.
I don’t see how someone can cater the message to one group without really alienating the other. So the question really does boil down to what is the purpose of us gathering together?
I think the Bible is clear that it should be for the edification of the body, right?

Nash Equilibrium said...

Don't use words like "edification." Seekers don't know what that means.

Anonymous said...

I was so disappointed when my #3 daughter years ago bought R.Warrens books for members of our family(not strong christians)even more talked the talk that filled his book I tryed to read.When I heard John Macarthurs assessment of "purpose filled life" as inadequate Gospel for non churched to be saved ...I was Glad,not that it was inadequate but that I understood that at almost a glance when I looked into that book.

Jim Pemberton said...

Reproof and correction through preaching to a corporate body is precisely the way to convict people who don't want to be scolded because it's not personal. It's the kind of trusting friendship such a one has with a godly believer that reinforces the message personally. You can't gloss guilt without taking the meaning out of the gospel.

one busy mom said...

Great post.

A sad product of "purpose driven" type preaching is its effect on the spiritual lives of the flock. When feelings and emotions are elevated and doctrine dismissed, believers don't mature. They remain spiritual babes, falling for all kinds of nonsense. Worse, when they read the Word - they tend to interpret it subjectively through the lens of their feelings and emotions...and dig themselves into an even deeper hole. It's tragic.

Imo - considering the accountability pastors have for their flocks - these men need to acquire a much greater fear of God...quickly!

Todd Wright Ministries said...

It's only April 3rd and we've already found our blog of the month.

What other subject de-emphasizes education of the same subject the way Christianity has over the last few decades. More proof that Satan is a genius when believers discourage one another from studying Bible doctrine. More proof of how dangerous he is when a pastor responsible for the spiritual development of so many is afraid to teach the Bible as deep as possible.

Todd Wright
Wright Ministries

Carl C. said...

Phil, thank you for this insightful post. The Pyros have been very helpful in pointing me to Scripture's teachings in many areas, including the danger of adding pragmatism to evangelism.

I read an article a while back by Bob DeWaay that opened my eyes not only to the themes of Warren's pragmatic philosophy, but the practical outworkings of it in churches.

Titled "How the Church Growth Movement Drives the Gospel out of Churches", it focuses on a book by Dan Southerland, Transitioning; Leading Your Church Through Change. Warren wrote the foreword, and Southerland plays the part of willing pupil. Beyond the subtle ousting of the Gospel, in reading the article I winced the most at this part, describing how PDChurches are treating 'resisters' of the movement:

In 2010 I am still getting calls and e-mails from people whose churches have become Purpose Driven, and they are being marginalized or pushed out of them. Southerland's book and his seminars label such persons as "resisters" who have placed themselves in opposition to God's vision for the church.

harmonno98 said...

This article truly explains the Rick Warren that I've seen and heard on talk shows,the media, etc. Unlike the late Dr. Falwell, pastor Warren comes off first, not to offend, by speaking the truth in a spirit of love that the late founder of Liberty University did. Rick reminds me so much of Billy Graham when it comes to media. Water it down when in public, but in Warrens case, its watered down with the "flock".

Joe Holman said...

I love Rick Warren. I think that most of his critics speak from ignorance, jealousy or both. He does not water down the gospel. He is doctrinally sound. He preaches the truth. He simply applied missional philosophy to his local church. Missionaries go to other countries, learn of the people, study the culture, see how the Word of God applies to them, and then teach them. I ask you, how many of his critics have led even one person to Christ this year? How many of you have a church that is doing more than meeting with the same group of people each week? I am a missionary. I am a uber-conservative theologian. I believe in the orthodox faith and that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant and complete Word of God. I believe in salvation by grace through faith. And I think that Rick Warren is incredible.

donsands said...

"He simply applied missional philosophy to his local church."-Joe

That's exactly what is wrong with Rick to me.

Preach the Gospel, and teach and preach the truth of God; the whole truth.

Humans are sinners and rebels under God's wrath, and we all deserve to be condemned and spend eternity away from our holy Creator, and in hell, where the devil and his cohorts will be. "But God..." Ephesians 2

I think Phil is spot on about Rick's pragmatism, and seems there are those like you Joe, who like the pragmatic-gospel.

have a great Easter, and may our Lord be glorified in all we say, do, and even think.

Preacher said...

I read the book in a different way. I'm not justifying Warren however, I have been in churches where the minister seemed to have NO purpose in his sermon other than filling the time. What I got out of this book was the decision to do whatever we do in church with an understanding of "why" we were doing it.

That purpose can be teaching the great truth's of the Bible or seeing the saints grow in grace. It should not be because "that's what we did last year."