Is The Purpose-Driven Life a good book to study?

 You’d better be careful if you do!

Many churches are currently going through 40-day Purpose-Driven Life or Purpose-Driven Church meetings.  So, we have been asked on several occasions to comment on the book, The Purpose-Driven Life, by Rick Warren, published in 2002 by Zondervan.  Unlike some who like to review movies they have not seen or books they have not read, our comments are based upon a personal reading of the book.

There are a number of instructions in the book that are very good.  For instance, Pastor Warren advises against basing your relationship with God on your feelings.  He warns against self-help and self-fulfillment books that center on you rather than on God.  He clarifies precisely that worship is more than a song service of your favorite music.  He strongly encourages you to become a serving member of a local church.  His chapters on servant hood are good.  His admonitions to please and glorify God are true.  His counsel that we win souls is wise.

As with any literature on the Bible, there has to be enough truth in it to “sell.” Certainly, readers can find enough truth in the book to justify reading and studying it (though we have found the same subject matter in 18-lesson discipleship material that is far better). Nevertheless, there are some glaring problems in the book that you need to be aware of. There are some major false doctrines within its pages. Therefore, the benefits of reading the book will be far outweighed by the harm of following the erroneous doctrines. We will deal with the two most important problems in the book.

The first problem concerns the multiple Bible versions quoted in the book. The reasons the author gave for using so many versions are the limitations of each translation and the over-familiarity of the reader with just one version. Warren stated that he wanted to draw the attention of the reader to the full meaning of the verses.

In actuality, there were many times when a particular verse was obviously chosen, not because of its fuller meaning, but because it supported the statement made by the author. For instance, when stating that vulnerability is a part of ministry, Warren quoted a verse which said that Paul told the Corinthians all of his feelings. That’s not the case. Warren interjected the idea from psychology and found a verse to back up his statement.

Warren teaches the authority of the Bible as the standard for life. However, when using 15 translations of the Bible, the actual authority is not the Bible, at all. The authority is the man. He chooses which verse most appeals to him and then follows that one. Eve was faced with that very dilemma in the garden when she was tempted by the devil. He caused her to doubt the truth of God’s words by questioning whether God had really said what he meant. He offered her a different translation and she decided to follow the new version. Of course, when she did, she became the authority and fell into sin.

It is very popular for preachers to affirm that they believe in the authority of the Bible in all matters of faith and practice. Yet, most do not follow their profession. They cannot because they do not believe that they have God’s words in their Bible. They only believe that they have imperfect translations of those words. Therefore, they believe they are free to pick and choose which words they will follow. Thus, they quote from a variety of translations and often go to “the Greek” to correct the words of God if they can’t find a translation that backs up what they believe.

If you follow that method of Bible “authority” you will end up in confusion, not knowing entirely what or who to believe. Soon, you will be following your own heart’s desires. Paul knew this when he wrote, “And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God,” (1 Cor 2:4-5).

The second problem is that the book is filled with topics from psychology. The author talks repeatedly about “opening up” to others and “sharing” your painful experiences, fears, failures and even sins. James calls this kind of wisdom, “earthly, sensual, devilish,” (Jas 3:15). When you first begin to experience the results of following this false doctrine, you get the liberating sensation that you have just discovered one of the most profound truths in the Bible. It’s pragmatic, it feels good and it looks good. But after the fruit of this heresy ripens, it is as vile as rotten figs (Jer 29:17).

The basic concept that is employed from psychology is the “support group.” This is the group or individual with whom you talk about yourself. You confess your sins to them, you tell them your deepest thoughts and feelings, and you disclose your addictions and temptations to them. This is supposed to humble you while giving you courage. In truth, the whole process defiles the congregation and is nothing more than an opening for the old man to get publicly comfortable with his sins.

There is no doubt that Christians are to bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2). However, the author professes that there are actually some sins in your life that you will not be able to whip without the help of others and without a person or group to whom you can be accountable. Our accountability is not to man but to God (Rom 14:12). Once you risk confiding in others about your secret faults and sins, you will be rewarded with an immediate surge of emotional relief. You will believe that the Son has made you free. In reality, you will be horribly deceived by this feeling. Only time will reveal to you the ultimate consequence of your failure to trust God to deal with your sins.

Listen, if you believe that Bible, your thoughts are to be brought under the control of Jesus Christ (2 Cor 10:3-6), your sins are to be confessed to him (1 Jn 1:9), and you are to walk in the faith that you are a new creature in Christ (2 Cor 5:17). We are no longer what we were before we got saved (1 Cor 6:9-11) no matter how much the flesh and the devil like to remind us of our past (Phil 3:13-14). The need to tell others in order to find help displays your unbelief in the promises of God (Rom 8:37; 1 Pet 2:24; Rom 6:12-13) and the victory of faith (1 Jn 5:4).

Whatever you do, don’t trade in your King James Bible for all of these modern works of men and don’t rely upon psychology (Col 2:8; 1 Tim 6:20). They’ll wipe you out.

Hope this helps,

Pastor Bevans Welder