September 29, 2020

A guide to my issues with Rick Warren

Saw Rick Warren on Larry King tonight. (Gee, Larry. Time to hang it up. Your comments sound demented.) Rick was everything I know and shake my head over. Mediocre. Full of cliches. Muddled about the Gospel, but mostly sorta kinda right. I found myself thinking I was watching the natural progression from Wesley to Finney to Graham to Bright and now to Warren. You can’t be a reformation Christian and feel good about this.

OTOH people constantly send me critiques of Warren that are loopy. KJV only fundamentalists ranting about Warren using paraphrases and such. That’s not me. Just what are my issues? Here’s a brief interview.

You just don’t like him, do you?

I think if he worked here at OBI, I’d like him. I think if he were my pastor, I’d probably be in his corner on most things, but in his office on a lot of others. If he were my neighbor I’m sure we’d be on friendly terms. But we would have some matters to debate.

You’re jealous, right?

Absolutely. The fact that anybody sells 500,000 books before the book is published makes me jealous. Since I can’t find a way to write anything longer than 10 pages, I am jealous. I’m more concerned about his influence than jealous, but sure, I’m jealous. I’m also jealous of lots of people I like and recommend. So what?

No, I mean the big church. That bothers you because you are a loser.

Uh… Not at all. Do I wish my church were bigger? Sure. Do I begrudge him the success of Saddleback, Inc.? That’s ridiculous. There are plenty of big church pastors I love and promote. Size doesn’t matter 🙂

But the fact he has a big church and is into church growth is why you harp on him.

It’s why I critique him. Big church pastors did something to make the church big. They tell the rest of us what we ought to do. That means you should examine and ask questions. They are influential, and usually get a free pass because Americans love success. I don’t think that’s how scripture urges us to look at leaders. If something is wrong or questionable, you should say so. Warren has said a lot about his church growth methods. That invites criticism or approval. He’s also got a whole ministry telling pastors what to do, and I think that invites even more scutinty, because what he does at his church is their business, but what he tells the rest of us we must do is our business- and the business of the church as a whole.

But listen to the guy. He’s a solid evangelical Southern Baptist. What’s your problem?

Solid? Not too solid. Pretty hard to pin down. He’s not a theologian. He’s like Bill Bright more than anyone else. He’s like Billy Graham in other ways. These figures influenced evangelicalism away from it’s reformation foundations and towards a fuzzy Arminianism and unquestioning pragmatism. As a (bad) Calvinist and a Reformation Christian, I don’t find those developments positive. There is a message and a method in scripture. It’s not up to me to define either as it suits me. Listen to Warren on Larry King. He is right on the boundary line between evangelicalism and a total muddle. He lives on that line and he sells that approach as the model for the rest of us. Every theological statement is soft, every church growth statement is hard. As the major influence on the future of the church, he doesn’t impress me. Sorry. Does that make me a bad person?

So you just don’t like to be told what to do? It’s your “only child” syndrome.

Thanks for the diagnosis, but…Yes! And I don’t like Christian publishers telling me what MUST happen in my church or who I MUST read in order to hear God’s voice. I don’t like the fact that on and in PDC, Warren has become this combination of trite and authoritative, and I am supposed to recognize his wisdom and leadership. He’s mediocre as an author and unoriginal as a preacher. That’s not hating on the guy. He sells books. That’s his great quality.


  1. a few quick questions (geez, sounds like I’m on a Frontliners trip)

    1. what is OTOH?
    2. what’s the deal with graham?
    3. what’s the deal with bright?

  2. On the other hand.

    The Family Tree of Arminian Revivalism’s takeover of American Christianity:

    John Wesley to Charles Finney = Revivalism and revivalist techniques, i.e. the public invitation and all it’s unholy spawn.

    Billy Graham and Bill Bright (founder of Campus Crusade and author of the 4 Spiritual laws)= turning Arminian revivalism triumphs with a “Four spiritual laws” version of the Biblical Gospel and the triumph of language like “relationship with Christ,” “ask Jesus into your heart,” etc. We Pray the prayer to get saved.

  3. I’ve wondered about that sort of thing in regards to a guy like Al Mohler. He’s an SBC guy, the vast majority of whose pastors use such language, but I wonder if he’s really into it.

    Can someone recommend a book that offers a thoughtful and sensitive critique of Bright and Graham?

  4. Michael Horton, Made in America

  5. I second the Horton book recommendation.

  6. I have a corollary to your theory that the super teacher is usurping the authority of the local pastor/teacher and that the publishers are making the decisions on who receives the accolades. It goes something like this: the amount of time spent by the average believer reading “Christian” materials is inversely proportional to the amount of time spent in the real source of truth – the Word. Christians don’t eat the meat because they are constantly drinking the milk of publishers. We have the mind of Christ and the Spirit that leads us into all truth. Why don’t we make use of them?

  7. Dude-
    You need to let go of your bitterness, jealousy and envy, and move on. Have you ever spent any time with boots on the ground at the everyday Saddleback Church, or do you base your thoughts on books, the Internet, and perhaps an occasional conference?

  8. I have spent boot time at Saddleback Valley Community Church, 1-3% carry in Bibles, the majority have let “him” and the variety of “translations” become their “bibles” This man centered way leads to death:
    Pro 14:12 There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death. KJV, and Pro 16:25 above repeated verbatim. God says it to us twice!!
    We (not just Rick Warren) have moved away form the dark part of the message of the Bible, in the uncovering of man’s severely, evil heart. So we have cut this out in our selective preaching, and incorporated a watered down version of Jesus as a new age, Wayne Dyer type “god” to believe in so that I, I repeat, that I might have a better life…. Predicted to be occuring in the perilous times of the last of the last days.
    2nd Timothy, Chapter 3: looks like we are in those days. Read your Bibles folks and use the discernment of the Holy Spirit to lead you to a church/pastor who is preaching the Word in this “out” of season, season.
    Psa 119:89 Forever, O LORD, thy word is settled in heaven. In Jesus name, Amen

  9. Jeremy Keay says

    Right on. You nailed it.