A book that has both sold over thirty million copies and been translated in various languages, Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life certainly has much influence in the evangelical world to this day despite its being copyrighted back in 2002. This book, which is meant to be read in forty consecutive days, attempts to answer the question, “What on earth am I here for?” In fact, Warren calls this book a “guide to a 40-day spiritual journey that will enable you to discover the answer to” the aforementioned question, a question he calls “life’s most important question” (p. 9). He claims that one will both know God’s purpose for his/her life and understand the big picture at the end of the journey (p. 9).
This is a big claim.
Warren also invites the reader to make a covenant with Warren (pp. 12-13). This covenant involves committing the next forty days to reading this book (basically a chapter a day). I will admit that I did not sign the covenant. Instead of taking 40 days to read it, I took about two weeks, taking notes and making observations throughout my reading.
This book review attempts to find out if Warren’s big claim is as good as it sounds. If the book fails in its claim that the reader will both know God’s purpose for his/her life and understand the big picture at the end of the journey (more specifically at the end of reading the book), then the book essentially fails.
WHAT ON EARTH AM I HERE FOR?
In this section, Warren dedicates seven days (or chapters) to addressing the above question (pp. 15-59). You will notice that Warren cites multiple translations spanning multiple verses on page 15 (The Message and the NLT). The Message is an awful translation (more accurately known as a Herephrase). Unfortunately, Warren cites this translation early and often. While the NLT is not as bad, it is nowhere near as accurate as a good translation (such as the ESV, the NASB and the NKJV). Already there is a problem because Warren clearly has no discernment giving his frequently using a heretical translation of God’s Word.
After reading the first chapter (titled “It All Starts With God”), one can recognize a few literary qualities of this book. First, Warren starts each chapter with a legit one-liner (i.e., “It’s not about you”, “You’re not an accident”, etc.). Second, each chapter ends with a section titled “Thinking About My Purpose.” These sections include a point to ponder, a verse to remember (unfortunately these verses are not always in a good translation, nor are they always in context), and a question to consider. If the “verse to remember” part got fine-tuned to include as many verses as necessary (depending on book and context) and a good translation in the citation, this section would be a hit out of the park. Instead, it misses the mark just a smidge. Third, each chapter begins with either two cited verses (ripped out of context, mind you) or a verse/quote combo. Finally, Warren’s use of repetition is worth noting. Often when he cites his verses (which are usually out of context and oftentimes in a bad translation), he precedes the citation with, “The Bible says” or something similar. These literary qualities help make the book a simple read.
In chapter two, titled “You Are Not An Accident”, another recurring thing emerges; Warren frequently cites verses in an interesting way. For example, he states, “The Bible tells us, ‘God is love’” (p. 24). The back of this book contains all of Warren’s source citations (and there are plenty of them). If one looks up the verse citation in the back, one discovers that the verse is 1 John 4:8 (p. 327). The verse is correct. However, the verse does not just state those words. Instead, it states the following (I use the NASB since Warren does not specify the translation in the back):
“The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.”
What Warren did in his citation is eliminate about 75% of the verse without placing an ellipse at the beginning (said ellipse indicating there were words preceding and/or following the words that are cited). Hillsong did a similar thing on its album Mighty To Save when it ripped 2 Chronicles 7:14 out of context. Warren does the same thing in chapter three (p. 29). Thankfully, he does use ellipses at certain points in the book (p. 36). Normally, this case of not using ellipses would be an issue (but Warren explains why he does this later in the book; more on that later in this review).
Chapter three, titled “What Drives Your Life?” reveals something else that is somewhat prevalent throughout the book. At times, Warren makes statements with absolutely zero statistical support. For example, in this chapter, he states that many people are driven by guilt, resentment, anger, fear, materialism and/or the need for approval (pp. 27-29). He gives absolutely zero statistical support to back these claims. It is as if he is just making this stuff up on the fly.
Chapter four, titled “Made To Last Forever”, features arguably the best statement Warren makes in the entire book (p. 37):
“While life on earth offers many choices, eternity offers only two: heaven or hell. Your relationship to God on earth will determine your relationship to him in eternity. If you learn to love and trust God’s Son, Jesus, you will be invited to spend the rest of eternity with him. On the other hand, if you reject his love, forgiveness, and salvation, you will spend eternity apart from God forever.”
It is true that eternity offers only two choices. Furthermore, one’s relationship to God on earth will determine one’s relationship to Him in eternity (notice I capitalized “Him”; some people may find not capitalizing pronouns referring to Jesus [and Warren does not capitalize pronouns referring to Jesus] as an issue). One must repent and believe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ alone (Jesus being the only way by which mankind may be saved) for salvation (Acts 4:12, 16:31; John 14:6; Isaiah 43:11; Romans 10:17; Galatians 3:2; Romans 6:23; 2 Timothy 2:24-26; Ephesians 2:8-10; Matthew 3:8; Titus 3:8). This is a little beyond the description Warren gives as it pertains to learning to love and trust God’s Son. Repentance and faith represent big aspects of a born-again believer (something Warren omits). Warren is correct in stating that one does spend eternity apart from God by rejecting His love, forgiveness and salvation. The Bible contains many passages that describe this “eternity apart from God” (more accurately described as hell; see Romans 2:8-10; Revelation 9:2; chapters 19-20; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10; Matthew 8:12, 22:13, 25:14-146; Mark 9:43; Isaiah 66:24; Luke 13:22-36, 16:19-31).
In chapter five, titled “Seeing Life From God’s View”, Warren says something rather interesting near the conclusion of the chapter (p. 46):
“God says there is a direct relationship between how I use my money and the quality of my spiritual life. How I manage my money (“worldly wealth”) determines how much God can trust me with spiritual blessings (“true riches”). Let me ask you: is the way you manage your money preventing God from doing more in your life? Can you be trusted with spiritual riches?”
I have to ask the question; if my way of money management prevents God from doing more in my life, wouldn’t that make me more powerful than God? Warren’s statement here is nothing short of heretical. God is in heaven and He does what He pleases (Psalm 115:3). If God wanted to do much in my life irrespective of my money management, He could do so. My money management (competent or otherwise) does not limit what God can or cannot do.
In chapter six, titled “Life Is a Temporary Assignment”, Warrens explains what the title states while, at the same time, ripping verses out of context (pp. 47-52). In chapter seven, titled “The Reason For Everything”, Warren rips more verses out of context (pp. 53-59). Furthermore, he gives a very short and incomplete Gospel presentation (p. 58). While he does mention sin, his explanation of it (“ … at its root, is failing to give God glory”) is insufficient (pp. 54-55). Instead of preaching the Law to show how we all have broken God’s holy standard and thus are separated from God (which is something that Ray Comfort and Todd Friel would do in their Gospel presentations), he preaches what Tim Challies calls a “decisional regeneration” that gives “false hope” since the presentation does not give a full explanation of both who God is and why people need a Savior. His presentation is essentially as follows (pp. 58-59):
“First, believe. Believe God loves you and made you for his purposes. Believe you’re not an accident. Believe you were made to last forever. Believe God has chosen you to have a relationship with Jesus, who died on the cross for you. Believe that no matter what you’ve done, God wants to forgive you.
Second, receive. Receive Jesus into your life as your Lord and Savior. Receive his forgiveness for your sins. Receive his Spirit, who will give you the power to fulfill your life purpose. The Bible says, “Whoever accepts and trusts the Son gets in on everything, life complete and forever!” Wherever you are reading this, I invite you to bow your head and quietly whisper the prayer that will change your eternity: “Jesus, I believe in you and I receive you.” Go ahead.
If you sincerely meant that prayer, congratulations! Welcome to the family of God! You are now ready to discover and start living God’s purpose for your life.”
While it is true that people are both not an accident and loved by God, Warren’s concept of God’s having “chosen you to have a relationship with Jesus” (a.k.a., “relationship theology”) needs explaining. First, we are all created in God’s image (Genesis 1:26-27). Already, there’s a relationship of creation/Creator between every single human being ever created and God. Second, for the non-believer, another relationship already exists; God is judge over the non-believer. Furthermore, the non-believer, dead in his/her trespasses and sins, stands in condemnation before a holy God (Exodus 34:7; Ephesians 2:1-3; Romans 2:8-10; Revelation 9:2; 19-20; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10; Matthew 8:12; 22:13; 25:14-46 Mark 9:43; Isaiah 66:24). Needless to say, this is a bad, damning relationship. Because of that, this concept of God’s having “chosen you to have a relationship with Jesus” does not save automatically. Having a good and only a good relationship with Him (i.e., being a penitent believer in Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world–Acts 4:12; John 1:29, 14:6; Acts 16:31; 2 Corinthians 5:8; Philippians 1:21; Matthew 3:8; Ephesians 2:10) leads to salvation, not simply a relationship in itself. It has to be a good one.
As it pertains to the second paragraph from above, the italicized verse was the first part of John 3:36 in The Message. I have already discussed the problems with the Herephrase known as The Message. The other problem here involves Warren’s essentially shaving a hard edge off the Gospel. John 3:36 in a good translation (NASB) states, “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” As I also noted in the previous paragraph in discussing the non-believer’s being dead in trespasses and sins, there is a consequence for rejecting God. Warren does not discuss that at all in this presentation, thus making this presentation incomplete at the very least.
Finally, Warren’s leading the reader in prayer is insufficient given the fact his gospel presentation was insufficient. How can someone legitimately be ushered into the family of God without recognizing his/her need of a Savior? I do not quite have a problem with the brevity of the prayer (let’s not forget that the thief on the cross did not exactly spew a novel in his cry for help; see Luke 23:33-43). However, as Challies noted, this type of prayer, given the insufficient presentation that preceded it, can give someone false hope (see this lengthy documentary for additional commentary on this matter and others pertaining to it).
The rest of Warren’s book explains, according to him, the five purposes of your life. They are:
- You Were Planned For God’s Pleasure (pp. 63-116)
- You Were Formed For God’s Family (pp. 117-170)
- You Were Created To Become Like Christ (pp. 171-226)
- You Were Shaped For Serving God (pp. 227-280)
- You Were Made For a Mission (pp. 281-319)
Each purpose (henceforth referred to as a section) has a chapter (or day) named after it (seven chapters in each section sans the last one, which has five). Each section has its fair share of false teachings and verses ripped out of context, among other things. This review only briefly reviews the content of the five sections, given both its lengthy analysis of the preceding sections and the concerning findings from said lengthy analysis.
SECTION ONE: YOU WERE PLANNED FOR GOD’S PLEASURE (pp. 63-116)
A problem exists at the very beginning of the first chapter of this section. As noted earlier, each chapter begins with either a double-verse or verse/quote combo right above the text on the chapter’s opening page. One of the verses is Revelation 4:11 in the NLT.
In the book, it states, “You created everything, and it is for your pleasure that they exist and were created.”
However, in the actual NLT, it states, “You are worthy, O Lord our God, to receive glory and honor and power. For you created all things, and they exist because you created what you pleased.”
Notice the difference between what was cited and what the text in the NLT actually says for that same chapter and verse. These are two completely different things. Furthermore, the word “pleasure” is not even in the verse in the actual NLT. The fact that no less than one of Warren’s five purposes (and these are Warren’s purposes because his gross twisting of Scripture essentially amounts to nothing more than manmade doctrine) comes from an inaccurate citation of a verse (in addition to the other things already noted at this point) is too blatant and obvious to ignore.
Other notable issues in this section include but are not limited to Warren’s false belief that God wants a relationship from people most of all (p. 70; 2 Peter 3:9 would refute Warren’s statement, and the aforementioned brief discussion on “relationship theology” would do the same), Warren’s gross belief that God “woos” us (p. 79; but God does not do such a thing), and Warren’s heretical belief that God would share His secrets with those who “develop the habit of thinking about His Word throughout the day” (p. 91; such a belief reeks of Gnosticism and mysticism; we have everything we need to know about God in the Bible).
SECTION TWO: YOU WERE FORMED FOR GOD’S FAMILY (pp. 117-170)
In this section, Warren continues his Scripture twisting. This section does not have as many problems as the prior section. However, given its continued Scripture twisting, it is problematic nonetheless. Furthermore, he takes a jab at doctrine (p. 124). On a side note, it is possible that the cliché phrase “doing life together” got its origin from this book (pp. 138-144).
SECTION THREE: YOU WERE CREATED TO BECOME LIKE CHRIST (pp. 171-226)
The same aforementioned issues this review has mentioned persist in this section (as they do in the next two sections). Warren does promote the false “still small voice” doctrine (p. 174). He also sugarcoats sin a bit (pp. 220-221). This is ironic given he was a bit more descriptive (although not completely descriptive) about sin earlier in the book.
SECTION FOUR: YOU WERE SHAPED FOR SERVING GOD (pp. 227-280)
A problem exists at the opening page of the section’s opening chapter. Warren claims “God designed you to make a difference with your life” (p. 227). This is not entirely accurate. Instead (and this even refutes the concept of being “created for a purpose”), God created us for good works (plural, not singular as “purpose” is). Ephesians 2:8-10 states as much. Furthermore, the Great Commission commands believers to make disciples of all nations (not a difference; see Matthew 28:18-20 and Luke 24:36-49). To state that believers are called to make a difference is not technically accurate compared to what the Scriptures say.
Warren also minimizes God’s power much in this section. He states on several occasions that, basically, God works on a quid-pro-quo level (pp. 247, 267, 273). In short, He can only do certain things based on our actions or lack thereof. Warren, for whatever reason, fails to understand that God is in heaven and does what He pleases (Psalm 115:3).
SECTION FIVE: YOU WERE MADE FOR A MISSION (pp. 281-319)
In addition to the aforementioned concerns that have already been discussed multiple times throughout this review, Warren briefly discusses the habit of “praying silent breath prayers” (p. 299). This practice of “breath prayers” is unbiblical. This is something associated with contemplative prayer, a prayer method with ties to Eastern religions and New Age cults. Obviously, this is not a good thing. It is just another thing in a laundry list of things that one should find concern with in regards to this book.
To conclude the book, Warren lists a few appendices and a plethora of Bible verse citations for the chapters in his book (pp. 320-334). The first two appendices list discussion questions and resources, respectively (pp. 320-324).
In appendix 3, Warren explains why he uses so many translations (pp. 325-326). While he is right in stating that Bible translations do have limitations, he has no business using awful translations (The Message, The Amplified Bible, God’s Word Translation, and the Phillips Bible, said Phillips Bible composed by one who was known as a heretic who denied Bible inerrancy) or even other translations that, while not as awful, should be “avoided like the plague” (the NLT). Warren also admits to not always quoting the entire verse, stating that Jesus and the apostles represented his model for how they quoted the Old Testament (p. 325). While it is true that Jesus and the apostles did quote phrases throughout the New Testament, this does not neglect the fact that Warren ripped verses out of context, twisted Scripture and used some awful translations throughout the entire book. On at least one occasion, he cited the same verse with two different translations in the same chapter (see #’s 6 & 12 under day 36 on p. 333). This does explain his not using ellipses, though (and is the only reason why his citations are not exactly dishonest).
As noted earlier, Warren claimed that one would both know God’s purpose for his/her life and understand the big picture at the end of the journey (or specifically at the end of the reading of this book; p. 9). After reading this book, I can state that I am better off knowing both God’s will for my life (I hesitate on using the word “purpose” given believers are created for good works, per Ephesians 2:10) and the big picture simply by reading the Bible. I do not get that better understanding from reading Warren’s book. Instead, I am too distracted by the plethora of Scripture twisting, erratic citations, usage of awful Bible translations, and false teachings, among other things. While this is a simple read that makes a few good points and clarifications, even a broken clock is right twice a day. Unless you are reading this book for research purposes, it would be best to stay away from The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren. If you want to know more about both God’s will for your life and the “big picture”, read the Bible. You will find it there.