Everytime I mentioned Rick Warren in a blog entry, it seems to stir folks up. Never one to hide from controversy stirred by my opinions, I oddly sometimes hesitate to publicly post my growing discomfort and frustration with the post-best-seller version of Rick Warren who, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, is being labeled by some as “America’s Pastor” — set to assume the national position and prestige of Billy Graham. I do not want to be viewed as an “Anti-Warrenian” as some who inevitably respond to my printed concerns insinuate. But neither can I ignore some most-egregious examples of what I’ve previously described as a “Messiah Complex” when it comes to public statements Warren has been making of late.
In the Inquirer’s ongoing series on Evangelicalism, Rick Warren was featured in an article on the “Purpose-Driven Pastor.” As I’ve stated, I’m not an anti-Rick Warren crusader who sees no good in anything he’s written or done and relishes everything negative I can find on him or Saddleback. I’ve been to Saddleback twice, I’ve read Warren’s books, I have friends who attend there and acquaintances on staff there. We use some of the principles of Purpose-Driven Church in our ministry. As with everything else I find in broader Christendom, I’ve appreciated the Biblical liberty I have to eat the meat and spit out the bones as I’ve had to do with so many other books, trends, sermons and movements. Discernment should prevent us from becoming blind sychophants and it should also permit us to see and appreciate the gifts that God has given him. Warren is no more the False Prophet of the Anti-Christ than is any other pastor or spiritual leader who gets swept up in his own pride or wanders unintentionally into something that is philosophically unsound. Always — Always, we should examine every one who would say “Thus saith the Lord” from the foundation of Scripture — both in word and deed.
With that said, I can’t begin to express my aggravation and disappointment with what appears to be a direct quote from Warren in the Philadelphia Inquirer article.
Here’s what it said…
Warren predicts that fundamentalism, of all varieties, will be “one of the big enemies of the 21st century.”
“Muslim fundamentalism, Christian fundamentalism, Jewish fundamentalism, secular fundamentalism - they’re all motivated by fear. Fear of each other.”
The reasons for offense are myriad.
First, to lump fundamentalist Christianity into the same pile of heresy as Muslim, secular and other “fundamentalism” is ignorant and dishonest. Such a shocking overstatement is intellectually offensive. It puts Warren squarely in the league of rhetorical excess as demonstrated by Ray Nagin, Hillary Clinton and Pat Robertson. And thus, he owes broader fundamental Christianity an apology for such an egregiously outrageous statement.
If he doesn’t understand the differences between Christian fundamentalism which is based on an absolutist worldview that Truth is God and God is Truth and found in the Living Word of God (Jesus) and the written Word of God (the Bible) and the beliefs of any other religion, philosophy or worldview which rejects that Absolute Standard, then he needs to be quiet. It’s better to be silent on subjects wherein one is ignorant than to elocute foolishly and be found a fool.
The Battle for Truth is the single most important battle that has ever been waged. It’s first shot in Creation was fired in Eden and it rages to this day. To imply that Fundamental (Orthodox) Christianity is tantamount to orthodox Islam, Judaism or Secularism is profoundly absurd. They are polar opposites theologically. Whereas the “middle ground” may be acceptable in politics, social relationships and personal preferences, it is the broad way to destruction spiritually. As I often say, “Compromise is the lifeblood of politics, but it is the deathknell of theology.” Truth matters. It is the foundation on which everything else is anchored.
Beyond that, to simplistically reduce fundamentalism to a position motivated by or based upon fear is equally absurd.
First, fear is not always a “bad thing.” Lose the fear of pain or death and people will be jumping off buildings, driving 180 miles an hour on curvy roads and playing Russian Roulette with impunity. The Scripture tells us that the “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” It is the fool who refuses to fear God and the consequences of ignoring His Truth.
Secondly, one cannot comprehend fear if he is not aware of security. If you love flowers, you hate weeds. If peace is important to you, then conflict and war should disturb you. Fear is what we should feel when we ignore or reject Truth.
Finally, fundamentalist Christianity is not simply about fear. To say such a thing would be the equivalent of saying that people who prefer a sonata played by a concert pianist over the random plunkings of a toddler are motivated by “fear”. Fear is not what should motivate us as much as it is the consequence of knowing truth and then examining our own depraved condition in light of that truth. I should be scared spitless at the thought of standing in judgment before a righteous and holy God. But equally powerful is the love that same God extended toward me through the sacrificial and vicarious death of His Son. The love rescues me from fear. The person riding in a car down a road where a bridge has been destroyed knows no fear in his ignorance. But those who understand the devastating impact of sin, the complete inability of man to save himself and the inevitability of death and eternity should indeed have a fearful response to his impending destruction. Thus, the light of God’s love shows us a narrow and singular escape from our destruction — complete and total submission to His plan for our salvation through Jesus Christ.
Warren’s attempt to smugly and neatly stereotype all forms of fundamentalism into one common package is just wrong. Once again, we see an iconclastic spiritual “guru” hop onto the infallibility of his own perceived authority and say something confusingly stupid. Like so many others before him, Robertson, Graham, Schuller and others, he missed an opportunity to make a clear and bold statement for the gospel by attempting to ingratiate himself to the masses and the media. He (and they) should know better.
But this can serve as a warning to all of us pastor-types and even some of us bloggers. Words matter. Thus we should speak slowly and carefully. Think about the implications of our statements. Strive for humility. And when we get it wrong — quickly and forcefully admit and correct our error.