Wednesday

Day One - It All Starts with God

This book gets off to a good start. The first three paragraphs hold out a promise of more great things come. We are urged to consider God first in all things because He is the Creator of all things. This is precisely where Calvin began his Institutes of the Christian Religion, pointing out that while knowledge of self and knowledge of God seem to involve one another, rightly true knowledge of self depends upon true knowledge of God. As he proceeds, Mr. Warren elaborates on two possible methods of pursuing true self-knowledge: speculation and revelation. In this also he echoes the procedure of Calvin. Rightly, he dismisses speculation. Given that we are not the Creator, therefore, we cannot pronounce authoritatively on the meaning of creation. Rightly, he urges revelation, and rightly, he identifies revelation as the Word of God; the Bible. The Creator speaks and thus defines created reality. Our knowledge of ourselves, and of all creation, is true if it is grounded in revelation.

However, in what follows the great promise of the foregoing is dashed. Mr. Warren parts company with Calvin and with all sound and biblical wisdom. In the Institutes Calvin proceeds to elaborate on the impediment of sin and on the true Doctrine of Revelation in the Bible. Mr. Warren glosses over the matter of sin entirely. Thus, a crucial question is left unasked and therefore unanswered: if we are the creation of God, then why is there difficulty with knowing this and with understanding ourselves and reality aright? Having bypassed this inquiry altogether, Mr. Warren therefore entertains no compunction to elaborate a Doctrine of Revelation. This departure from biblical wisdom leads to many problems, a number of which are exhibited during the course of this first Day.

Even though he has stressed “revelation” over speculation, he repeatedly speaks of true self-knowledge as that which we “discover” (p. 18, 19, 20). Our “discovery” is said to come, “…through a relationship with Jesus Christ” (p.20). But, with no clear idea of sin in view, this idea of “discovery” cannot meaningfully be portrayed as involved in Redemption. This problem suggests a refinement of the question posed above: if I am God’s creation, then why should I be without a relationship with Jesus Christ? Indeed, how is it possible for any creature to exist apart from being related to the Creator? However, there is no hint of consideration of these questions. Instead there is only the assurance that it is within our initiative and power to begin such a relationship; as he puts it, “If you don’t have such a relationship, I will later explain how to begin one” (p.20). This, in turn, suggests further questions, e.g: If God is the Creator of all reality, and so determines the meaning and purpose of all things, then how can we meaningfully speak of a relationship between God and His creature as depending upon the initiative and power of the creature? Mr. Warren affords us no explanation.

Indeed, if I “discover” my meaning and purpose through initiative I exercise to begin a relationship with Jesus Christ, then what really remains of a “Creator” or any “revelation” consisting of His Word? How is the Bible essentially different from the Koran, the Talmud, the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, the Vedas, the I-Ching, the Ovid, et. al.? How is the Bible essentially different from thoughts of my own mind? Mr. Warren closes this first Day with what is supposed to be an inspiring story of an atheist Russian novelist, who was overcome with great despair. And then, “…suddenly, all by itself, a phrase appeared: Without God life makes no sense.” (p.21) How is the Bible essentially different from “all by itself, a phrase appeared”? One may suggest that the experience of the Russian atheist is an example of the “general revelation” of Nature. Indeed, biblical orthodoxy holds that whereas men are in fact the creatures of God, and made in His image, therefore it is their nature to know this and to know Him, even though in sin they seek to flee Him. But Mr. Warren undertakes no discussion comparing and contrasting the “general” revelation of Nature and the “special” revelation of the Bible. The Russian atheist is presented as arriving at true faith in God via thoughts that arise in his mind.

Biblical orthodoxy holds on the one hand that the general revelation of Nature is sufficient that all men know God and know their duty to God, and therefore are “without excuse” in their sin (Rom. 1:18-23), and on the other hand that only the special revelation of the Bible is sufficient for the regeneration of men unto truth (Rom. 10:6-17). “Revelation” means that God reveals to us that which we could not know apart from Him speaking to us. This is what makes the Bible different from other “sacred texts.” The Bible is the Word of the Creator of all reality. Other texts are the words of men. The truly Christian idea is to maintain a clear and deep distinction between the Creator and the creature - between the God who defines and determines all of reality and the man who inhabits, experiences, and is limited by reality. The authority of the Bible in the thought and lives of men is founded upon this distinction. Apart from this distinction the mind and the thoughts of “God” cannot ultimately be separated from the mind and the thoughts of man. In this case there could be no meaningful distinction between the Bible and any other words we may happen to encounter.

Mr. Warren’s message thus far seems to be: 1) Man is a creature of God, but 2) somehow the “creature” may exist without relation to the “Creator”; 3) although this is problematic for the creature, nevertheless he may exercise his power and initiative to enter into relationship to the Creator; 4) something that we have the habit of referring to as “revelation” somehow will be involved in his “discovering” the meaning and purpose of life. Mr. Warren’s concepts of “God,” “Man,” “Revelation,” and “Discovery” are rather nebulous. Therefore, under these terms a man’s transformation from meaninglessness and purposelessness into meaning and purpose is an ill-defined process of becoming; the creature somehow becomes what the Creator made him to be. As Mr. Warren puts it, “It is about becoming what God created you to be” (p.19).

In contrast to this, a biblically orthodox message holds that 1) it is the nature of the creature to be related to the Creator - that nothing can exist apart from this relation (Col. 1:17); 2) that Man’s problem consists not of a metaphysical difficulty whereby he somehow lacks this relation, but of a moral difficulty of being a sinner, who has broken God’s Law and therefore stands guilty before Him; i.e. he is not without relation to God, but bears the relation of a sinner before his Judge rather than a son before his Father; 3) that, therefore, man’s need is not to “begin a relationship with Jesus,” but to find a remedy for his sin; 4) and that the evidence of Nature is sufficient to condemn every man who refuses to bow before his Creator, but that only the authoritative Word of the Creator, Who alone determines and interprets all of reality, is sufficient to teach us the positive truths of who we are, the fact of our sin, and the remedy provided by God in Christ.

While Mr. Warren began his treatise with the promise of a “Creator / creature distinction,” this promise has not been fulfilled. Though he has mouthed the words dismissing “speculation,” in the end the view he has constructed can be nothing more than speculative. His characterization of God’s truth as a human “discovery” implies a correlativity, not a distinction, of the “Creator” and the “creature.” In this case, what can “Creator” and “creature” really mean? Either man is a sinner who must humble himself before his Creator to learn from His Word the truth of Creator and creature, or else he is a morally neutral “seeker” who must remain free to determine the meaning of “creator” and “creature” for himself. Mr. Warren has left sin out of the discussion altogether, whereas apart from a true “Creator / creature distinction” there can be no truly biblical idea of sin. Without a truly biblical idea of sin Mr. Warren is forced into a position of having to embrace the very speculation that he made a show of rejecting. Lacking a true idea of man’s basic problem, he is prevented from suggesting a true remedy. His solution has everything to do with “relationship” and nothing to do with “Redemption.” Still, his opening paragraphs present a spark of truth. We must press on in hope that this spark may yet be kindled and that his deficiencies might be made up in the days to come.

8 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello,

This is really an excellent summation. I wish I was astute enough to have been able to so aptly dissect Mr. Warren's writings as you have. Every time I would find a grain of truth and begin to follow it I would run into a wall and then suddenly his conclusion would return to me.

Thank you for the Purpose Driven Purpose!

4:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was not stretched to a greater revelation or a greater releationship with Christ by taking the Purpose Driven Life course. I too took the course because others in my family/Bible Study Group were.
For me, the first question that should be asked is, "is this study directed toward the Chrisitan and their spiritual growth or toward the unsaved and their salvation."
Because if as Mr. Mooney seems to be inferring the book is directed toward the unsaved then, indeed it is wholly missing the point, if not conciously blurring it.
But, on the other hand, if it is directed toward christian growth then it must be for the very new, or very satisfied christian (and both of these categories do exist) because I was left still unsastified and hungry when I was done.
For the brand new christian this seems to be a good course. Many seem to come away from it with a closer relationship with Christ than before.
For the other category of Christians - what full person really enjoys more food even when they eat it? They do not want to move on from where they are because they are satisfied. They do not partake of the word (at any level or from any source) with any real relish.
They need to have their appetites stirred and the best way to do that is exercise. They need to exercise their faith - give out of what they do have until they become hungry again.
But, enough of that - my point is that for the truly hungry, more mature christian desiring to grow and mature in Christ this is NOT the course to take.
As for revelation vs. discovery the Biblical meaning of revelation is "laying bear, making naked, a disclosure of truth, instruction; concerning things before unknown; used of events by which things or states or persons hitherto withdrawn from view are made visible to all; manifestation,appearance." While to "discover" actually has a very similar Biblical meaning: "to uncover, remove;depart; to go into exile; (reflexive)to uncover oneself; to discover or show oneself;
to reveal himself (of God)
passive)to be uncovered; to be disclosed, be discovered
to be revealed; to be removed (nakedness)
to disclose, discover, lay bare; to make known, show, reveal; to carry away into exile, take into exile
to be taken into exile
reveal oneself."
The difference seems to be that revelation is an uncovering of secret things by God while discovery is an uncovering by man.
Can man uncover (discover) secrets of God - certainly but only by revelation. :-)
God created ALL THINGS through christ. How then is it possible for a creature to exist apart from being related to the creator? Was Lucifer created? Does he now exist? What then is his relationship to the creator?
I think there is a place for the light-weight theology of "The Purpose Driven Life" if only to feed the new-born and immature.

8:10 AM  
Blogger Beyond The Rim... said...

While doing some reading this morning, purposely looking for things to challenge me, I stumbled across your site. Thank you. I want to read with you the evolution of your spiritual journey, for I also have distrusted the "Purpose-Drive" wave.

I hate to say it didn't feel right, because that implies one of the very critiques you offer, but we don't have good frameworks for expressing an unsettled spirit (hopefully by the Holy Spirit) without usually resorting to "feelings" or at least the term.

How about I say that I am "spiritually unsettled" by the "Purpose-Driven" movement? It unsettles me in the same way as the "Laughing Revival" and before that I was spiritually unsettled by the "Prosperity Gospel". Dealing with the prosperity heresy was relatively easy. The laughter group proved a bit more difficult and now the purpose-driven phenomenon is the most resilient of all.

I say this both carefully and advisedly. I believe the enemy is refining his message, becoming ever more proficient, in the same way that Wormtongue in the Lord of the Rings insinuated himself into Rohan's court and took over its king. So I see Rick Warren and those who follow him as deceived, much like Theoden, King of Rohan was deceived, blinded to the truth about what was happening.

We all, looking to history, tend to see our own age as apocalyptic, but even the most critical can see that we are in a unique time, when the whole earth is involved, moment by moment, with whatever is happening. For the first time in history, thanks to the Internet, the whole of humanity is interconnected. I believe there is a war going on for the soul of the Church. Yes there is always a war going on for the soul of the Church but this time I believe it may be the beginning of the final conflict. Only time will tell, but with our current interconnectedness, this war has the potential of including everybody.

In closing, there is one caveat that I try to keep before me and it is the parable of Jesus concerning the wheat and the tares in Matthew 13:24-40, especially the admonition in response to the servant’s question.

He said to them, "An enemy has done this.' The servants said to him, "Do you want us then to go and gather them up?' But he said, "No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, "First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn."

That admonition and command is my only concern.

10:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I truly enjoyed reading your summation of "Day One". I believe that it all begins with your understanding of who God really is. If God is totally sovereign and holy, then, as you mentioned, we need to first understand our sin. We need to be repentent. This very enlightenment is a gift from God, called faith. It is the Word of God that the Holy Spirit uses to generate this faith, not our own creaturely intellect.
I do think Rick has some good information to give, but it is lopsided. Too many people will read this book as more of a self-help guide than developing an awareness of just how lost and hopeless we really are without Christ.

2:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very good initiative. What I find disturbing however is your reference to Calvinus and not to the Bible.

Hans

3:54 PM  
Blogger S. C. Mooney said...

Calvin and not the Bible? Let’s think about this. Mr. Warren presents himself as a Bible teacher. Calvin was a Bible teacher. I noted a similarity between Calvin’s starting point and Mr. Warren’s starting point, and then, by contrast noted Mr. Warren’s departure from this starting point. Through the rest of Day one you will note several Bible citations. As you read on in the remaining commentaries you will find that my entire issue with Mr. Warren is focused upon the question of correct handling of the Bible

6:38 PM  
Blogger Meite U said...

I have read up to day four so far. I can only say, this seems to be an excellent critique. I know that Mr. Warren's theology (and the 'theology' of the Church Growth Movement!) is shaky, but it can be difficult to point out what exactly is fundamentally wrong. Thank you for doing just that, in a sober, well thought-out way.

I have been engaged in reading Mr. Warren's book as a house-group leader. With regret I remember how I
shut off my intellectual faculties, afraid of over-critizising and throwing out the baby with the bathwater. I even defended the book against a friend of mine who had very legitimate critiques on the way Scripture was being misused in the book. 'But look at all the good it brings!' was my reply.
And that is exactly the defense my pastor came up with on an information evening recently relating to the concerns over Rick Warren's book and methods. 'If the fruits are this good, how can it be bad? Satan could never be involved with something so fruitful', he said. This is so blatantly naive. It's a fact of life and Scripture that God's using people is not dependant on the validity of their beliefs. And of course, much of the 'fruit' must be questioned when taking a closer look.
My pastor also called people who critizised Rick Warren etc. 'slandering parrots'. Thank you for being a 'slandering parrot' ;) . (Mt. 5:11)

10:08 AM  
Blogger Amanda Inez Poernama said...

Thank you for sharing this. I am just starting to read this book. Hopefully I can finish :)
Meanwhile, I write my journals in my blog http://amandainez.blogspot.ca/search/label/PDL .

Nice reading your post!

9:48 AM  

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