Spirit-led or Purpose Driven?

by Andre Bustanoby

Over the past year I have become aware, and alarmed, over the profusion of self-help books that have been spreading heresy.  Webster's Dictionary defines heresy as "religious opinion or doctrine at variance with the orthodox or accepted doctrine."

The word comes from the Greek word hairesis, and is used in 1 Corinthians 11:9 to identify beliefs that do not measure up to the teachings of those who have God's approval.  Furthermore, God allows heresies so we might be able to identify those who have God's approval and those who do not.

Titus 3:10 tells us how to handle such people, be they believers or unbelievers.  They are to be admonished and then avoided.  I find this necessary to say because in the process of dealing with such a person, I have been faulted for calling a brother in Christ a heretic and even have been threatened with the charge of defamation.

Interestingly, the heresies come from both those who have been carefully trained in theology and biblical languages and those who have had no theological training at all.  They come from books by recognized publishers and from books printed and distributed by the author and their "ministries" that now number in the thousands.

Once was the time when Christian publishers had a reputation for publishing books that reflected orthodox Christian belief.  This is no longer the case.  My own publisher, Zondervan, has become the publisher of the book that I critique in this monograph--Rick Warren's The Purpose Driven Church.

Orthodox Christians, who believe that the Bible is the only rule of faith and practice, can do something about this.  They can become informed by reading these books with care.  They can share their concerns with other believers, which is the purpose of this monograph.  And they can check out these books with some very helpful websites that are devoted to informing believers about departures from biblical orthodoxy.  I list two of them at the end of the monograph.

This is the first of several monographs I intend to write on the subject of heresy in self-help books.  The title is not original.  It is the title of Berit Kjos' excellent series of articles on the purpose-driven church model posted on http://www.crossroad.to.  You will find others in the appendix.

The references I offer in the appendix give a massive amount of information that I need not replicate here.  I wish only to give a bare-bones overview of the heresy propagated by Rick Warren.  But, before I do, I must say something about orthodox biblical theology.  Many half-truths, omissions and twisting Scripture get by the average believer in books like this because they sound so reasonable.

I remember my first reaction to Warren's The Purpose Driven Church.  Why shouldn't the church be run like a corporation?  There are business principles that can make the church more efficient.

Consider this.  One of the things I learned in my systematic theology courses in seminary is that we have not only God's revelation of Himself and His work in Scripture, but He also has revealed Himself in His creation (Psalm 19:1-6 and Romans 1:20-21).

God reveals truth in His creation.  It cannot begin to compare with the truth of Scripture, which reveals to the believer who their God is and the wonder of His works--things that they cannot know of in any other way.  Nevertheless, the truth men see in creation has been converted into usable science, including business principles.

But the problem with natural revelation is that it tells us nothing about man's fundamental need for redemption.  It doesn't tells us, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (Jn. 3:16).

At this writing, the news reported that Enron's CEO, Ken Lay, has been indicted on fraud charges.  While natural revelation can give intelligent men the knowledge to build multi-billion dollar businesses, it does not warn them that "the heart is deceitful about all things, and desperately wicked:  who can know it" (Jer. 17:9)? Natural revelation, without this warning, leaves morality out of the business paradigm.  The Hebrew word aqob, translated "deceitful," means "crooked or slippery."  That was not in Enron's business paradigm.  Lay had to discover it the hard way.

This report mentioned that Lay surrendered himself to the police in the company of a minister.  Too bad this additional help came after the fact.

But this does not negate the reality that a great body of scientific truth, including business principles, is true because all truth is God's truth.  And here's where we get into the subtilities of the purpose-driven philosophy.  What's wrong with using true business principles in running a church as well as a corporation?

Warren's Management Paradigm

Business management guru Peter Drucker is the inspiration for Warren's purpose-driven idea.  Drucker teaches business managers to define their business from the customer's perspective.  And it works--in the business world.  People feel satisfied.

When this business model is applied to the church, we immediately run into a problem.  I'll not go into the theories of this business model (see appendix for further reading).  But here is a thumbnail sketch of how Drucker's model works.

We should understand that Drucker and Warren are not simply trying to improve the business side of the church--bookkeeping, auditing or maintenance of the property.  If we were talking about housekeeping duties, we would have no problem.

But this business model is not about changing things, except as a means to an end.  It is about changing people.

The fundamental rule is making people feel satisfied.  This rule is tested by the pragmatic question, Does it work?  Is what your are doing making people feel satisfied.

Making It Work In the Church

Here is where things begin to unravel.  Can we use this business model to make better churches?  It's the cause of success in hundreds of businesses throughout the world.  Why shouldn't it work for the church?

To answer this we must go back to natural and biblical revelation.  Natural revelation gives information to the businessman that enables him to accomplish certain useful objectives.  If it works in making the customer feel good, then it passes the necessary pragmatic test--it works.

Now comes a complication.  If this is to work in the church, if we are going to attract unbelieving, unchurched "customers" by making them feel good about what we are doing, we have a big problem.  They won't feel good if we tell them that to be part of the church they must see they are sinners in need of the saving work of Christ.

The purpose-driven church avoids this problem by holding true to its business principle of making people feel good.  They are able to attract new "customers" with the dialectical process:

There must be an antithesis (unbelievers) present to oppose the thesis (believers), in order to move towards consensus (compromise), and move the believers away from their moral absolutism (resistance to change).  If all the members of the church stand firm on the Word of God, and its final authority in all doctrine and tradition, then the church cannot and will not change [or grow into a megachurch] (quoted from Berit Kjos, Spirit-led or Purpose Driven, p. 3).

This strict adherence to the principle, make people feel good about your business, is further reinforced by admonitions in Warren's book:

        *  Don't offend anyone by taking an uncompromising stand on truth or
            facts.
        *  Don't use words such as "I know" or "I believe."  Instead, use words
            such as "I think" or "I feel," which show your willingness to compromise
            or bend your views to fit the group consensus.
        *   Show respect and appreciation for all positions, even those that clash
            with the Bible (Ibid., p. 20).

Getting Support From the Bible

This last consideration, positions that clash with the Bible, is also handled cleverly.  Warren offers us his own version of the Bible that is user-friendly.  It's called Today's English Version (TEV).  It's not faithful to the Hebrew Old Testament or Greek New Testament as you would expect of any Bible version.  Even as a paraphrase, it's not faithful to the meaning of standard English versions. Berit Kjos does an excellent job showing how Warren "Softens God's Word" by actually changing the meaning of any offending passages that may leave the "customer" not feeling good.

How, then, should we understand the mission of this user-friendly church?  Again, Berit Kjos gives us insight:

Transformation:  Rick Warren promised [in his book], "The next 40 days will transform your life."  In many postmodern minds, this transformation has little to do with rebirth through the Spirit of God.  Within the CGM [Church Growth Movement], the word "transformation" often refers to people and churches conformed to the new "relational" vision of "community."  This change uses the latest psycho-social strategies and intrusive technologies for measuring change and individual compliance with the stated "vision."

Once again, there may be psycho-social strategies and technologies that unbelievers may benefit from as far as mental and social health is concerned.  They may even gain a great deal of happiness and health in this world, thereby.  But the church is called to a greater task.  In the context of the first mention of the church, Jesus asked, "For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?"  The Spirit-led church will not always make people feel good about what it's doing.  But it may help the lost, through godly sorrow, seek the saving work of Christ.

Further reading:

Kjos, Berit, "Spirit-Led or Purpose-Driven?" posted on http://www.crossroad.to
(24 pages).

Klenck, Dr. Robert, "What's Wrong with the 21st Century Church?"  Part 1:
Synopsis, Part 2 and Part 3, posted at
http://www.crossroad.to/News/Church/Klenck1.html
http://www.crossroad.to/News/Church/Klenck2.html
http://www.crossroad.to/News/Church/Klenck3.html

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