Purpose Driven Life

Purpose Driven Life and the church

The success of the Purpose Driven Life is a sad testimony on the state of the church today.  Christians have become so used to eating the processed food found in seeker sensitive churches, glitzy conferences, and the Christian marketing industry that they can’t tell what is truly good for them.  I fully acknowledge that some people have been “helped” by PDL.  There have been many fads and gimmicks that have “helped” Christians but in the end the church is still in decline across North America.  Does anyone remember how inspired they were coming back from Promise Keeper conferences, or how cell groups were going to transform church community?  How about “Evangelism Explosion” or spiritual gift tests, the Passion, WWJD bracelets or the Prayer of Jabez.  If we take a step back and look at all the activity and so little fruit yet we continually get sucked in.  More and more so it is profit driven companies that push us to consume what they sell regardless of it’s true spiritual value.

The great danger in PDL and other books like it, is that people are never sufficiently challenged to go directly to God or the scriptures.  The PDL, for all its good points, mishandles scripture by using the most convenient translation available.  It makes scripture communicate things it really doesn’t.  It deeply concerns me that church members and leaders don’t catch this stuff.  I’ve heard of a local pastor who said PDL was second to scripture! 

PDL isn’t a terrible book. Rick Warren makes some solid points in it.  However it deeply concerns me that people are glossing over it’s weaknesses, and are elevating it to such lofty heights.  By continually buying in to the next fad, the next quick fix for the church, we risk losing our theological and spiritual moorings.  When we become guided by someone’s interpretation and application of scripture rather than scripture itself, we lose the ability to discern.  Essentially that is what has already happened, and slowly there is this theological creep from solid Christian doctrine to something different.  The end result is a church with lots of activity and very little fruit because it is no longer connected to God.

Good is often the worst enemy of best.  People read a book or go to a conference and come away from the experience feeling better.  They slowly become convinced that these good experiences are what Christianity is all about, but really they are missing out.  Jesus said that the road to life is narrow and hard (Luke 7:13).  There are no shortcuts to God.  To truly connect with God and be transformed takes effort, discipline and time.  The real depths of the Christian life involve a total transformation, but it is hard, and it will certainly never sell well. 

There is a quote from the movie Braveheart that I find myself revisiting in my head. William Wallace is talking with the nobles of Scotland.  These nobles were all so ambitious that they allied with a “cruel pagan, Edward the Longshanks” of England.  They were satisified compromising with evil so long as they get a little benefit but the completely missed the big picture of what they could have.

“Why? Why is that impossible? You’re so concerned with squabbling for the scraps from Longshank’s table that you’ve missed your God given right to something better.”

The church is so busy buying in to the next Christian fad that it has missed it’s God given right to something better. 

I’ll admit that I am very biased against popular Christian culture these days.  I see people being turned away from God because they equate following Jesus with the spineless, lifeless, commercialized Christianity that is so pervasive in these days.  I want to scream out – NO THAT IS NOT WHAT IT MEANS TO FOLLOW CHRIST!  Don’t reject Christ because of those idiots.  There is hope and life and healing and truth and justice.  There are people who follow Christ who actually do love their enemies, and have servant hearts, who are kind and compassionate. 

The fate of the church doesn’t rest primarily in the hands of it’s leaders, but in the presence and character of Christ in its members.  We are always learning, always hyped for the next fad, but never come to maturity (Eph 4:13) or a knowledge of the Truth (IITim 3:7).

  1. #1 by chris on October 19, 2004 - 12:25 pm

    Let’s not forget about “Chicken Soup for EVERYBODY!” I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with this one! As a recovering “40 Days” director, I have to say that it was probably the biggest endeavor into shallow spirituality that I’ve ever been a part of. Yes, some people were, as you say, “helped” but it was for the most part a lesson in navel gazing. We (church staff) spend a truck load of money and millions of man hours to pull off an event and what benefit do we see? A church that’s looking for the next event!

    We’ve sacrificed being student-followers of Jesus for simply being Christians (i.e. pew-sitters). There’s got to be a way to ween ourselves off of the need for the next big thing. But in order to do that we’ve got to be willing to stumble along and admit that we don’t have all of the answers bundled into a 40 day program. (Maybe we could get together and do a marketing scheme called 40 days of get-off-your-butt-and-follow-Jesus!)

  2. #2 by Aaron O. on October 19, 2004 - 1:01 pm


  3. #3 by adam.b on October 19, 2004 - 4:54 pm

    I just wanted to say I enjoyed your comments and have found this site to be very engaging. Thanks!

  4. #4 by Paul Johnston on October 19, 2004 - 7:34 pm

    Don’t dispair, Leighton the success of PDL may have some lasting value. Try to think of it as a starting point rather than a destination.

    Satan has enjoyed great success in undermining Western culture and as a consequence much damage has been done to the relationship between God and his people. False doctrines of poltical rights and freedoms have caused generations of parents to disconnect themselves and their children from the true spiritual traditions of our faith.

    Though culture has been perversely twisted, faith tells me that it can still prevail as an agent of good.

    Perhaps it will be, in part, efforts like PDL, that help re-connect lost generations of people to the true face of God. St. Paul was of a mind that being different things to different people was neccessary to his ministry, providing that the message was true to God’s will.

    “Solid Food” as described in Hebrews is not for the many, I am afraid. We must first be nurtured on the “Milk”.

    You do well to attack PDL however for it’s overtly commercial presentation. A cynic could easily argue that the primary purpose of the book could be to exploit true faith simply for material gain.

    Any presentation of our faith that pays more attention to personalities and congregations, than to Jesus, should be viewed with suspicion.

  5. #5 by Vaughn Thompson on October 19, 2004 - 10:40 pm

    Hi Leighton-

    Long time reader, first time commenter (I think). I appreciated your post on PDL. Our little episcopal parish decided to read it and so I have been blogging the PDL over at my site. Have a look. I’m certainly not fawning over it.


  6. #6 by Jason Silver on October 20, 2004 - 10:04 am

    Have you read it?

    You have made some good points about fast food Xianity, however I disagree with you on the main point.

    The Purpose Driven Life helps to change people. It encourages us to look inward, to evaluate our lives, to focus on Christ, to get back to the true point of worship, evangelism, ministry to believers, and more.

    What scares me more are Christians all to eager to criticise a work God is doing in our world.


  7. #7 by Marc Vandersluys on October 20, 2004 - 10:29 am

    Of course, one might want to distinguish between looking inward/reflection and navel gazing. I haven’t read the book, so I can’t say which it is.

  8. #8 by Leighton Tebay on October 20, 2004 - 11:00 am

    Jason Silver:

    I’ve read significant portions of PDL and I find significant problems with it. Just because God uses something that doesn’t mean it is perfect or above criticism. I have significant doubts as to whether this fad is going to make any more impact than the rest of the fads the church has burnt through in the last 20 years.

    It is very biblical to test the teaching put forth in the church. There is such a thing as healthy criticism. In todays CEO driven/visonary church models all criticism is considered sin because the only vision that matters is the one the leader has. I believe that this contradicts the examples of prophetic correction we see in scripture.

    I believe that it is the lack of sober, digiligent reflection on the teaching and practice of the church that has contributed to its decent in to shallow spirituality and commercialization.

  9. #9 by Hosehead on October 20, 2004 - 11:25 am

    I have read PDL and I found it to be very challenging to me personally TO SPEND TIME WITH GOD! PDL doesn’t hold the monopoly on this, it is not a formula for spiritual health or spiritual growth, it is not the best way to draw closer to God. However, if it does encourage us to grow in our relationship with Him, then it has value. The recommendation is not to go out and read PDL, it’s to encounter God.

    The main problem is that we don’t experience the power of God’s Spirit for ourselves. Instead, we read about other people’s experiences so that we can feel closer to God. If we are not experiencing God ourselves, then there is something terribly wrong! I can be blown away by the insights that Rick Warren and Rick Joyner have personally learned, but if I’m not learning things myself, what good is it?

    Just watched Braveheart a couple of days ago. “Uncompromising men are easy to follow.” We need more christian William Wallaces.

    Miss you, LT.

  10. #10 by Zossima on October 20, 2004 - 11:42 am

    I think I’d say PDL is incomplete, not wrong. I liken it to how Charlie Peacock frames modern Christianity’s focus on justification in his New Way to Be Human. It’s a step to a more holistic, community-based, missional faith. My problems with PDL and the Christian self-help movment in general (Eldredge–whom I really, really do appreciate, Ortberg, Wilkerson, etc.) are:

    * Take American culture for granted; ie., the “Matrix” is assumed to be the truth

    This implies:

    * Individual-focused spiritual life, rather than communal (Warren should read Haeurwas, among others)

    * Participation in modern capitalist machine–with all its disconnecting demands on time–assumed normative

    * Places pursuit of some individualistic dreams above character formation and commitment to “the whole” (family, community, etc.)

    * Assumes that the individual is the ultimate discerner of what “God’s will” is–rather than placing that determination in the context of community

    There are probably more. These are important. Bottom line: I’ve got a very different worldview from what Warren and Wilkerson has.

  11. #11 by Lori Abercrombie on October 21, 2004 - 2:45 pm

    If one person can benefit from the Purpose Driven Life, then I would assert that the word of God is not being returned void. Personally, I’m not thrilled with the book either, and we are using it as study material. But there are individuals in our group for whom it is very relevant, despite my feelings. You guys run the risk of driving new or non Christians away with your lofty intellectual assertions. Does it really matter what vehicle

    God uses to reach people?

  12. #12 by dave paisley on October 21, 2004 - 3:31 pm

    At least PDL isn’t the Prayer of Jabez.

    Ye Gods, has there ever been a more materialistic mountain been made out of a spiritual molehill?

    Well, maybe the Jim and Tammy Faye glory days of the 80s…

  13. #13 by Curtis on October 24, 2004 - 11:08 pm

    I’ve been a Christian for about 20 years now. I’ve always struggled with committing time to spend specifically seeking God. I would be concerned about doing God’s will but most of my time went into personally contemplating what my next step forward in my spiritual walk should be. 29 days ago my church began the PDL program, the first such program I’ve seen them run in the 2 years I’ve been here.

    I began praying for this program to be used by God about a month before it even began. Friends encouraged me to join a small group and get involved in the daily readings, so I did. I began committing serious time each day to reading the book and praying to God for His commentary on it.

    Since this began God has healed me from the worry and stress of medical college. This worry used to be so bad that I could barely sleep or eat all. This worry caused me to become very ill for six months with a case of bronchitis I couldn’t even overcome with medication. Another bad habit has ceased for a substantial period of time and in a few months I’m sure I’ll be able to confirm it has stayed away. I’ve also met a new friend from Asia, who is part of my small group, and he has taught me a lot about his non-North American Christian worldview. I’m praying more for the concerns of others than in almost all of my 20 year Christian life. Yes, I care about others more now! I’m even going to do some volunteering to help raise food for the food bank.

    When I see the PDL book or hear of the PDL program I will always look back at what God did through the readings and those around me to drastically change my life. He changed my habits, put a new love in my heart for others, and filled me with a great joy (I Peter 1:8). I am so thankful to Him.

  14. #14 by ed on October 25, 2004 - 11:32 am

    Great stuff – really hit a lot of stuff on the head.

    Having said that, I’m not sure the real issue is with the book. Yes, I agree that Warren takes a lot of liberty and ends up using very weak verses to substantiate the points he’s trying to make, rather than just really saying what God is trying to communicate…that’s not a good thing.

    Overall, however…and I couldn’t finish the book for many of the same reasons you already talked about…overall, I’ve seen some people be moved to deeper commitment as a result of reading it.

    I guess the argument would be even those who were following Longshank had the right motivation even though they were doing the wrong thing…

    Ok, forget what’ I’ve said…loved your ending which seems to be the real heart of what you’re saying…

    “There are people who follow Christ who actually do love their enemies, and have servant hearts, who are kind and compassionate.”

    And my prayer is that there will be more!

Comments are closed.