Mr. Standfast

"Nothing taken for granted; everything received with gratitude; everything passed on with grace." G. K. Chesterton

May 02, 2004

I Think I've Got the Purpose-Driven Blues

Well, after a week of reading The Purpose Driven Life I'm ready to throw in the towel. As I mentioned yesterday, I'm not exactly enamored by this book. It's as if Warren were taking scores of Scripture passages and squeezing them through his "purpose" template, so that their essential truths come out looking skewed and off-kilter. And you know what? It gets old fast.

Here's an example. Warren chooses to use the TEV translation of Isaiah 26:3. Most real translations have it something very much like, "You, Lord, will keep in perfect peace the one whose mind is stayed on you." But the TEV translation fits perfectly with Warren's theme. "You Lord give perfect peace to those who keep their purpose firm and put their trust in you."

See what I mean about elevating "purpose" to an almost iconic status. In this rendering, "purpose" has shoved aside God as the focus of the verse. By the way, Susan left a similar observation yesterday in my comment-box. She wrote simply, "I tend to think that too much purpose can become an idol for life." I think she's right on the money, and I see this danger swirling about the whole purpose-driven concept.

Don't get me wrong. There are a lot of home-truths in this book. But Warren has elevated his theme almost to a status synonymous with salvation itself. And when I say "almost" I am probably erring on the side of under-statement. In fact, in the first video lesson of the series he invites the unsaved among his audience to pray a prayer that will make them members of God's family. And it turns out to be a prayer for--you guessed it--purpose! "God, I want to know the purpose of my life!" Never once mentioning the little matter of repentance! Hmmm . . .

Here's another example of truth-skewing in this book. Warren says, "Living the rest of your life for the glory of God will require a change in your priorities, your schedule, your relationships, and everything else. It will mean choosing a difficult path instead of an easy one." Okay, plenty of truth here, I suppose. But then Warren says that JesusChrist's prayer in John 12:27-28 shows that "even Jesus struggled with this." He goes on to say that "Jesus stood at the fork in the road. Would he fulfill his purpose and bring glory to God, or would he shrink back and lead a comfortable, self-centered life?"

Now, does this accurately summarize the issue that Jesus was struggling with that night? Was he crying out to God, "Father, I can't decide whether I want to live for your glory, no matter how difficult, or if I want instead to lead a comfortable, self-centered life!"

This is a great example of Warren's skewing of Scriptural truth to fit his purpose-template. It seems like something much worse than an over-simplification. Naturally, Jesus was horrified by the death that he was going to have to die the next morning, but does this really equate to a temptation to comfort and self-centeredness? This depiction of Jesus is really a different Jesus than the one we meet in the Gospels. Please let me know if you think I'm missing something here, or if you think I'm making a mountain out of a mole-hill, but this passage seems very toxic to me.

Finally, I also want to draw your attention to Rebecca's comment in yesterday's reply box. This was in response to my question about the issue of control. Rebecca wrote: "What do they mean by uncontrollable? Do they mean disorganized or chaotic, which I guess I could understand then? But I question that we really have much control at all over our own lives--too many factors in our lives are not ours to control. We shouldn't feel out of control though, because we ought to be trusting the One who does control all those things."

This comment goes well with Susan's. It's worth noting that Paul was not exactly in control of his life, but through ship-wreck, beating, imprisonment, etc., he was simply convinced that nothing could separate him from the love of God. This brought him--not "control" of his circumstances--but peace in the midst of them.

Rebecca continues, "When I read this I could only think of that verse where Paul says that he's learned to be content in whatever state he finds himself--don't know the reference, and don't know exactly how it applies, either, except I think that's one of the keys to not feeling out of control--contentment in our circumstances."

So I'm kind of in a quandary. I don't think I can read this book through to the end as a devotional exercise. On the other hand, I'm committed to reading the book and leading a small-group through the video series. I'll just have to emphasize what is right about the book and try to lead the discussion toward a more Biblically balanced approach. But in truth I'd much prefer to just move on to something else!


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