Rick Warren: Monergist
From a 2004 interview of Rick Warren by Modern Reformation:
Theologically, I am a monergist and firmly hold to the five solas of the Reformation.
The whole interview after the jump.
MR: Can you briefly define the purpose driven life? Is it different from the ordinary Christian life?
RW: The first answer of the Westminster Shorter Catechism is the best definition of the purpose-driven life: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him for ever.” That is our purpose, pure and simple. I just took longer to say it in the book. The first chapter, “It All Starts With God,” and the opening sentence of the book, “It’s Not About You!” makes it clear that we were made by God, and for God, not vice-versa. Chapter seven, “The Reason For Everything” is about Soli Deo Gloria. The purpose-driven life is a God-centered life so I wouldn’t call it “the ordinary Christian life” because that lifestyle isn’t ordinary at all. Very few Christians I know live a truly God-centered life on a daily basis.
I am deeply humbled that God has chosen to bless the book in such an unusual way in spite of its many shortcomings. I’ve received tens of thousands of testimonial letters from believers who’ve watched their churches come alive and from unbelievers who have entered into Christ’s family.
I know the reason God is using the book and campaign across denominational lines is because it was written solely for his glory. I don’t consider myself to be an able writer. So for six months I shut myself away from everyone for twelve to fourteen hours a day to meet with God and to write. I often wept as I wrote each chapter, sensing that the Holy Spirit was guiding me as I struggled to explain God’s purposes for our lives in the simplest ways. It was an exhausting spiritual battle, and the only thing that kept me writing was my passion for the global glory of God.
MR: What motivated you to take the message of your book, The Purpose Driven Life, and create a systematic campaign called “Forty Days of Purpose” to be used in churches across the country?
RW: I love helping other pastors, especially bi-vocational ones. Since my father ministered in small churches all his life, I’ve always had a heart for guys who serve churches that are too small to pay a full time salary so they work another full time job during the week. I dedicated The Purpose Driven Church book to them, and for the past twenty years I’ve tried to help them with resources. Ministry is difficult and we need to help each other out wherever possible. We are blessed to be a blessing to others.
I deeply believe that in our relativistic world we need more doctrine, not less. But because the world no longer speaks our language, we theologians must also be translators. Like missionaries, the truth cannot set people free unless we share it in their language.
There is absolutely nothing new in The Purpose Driven Life. It is the “faith once delivered unto the saints.” All I did was try to put it in a very simple, understandable format that captures people’s attention for six weeks. It is a “stealth catechism” of sorts. It’s just a tool to help pastors grow their people.
I love to teach theology without using theological terms (any seminary student can do that) and without telling unbelievers it is theology! For that reason, I intentionally labored to be as plain, uncomplicated, and simple as possible in writing the book. By simple I don’t mean shallow or superficial — the word means clearly understandable. Einstein once said “Your brilliance isn’t worth much unless you can explain it in a simple way.” It’s quite easy to be complex and confusing with doctrine but it takes hard work to state truth in the simplest, shortest way. Jesus was the master at this. He stated profound truths in simple ways. Today, in our attempt to impress others, pastors and professors are more likely to do the opposite!
I knew that by simplifying doctrine in a devotional format for the average person, I ran the risk of either understating or overstating some truths. I’m sure I have done that. I also knew that I’d be criticized for what I left out of the book and for using fifteen different translations and paraphrases to get the message across. But I decided when I planted Saddleback in 1980 that I’d rather reach large numbers of people for Christ than seek the approval of religious traditionalists. In the past eight years, we’ve baptized over 11,000 new adult believers at our church. I am addicted to changed lives.
Regarding the campaign — we’ve done an annual spiritual growth emphasis at Saddleback each fall for years. The power of focusing all our prayers, our sermons, and our studies on a single theme like faith (Heb 11) or love (1 Cor. 13) has incredible benefits. “40 Days of Purpose” was the most life-changing campaign in the history of our church. The number of people involved in weekly home Bible study groups grew from 8,000 to over 23,000. Membership, giving, worship attendance, and people involved in ministry and mission projects all exploded exponentially. As a result, over 4,500 of our members were sent out on a mission project somewhere in the world in the last twelve months. People who think Saddleback is a shallow, compromising megachurch just don’t know the facts. The membership requirements at Saddleback are so high most American church members could not join us, and we actively practice church discipline.
“40 Days of Purpose” brought such revival and renewal to our congregation we offered it to a few other churches. Those churches exploded with spiritual growth too. The word got out, and the rest is history. This is a sovereign move of God that caught us all by surprise. We certainly didn’t manufacture or plan this. In fact, our staff has been playing “catch-up” with the demand from other churches all year long.
MR: Does the “Forty Days of Purpose” campaign reflect any particular theological stance or is it theologically neutral?
RW: It is impossible to be theologically neutral. However, it is possible to love, respect, and appreciate the ministry of godly brothers who have theological differences with you. On earth we “see through a glass darkly” so we all need a large dose of humility in dealing with our differences. God’s ways are awesome and far beyond human mental capabilities. He has no problem reconciling the supposed theological conflicts that we debate when ideas don’t fit neatly into our logical, rational systems (Isa. 58:8-9).
Theologically, I am a monergist and firmly hold to the five solas of the Reformation. It’s pretty obvious from the book that I believe in foreknowledge, predestination, (see chapter two, “You Are Not An Accident”) and, especially, concurrence — that God works in and through every detail of our lives, even our sinful choices, to cause his purposes to prevail. Proverbs 19:21 (NIV) is one of my life verses.
But rather than categorize myself with a theological label, I want to be known — like Jesus — as “a friend of sinners” and — like Paul — as simply “a servant of Jesus Christ.” In the past sixteen years, God has allowed me the privilege of helping encourage and train over 300,000 evangelical pastors from a wide spectrum of denominations and 137 different countries. (I am aware that some of my Reformed brothers believe that only they have the right to legitimately be called “evangelicals,” and I playfully disagree.)
It’s been fascinating to see how people interpret my book through their own theological lenses. On the same day this week I received an email from a Presbyterian brother accusing me of “being an Arminian” and another email from a Lutheran brother criticizing me for being “too Calvinistic!” I just remind myself that even Jesus could not please everyone, and I refocus on living for an audience of One. I’m a fourth-generation Baptist pastor. My great grandfather was led to Christ by Charles Spurgeon, attended Spurgeon’s college, and was sent by Spurgeon to America to pastor. So I guess God predestined me to be a Baptist! I would ask readers for grace in three areas:
First, the book contains much of what I believe, but is does not contain ALL of what I believe about any particular doctrine. I actually removed over 400 pages of material that I wrote, but decided not to include. Exhaustive studies exhaust people. The book is a devotional, not a dissertation.
Second, the book is not intended to be a systematic theology. Saddleback’s systematic theology is another book called Foundations. It is a nine month doctrinal course, written by Pastor Tom Holladay and my wife Kay, for our congregation. To my knowledge, Saddleback may be the only church in America that requires a nine month systematic theology course for anyone who wants to serve on our staff or as a lay leader in our church. Over 5,000 members have completed Foundations in the past ten years, and we have over 3,000 more members studying the course right now. Saddleback members are doctrinally astute.
Third, the book is about the Christian’s walk, not justification. I did include a simple call to Christ in case unbelievers picked up the book (which thousands have). But to know my full view of the doctrines of grace, you’d need to have heard my two year, verse-by-verse exposition through Romans. We’ve gone through Romans twice since I started Saddleback.