Monday, October 10, 2005

I found this article from Christianity Today via Jordon Cooper a couple of days ago. It's on Rick Warren's newest effort to take the purpose driven message into Rwanda. As usual when reading about Warren, or in reading his own writings, I had some tension. Much of what is said is very very good. Especially his latest focus on helping end poverty and disease, which has completely ripped through Africa and left devastation behind. Even his approach to doing so - through church planting efforts and the like - rather than just setting up another marginally effective NGO, is interesting and worth celebrating. But then I come across a couple of elements that at first bothered me a little, but then later got me feeling a mixture of scared and angry.

First this:
"Personal computers have brand names. But inside every pc is an Intel chip and an operating system, Windows," Warren says. "The Purpose Driven paradigm is the Intel chip for the 21st-century church and the Windows system of the 21st-century church."

That metaphor is equal parts arrogant and foolish. Warren may be celebrated as the second most influential evangelical (behind Billy Graham), but that's a pretty grand thing for him to say, isn't it? Apparently the gospel itself is DOS, and we needed the purpose driven Windows to pretty it up. Mac users, you may now rev up your anti-PC creativity in your response to this metaphor.

And then this:
After Rwanda's President Kagame read The Purpose-Driven Life, he wrote Warren saying, "I am a purpose-driven man." He invited Warren and others to the capital, Kigali. In March, Warren, his wife, key Saddleback leaders, business leaders, Beasley, and several Rwandan Anglican bishops all gathered in Kigali with the political leaders. "It was one of these wild, divine moments that all these circles interconnected," Beasley says.

"I fell in love with the country," Warren says. "I say, 'Lord, help me find out what you are blessing and help me get in on it.' I think God is blessing Rwanda."

Warren and Rwanda's leaders jointly came up with the idea of Rwanda becoming the "world's first purpose-driven nation." A month after the March visit, Kagame and his wife traveled to Orange County, California, for Saddleback's 25th anniversary. Then this summer the Warrens returned to Rwanda with Saddleback's senior staff and evangelicals from around North America.

Again, in some ways, this may be encouraging - that there's an openness to the gospel in a place that desperately needs hope. But I would suggest that too much enthusiasm over the endorsement of people in high places is misguided. This morning I read the following from Michael Frost & Alan Hirsch's book, The Shaping of Things to Come (p. 117). I think it does a better job than I could at responding:

If you were to go to the doctor to be inoculated against a certain disease, the doctor would inject you with a form of the bacteria/virus, not enough to cause harm, but enought to stimulate your immune system to create antibodies so that your body will recognize the really harmful version and be able to fight against it. It is our contention that this is exactly what Christendom has done to our missional contexts, wherever it has manifested itself.

In fact, it has created as many problems for us as it has solved. After seventeen centuries of Christianity in the West, we still have not done the task; and wehre we have managed to establish Chistianity nationally, we have not always brought good news to the people. One look at the history of South Africa, the American South, the conquest of Latin America, or at "Christian" Europe will quash any doubts you might have about the above comment. Europe, in spite of those seventeen centuries of the faith, still can't seem to resist genocidal tendencies! Witness the Balkans; it was those raised in the Orthodox confession (which recently celebrated a millennium in the area!) that led the charge in killing people en masse. The history of Europe has been one of horrifying bloodshed and cruelty, culminating in the holocaust. It was T.S. Eliot, himself very much a European, who once noted "After two thousand years of Christian mass, we've come as far as poison gas."

I dislike my heart's tendency to want to rip Rick Warren all the time. It's dark. I believe that the man has a good heart and good motives, and that people like me misunderstand him constantly. I guess all I can do is pray that God's Spirit will give me the generosity to pray for him, even as I challenge him.

posted by Steve at 6:29 AM
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I'm Steve Lewis. This used to be my blogging home. My online home is now at When this blog was my active online home, I lived in Seattle. Now I live in London, UK. I follow Jesus (poorly most of the time), worship simply, read a lot, watch culture, go to school, listen to music, write, enjoy art, and drink a lot of coffee.
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