This week, we’re returning to Rick Warren’s evangelical Christian bestseller The Purpose-Driven Life. In this post, we will specifically be looking at what harmful and even dangerous teachings are lurking in Part Two of the book: “You Were Planned for God’s Pleasure”.
According to Warren, pleasing God is the first of five purposes that, well, drive your life. If you thought that my title and image for this post were uncomfortably suggestive, that’s because this section of the book is, too. I can read about homo erectus all day with a straight face, but reading about how Rick Warren loves to be intimate with God was too much for me. I gave him the benefit of the doubt, but it became clear when reading that Warren, perhaps subconsciously, uses a bit too much suggestive language when talking about his relationship with his “master”.
8. Planned for God’s Pleasure
Chapter 8 of The Purpose-Driven Life starts about as disturbingly as a book like this can: Warren is detailing for us how much God loved watching, and smiling at, your birth. This will become a theme in this section. God is always watching you, and if what you’re doing pleasures him, he will be smiling.
Soon after painting that lovely picture, Warren tells us, “One of the greatest gifts God has given you is the ability to enjoy pleasure. He wired you with five senses to enjoy life, not just endure it.” I want you to remember that he said this when we reach the chapter on resisting temptation. If God gave us the ability to enjoy pleasure (which often refers to sexual pleasure), why would he turn around and tell us not to use these five senses we have to enjoy life?
9. What Makes God Smile?
You might not have guessed from the title, but Chapter 9 is all about Noah and his flood. It does, of course, tie into Noah pleasuring God. At one point, Warren used a form of the word “pleasure” to describe Noah’s actions toward God five times in two paragraphs. But Warren couldn’t stop with the cringey innuendos; he had to pair them with the reminder that God drowned everyone in the world but Noah.
In the midst of all the drowning, smiling, and pleasing, Warren decided it was time to remind the reader that they have to do everything they do in blind faith. (But don’t worry, you’ll be rewarded by intimacy with God!) He quotes Hebrews 11:7: “By faith, Noah built a ship in the middle of dry land. He was warned about something he couldn’t see, and acted on what he was told. . . . As a result, Noah became intimate with God.”
If you’re familiar with this verse, then you’re probably confused because you don’t remember it sounding like this or saying anything about “becoming intimate with God” at all. That’s because the King James Version of Hebrews 11:7 sounds like this: “By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith.” Every other translation is within a few words of this version, but Warren used the most distorted interpretation available to him so that he could tie it into his theme of being intimate with God. This is but one example of Warren’s constant picking and choosing of translations so that the bible says only what he wants it to say.
Before moving on, Warren summarizes these dangerous self-brainwashing methods: “God doesn’t owe you an explanation or reason for everything he asks you to do. . . . Instant obedience will teach you more about God than a lifetime of Bible discussions. In fact, you will never understand some commands until you obey them first.”
I would be remiss as well if I didn’t include the contradiction that Warren brings to our attention concerning God at the end of this chapter: God likes watching us use our talents. Warren says, “You don’t bring glory or pleasure to God by hiding your abilities or by trying to be someone else. You only bring him enjoyment by being you. Anytime you reject any part of yourself, you are rejecting God’s wisdom and sovereignty in creating you.” Well, Rick Warren, my talents include examining scientific evidence that contradict with the bible, reading and debunking apologetic arguments, and writing blog posts on why belief in God is irrational. Does he like watching that? Did he give me those talents with the intention of throwing me in the eternal furnace for using them?
10. The Heart of Worship
You know by now that I found Chapter 9 to be particularly problematic, so here I’ll keep it brief: Chapter 10 is all about surrendering yourself to God. Some of the highlights of this chapter were Warren’s statement that “Retirement is not the goal of a surrendered life, because it competes with God for primary attention of our lives,” his lovely imagery of God “do[ing] his deepest work in you,” and the toxically exclusive idea that “Surrender is not the best way to live; it is the only way to live. Nothing else works.”
11. Becoming Best Friends with God
Chapter 11 is when Warren really starts to drive home the idea that you ought to worship during every last second of the day. So far, he has spent a lot of time going over the concept that worship isn’t just singing worship songs at church, but it should be part of everything you do. It is just a part of your attitude and the way you think; it can even be a constant prayer that can be the rote repetition of a line, like “God is with me.” Warren says “you must force yourself to think about God at different times in your day.”
Even though you are docked points in God’s game of life if you aren’t constantly thinking about pleasuring him, Warren implies that it is selfish to expect anything at all in return. Of course, to me this makes sense—because God doesn’t exist—but wouldn’t you think that if you devote your entire life, all your actions, relationships, and money to someone, that it would be appropriate to, at the very least, get to feel their presence?
12. Developing Your Friendship with God
In Chapter 12, Warren tries to make it sound like a friendship with God can be nuanced, complete with arguing, negotiating, and complaining like a real friendship. Unfortunately, this contradicts so many other things he has said about what it means to have a relationship with your master. Remember when he said that the first step in worshiping is surrendering yourself to God in Chapter 10?
Right away, Warren turns it back around to say that friendship with God is submission. At this point, he’s no longer contradicting what he first said about surrendering, but he is instead being redundant with it. He says that you can only be God’s friend if you unquestioningly accept that “God always acts in your best interest, even when it is painful and you don’t understand it.”
He says, “We don’t normally think of obedience as a characteristic of friendship . . . However, Jesus made it clear that obedience is a condition of intimacy with God.”
Speaking of intimacy, we are then reminded of Warren’s subconscious sexual feelings towards God, with one single page containing phrases like, “David . . . used words like longing, yearning, thirsting, hungering. He craved God,” “Jacob . . . wrestled all night in the dirt with God,” and “‘Wrestling’ is also a passionate activity, and God loves it when we are passionate with him.” Call me old-fashioned, but you don’t usually engage in “passionate wrestling” with someone who’s “just a friend” . . . and even then, it’s a bit weird. But hey, whatever gets you going.
In his typical sadistic fashion, Warren wraps up this chapter by saying that God allows pain in your life if you don’t worship him right, because pain is the “fuel of passion” and it is God’s way of “arousing us from spiritual lethargy.” Of course, if God ignores you, he’s testing you to mature your friendship. But if you ignore him, even for a moment, you shouldn’t be surprised when he turns your life into a living hell. And when he does, you should thank him for it.
13. Worship That Pleases God
Chapter 13 is when we really get into the stipulations of what you must do if you want to make it onto God’s friend list. Remember when I said that Warren treats life like a game that one either wins or loses? This is when he makes it clear that it’s on an impossible difficulty level, but anything less than perfect is still a failure. In Chapter 8, he said that “Worship is as natural as eating or breathing.” But here, he says that your worship must be:
- doctrinally correct
- not influenced by emotions
- not distracted by worship music
- good for God, but not necessarily good for you (where else have we heard this language before?)
- done even when you don’t feel God’s presence
- creative, not using vain repetitions (even thought that’s what Warren said to do in Chapter 11)
- sacrificial (this can include financially)
- practical (using your body, according to Warren)
- understandable to unbelievers (this sounds nice but still hard to achieve)
If I were a Christian trying to take Warren’s advice from this book, I would feel like I had to go back and look at all the rules every time I tried to worship. This would in turn distract me from reading the actual bible by making me study this book instead! Is Warren idolizing his work to his readers over their own sacred scripture?
14. When God Seems Distant
In the final chapter that I read this week, Warren repeats a mantra that he necessarily had to include in this book: that there will be times when you don’t feel God’s presence. Again, in my eyes this is because there is no god, plain and simple. All of the experiences that Warren is encouraging you to have are one-sided, and they begin and end in your head. There’s no one else there, so it would make sense that you might feel like you’re talking to yourself. But of course, he turns this around and tells the reader to persevere because God is taking this opportunity to mature your friendship.
Warren says that you must trust God despite your feelings, because “a friendship based on emotion is shallow indeed.” This makes me wonder, has Warren himself ever been in a truly healthy, flourishing relationship with another human? For the sake of his own well-being, I hope that he knows that friendships are based off emotions—emotions like love, trust, and yes, intimacy. Friendships should be equal, and they should never involve one friend being the master to another who is his slave, and testing her by disappearing whenever he wants to. Anyone who builds their idea of friendship or intimacy from Rick Warren’s teachings in the The Purpose-Driven Life will be severely lacking in the only real relationships they get in their fleeting time on earth: those with other people.