Rick Warren was invited to give an address to TED in February 2006. Time Magazine had recently identified Rick Warren as a veritable god of popular religion and wisdom, so I thought I’d better check it out.
Not that I hadn’t checked out “Purpose Driven Life”…. I tried. I couldn’t finish it. I couldn’t find the content. It was the kind of sustained generic common sense which, devoid of any specific application, can never be proven wrong. Be yourself. Have patience. Set goals. Plan ahead. Was there something remarkable in this book that I missed? Are there really millions of people out there who don’t have any purpose but would buy a book about it? Will any of them, really, acquire one by reading this book?
Warren makes the stunning assertion that he doesn’t know a single pastor who is “in it for the money”. That’s a stereotype, he says, but it’s not true. That’s amazing. He doesn’t think pastors draw a salary anywhere? He doesn’t believe that deep down within their presumptive souls it never occurred to most pastors that they could get paid to talk?
I leave alone for the moment the outrageousness of it all, but either he’s right and all those exposé’s about preachers living in hugely expensive mansions or driving around in limousines or wearing expensive designer clothes are false…. or he’s being incredibly disingenuous. Either “Elmer Gantry” is a fraud or Warren is. Either Jim Bakker is a shocking aberration or he just happened to get caught. Either John Hagee is just covering his expenses or he is living very, very well. Either Dobson has bodyguards or he doesn’t. Either Rick Warren himself has bodyguards or he doesn’t.
Warren traveled to Syria in 2006 and made several statements afterwards that appeared to praise Assad’s regime there as tolerant and moderate. I get that Warren believes he can personally negotiate world peace, but I also get that he, like Billy Graham, may be naïve, and may be in the process of allowing himself to be used by shrewd politicians.
What does he get out of it? Well, gosh, just read his stuff. Like Rev. James Dobson, he loves to name-drop. Even worse, when taken to task by Joseph Farah, one of the fanatics at WorldNetDaily, for his comments, Warren appeared to misrepresent himself– to put it generously. Then he accused Farah of being Satan’s proxy. Then he apologized to Farah. (Farah, by the way, is far more scary than Warren will ever be, and almost as scary as Dobson but not quite as scary–or comical–as John Hagee).
It is a little difficult to believe that any preacher presenting a message, nowadays, that is genuinely biblical, and transforming in a spiritual sense, would be invited to speak at the NBA all-star game. The organizers of the NBA all-star game are not going to invite someone to speak who seems to hold exotic values. They won’t invite someone who believes that sports are not really all that important, that success is not about winning, that trinkets and souvenirs won’t buy you happiness.
Warren claims that he wants evangelicals to stop voting for candidates based on single, “wedge” issues like abortion. He wants us to believe that he is more sophisticated and mature than that– he thinks the environment is also important, and poverty. So Warren hosts Obama and McCain this year– separately– claiming to be non-partisan, but in 2004, he issued a “toolbox” for pastors which urged them to urge their church members to consider abortion as the only non-negotiable moral value in the election.
So Warren wants to sound objective and enlightened and a little more sophisticated… but he ends up with the same position as Pat Robertson, who doesn’t drive around in a limousine, don’t you know.
A website critical of Warren posted the following, from a workshop Warren gave in 1998 at Saddleback Church::
“Now, at Saddleback Church, we are unapologetically contemporary… I passed out a three-by-five card to everybody in the church, and I said, ‘You write down the call letters of the radio station you listen to.’ I wasn’t even asking unbelievers. I was asking the people in the church, ‘What kind of music do you listen to?’ When I got it back, I didn’t have one person who said, ‘I listen to organ music.’ Not one…. So, we made a strategic decision that we are unapologetically a contemporary music church. And right after we made that decision and stopped trying to please everybody, Saddleback exploded with growth….
“I’ll be honest with you, we are loud. We are really, really loud on a weekend service…. I say, ‘We’re not gonna turn it down.’ Now the reason why is baby boomers want to feel the music, not just hear it…. God loves variety!”
Unusually democratic for a church, don’t yo think?
JIM WALLIS: You know, some of those faith-based organizations who are providing services are the very ones who are now saying we can’t keep pulling bodies out of the river and not send somebody upstream to see what or who is throwing them in. So they’re talking about policy questions. So this is where the old left-right thing breaks down.
I think values are a good conversation for politics. It may be the future of our discussion. But it can’t just be partisan values wedged in to divide people. But I think a broader sense of values, personal and social — personal responsibility and social responsibility together are at the heart of religion. The two together will provide a powerful political vision for the future.