On Superficial Christian Books

When several people asked me about the book The Purpose Driven Life, by Rick Warren, I glanced through it and said "looks like good principles, nothing new if one reads any scripture." I have now read it and have a different comment.

Christians are similar to flocks of birds today we will all read this particular book. Groups will use it for forty weeks, one chapter a week. Then we will be mature believers with a purpose. Next year we will read the book, "Life without Purpose" and do the same. We will devote November for something out of the Bible.

Rick Warren said about the same thing 40 times adding a few illustrations. Anyone who has any portion of the Bible understands or should understand that we exist for God's "glory", to be godly people, love our neighbor and family, take care of our family and respond to what God is asking us to do. Being obedient godly people is the ministry, not going to a church. We should be able to share that faith with those who ask. (I Peter 3:15) We also need to enjoy that experience with others, possibly two or three perhaps a dozen?  

Chapters 17-20 is Rick's pitch for the "church". His philosophy is well stated "A Church Family identifies you as a genuine believer" That should have been his first sentence in the book for his "real purpose driven writing". I believe something different, "You new life in Christ as a new Creature is what identifies you as a genuine believer".  Your strength as a man who takes care of his family, loves his wife and neighbor identifies you as a believer. Rick points out (p.151) new believers met "at the Temple" each day, met in small groups and homes. He failed to explain the "temple" was the temple courtyard where people were buying and selling goods, a common community gathering place. This "temple" has no relationship to our concept of a "place of worship", something not built for another 200 years when the "church" became an official program with professional priests, bishops, etc. It was then seen as rebellion to meet in small groups, read the bible without the priest and to not join the "church". The early believers merely enjoyed being together everywhere. I'm sure Rick being a good student knew this however it didn't fit with this purpose driven book.

It is important to recognize the institutional Christian church in this country, over 200,000 doesn't impress very many in respect to being genuine believers. MTV is much more impressive in respect to influence. 

His concept of church is corporate, highly institutional, and a circling of the wagons to keep Christians together. It is expensive in respect to staff and buildings and I would guess it really has little impact on the surrounding community. George Barna surveys show little difference between Christians and non Christians in behavior. I suspect this is true of the megachurch community. Having come out of the Mormon community I do understand the dynamics of organizational power. It has little or no spiritual power.

One of my tasks working with Houghton Mifflin Publishing was to screen manuscripts and send some on to Boston for the next level of acceptance or rejection. After twenty years I noticed the large majority of these "help yourself" books except for novels could be easily said in one chapter. Writers complained that we wouldn't publish it unless it had 200-400 pages which was true. (Most novels like Tom Clancy are now far to large and too detailed) A few, like "Bicycling through England" are published with 70 pages and good graphics

I'm struck with a simple biblical truth. I find no biblical "hero" who initiated his/her relationship with God. God always approached that person such as Abraham, Paul, etc. and dragged them with heel marks into His great adventure of faith. God never appeared comfortable with organizations. I can't imagine the "church" as I see it being an exciting picture of who God is and what He is all about. I would much rather sit in front of Barnes and Noble and discuss Israel and God with a stranger. As a good steward of money and time I simply see the typical "church" as a very bad investment. It is "performance" in nature.

In that most fathers do not have strength or discipline to lead families spiritually they are content to sub contract it out to the "church". In that most people cannot develop relationships with a few believers to study together, pray and share one another's burdens it is natural to jump into the large club. Small groups do indeed exist amidst the large "club" however it is not necessary to pay for a corporate organization to enjoy a small group fellowship. The institutional problem is a sad comment on individual resolve to seek God and be obedient to what God is giving him/her. God however understands and continues His work with individuals in probably groups of two or three amidst the larger auditorium. (April 20, 2004).

(By Lynn Berntson, lberntson@charter.net, a retired evangelical elder).