Rick Warren: the quintessential evangelical...

Error message

Absolutely essential to understanding the big-business entrepreneurial ethos of much of conservative Bible-believing evangelicalism today are these two pieces on Rick Warren--the man Fortune magazine aptly calls "the generation's great religious entrepreneur."

Myths of the Modern Mega-Church
Will Success Spoil Rick Warren?

As I read about Mr. Warren, I'm in the middle of reading a couple biographies of Jonathan Edwards and preaching through Galatians. So I wonder whether, had Fortune been around at the time, its editors would ever have been tempted to call Edwards or the Apostle Paul "the generation's great religious entrepreneur?" Yes, everyone sees the world through their own lenses, but still I doubt it. Fortune's label is quite right for Mr. Warren but wrong for Jonathan Edwards or the Apostle Paul.

Here are excerpts from one--only one--forum where Rick Warren spoke. Every statement is a direct quote from that one day. Mr. Warren made his comments in the course of an extended conversation with the following elite journalists: The New Yorker's Elsa Welsh and Jeffrey Goldberg, The New Republic's Frank Foer, Dan Harris of ABC News, The Atlantic Monthly's Joshua Green and Wendy Kaminer, The New York Times' David Brooks and Anne Kornblut, The American Prospect's Sarah Wildman, NPR's Juan Williams, University of Pennsylvania's John Diiulio, Rebecca Haggerty of NBC Dateline, Philadelphia Inquirer's Jane Eisner, The Washington Post's E. J. Dionne Jr.,USA Today's Jill Lawrence, John Parker of The Economist, Reuel Marc Gerecht of the American Enterprise Institute, Luis Lugo of the Pew Forum, and Byron York of National Review. The forum was moderated by Michael Cromartie of the Ethics and Public Policy Center:


As a writer, you never know who is reading your stuff and so I just wanted you to know I am reading you. I read a book a day and I read tons of magazines, tons of articles, and I just devour enormous quantities of material, and thank God for the Internet. I get The New York Times and I get The Wall Street Journal, and I get the local papers in L.A., but the rest I have to read online or in the magazines that I subscribe to.

There is a verse in the Bible that says the intelligent man is always open to new ideas; in fact, he looks for them. And so when Mike invited me to come to this and I saw your names, I really jumped at the chance. I enjoy these smaller, intimate meetings. You know, when you speak to 23,000, 24,000 people every weekend, crowds don't impress you anymore. So really, anywhere I go is going to be smaller than the group I talk to on Sunday. So it's not like I'm going to get a big wow out of a crowd.

I would much rather come and do this kind of thing where we can dialogue and talk back and forth. Last night, I was in Miami speaking to this huge international convention of all of the Spanish-language publishers and they gave me the city key to Miami, but really I would have more fun with you here today.
* * *
Bono called me the other day...

Bono called me the other day and said why don't you come up to the U2 concert at the Staples Center because we're both active in AIDS prevention. My wife and I have given millions to the prevention of AIDS.

Another trend that I see is this 40 days phenomenon - this 40 Days of Purpose, which of course I'm right in the middle of. Ten percent of the churches in America have now done 40 Days of Purpose and that's just now. We will take another 10 to 15 thousand through it this year, and on and on and on. And there's a little story of how that got started in churches and then it spread to corporations like Coca-Cola and Ford and Wal-Mart, and they started doing 40 Days of Purpose. And then it spread to all the sports teams. I spoke at the NBA All-Stars this year because all of the teams were doing 40 Days of Purpose. LPGA, NASCAR, most of the baseball teams - when the Red Sox were winning the World Series, they were going through 40 Days of Purpose during the Series. So the story of the 40 Days of Purpose is more than the story of the book. And maybe we can get back to why that touched such a nerve around the world, because The Purpose Driven Life is not just the best-selling book in American history; it's the best-selling book in about a dozen languages. It's in about 30 languages right now and that's why I was at this meeting last night with the Spanish...
* * *
And number three, which is a really big one and of particular interest to me, what is going to replace the vacuum in China now that Marxism is dead? What's going to replace it? In all likelihood, it's going to be Christianity. I've had two state dinners in China in Tienanmen Square and People's Hall with their government, with the bureaucrats there, with the Cabinet members. I've actually had them in our home and had them in our church, and they've given me pretty much carte blanche in China for some reason.
* * *
There are 6,000 churches that run over 1,000, there are about 750 churches that run over 2,000 - so those are the real mega-churches, the 750 over 2,000. There are about 20 churches in America that run over 10,000 in attendance on a typical weekend. And there are three of us that run over 20,000. The three largest churches in America are Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, outside of Chicago; the Lakewood Church in Houston, which is on television, so you might have seen that one (the pastor is Joel Osteen); and then Saddleback is the largest church in America. We had our 25th anniversary on Easter this year. I did 12 services. We had 45,000 in attendance and I preached 12 services in a row. Two weeks later, we celebrated our anniversary and we had never had the church in one location, so we rented Angel Stadium and had 30,000 at Angel Stadium. I have 82,000 names on the church roll... So today, we have a 120-acre campus, we have about 30 acres just in parking, if you can imagine that.
* * *
...every pastor in America knew who I was because I put all of my sermons on an Internet site and it gets 400,000 hits a day from pastors.
* * *
I've spent the last 20 years training about 400,000 pastors in 162 countries. ...Now, I've got three advanced degrees. I've had four years in Greek and Hebrew and I've got doctorates. ...I was teaching this Purpose-Driven church seminar, and we simulcast it to 400 sites across the continent, and I trained in that time just about 90,000 pastors, in that one week. ...Last week I spoke to 4,000 pastors at my church who came from over 100 denominations in over 50 countries. ...I have an email newsletter called Rick's Toolbox that goes out every Monday to almost 147,000 pastors. And I write a little note every Monday. I sit in my pajamas, hit the button, it goes to 147,000 pastors.
* * *
When I went to Harvard a month ago, I honestly expected a pretty hostile audience - I'm an evangelical pastor and I'm going into Harvard. And I went in and I spoke four times and they gave me a standing ovation... And the faculty sat and all the deans sat in the front row and I just took hot-seat questions for an hour and a half and they broadcast it on C-SPAN
* * *
You see, here's the problem. My book happened to be published by Zondervan, which is owned by Harper-Collins, which is owned by Newscorp, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch. So when the book hit 15 million, I called up Rupert Murdoch and I said, "What are you going to do to celebrate my book?" And he goes, "Well, what do you want to do?" I go, "I want you to throw a party and I want you to invite all your secular elite friends from Manhattan and let me talk to them." And he goes, "Okay." (Chuckles.) So he sends out a list, he invited 350 people, who's who in Manhattan to the top of the Rainbow Room, and I went up there and you know, I just started talking to them - again, standing ovation.
* * *
Last night I signed a book for Viktor Yuschenko, who asked for a copy of The Purpose Driven Life. A few months ago, I signed a Purpose Driven Life for Fidel Castro, who asked for one.

Mr. Warren talks about the Apostle Paul and Jonathan Edwards but I see little to no similarity between his and their ministries. For starters, the Apostle Paul defended his own ministry by speaking of his suffering for Jesus:

Since many boast according to the flesh, I will boast also. For you, being so wise, tolerate the foolish gladly. For you tolerate it if anyone enslaves you, anyone devours you, anyone takes advantage of you, anyone exalts himself, anyone hits you in the face. To my shame I must say that we have been weak by comparison. But in whatever respect anyone else is bold--I speak in foolishness--I am just as bold myself. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I. Are they servants of Christ?--I speak as if insane--I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.

Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches. Who is weak without my being weak? Who is led into sin without my intense concern? If I have to boast, I will boast of what pertains to my weakness. (2 Corinthians 11:18-30)

Try to imagine Paul testifying before Festus or King Agrippa as Mr. Warren testifies before these kings and queens of the Fourth Estate, the press, and see if you don't also find yourself grieved at Mr. Warren's failures? And almost none of us--certainly not I--are innocent of this same sin. Vernon Grounds knew us well when he said the following in the March/April of 1986 Theological Students Fellowship Bulletin:

I say it bluntly: too many of us American evangelicals are worshipping the bitch goddess of success.

Finally, this from a nationally televised interview:

LARRY KING: Now, Rick.


LARRY KING: You believe God was in that room (with Atlanta hostage Ashley Smith and the gunman holding her hostage)?
RICK WARREN: Oh, without a doubt. There are three or...

LARRY KING: And He was also there when he went with the gun?
RICK WARREN: Well, there are three or four truths. God works through people. We've talked about this, Larry, lots of time, like where was God in Katrina?

RICK WARREN: Well, God was in the people who were helping them out of Katrina. That's where He was. He's in the...

LARRY KING: Where was He when the wind came?
RICK WARREN: Exactly, well we know that...

LARRY KING: Why did the wind come?
RICK WARREN: Well, we know that the world is a broken place. This isn't heaven. That's why we're to pray Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven because God's will is not always done on earth.

LARRY KING: So, He gets mad and sends wind?
RICK WARREN: Well, no, no, no. I don't blame -- if I get drunk and I go out and I hit a woman in a car with a pregnant daughter with a baby and she dies, that's not God's will. That's evil. And there is evil in the world.

LARRY KING: But the wind--whose will is that?
RICK WARREN: Well, because there's evil in the world there are consequences about it and the Bible, I don't want to get into theology on this but the Bible does say the world is broken.

(Transcript here.)

Mr. Warren says many good things, I'm sure; and his books have helped many, I'm sure. But someone pull him off the national stage until he is able to avoid being such a poor witness to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.