Rick Warren was interviewed earlier this year by John Piper. A report had this to say:
"Piper, surprisingly, did not find any major problems doctrinally in the book. 'When I read the book, I thought "what's the issue here?"' he said. And with 20 pages of notes, Piper said he read the book very carefully. Some of what Warren had to say in the bestseller even made Piper's 'spine tingle with gladness.'"1
I have to disagree with John Piper. You don't have to read this book carefully to see the problems, in my opinion. They are glaring. I became acquainted with this book when I was asked to teach one of the purposes - purpose number 2. So, I read the preliminary chapters in addition to the chapter I was to teach.
Passing God's Final Exam, according to The Purpose Driven Life, depends on what you decide to do. According to the author, Question 1 will be, "What did you do with my Son, Jesus Christ?" Question 2 will be, "What did you do with what I gave you?" Preparing for this final exam is the author's goal of the book - i.e. this is not a minor idea communicated in the book. One's answer to Question 1 "will determine where you spend eternity." One's answer to Question 2 "will determine what you do in eternity." (p.34)
Warren goes on to write that, "You become a Christian by committing yourself to Christ, ... decision brings salvation;" (p. 137) On page 175, under the heading of cooperating with the Holy Spirit, Warren writes that, "God waits for us to take the first step." This removes any doubt in my mind that the author communicates decisional regeneration in the book.
Yet, Warren claims to be a Calvinist. But, so does Norman Geisler in his thoroughly Arminian book Chosen But Free. Warren shows that he is Arminian by his belief in decisional regeneration. I wonder what Piper was thinking? He said he read the book carefully.
In addition to the above objection... I fail to get what is so magical about 40 days. Warren attributes several Scriptural acts to 40 days. The book elevates 40 days to a cause for these acts and a cause for transformation from reading his book.
As I said earlier, I taught Purpose 2 and focused on this portion mainly. Purpose 2 was essentially the doctrine of Adoption. Why he avoided this label was, and is, a mystery to me. I am certain with his educational background that he knows this quite well.
The article states: "While Warren is not known for being a doctrinal preacher, Piper noted that one reason for this 'is his intention to be theologically sound and practically helpful without using doctrinal or theological terms in his public ministry.'"1
It appeared to me that the reason for avoiding this label is that he wanted to avoid systematizing the doctrine of Adoption by unpacking it and instead present a series of particular teachings on the subject - i.e. moving away from systematizing to Particularism or Positivism, which are two components of Secularism.
All things considered, I do not understand why this book was proposed as a teaching source. Nor do I understand why it gives Piper spine tingles and gladness. Of all the great books with which we have to choose, The Purpose Driven Life is not even close.
One last caution before ending, I think we need to be careful not to defend the use of the book with Pragmatism or Utilitarianism... more components of Secularism. Just because this book has been said to work, that does not make it a good book. This would be nothing more than Pragmatism. Nor does the popularity of the book make it a good book. This would be nothing more than Utilitarianism. All forms of Secularism should be guarded against.
PS - So how did I react to the request to teach Purpose #2? After reading the material I let the associate pastor who made the request aware of my reservations, so that he could find a replacement if he liked. After some discussion, I proposed that I would teach the doctrine of adoption. He agreed, and when the time to teach Purpose #2 came I taught on the doctrine of adoption. The funny thing is that one of those attending the class actually complained that Warren's book was not followed strictly. I simply explained that Purpose #2 was the doctrine of adoption and this is what I taught.
1. Rick Warren Addresses Critics on Doctrine, Purpose Driven Life, By Lillian Kwon, The Christian Post, May 27, 2011