Tuesday, May 31, 2011

John Piper's Interview of Rick Warren on Doctrine



You may read John's description of the purpose and focus of the interview here, but here are just of few paragraphs from his explanation:
The nature of the interview is mainly doctrinal. I read Rick’s The Purpose Driven Life with great care. I brought 20 pages of quotes and questions to the interview. You will hear me quote the book dozens of times. With these quotes as a starting point I dig into Rick’s mind and heart on all the issues listed below (with the times that they begin on the video).

My aim in this interview is to bring out and clarify what Rick Warren believes about these biblical doctrines. In doing this my hope is that the thousands of pastors and lay people who look to Rick for inspiration and wisdom will see the profound place that doctrine has in his mind and heart.

Rick is not known for being a doctrinal preacher. One reason for this is his intention to be theologically sound and practically helpful without using doctrinal or theological terms in his public ministry. Inside of Saddleback there is a greater intentionality about building biblical and theological categories into the people’s minds and hearts.

Near the end of the interview, with great respect and appreciation for the stewardship of influence that Rick carries, I exhort him and pray for him that God will make the final chapter of his ministry a deepening one, that leaves a legacy of biblical and doctrinal truth more explicitly and firmly in the minds and hearts of the generations that will follow him.
Having watched the interview in its entirety, I have to say that I was very glad to see John press Rick on crucial issues such as unconditional election, total depravity, and a substitutionary understanding of the atonement, and I was equally glad to hear Rick affirm his agreement on such matters. However, I still find that I share the skepticism voiced by Tim Challies concerning Rick Warren. Tim posted an article earlier today entitled Thinking About Rick Warren & John Piper, in which he expressed concern on at least two major issues:
A Theological Chameleon

One of the most common critiques of Rick Warren and one of the most important is that he is something of a chameleon. There is a kind of pragmatism to him where he will be A and Not A depending on the context. I have little confidence that in a different context Warren would have answered the questions the same way. I am not saying that he outright lied to Piper, but simply that his track record shows that he adapts to fit the context.

Warren has been lauded in the secular media for speaking for a long time to a large group of Jewish leaders without ever using the name of Jesus. He is now being lauded by Calvinists for affirming the doctrines of grace. He has received praise from Roman Catholics. After all, he recently wrote the introduction to a special edition of TIME magazine that celebrated the life of Mother Teresa. This introduction praises the woman and holds her up as a model of Christian virtue. There Warren tells about a handwritten note by Mother Teresa that adorns the wall of his office. He proclaims that Mother Teresa “offered the same unconditional love our Savior did. By being the hands and feet of Jesus, this petite Albanian nun became one of the great evangelists of the 20th century.” He declared her “exhibit A of a true hero—a saint.” Mother Teresa, though, was a Catholic of Catholics, a devout follower of her church. She was also a universalist and one who saw no reason to seek to convert people to the gospel.

I think I am right to be confused here, right to ask questions. How do the doctrines of grace allow for an ardent Roman Catholic, one who denied those doctrines as anathema, to exemplify the Christian faith, to be a true hero—a saint? Surely I am not the only one who sees a contradiction. Surely I am not wrong to balk at Warren teaching Jewish rabbis how to increase the strength of their congregations.

Warren gave all the right answers in this interview, but I am not at all convinced that they reflect what he truly believes at all times and in all contexts. And certainly his ministry does not appear to bear out the kind of theological underpinnings that would reflect the theology he espouses here. Where is the influence of Edwards? Where is the monergism? Where do we see a belief in total depravity consistently applied in any of his books?
Use of Scripture
Another very common critique of Rick Warren and his books concerns the use of Scripture. Throughout The Purpose Driven Life he consistently and unapologetically tears verses from their context and applies them haphazardly, relying on a long list of translations and paraphrases to do so. Examples abound and would probably number in the hundreds; these are very well documented and very widely known.
Piper spoke to Warren about Scripture but stopped short of asking about his use of Scripture. If I were to preach in my church and Scripture as Warren does, I would be rebuked and I would deserve the rebuke. If a man stood in the pulpit of Bethlehem Baptist Church and used Scripture as Warren does, he would be rebuked as well, I am convinced. We do not want men to learn from Warren how to preach, how to use Scripture! He does not treat the Word of God as the very words of God. He can speak of his indebtedness to Edwards and Spurgeon and others, but his preaching shows very little of their influence.

These are just 2 critiques that remain unaddressed—very important critiques that seem to get to the heart of what he truly believes.
I recommend not only listening to the entirety of John's interview but also reading the entirety of Tim's article written in response to the interview (including many of the comments if time permits). I must say that I can certainly identify with Tim's reluctance to criticize John on the matter while feeling it necessary to do so, since I ran into the same problem when I felt compelled to write an article entitled Disappointed in John Piper's Judgment About Doug Wilson back in the summer of 2009.

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