A book that has both sold over thirty million copies and been translated in various languages, Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life certainly has much influence in the evangelical world to this day despite its being copyrighted in 2002. This book, which is meant to be read in forty consecutive days, attempts to answer the question, “What on earth am I here for?” In fact, Warren calls this book a “guide to a 40-day spiritual journey that will enable you to discover the answer to” the aforementioned question, a question he calls “life’s most important question” (p. 9). He claims that one will both know God’s purpose for his/her life and understand the big picture at the end of the journey (p. 9).
This is a big claim.
Warren also invites the reader to make a covenant with Warren (pp. 12-13). This covenant involves committing the next forty days to reading this book (basically a chapter a day). I will admit that I did not sign the covenant. Instead of taking 40 days to read it, I took about two weeks. I took notes and made observations throughout my reading.
WHAT ON EARTH AM I HERE FOR (pp. 17-59)?
In this section, Warren dedicates seven days (or chapters) to addressing the above question. You will notice that Warren cites multiple translations spanning multiple verses on page 15 (The Message and the NLT). The Message is an awful translation (more accurately known as a herephrase; henceforth this article calls The Message a herephrase). Unfortunately, Warren cites this herephrase early and often. While the NLT is not as bad, it is nowhere near as accurate as a good translation (such as the ESV, the NASB and the NKJV). Already there is a problem because Warren clearly has no discernment giving his frequently using The Message herephrase.
One can recognize this book’s literary qualities in this section. These qualities make the book a simple read. First, Warren starts each chapter with a legit one-liner (i.e., “It’s not about you”, “You’re not an accident”, etc.). Second, each chapter ends with a section titled “Thinking About My Purpose.” These sections include a point to ponder, a verse to remember (unfortunately these verses are not always in a good translation, nor are they always in context), and a question to consider. If the “verse to remember” part got fine-tuned to include as many verses as necessary (depending on book and context) and a good translation in the citation, this section would be a hit out of the park. Instead, it misses the mark just a smidge. Third, each chapter begins with either two cited verses (ripped out of context, mind you) or a verse/quote combo. Finally, Warren’s use of repetition is worth noting. Often when he cites his verses (which are usually out of context and oftentimes in a bad translation), he precedes the citation with, “The Bible says.”
Before I go on, I must note that it is interesting that Warren states “It’s not about you” on page 17. The reason it is interesting is because the rest of the book is in fact about you. More on that later.
In chapter two, titled “You Are Not An Accident”, another recurring thing emerges; Warren frequently gives dishonest citations of verses. For example, he states, “The Bible tells us, ‘God is love’” (p. 24). The back of this book contains all of Warren’s source citations (and there are plenty of them). If one looks up the verse citation in the back, one discovers that the verse is 1 John 4:8 (p. 327). The verse is correct. However, the verse does not just state those words. Instead, it states the following (I use the NASB since Warren does not specify the translation in the back):
“The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.”
What Warren did in his citation is eliminate about 75% of the verse without placing an ellipse at the beginning. While one may think this is nitpicking a minor issue, this is an issue nonetheless because it is a dishonest citation. Hillsong did a similar thing on its album Mighty To Save when it ripped 2 Chronicles 7:14 out of context. Unfortunately, this is not the only instance of a dishonest verse citation by Warren. He does the same thing in chapter three (p. 29). While he does use ellipses at certain points in the book (p. 36), why even not use them in the first place? At best, this is a case of him talking out of both sides of his mouth (with one side being honest in citing and another side not being honest). At worst, this is intentionally deceitful (I’m leaning toward the “at best” side).
Chapter three, titled “What Drives Your Life?” reveals something else that is prevalent throughout the book. At times, Warren makes statements with absolutely zero statistical support. For example, in this chapter, he states that many people are driven by guilt, resentment, anger, fear, materialism and/or the need for approval (pp. 27-29). He gives absolutely zero statistical support to back these claims. It is as if he is just making this stuff up on the fly.
Chapter four, titled “Made To Last Forever”, features a statement worth analyzing (p. 37):
“While life on earth offers many choices, eternity offers only two: heaven or hell. Your relationship to God on earth will determine your relationship to him in eternity. If you learn to love and trust God’s Son, Jesus, you will be invited to spend the rest of eternity with him. On the other hand, if you reject his love, forgiveness, and salvation, you will spend eternity apart from God forever.”
It is true that eternity offers only two choices. Furthermore, one’s relationship to God on earth will determine one’s relationship to Him in eternity. One must repent and believe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ alone (Jesus being the only way by which mankind may be saved) for salvation (Acts 4:12, 16:31; John 14:6; Isaiah 43:11; Romans 10:1-17; Galatians 3:1-5; Romans 3:1-6:23; 2 Timothy 2:24-26; Ephesians 2:1-10; Matthew 3:8; Titus 3:8). This is a little beyond the description Warren gives as it pertains to learning to love and trust God’s Son. Repentance and faith represent big aspects of a born-again believer (something Warren omits). Finally, Warren is not accurate on the concept of eternity apart from God (see Revelation 14:1-13).
In chapter five, titled “Seeing Life From God’s View”, Warren rips several passages out of context in trying to argue that life is a test, trust and temporary assignment (pp. 41-45). He also says something rather interesting near the conclusion of the chapter (p. 46):
“God says there is a direct relationship between how I use my money and the quality of my spiritual life. How I manage my money (“worldly wealth”) determines how much God can trust me with spiritual blessings (“true riches”). Let me ask you: is the way you manage your money preventing God from doing more in your life? Can you be trusted with spiritual riches?”
I have to ask the question; if my way of money management prevents God from doing more in my life, wouldn’t that make me more powerful than God? Warren’s statement here is nothing short of heretical. God is in heaven and He does what He pleases (Psalm 115:3). If God wanted to do much in my life irrespective of my money management, He could do so. My money management (competent or otherwise) does not limit what God can or cannot do.
In chapter six, titled “Life Is a Temporary Assignment”, Warrens explains what the title states while, at the same time, ripping verses out of context and dishonestly citing the NLT version of Psalm 119:19 (pp. 47-52). In chapter seven, titled “The Reason For Everything”, Warren rips more verses out of context (pp. 53-59). Furthermore, he gives a very short and incomplete Gospel presentation (p. 58). While he does mention sin, his explanation of it (“ … at its root, is failing to give God glory”) is insufficient (pp. 54-55). Instead of preaching the Law to show how we all have broken God’s holy standard and thus are separated from God (which is something that Ray Comfort and Todd Friel would do in their Gospel presentations), he preaches what Tim Challies calls a “decisional regeneration” that gives “false hope” since the presentation does not give a full explanation of both who God is and why people need a Savior. His presentation is essentially as follows (pp. 58-59):
“First, believe. Believe God loves you and made you for his purposes. Believe you’re not an accident. Believe you were made to last forever. Believe God has chosen you to have a relationship with Jesus, who died on the cross for you. Believe that no matter what you’ve done, God wants to forgive you.
Second, receive. Receive Jesus into your life as your Lord and Savior. Receive his forgiveness for your sins. Receive his Spirit, who will give you the power to fulfill your life purpose. The Bible says, “Whoever accepts and trusts the Son gets in on everything, life complete and forever!” Wherever you are reading this, I invite you to bow your head and quietly whisper the prayer that will change your eternity: “Jesus, I believe in you and I receive you.” Go ahead.
If you sincerely meant that prayer, congratulations! Welcome to the family of God! You are now ready to discover and start living God’s purpose for your life.”
While it is true that people are both not an accident and loved by God, Warren’s concept of God’s having “chosen you to have a relationship with Jesus” (a.k.a., “relationship theology”) needs explaining. First, we are all created in God’s image (Genesis 1:26-27). Already, there’s a relationship of creation/Creator between every single human being ever created and God. Second, for the non-believer, another relationship already exists; God is judge over the non-believer. Furthermore, the non-believer, dead in his/her trespasses and sins, stands in condemnation before a holy God (Exodus 34:7; Ephesians 2:1-3; Romans 2:8-10; Revelation 9:2; 19-20; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10; Matthew 8:12; 22:13; 25:14-46 Mark 9:43; Isaiah 66:24). Needless to say, this is a bad, damning relationship. Because of that, this concept of God’s having “chosen you to have a relationship with Jesus” does not save automatically. Having a good and only a good relationship with Him (i.e., being a penitent believer in Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world–Acts 4:12; John 1:29, 14:6; Acts 16:31; 2 Corinthians 5:8; Philippians 1:21; Matthew 3:8; Ephesians 2:1-10; Romans 10:1-17; 2 Timothy 2:24-26) leads to salvation, not simply a relationship in itself. It has to be a good one.
As it pertains to the second paragraph from above, the italicized verse was the first part of John 3:36 in The Message. I have already discussed the problems with the herephrase known as The Message. The other problem here involves Warren’s shaving a hard edge off the Gospel. John 3:36 in a good translation (NASB) states, “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” As I also noted in the previous paragraph in discussing the non-believer’s being dead in trespasses and sins, there is a consequence for rejecting God. Warren does not discuss that at all in this presentation, thus making this presentation incomplete at the very least.
Finally, Warren’s leading the reader in prayer is insufficient given the fact his gospel presentation was insufficient. How can someone legitimately be ushered into the family of God without recognizing his/her need of a Savior? I do not quite have a problem with the brevity of the prayer (let’s not forget that the thief on the cross did not exactly spew a book in his cry for help; see Luke 23:33-43). However, as Challies noted, this type of prayer, given the insufficient presentation that preceded it, can give someone false hope (see this lengthy documentary for additional commentary on this matter and others pertaining to it).
The rest of Warren’s book explains, according to him, the five purposes of your life. They are:
- You Were Planned For God’s Pleasure (pp. 63-116)
- You Were Formed For God’s Family (pp. 117-170)
- You Were Created To Become Like Christ (pp. 171-226)
- You Were Shaped For Serving God (pp. 227-280)
- You Were Made For a Mission (pp. 281-319)
Each purpose (henceforth referred to as a section) has a chapter (or day) named after it (seven chapters in each section sans the last one, which has five). Each section has its fair share of dishonest citations, verses ripped out of context and false teachings, among other things.
As I mention earlier, Warren stated on page 17, “It’s not about you.” If it indeed is not about me, then why are all the five above sections about…..me? The dishonesty and deceitfulness with Warren continues.
SECTION ONE: YOU WERE PLANNED FOR GOD’S PLEASURE (pp. 63-116)
A problem exists at the very beginning of this section. This review has already noted the plethora of dishonest citations this book has. Another one comes at the very beginning of the first chapter of this section. As noted earlier, each chapter begins with either a double-verse or verse/quote combo right above the text on the chapter’s opening page. One of the verses is Revelation 4:11 in the NLT (p. 63).
In the book, it states, “You created everything, and it is for your pleasure that they exist and were created.”
However, in the actual NLT, it states, “You are worthy, O Lord our God, to receive glory and honor and power. For you created all things, and they exist because you created what you pleased.”
Notice the difference between what was cited and what the text in the NLT actually says for that same chapter and verse. These are two completely different things. Furthermore, the word “pleasure” is not even in the verse in the actual NLT. The fact that one of Warren’s five purposes (and these are Warren’s purposes because his gross twisting of Scripture essentially amounts to nothing more than manmade doctrine) comes from a dishonest citation of a verse (in addition to the other things already noted at this point) is too blatant and obvious to ignore.
Other notable issues in this section include but are not limited to Warren’s false belief that God wants a relationship from people most of all (p. 70; 2 Peter 3:9 would refute Warren’s statement, and the aforementioned brief discussion on “relationship theology” would do the same), Warren’s gross belief that God “woos” us (p. 79; but God does not do such a thing), Warren’s promotion of “breath prayers” (p. 89), Warren’s heretical belief that God would share His secrets with those who “develop the habit of thinking about His Word throughout the day” (p. 91; such a belief reeks of Gnosticism and mysticism; we have everything we need to know about God in the Bible), and Warren’s citation of The Message version of Exodus 33:12-17 (p. 93), said translation absolutely blaspheming God in this passage with its minimization of God’s sovereignty and omniscience.
SECTION TWO: YOU WERE FORMED FOR GOD’S FAMILY (pp. 117-170)
In this section, Warren continues his Scripture twisting and dishonest citations. This section does not have as many problems as the prior section. However, given its continued Scripture twisting and dishonest citations, it is problematic nonetheless. It is possible that the cliché phrase “doing life together” got its origin from this book (pp. 138-144).
SECTION THREE: YOU WERE CREATED TO BECOME LIKE CHRIST (pp. 171-226)
The same aforementioned issues this review has mentioned persist in this section (as they do in the next two sections). Warren does promote the false “still small voice” doctrine (p. 174). He also sugarcoats sin a bit (pp. 220-221). This is ironic given he was a bit more descriptive (although not completely descriptive) about sin earlier in the book.
SECTION FOUR: YOU WERE SHAPED FOR SERVING GOD (pp. 227-280)
A problem exists at the opening page of the section’s opening chapter. Warren claims “God designed you to make a difference with your life” (p. 227). This is a weak and inaccurate argument. After all, Hitler made a difference with his life. God did not create people for a specific purpose (singular). Instead, God created us for good works (plural, not singular as “purpose” is). Ephesians 2:1-10 states as much (NASB):
2 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.
The Scripture is clear that blood-bought born-again believers (henceforth referred to as Christians) are created for good works. The next logical question to ask is what a good work is. The backs of the epistles provide excellent examples of what a good work is. Ephesians 5:22-6:9 is one such text:
22 Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. 24 But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, 26 so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. 28 So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; 29 for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church,30 because we are members of His body. 31 For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.32 This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.33 Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband.
6 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 Honor your father and mother (which is the first commandment with a promise), 3 so that it may be well with you, and that you may live long on the earth.
4 Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
5 Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ; 6 not by way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. 7 With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men,8 knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free.
9 And masters, do the same things to them, and give up threatening, knowing that both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him.
Another text that shows what a good work is is Colossians 3:18-4:6:
18 Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. 19 Husbands, love your wives and do not be embittered against them. 20 Children, be obedient to your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing to the Lord. 21 Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart.
22 Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who merely please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. 23 Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve. 25 For he who does wrong will receive the consequences of the wrong which he has done, and that without partiality.
4 Masters, grant to your slaves justice and fairness, knowing that you too have a Master in heaven.
2 Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving;3 praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned; 4 that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak.
5 Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. 6 Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.
The Scriptures are clear that Christians are created for good works. They are not created for a purpose per se. Furthermore, the Great Commission commands believers to make disciples of all nations (not a difference; see Matthew 28:18-20 and Luke 24:36-49). To state that believers are called to make a difference is not entirely accurate compared to what the Scriptures say.
Warren also minimizes God’s power much in this section. He states on several occasions that, basically, He works on a quid-pro-quo level (pp. 247, 267, 273). In short, He can only do certain things based on our actions or lack thereof. Warren fails to understand that God is in heaven and does what He pleases (Psalm 115:3).
SECTION FIVE: YOU WERE MADE FOR A MISSION (pp. 281-319)
By now, it should be obvious that a plethora of problems with this book exist. Those aforementioned problems continue in this section. Warren once again promotes the practice of “silent breath prayers” (p. 299). This absolutely reeks of contemplative mysticism. Jesus actually gives the model for how to pray in Matthew 6:5-15 (NASB):
5 “When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. 6 But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.
7 “And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. 8 So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.
9 “Pray, then, in this way:
‘Our Father who is in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
10 ‘Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
11 ‘Give us this day our daily bread.
12 ‘And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 ‘And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. [For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.’]
14 For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.
If you want a model for how to pray, look to the Scriptures, not Rick Warren. Warren has already proven by now his book is full of problems. It would be ridiculous to take his advice at this point.
APPENDICES AND NOTES (PP. 320-334)
The book concludes with three appendices. The first one has discussion questions that a small group or Sunday School class can use (pp. 320-322). The second appendix gives a plethora of information that points to his church and all things PDL (Purpose Driven Life) related (pp. 323-324). The last appendix answers the question of why Warren uses so many translations (p. 325). One reason Warren gives for this is because translations have limitations (which is true). His second and third reasons are laughable:
“Second, and even more important, is the fact that we often miss the full impact of familiar Bible verses, not because of poor translating, but simply because they have become so familiar! We think we know what a verse says because we have read it or heard it so many times. Then when we find it quoted in a book, we skim over it and miss the full meaning. Therefore I have deliberately used paraphrases in order to help you see God’s truth in new, fresh ways. English-speaking people should thank God that we have so many different versions to use for devotional reading.
Also, since the verse divisions and number were not included in the Bible until 1560 A.D., I haven’t always quoted the entire verse, but rather focused on the phrase that was appropriate. My model for this is Jesus and how he and the apostles quoted the Old Testament. They often just quoted a phrase to make a point.
The problem with this is that one herephrase that Warren leans on so heavily (The Message) is not God’s truth in a “new, fresh” way. Rather, it is a perversion of God’s truth and thus an abomination. Second, Jesus and the apostles didn’t blaspheme when they quoted phrases to make points. Warren does this early and often.
Pages 327-334 show all the verse citations Warren used in his book. This section is the only section that could be easily modified to make it salvageable. If one reads those verses cited in context in a good translation independent of any commentary from Rick Warren, one could get some value from that.
This book is an absolute train wreck. Warren’s Scripture-twisting, deceit, lack of discernment and garbage justification for using a heretical paraphrase (among other things) make this one of the worst books I have ever read. I hope and pray that the 30 million plus people that have purchased this book recognize that this book has little to nothing offer to the Christian. Unless you’re reading this for research purposes, stay away from this book.
NOTE: I emailed my review and questions I had on the book to the public email of email@example.com. I sent 2 emails because I inadvertently failed to include my link to my review in the first email I also tweeted my review, tagging him in it.