Book Review: “Who’s Driving The Purpose-Driven Church” by James Sundquist

James Sundquist was in the important documentary Church of Tares. He actually emailed me after finding my ARC article. We’ve been in email correspondence ever since that time. He was kind enough to email me some resources. One of those resources was his 2004 book Who’s Driving The Purpose-Driven Church: A Documentary on the Teachings of Rick Warren. As an act of thanks, I wanted to read and review it as soon as I could. Please understand that all page citations in this review pertain to the PDF of this book, not the paperback itself.

STRUCTURE

This book has a foreword/acknowledgements, a preface, an introduction, thirteen chapters and five appendices. In the foreword/acknowledgements, Sundquist states, “It is my fervent prayer that because you too love the truth and are good Bereans, that you will read this documentary with an open mind” (p. 7). While I would have preferred he use the phrase “open Bible”, I think his intent was ok. In his introduction, Sundquist makes an important statement regarding how to go about exposing Rick Warren’s false teachings (p. 9):

Let me first say that it is absolutely critical to present the facts of Rick Warren’s teachings by using his exact quotes and comparing them to Scripture, as the Lord considers it an abomination to bear false witness against a brother in Christ. I also have presented my articles to several fellow biblical discernment scholars, as iron sharpens iron, to help ensure the integrity of this document. There are a number of excellent documentaries, book reviews, and articles exposing Mr. Warren’s teachings by other very capable discernment ministries throughout the world whom I list as resources for you throughout this book, as well as at the end. But finally, it is not my review of his teachings that you should ultimately test, though you should test mine as well, but more critically, that you be a good Berean and compare each quote and translation to Scripture, as the apostle Paul commended the Bereans and commands us to do.

p. 9

Sundquist is correct in stating that it is an abomination to bear false witness against another, for that would be a breaking of the ninth commandment (Exodus 20:16). He is correct in stating that one should compare Warren’s exact quotes to Scripture. Sundquist is also correct in stating that one should correct his teachings as well. After all, nobody is beyond correction. This includes Rick Warren, James Sundquist and myself.

Sundquist makes some other important statements in the introduction. First, he appeals to 1 Timothy 4:1 & 6 in explaining why Rick Warren is not above criticism. Second, he explains why every Christian should expose a heretic:

I also would like to affirm that every Christian should expose a heretic because “heretic” literally means schismatic or dividing or departing from sound doctrine, i.e., a teacher of false doctrine. So to be a good Berean as the apostle Paul commended the Berean church, we must diligently search the Scriptures daily to see if any teaching is scriptural. We must all be vigilant to test every spirit to see if it is of God. And those in eldership position are all the more required to guard the flock against false teaching. Jesus Christ himself warned us to not be deceived. And how would we even know deception without comparing a teaching to Scripture? The Lord has brought to the church another gift of the Holy Spirit, which is called “Discerner of Spirits.” A little leaven does not leaven just part of the lump, but if left unpurged, will leaven the entire lump. One of the most precious doctrines and resources of Christianity is truth! If we compromise truth, we will have lost the savor in our salt and will eventually and rightfully be trodden under foot.

Some Christians have used the term “heresy hunter” to describe a person who exposes false teaching. But there remains a problem with the negative connotation of “heresy hunter,” at least in the case of Rick Warren. The term implies that his teaching is obscure or hidden from obvious view like a hidden treasure or that we are going on an unwarranted search-and-destroy mission. But the fact is that there is nothing obscure or hidden about Warren’s teaching. I did not go out looking for it; it has come like a flood into a city, in which no house is left untouched with water in its basement or worse. The floodwaters of his teachings and books have permeated virtually every city and denomination in the country. We did not ask for this! But it is here nevertheless. I have tried to organize this book by separating in order the false translations from Warren’s false teachings. But this was not always possible because his translations are often inextricably woven into his teachings. So my chapter headings are simply a general guide.

p. 10

Such texts as Acts 17:11, 1 John 4:1, Acts 20:17-38 and Matthew 24, while not outright cited, would support Sundquist’s above assessments. Moreover, I like how Sundquist explained the problem of the term “heresy hunter.” Warren’s teachings are not obscure or hidden. Instead, they’re in the public eye, for his book The Purpose Driven Life (henceforth referred to as PDL) has sold over thirty million copies. Moreover, it has been translated in various languages. Public teachings warrant a public critique, so I am glad Sundquist wrote what he wrote.

BOOK CONTENT

The chapters are not organized into particular sections. Nevertheless, one can find good information in all of them. Sundquist quotes extensively from Warren’s PDL book. In reading this book, I referred to Sundquist’s quotes of Warren for accuracy. I found Sundquist’s quote citations to be accurate. If they weren’t shown verbatim, they were paraphrased well enough to not really be anything different from what Rick Warren says.

In chapter one (titled “False Premise of 40 Days of Purpose: Comparing Warren’s 40-Day Examples to Scripture”), Sundquist cites some Warren quotes. He then refutes them. Here are the Warren quotes followed by my commentary:

Don’t you think it would be a wise use of time to set aside 40 of those days to figure out what God wants you to do with the rest of them? . . . Whenever God wanted to prepare someone for his purposes, he took 40 days.”

p. 12

Jesus was empowered by forty days in the wilderness.

p. 13

Real spiritual growth is never an isolated, individualistic pursuit.

p. 14

I looked at Sundquist’s footnotes for the above quotes. While the second quote did not have a footnote (could have been inadvertent), the quote itself was accurate, for it can be found on p.10 of Warren’s PDL book. Sundquist refutes all of Warren’s nonsensical quotes. For example, I cite Sundquist’s refutation of Jesus’ allegedly being empowered by 40 days in the wilderness (p. 13):

Jesus was not empowered by forty days in the wilderness; He was tempted. He was all-powerful already. If anything, at least in the flesh, He was weakened, then strengthened only at the very end with food brought to Him by angels. There is no process of forty days required to get Jesus “empowered!” At any point during even Christ’s earthly ministry He had the power to even call down a battalion of angels.

So I invite you to do a word search for “forty days” for each of the above biblical passages in a Blue Letter Bible or other great search engine. Type in “40 days.” Read the entire text and context for Noah, Moses, Elijah, Nineveh, and Jesus Christ. You will see that nothing like the process of going from being conformed to this world to being transformed that Rick Warren describes even takes place at all, let alone is there a requirement of forty days.

You might ask, but doesn’t God use forty-day periods repeatedly in the Bible? Yes, God used forty-day periods throughout the Bible; however, He never gave us liberty to invent what took place in those passages as Warren has done. The forty-day periods are descriptive, not necessarily prescriptive. Even if they were prescriptive, then by our invoking them we must follow the biblical pattern and schematic. We should not be following Rick Warren’s ideas, which do not conform to those biblical models (together with his sprinkling in the doctrines or references to false teachers along the way of his journey), which collide with the true text of the forty-day examples in the Bible.

This is a pattern Sundquist employs throughout his book: he cites Warren quotes accurately, he refutes said quotes, and he challenges the reader to do future study.

In chapter two, Sundquist refutes Warren’s 40-day covenant that is found in Warren’s PDL book. What I do now is cite a Warren quote. I then cite Sundquist’s immediate response to it:

With God’s help, I commit the next 40 days of my life to discovering God’s purpose for my life.

p. 13 of Warren’s PDL book, accurately cited by Sundquist

Even if Christ had not warned us about taking pledges and oaths, and that indeed even if they were acceptable, why would anyone sign an oath before reading the book, without knowing anything about who Rick Warren is? What are his teachings? What teachers or false teachers does he endorse? What about testing the spirits to see if they are of God before going down this path or journey? Even if it were true that you need forty days to discover God’s purpose for your life, how do you know that it is Mr. Warren’s blueprint of forty days that will take you there? Maybe it is the wrong blueprint or map. What about the millions of Christians who discovered God’s purpose for their life by simply reading the Bible, as opposed to Rick Warren’s book? Since Mr. Warren is directing this in great part to non-believers, they have no correct concept of even who God is. God could simply be any higher power, or the god of this world (Satan), or Allah, or “God as we understand him” as in the Twelve- Step program. There is nothing in the covenant statement about the credentials of the partner’s name that you are signing a covenant with. What if this person is a non-believer? If one person is a Christian (which Warren professes to be), then that person would be unequally yoked with an unbeliever who signs this covenant. Does Rick Warren have no concern about unholy alliances and treaties and their consequences, as Scripture reveals over and over again? And who is holding Mr. Warren accountable to hold up his part of the bargain, since he also signed this covenant? Finally, he quotes Ecclesiastes 4:9 (TEV). But this passage is about two working together or fighting together. There is nothing in the passage to back up Mr. Warren’s statement of how this can help you discover God’s purpose for your life.

p. 16

Sundquist asks some good questions here. Moreover, a Christian, by reading the Bible, can discover what he/she ought to do in life. I don’t like calling it “purpose” though (singular), for Christians are called to good works (plural). Good works are done in the mundane. Christians do their good works in their vocations. Consider the following texts:

Ephesians 5:22-6:9 (NASB):

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.Honor your father and mother (which is the first commandment with a promise), so that it may be well with you, and that you may live long on the earth.

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

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; not by way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free.

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.

When a Christian wife submits to her husband in the area of leadership in the home, that is a good work. When a Christian husband reads God’s Word with his wife, that is a good work. When a Christian child obeys his/her parents in the LORD, that is a good work. When Christian employees work hard for their employers, that is a good work.

Here is Colossians 3:18-4:6 (NASB):

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.

Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving; 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;that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak.

Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.

When a Christian behaves wisely toward non-Christians (outsiders), that is a good work. When a Christian watches his/her speech, that is a good work. 

The last text I consider as it pertains to good works and the doctrine of vocation is 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12 (NASB):

Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another; 10 for indeed you do practice it toward all the brethren who are in all Macedonia. But we urge you, brethren, to excel still more, 11 and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you, 12 so that you will behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need.

When a Christian leads a quiet life, tends to one’s own business and works in his/her job as an employee, that is a good work. Simply put, Christians are created for good works. These good works are done in the mundane. This is what Christians do. Cows moo. Dogs bark. Christians do good works. They can’t help but do them because of their new nature. Now that they are no longer slaves to sin, they are free to serve their neighbor via doing good works. People do what they do because they are what they are. The whole PDL concept is refuted by the fact that Scripture teaches that Christians are called to good works.

Now, I do want to make an important point that Christians are not saved by good works. Rather, they are saved for good works (big difference). You might be asking, “Why do people need saving?” Well, please understand that by default, we are all born dead in trespasses and sins.

Ephesians 2:1-10 explains (NASB):

2 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 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. 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. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 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 Bible is clear that people are born dead in trespasses and sins (2:1-3). God’s being rich in mercy makes one alive in Christ (2:4). Furthermore, it is by grace through faith that one is saved (2:5-9). It is not based on works (2:9).

If you do not believe what Ephesians 2:1-10 states, I would ask you please look at the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:1-17. Have you ever told a lie? Have you ever stolen something, even if it was small? Have you ever used God’s name in vain? Jesus said that whoever looks upon a woman to lust after her has already committed adultery in the heart (Matthew 5:27-28). Jesus also said that if you ever get angry at someone, you’ve committed murder in the heart (Matthew 5:21-26). Just the mere thoughts of adultery and murder make you guilty of the very acts themselves.

Please understand that it only takes one murder to be a murderer, one lie to be a liar and so forth. David said in Psalm 51:5 that he was conceived in sin. Genesis 6:5 states that every intent of the thoughts of man’s heart is only evil continually. Clearly, man has a sin problem. Romans 3:23 states that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Man is in big trouble with God because of his sin. This is more amplified by the fact that perfection is the standard (Matthew 5:48).

Now, some people try to justify their sin by trying to balance it out with the good deeds that they have done. However, if you were to try that in a court of law, the judge would throw the book at you. A good judge would not accept a bribe. He would cast you off into jail. God likewise will not accept a bribe, for there is no partiality with Him (Deuteronomy 10:17; Ephesians 6:9).

Thankfully, Jesus came to solve the sin problem 2000 years ago (Isaiah 53:1-12). You and I broke the law. Jesus paid the fine (Matthew 26:14-28:20). This means that the judge can do what’s legally right in dismissing your case. He can say, “This person has broken the law, but someone has paid his fine. He’s out of here.” This is good news.

There are two things a person must do. He must repent. This means to turn from his sin (Mark 1:16; Luke 24:36-49; 2 Timothy 2:19-26; Acts 17:30-31). He must also put his trust in the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (Acts 16:31, 17:30-31; Romans 4:1-25, 10:1-17; Galatians 3:1-14; John 6:26-29). These gifts of repentance and faith are granted by God (Ephesians 2:8-9; 2 Timothy 2:22-26). If you repent and put your trust in the Savior Jesus Christ, He will forgive you of your sins and grant you everlasting life (John 6:47). Oh may you know His mercy and grace today if you have never repented and put your trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation.

In chapter three, Sundquist looks at Warren’s usage of inaccurate translations. One of those “translations” is The Message. I wrote an article on how The Message is a herephrase. Sundquist titles chapter four “False Teachings.” It’s the second longest chapter in the book. That should tell you something. Moreover, Sundquist is not wrong for dedicating so much space to this chapter, for Rick Warren is a heretic and narcissist to the core. Some of the stuff Sundquist covers include stuff I covered in my own book review of PDL (including the “breath prayers” thing).

Chapter five represents the shortest chapter in the book. Despite being the shortest, it packs one heck of a punch. Sundquist starts by citing a Warren quote. He then offers commentary afterwards. Here it is:

God won’t ask about your religious background or doctrinal views.

Rick Warren on p. 34 of PDL. Quote accurately cited by Sundquist.

Say what? Doctrine doesn’t matter? So why did the apostle Paul spend so much time and effortwarning us about doctrines of demons? Why bother to even warn the Galatians who had been bewitched? More of what Paul thought about doctrinal views:

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.

—2 Timothy 3:16

For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears.

—2 Timothy 4:3

Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers.

—Titus 1:9

What the apostle John thought of doctrinal views:

If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed.

—2 John 1:10

And God won’t ask about doctrinal views? Well, Jesus Christ (who is God) also did not agree with Rick Warren regarding the importance of doctrine, as we read His words directly to the church in Pergamum in the Book of Revelation:

But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication. So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes, which thing I hate.

—Revelation 2:14–15

Doctrinal views do matter! Warren’s belittling the importance of sound doctrine might explain

why so few in his congregation and those who have become Rick Warren churches, have opposed him . . .

p. 54

Sound doctrine does matter. Sadly, Rick Warren does not care about such a thing. As a result, he has done much damage to the body of Christ.

Sundquist titles chapter six as “Promoting False Teachers.” Sadly, Rick Warren promotes false teachers a lot in the PDL book. One of them is the late Henri Nouwen. I wrote a post on Nouwen back in December 2020. He was a bonafide heretic. Warren’s promoting false teachers is simply more evidence that he is a hireling who cares nothing about the sheep (see John 9:1-10:21).

Chapter seven (titled “How To Worship”) is like chapter five; it’s a short chapter that packs a lot of punch. In chapter eight, Sundquist debunks the “Celebrate Recovery” program. Warren claims his program is based on the Beatitudes, but in actuality it is based on the Alcoholics Anonymous’ Twelve-Step Program (p. 66). My friend John Lanagan of The Word Like Fire has written extensively on this organization.

Chapter nine (titled “Regarding Prophecy”) starts with a line that I have debunked in the past. What I do is cite a quote from PDL. I bold the sentence that Sundquist cited.

The Bible is very clear: God uses money to test your faithfulness as a servant. That is why Jesus talked more about money than he did about either heaven or hell.

Rick Warren on p. 267 of PDL. Sundquist cited the bold sentence accurately.

I debunked the above lie in my extensive sermon review on Alex Seeley of The Belonging Co (she claimed the same thing, really). Sundquist does some of his own debunking of that lie in this chapter. He also explains Rick Warren’s (essentially) despising of Bible prophecy.

In chapter ten, Sundquist debunks Warren’s unbiblical S.H.A.P.E. program. This is warranted because the church has gotten by just fine for two millennia without Warren’s nonsensical program. Chapter eleven goes along with chapter ten because its subject matter is “Personality Profiling” (the “P” in S.H.A.P.E).

Chapter twelve (titled “Judgment and Separation”) is basically the last non-FAQ chapter in the book. In it, Sundquist does an excellent job explaining how Rick Warren is greatly mistaken in his understanding of the concept of judging. Moreover, Sundquist appeals to an article titled “Is It Right To Judge” by Franklin C. Buling (my citing the article is not a full-fledged endorsement of him). Sundquist calls this article one of the best that he has read “that refutes Rick Warren’s position that Christians should not judge Christians” (p. 113). The article is certainly a good one.

Sundquist titles chapter thirteen as “Frequently Asked Questions by Pastors and Churches Using Rick Warren’s Purpose Drive (sic) Life and SHAPE.” Sundquist then concludes his book with five appendices. There of them are comparative charts. One appendix is a rather deep section on Carl Jung, Neo-Gnosticism, and the Myers-Briggs Temperament Indicator (MBTI). The final appendix is a list of reviews, resources and exposes on both PDL and Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Church.

CONCLUSION

I don’t think I’ve found a more well-researched, carefully quoted book exposing Rick Warren’s PDL than Sundquist’s book. I’m not saying there’s not one out there. I’m just saying that it’ll be hard to find something more well-researched than this one. This is an important work that exposes one of the most dangerous and damaging books/movements to hit the church over the last century. While some of the links in this book may no longer work due to the book’s 2004 publication date, I still highly recommend this book as a must-have for the Christian.

WANT THE AUDIO VERSION?

Check out the podcast episode I did of the review here. You can also find this episode on iTunes, Google Podcasts, Spotify and more.

Thanks for your time!

Published by Clint Adams

My name is Clinton Adams. I am a born-again Christian. I used to have the blog "faithcontenderblog.wordpress.com." After taking it down, I have since rebooted as "The Earnest Layman" as I earnestly contend for the faith once for all entrusted to the saints (Jude 3). I also promote sound Christian doctrine and rebuke that which contradicts it (Titus 1:9). I mainly do book reviews. However, I also do other types of posts (normally extensive). Should you request a certain topic, I will most definitely consider it. :) If you ever have questions or comments on anything you read here, feel free to comment with your feedback on any of my posts. You can also email me at earnestlayman@outlook.com. If you really like what you read here, you can always follow my blog. Thank you so much for reading!

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