Warren, Rick. The Purpose Driven Life. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002.

319 pages plus appendices.

I picked up this book because I love the idea of being deliberate. Anything that can help me to live my life more deliberately is a worthwhile investment of time. Additionally, I’d read another one of Warren’s books and found it to be insightful in many areas.

I was profoundly disappointed.

Warren structures the book into forty chapters to fit the forty days of purpose campaign that was popular back when the book was released. The forty chapters are broken into six sections. A section of introduction is followed by sections covering Warren’s five purposes of life: worship, fellowship, discipleship, ministry, and mission (p. 310).

The ups

First, this book is a presentation of basic Christianity that is designed for a post-Christian world. Some authors write as if we in the modern Western world live in a Christian society, but Warren understands that we can’t assume that. While the book seems to have been designed for the churched Christian, it is definitely written for the biblically/theologically illiterate.

Second, Warren is clearly gifted in organising ideas and presenting them.

The downs

First, I found the book shallow, trite, and simplistic. Its cliché-to-page ratio must hold some sort of record. Seriously, this book makes clichés look original.

Second, this book is far less than Warren is capable of. In it, Warren is careless with words, sloppy with theology, and cute with Christianity. After trudging through 300+ pages of this stuff, I’ve earned the right to wail on it. This book is clearly the product of a lot of thought, but not careful, precise, expositional thought. The content of the book hardly merits its existence, let alone its length.

Third, Warren’s approach to God’s word is despicable. He repeatedly uses phrases like “the Bible says” and then gives a quotation. But references are almost always relegated to an endnote (not even a footnote) and the text is taken from any one of fifteen translations, only a few of which are credible-for-teaching, formal translations of God’s word. It’s not unusual to have two or more translations quoted in a given page. The net effect is that even if you are highly familiar with the text, you’re unlikely to be able to discern the context from the quotation given, and barring looking at the back of the book for the reference several hundred times, you are left with a disconnected string of words with little to no context which you must simply take the author’s word for being what God says (and don’t expect much explanation of the text itself). The result is that Warren’s assertions are cut off from Scripture authority. Warren is obviously accustomed to this criticism as he includes an apology for this practice as an appendix. The apology is embarrassing. As is the practice. More than that, it’s shameful.

Fourth, The Purpose Driven Life comes across as the big book of things to do. It’s a sort of Christianity that is unfortunate and burdensome on its fundamentalist home turf, and is no less so in this Evangelical reincarnation.

Conclusion

I have to think that this book was successful more because it was written than because of what it says. It’s a sort of theological Sunday School, but not in a good way.

I had hoped to glean some substantive thoughts on deliberate living from a gifted man I knew I didn’t see eye to eye with. And I did glean some helpful thoughts. But perhaps the most beneficial result of my taking the time to read this book is that you won’t.

Grace to you.

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About Jason Harris

Jason loves to communicate God's word both in the local church and at conferences and retreats. Jason has been involved with Worship Music since 1996 and InFocus since 2005. Jason has degrees in theology, music, accounting, and research and is currently a PhD candidate and lecturer in the College of Business, Law, and Governance at James Cook University, Cairns. Jason is also a pastor at CrossPoint Church. You can contact Jason at jason@jasonharris.com.au.

8 Comments

  1. Kez 4 April, 2012 at 11:47 am - Reply

    lol, I think I enjoy your posts on the books you don’t like more than the ones you do like! =P That said, I was considering this book so I’m glad I dodged that bullet! Thanks for sharing! =)

  2. Jeremy Crooks 4 April, 2012 at 1:34 pm - Reply

    I wonder if every book needs to be ‘theologically deep’. Sometimes books can be helpful when they take simple truths and present them in practical ways.

  3. Daniel Kriss 4 April, 2012 at 2:06 pm - Reply

    And some people think you have become a new-evangelical????! Thanks for the comments…..would have to agree with every point….just wish u had read it 5 yrs ago and saved me wasting my time then!! God bless. Dan

  4. Jason Harris 4 April, 2012 at 4:51 pm - Reply

    @Jeremy,

    I completely agree. There are plenty of excellent books that are devotional or practical. My concern is not that this book is not theologically deep per se, but that being a book which purports to summarise all of Christian theology into five purposes for life (that’s a pretty big ask… you’d want to get it right), it has shallow theology.

    But I assume you’re referring more to my comment “I found the book shallow.” There I was not referring to theological shallowness but just plain old shallowness. Even a devotional book is expected to have substance to it; not to be a lot of fluff. Yet this book is a teaching book.

    • Mona 7 November, 2015 at 5:57 am

      Please be careful when it comes to Rick Warrens’ teachings. He believes that we are God!! This New Age christian way of thinking is not the Christianity of the true word of God.

    • Jason Harris 15 July, 2016 at 12:28 am

      Mona, that simply is not true. Please check your facts.

  5. MARK HILLEL 5 July, 2016 at 3:52 pm - Reply

    IF ANY PERSON WANTS TRULY TO HAVE A PURPOSE DRIVEN LIFE SPEND YOUR TIME READING GODS INSPIRED WORD AND NOT WASTE YOUR TIME READING SOME THEROY A MAN HAS PUBLISHED ULTIMATLY RESULTING IN FIANANCIAL GAIN.

  6. Felix 17 May, 2020 at 10:03 pm - Reply

    Well, the book is a very good one by Rick Warren

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