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).
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.
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.
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.