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A Review of “The Purpose Driven Life” - 

“What on Earth am I here for?”

Rick Warren, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI 49530 (2002)

This is a book dedicated to you, but it’s not about you. Indeed, it is supposed to be about God and God’s purpose for your life. “It All Starts With God” gets us off to a good start, and for certain there is considerable worth in the basics contained in this work. However, the message and purpose is quickly and completely corrupted by the needless Christian doctrine imposed.

“You were born by [God’s] purpose and for his purpose.” What a wonderful idea – so eloquently captured by the author. The essential idea – the necessity of seeking and fulfilling God’s purpose – makes this an important work. But, too much reliance upon Biblical themes and Christian doctrine leads us astray of both the book’s purpose and God’s purpose. You cannot find God’s purpose in any book!

Bringing glory to God is life’s purpose and greatest achievement. Where the author gets it wrong is in adopting the church’s best idea of worship: a lifestyle of giving; loving others (as God does); becoming like Christ; and telling others about God [Jesus]. It is wrong to fault the underlying truths in this conception of worship – if one reaches beyond the common notions of becoming “Christ-like” and keeps the focus on God – and not the Christian “Trinity”.

It is all a matter of priorities. We simply cannot place God after any other part of our lives and then claim to be serving God. Easy to say; very difficult to do. The author’s more extended definition of “Worship” falls prey to Christian doctrine. Love trust, obedience, praise, and using our abilities to serve God as key elements in the worship of God. So are surrender, communication [prayer], meditation, honesty, acceptance, and commitment. However, the long history of the church in distracting seekers with diverging notions makes the author’s approach risky and unlikely to succeed.

“You are as close to God as you choose to be”. And it may be acceptable to think of God as a “friend” – but I choose not to. God is too good, too great, too perfect, too moral, and too smart to be my “friend”. I hope to be “close” with God and I cherish the knowledge that God accepts me despite my limitations, but I have no right to term God my “friend” and to do so inaccurately characterizes our relationship.

With the first two-thirds of the book being very worthwhile, it declines substantially in the last parts. Again, this is readily attributable to the increasing incorporation of Christian dogma. Baptism has nothing to do with “joining God’s family”. Nor does any other ritual, procedure, or human process. I find no fault with “fellowship” unless and until it becomes a distraction from serving God. (It’s all a matter of priorities). When the mission is a message, you’d better be sure the message is the right one. If serving “God” begins with acceptance of the “Holy Bible” as the authoritative source for God’s plan and purpose then that “God” is hardly worth serving.

“Nothing on earth is more valuable to God than his church.” At this point the author loses it completely. I must ask – if we are to emulate the life of Jesus, then why wouldn’t we all practice Judaism? How many “churches” did Jesus build? How often did he worship in one? The “church” of Jesus was God’s love and a commitment to serving God. If your “church” truly follows that doctrine, it is a church of Jesus.

It is regrettable that buried in the misguided ending are several jewels… The ultimate goal in living a purpose driven life is spiritual “character development”. The achievement of spiritual transformation is a great gift to God. It is the truth that transforms us. God’s truth is written within us – spiritually. It is not written in any book and time spent looking for it in a book is as wasted as searching for it through some thinking process. Thought and words are useful in helping us focus spiritually. They are tools to help us elevate ourselves to a level closer to God, but they are never enough. It is here that the author leaves us short.

The book ends with a practical side: growth through trouble and temptation. I have to disagree with Pastor Warren when he states: ”There is always a way out.” Not every trouble and temptation may be solved or overcome by living a purpose driven life. Acceptance of one’s assignment (from God) is fundamental to peaceful and meaningful life, but it does not lead to a trouble-free life. In fact, it is likely to lead to some “trouble”.

”We are only fully alive when we are helping others.” If this means that we cannot be fully alive without helping others, then I give it more credence. If it means that helping others is the key ingredient in living a full life, I disagree. Here again, there is a contradiction: we are told (correctly) that the essence of love is the giving of our time. And we are told that serving God is to love as God – to love others as God does. Thus, to love God becomes the “helping of others.” I find this reasoning sound but believe that many will be misled into thinking that merely helping others is fulfilling God’s purpose. If one accepts the model of Jesus as being correct, then it is a difficult model. Jesus made promises that were either misunderstood or false. Is the giving of false hope a way of helping people? The biblical Jesus is one of the most perplexing of characters in all of literature and while his “commandment” is one of the great truths, it has led to grave mistakes in human judgment.

We MAY serve God by serving others (with humility, patience, and consistent dedication to God). We may also be easily deluded into thinking that we are serving God through service to others when we are actually serving our own interests. This is the ultimate problem with churches.

God is more than global; even more than universal. A good starting point in the service or worship of God is to come to grips with God’s nature. We cannot know God’s purpose without knowing God’s plan and we cannot know God’s plan without studying God’s Creation.

To the extent that this book points us to seek God’s purpose and helps us serve it, it is masterful. That it takes a few missteps and builds upon a flawed doctrine takes away from is value. Nevertheless, it is highly recommended.

RVW (Jan. 8, 2005)



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