Right away, I want to say I support Rick Warren and his family on a personal level as they go through the long process of grieving for their son. As someone who suffers bouts of depression, and as a parent knowing I’ve shared those genes with my two sons, I find the circumstances surrounding Matthew Warren’s death especially heartbreaking and also frightening. Matthew Warren’s suicide prompted me to post this, because it taught me that the depressed person needs to, has to, must, must, must TALK about it, and absolutely refuse to gloss over or downplay the magnitude of their pain.
I also want to make it clear from the get go: This post is not a personal attack on Rick Warren. It is merely an analysis of his theology and his methods, both of which I’m trying to approach as objectively as possible. Also please bear in mind I am not a theologian, nor do I consider myself a skilled researcher. (Actually, I could be a good researcher, if I had time. If I had time I could research until my eyes dried into little raisons, but with two young boys, it’s not an option at the moment. Plus, I need my eyes for my day job.) I will not be providing citations, only links so readers can begin to traverse the Web for further information if they so choose.
Revisiting 40 Days of Purpose
The Purpose Driven Life was published in 2002. Around that time, my church took part in “40 Days of Purpose”. We all (or those who were interested) read the book together and we talked about it. Ten years later, it’s difficult to say how much impact the book had on me. I know it was touted as something “really great” so I took its contents seriously, and many of the concepts in the book no doubt affected my worldview, even if only slightly.
I don’t recall having any theological problems with the book. No alarm bells went off while reading it.
I’m not sure exactly when the alarm bells starting going off, though I know it was around the same time I decided to weed New Age concepts from my worldview.
The New Age and Me
I was baptized as a sophomore in college, the same summer I was dealing with my first full blown episode of depression (the kind that is debilitating to the point where one’s life is so disrupted by the illness that it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain normal daily activities.) Before I was baptized, I believed in a little of this and a little of that, never fully embracing New Age thought, but finding myself more and more intrigued.
The blessing of depression, I’ve discovered (at least in my case) is that it makes me especially sensitive to bankrupt forms of spirituality. When I’m staring into the black void of nothingness that depression causes, and especially when the staring is combined with excruciating anxiety, it’s plainly obvious to me that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. Because in those moments, when I’m grasping desperately for hope in the darkness, He is the only handhold.
How do I convince someone of this if they have never experienced major depression? I don’t know. I can only say please believe me when I say this. Jesus is our only hope. I know this is true because I have experienced absence of hope, and yet, Jesus broke through the void and offered me light. How could I ever turn my back on Him after he saved me from darkness? I could only do so in denial and willful disobedience, and I definitely do not want to travel that path.
My point is this: depression showed me that New Age spirituality is bankrupt. New Age spirituality was powerless to save me. Beyond powerless. It fueled the darkness.
No. I’m not ready to go there yet, but as I reread The Purpose Driven Life, I’m spotting potential weeds.
It didn’t take long to spot the first potential weed, which is on the dedication page and reads like this:
This book is dedicated to you. Before you were born, God planned this moment in your life. It is no accident that you are holding this book.
No accident, eh? That’s a bold statement.
I’m a writer, so I naturally turn it around and ask myself, Would I feel comfortable telling my readers that God planned for them to read my book?
Like I said, I don’t want to attack Rick Warren personally. He is human, just like the rest of us, which means he is prone to sin. Also, I cannot judge his heart. I can only say that, to me, the statement: “It is no accident that you are holding this book” seems a bit presumptuous. As I just mentioned, humans are prone to sin. For those of us who are writers, that sin can show up in our writing. For this reason, I think a little more humility is in order, at least in terms of what I might write on my own dedication pages. Maybe God did plan for me to read Rick Warren’s book. I don’t know. And I don’t think Rick Warren knows either.
This is running long, so I’ll throw out one more bit of info and then end.
There is a concept called “synchronicity”, which is widely embraced by New Age thinkers. Meriam-Webster defines it as the coincidental occurrence of events and especially psychic events (as similar thoughts in widely separated persons or a mental image of an unexpected event before it happens) that seem related but are not explained by conventional mechanisms of causality —used especially in the psychology of C. G. Jung.
Oops. I changed my mind. Here’s one more bit about Carl Jung.
I’m not ready to say Rick Warren believes in the concept of synchronicity, which therefore explains why he is so certain it’s no accident that I am holding his book. But what I can say is, after reading the Warren’s dedication page, my mind recalled a book I’d previously read in college, The Celestine Prophecy, which is all about synchronicity. Which compelled me to verify that Warren is not offering “synchronicity” in sheep’s clothing in The Purpose Driven Life.
More on that next time.