The Barnabas Ministry
Book Review

The Purpose Driven Life- What on Earth Am I Here For?
By Rick Warren (Zondervan Publishing, Grand Rapids, MI 2002). 336 pages.

Rick Warren's The Purpose Driven Life is basically an instruction manual for the Christian life. It is easily readable-- forty short chapters designed to be read in forty days-- but full of stuff to do and reasons to do it. The Purpose Driven Life is a book that has swept the nation, as hundreds of churches have done a "Forty Days of Purpose" going through the book, using accompanying videos and small-group discussion plans from Rick Warren to go along with the book. No doubt, thousands of people have been blessed by this book.

Warren, founding pastor of the Saddleback Church and author of The Purpose Driven Church, takes the approach of stating basic theological concepts, discussing some of the practical implications of those truths, and making them the foundation for one's Christian life. The book is especially useful for young Christians and people wondering "what" to do with Christianity in the first place or “now what” to do with an immature or ineffective faith. It is a very stimulating and thought-provoking book.

The book begins with the question, "What on earth am I here for?" Answering this question leads to the five purposes that form the cornerstone of Warren's approach:
  1. You were planned for God's pleasure (worship)
  2. You were formed for God's family (fellowship)
  3. You were created to become like Christ (discipleship)
  4. You were shaped for serving God (ministry)
  5. You were made for a mission (evangelism)
As an example of how Warren approaches these topics, let me discuss his approach to ministry. He discusses the idea of "SHAPE," an acronym for spiritual gifts, heart/passion, abilities/talents, personality and experience. Since God uses the various "parts of the body" to meet the needs of the church (ref. 1 Corinthians 12 et al), understanding these characteristics helps us to understand how God intends to use each of us in his church. He also discusses the importance of being a servant, having healthy motives, and other characteristics important to the service God talks about in the Bible. Throughout, the book is balanced, healthy and informative. It strikes a good balance between being encouraging and challenging.

However, I caution those recovering from a spiritually unhealthy situation to think twice about reading this book. Just as people in a hospital need a different diet than healthy people, people that are sick spiritually need a "spiritual diet" that specifically addresses their illnesses, not something designed for people who don't have an illness. I am concerned that any reader who has been hurt by an unhealthy performance-oriented church experience is likely to feel overwhelmed and like a failure.

Warren's presentation isn't harsh or graceless at all-- but even committed Christians sin. At times, Warren often comes across like quite matter-of-factly, "here is what is right, and there's no excuse for why you're not doing it." But we humans don't always do the things we ought, no matter how hard we try, how long we try, or how guilty we feel for the last failure. It's part of the human condition; we always are in need of forgiveness. Most unhealthy or abusive churches are always seizing upon people's failures and urging people to therefore "do more" or "try harder" instead of embracing the truths that 1) all Christians sin and 2) God's power is made perfect in weakness. By its very nature, any action-oriented book like The Purpose Driven Life isn't necessarily going to help anyone still hurting from abuses due to imbalances in this area. Nevertheless, I think The Purpose Driven Life presents a healthy approach and could be of great use once some healing has taken place and healthy perspectives of God's grace and love have been addressed.

I am also wary of an unhealthy or abusive church using this book, as it could easily lead to abuse in a church culture already inclined towards unhealthy practices. Any book or program is a mere tool; a tool can be used for something beneficial or destructive depending upon the intent and competence of the operator. Just because someone is using a tool that can be used for something healthy doesn't mean it is automatically healthy in every usage.

Having said all of that, I recommend The Purpose Driven Life to those looking for concise and healthy ideas for integrating  theological truth and practical applications, but I caution those in the midst of spiritual recovery to seek careful guidance through resources more precisely designed for that purpose.

Link: The Purpose Driven Life website

Copyright © 2004 John Engler. All rights reserved.

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