In another part of our interview with best-selling author and pastor Rick Warren, I asked him about some of the controversies surrounding his church.
I asked him, for instance, about the criticism that he offers a sort of glib, new age Christianity. Rev. Bob DeWaay, author of a book criticizing Warren’s approach, says “the Bible’s theme is about redemption and atonement, not finding meaning and solving problems.” How does he respond to the charge that he offers a shallow 40-day approach to Christianity?
"I flatly deny it," Warren says. "The average message I teach on a weekend contains fourteen passages of scripture. I am a multi-generation pastor which many of these critics don’t. I am a Bible scholar. I’ve had six years of Greek and Hebrew. They don’t know what they’re talking about. And what happens is you often get pigeon-holed because if a church is large then people tend to think it’s shallow and that’s not true. All large churches are not alike. All mega-churches are not alike."
“The truth is there’s a lot of people who don’t know what’s going on and they read second- and third- and fourth-hand reports which are incorrect,” Warren says. “There have been things written for instance, ‘Oh Rick Warren, the Hawaiian-shirted pastor.’ I haven’t worn a Hawaiian shirt in two years but that’s still being reported around the nation.”
Continued Warren, “there are all kinds of caricatures. I’m criticized by people who are either ignorant or they’re jealous. And the fact is were seeing God make a difference in individual lives, thousands and thousands of lives. I started this church with one person, my wife. Today there over a 100,000 names on our church roll. It’s the size of a city. We’re a really big target. And when you get invited to do an interview like this of course that creates all kinds of people who want to criticize you and when you’re trying to promote the common good and when you’re trying to promote civility there are a lot of people who have a stake in being uncivil. They make their living polarizing and so if I were simply just the left than the right would criticize me. And if I were just the right than the left would criticize me but I’m trying to stake out a common middle ground here so I get it from both sides and that’s the price of impact.”
There have also been reports of other churches trying to follow Warren’s example and create “Purpose Driven” and Saddleback-esque churches but losing parishioners.
“I would like to disavow a lot of the things that are done in the name of ‘Purpose Driven’ or done in the name of Saddleback, because I’m not responsible for everybody else’s church,” Warren said. “And some guys are just poor leaders. And they do things and say “we’re doing it like Saddleback,” but really, I would disavow what they’re doing”
That said, Warren continued, “for every example of negativity I could give you a hundred positivity. We’ve trained now almost 500,000 church leaders around the world in 162 countries. I’ve been training leaders for twenty-eight years, business leaders, government leaders, church leaders. In a couple weeks I’m going to the nation of Kenya where I’ve been invited to give an all day seminar on leadership to the entire parliament,…we just finished a thirty day tour of Latin America.”
“I’m a big target,” Warren said, “It doesn’t bother me. It’s like…during the Civil War the guy who wore the Union blue top and the Confederate blue bottom and he got shot at from both sides. That’s just part of trying to be a bridge builder, a moderator, a voice of civility. Our civilization is becoming increasingly uncivil. We’re becoming ruder. Were not getting nicer to each other were getting ruder. And some how we have to figure out as the world becomes more pluralistic — to quote that great theologian Rodney King, ‘Can’t we all just get along?’ We don’t have to agree. We don’t have to compromise our beliefs. We don’t have to water down our convictions but we do have to be civil. And why do I believe that? Because Jesus said love your neighbor as yourself, in fact he said love your enemies. So I am commanded to love people that I disagree with.”
“It’s not easy to be criticized,” I said to him.
“Nobody likes to be criticized,” Warren said.
“And it seems like it might bother you a little bit,” I said. “You are a huge success and your good works are undeniable and I’m not trying to take away from that. But I sense in this interview that these people get under your skin a little bit.”
Said Warren, “people get under my skin for about five seconds. I consider both praise and criticism, it’s kind of like chewing gum. You chew on it for a little while but you don’t swallow because ultimately I’m living for Jesus Christ. That’s my goal. And my philosophy when criticism comes at me, if it’s true: listen and learn from it. If it’s untrue ignore it and forget it.”
“And ultimately realize God is the judge of your life,” Warren concluded. “Jesus said ‘Beware when all men speak well of you’ and I would point out that Jesus was not criticized by the world he was criticized by the religious leaders and 27:39 the criticism I get is far greater from people who have staked out a very narrow position and want me to kowtow to that position rather than the poor, the sick, the needy, the helpless — the people Jesus really cared about.”