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SPIRIT-LED OR PURPOSE DRIVEN?
By Berit Kjos
December 20, 2003
Widening the gate to the Kingdom
The phenomenal success of Rick Warren's books and marketing skills has both popularized and accelerated the Church Growth Movement (CGM). Around the world, seekers and believers are reading The Purpose Driven Life and discussing its 40 chapters. Following its guidelines, they share their thoughts, express their feelings and "bounce ideas off each other." [1, page 11] They sign contracts and hold each other accountable to the social and spiritual ideals of the 21st Century Church community. And, says Pastor Warren, their lives are being transformed. [see note]
I am sure many are. Pastor Warren has written some encouraging pages about God, His glory, our walk with Him and our fellowship with one another. I especially appreciate the sections that show the delight of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. But I was a little concerned when he invited all his readers to "quietly whisper the prayer that will change your eternity: 'Jesus, I believe in you and I receive you.'"[1, page 58]
You might ask, what could possibly be wrong with that short prayer? Why question his promise that it would open the gate to God's Kingdom and "change... eternity" for all who prayed? Don't we want to bring as many as possible into God's eternity?
Yes, of course we do! And God could surely use those nine words to draw His chosen ones to Himself. But the promises and assumptions that accompany the prayer could also produce serious problems in the church. For many will pray the prayer with little or no awareness of the holy nature of God, of the unholy power of sin, or of the deep chasm between the two. In our times of easy beliefism and Biblical illiteracy, anyone can personalize and claim God's promises without any prompting by the Spirit, genuine conversion (spiritual rebirth) or lasting inner change. Where people learn to tolerate evil and flow with the crowd, true repentance is rare and faith often becomes presumption. Still unregenerate, many happily accept the group's consensus: You prayed the prayer, therefore you must be a Christian.
Pastor Warren agrees. "If you sincerely meant that prayer, congratulations!" he tells the reader. "Welcome to the family of God! You are now ready to discover and start living God's purpose for your life! [1, page 59]
We hear this claim from hundreds of "Christians" who tell us they have prayed "the prayer," yet they show little or no spiritual understanding of God or His Word. Justifying their love for the world's dark and titillating thrills, they are blind to God's guidelines and desensitized to spiritual deceptions. One such young man wrote us the following words: "I am a Christian, and I love my religion, but I also love other religions." He believed he had "received Christ" but, like the wayward Israel of Old Testament times, he saw nothing wrong with "other spiritual paths to god." He believed in "God" but followed a popular deception.
It's not surprising. Today's "positive" gospel emphasizes love, minimizes doctrine and ignores divine justice. The essential Biblical truths that prepare hearts for genuine conversion no longer fit. A postmodern "believer" may be full of self-confidence but woefully short on spiritual understanding. A recent study by pollster George Barna bears this out:
"...relatively few people have a biblical worldview - even among devoutly religious people. The survey discovered that only 9% of born again Christians have such a perspective on life. The numbers were even lower among other religious classifications....
"For the purposes of the research, a biblical worldview was defined as believing that absolute moral truths exist; that such truth is defined by the Bible; and firm belief in six specific religious views. Those views were that Jesus Christ lived a sinless life; God is the all-powerful and all-knowing Creator of the universe and He stills rules it today; salvation is a gift from God and cannot be earned; Satan is real; a Christian has a responsibility to share their faith in Christ with other people; and the Bible is accurate in all of its teachings......
"Upon comparing the perspectives of those who have a biblical worldview with those who do not, the former group were 31 times less likely to accept cohabitation; 18 times less likely to endorse drunkenness; 15 times less likely to condone gay sex; 12 times less likely to accept profanity; and 11 times less likely to describe adultery as morally acceptable. In addition, less than one-half of one percent of those with a biblical worldview said voluntary exposure to pornography was morally acceptable (compared to 39% of other adults), and a similarly miniscule proportion endorsed abortion (compared to 46% of adults who lack a biblical worldview).
"At least Christians are not the only ones addled by their culture into holding contradictory beliefs," writes Gene Edward Veith. "Atheists are just as confused about their theology. ... They believe that accepting Christ can bring eternal life, even though they don't believe in Jesus Christ. Just like 'nonevangelical born-agains.'"
But they're all coming together under the worldwide ecumenical umbrella of the Church Growth Movement. As I wrote in Re-Inventing the Church, the 21st century vision of global oneness is drawing diverse churches and people into vast "Christian" networks that provide trained leadership and management consultants. Rick Warren's communitarian management guru, Peter Drucker, described it well. Quoting him in a 1994 report, the "Leadership Network" wrote,
"The Spirit is moving.... there is a substantial critical mass of people and churches that are already moving.' ... While acknowledging that there are still many unhealthy churches [those that don't conform to the new, inclusive pattern], there is a justified 'change in basic premises, basic attitudes, basic mindset... on the whole, we are on the march...." [emphasis added]
This diversity is essential to the mind-changing dialectic process that Drucker has helped establish in organizations everywhere. (We will take a closer look at it in Part 6 of this series) Meanwhile, Dr. Robert Klenck, who has thoroughly researched the use of this manipulative process in the CGM, shows how the pieces fit together in his report on "The 21st Century Church:"
"...in this movement, it is imperative that unbelievers are brought into the church; otherwise, the process of continual change cannot begin. There must be an antithesis (unbelievers) present to oppose the thesis (believers), in order to move towards consensus. (compromise), and move the believers away from their moral absolutism (resistance to change). If all members of the church stand firm on the Word of God, and it’s final authority in all doctrine and tradition, then the church cannot and will not change. This is common faith. Soon, we will see why these “change agents” are pushing so hard for change to occur in the church."
Unlike some church leaders today, Pastor Warren does try to define sin. Before introducing his salvation prayer, he wrote, "All sin, at its root, is failing to give God glory. It is loving anything else more than God. Refusing to bring glory to God is prideful rebellion, and it is the sin that caused Satan's fall--and ours, too. In different ways we all lived for our own glory, not God's. The Bible says, 'All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." [1, page 55]
That's true. But this general sin which applies to all of humanity will hardly cause postmodern unbelievers to sense any genuine guilt or a personal need for the cross. Unlike earlier generations of Americans, few have been taught the basic truths about our Biblical God and His moral law. Many simply dismiss the notion of "sin" as old-fashioned legalism and shut their eyes to its corrupting power in their own lives. When faced with today's non-offensive teaching on sin, many translate it into a more comfortable half truth: "Sin is a normal part of life, and I'm just as good as everyone else -- maybe a little better. Besides, God understands and loves me as I am." In other words, there's no sense of guilt, fear or brokenness before our eternal Judge! Like ancient Israel, "They were not at all ashamed; nor did they know how to blush." Jeremiah 6:13-15
In contrast to this postmodern norm, Jesus shows us a heartfelt response that pleases Him. While dining at the home of the self-satisfied Simon, He explains the blessing of a truly repentant heart:
"Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has washed My feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head. You gave Me no kiss, but this woman has not ceased to kiss My feet since the time I came in. You did not anoint My head with oil, but this woman has anointed My feet with fragrant oil. Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.” Luke 7:37-47
This precious woman was familiar with God's moral law -- what the Bible describes as "our tutor to bring us to Christ that we might be justified by faith." [Galatians 3:25] While that uncompromising law exposed her guilt and depravity, it also caused her to treasure God's wonderful forgiving grace with all her heart. Unlike those who ignore God's standard and their own sinful inclinations, she was overwhelmed with gratitude to the One who forgave her sin and set her free from the weight of the law and from bondage to her "flesh" (sinful human nature).
God had prepared her heart and she humbly gave herself to her beloved Lord -- heart, mind and soul. Jesus, in turn, held her up as an example to others.
Her response to God's loving mercy illustrates the fourth category in Jesus' parable of the sower. Remember, the sower (God) scatters the seed (the "word of the kingdom") which fall into four types of soil (or heart conditions):
All four hear the life-giving word of truth, but only two receive it. Both the second and the fourth appear to have entered into the Kingdom, but only the fourth proves faithful and wins the prize: God's gracious sufficiency and His abundant fruitfulness. Only the last group "understands" God's Word, demonstrates His enduring strength and knows the hope of eternal life with Christ. Those gifts are only given to those who are truly "born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." John 1:13
This saving faith will be tested. New believers will face struggles, temptation, suffering and persecution -- all normal for those who are called to share in the suffering of Christ. They will fall, fail, grieve and repent, but they will always return to the One whose Word and Spirit have transformed their hearts. In contrast, others will leave this narrow way when life gets tough or the world too tempting -- not because God has revoked His saving grace, but because they were not truly changed in the first place. Look at the next Scripture:
"?And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled ?in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight— ?if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast...." Col 1:21-23
Pastor Warren seems to minimize the sobering reality behind God's warnings and inflate God's promises. To back his assertion that all who pray his prayer are automatically transformed by the Holy Spirit, he quotes a "Scripture" from The Message, a paraphrased Bible translation by Eugene Peterson that promises, "Whoever accepts and trust the Son gets in on everything, life complete and forever!" [John 3:36a]
Do you wonder what the open-ended phrase, "gets in on everything," means? Written in "present tense," it seems to imply an irresistible heavenly life here on earth -- a blissful offer that few would reject. But if you compare that version of John 3:36 with any standard translation, you will find that Mr. Peterson had added that alluring phrase in spite of God's repeated command not to add to -- or delete from -- His unchanging, Spirit-breathed Word. The result is another misleading half-truth that obscures the fact that walking with Jesus means sharing His suffering. We forget that some of God's most faithful servants have faced poverty, hardships and torture that defy our comfort-centered Western comprehension, yet they endured the pain for the greater joy of serving their beloved King now and forever.
Pastor Warren starts the next chapter (8) in his book with this feel-good assurance for all who prayed the prayer:
"The moment you were born into the world, God was there as an unseen witness, smiling at your birth.... You are a child of God and you bring pleasure to God like nothing else he has ever created."
This "positive" gospel will surely meet man's "felt need" for affirmation, identity and a sense of belonging. The masses are more than willing to believe in this new tolerant, non-judging God who fits their postmodern culture. But God doesn't promise to make us comfortable and pamper our feelings. While He does promise the resources needed to meet each day's challenges, some of those spiritual resources have little to do with today's "felt needs." Instead His path for us may be lonely and rough, full of steep climbs and "impossible" challenges. Yet, as we persevere in faith, we will hear His sweet voice whispering, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in your weakness." [2 Cor 12:9]
Did you hear that? God will use our weakness, not our strengths! No need for management consultants and surveys that measure our natural abilities in order to discover our spiritual gifts [1, page 57] and God's purpose for us! The Shepherd will lead us along His chosen ways, narrow and winding paths that may differ radically from our human plans and purposes!
But those who have not yet been "crucified with Christ" and filled with the Holy Spirit will neither hear the Shepherd nor "comprehend the Scriptures" [1 Corinthians 2:1-10]. That's one of the reasons why today's spiritual diversity demands simplified Bibles that have been paraphrased, reinterpreted and made appealing to the natural mind. Part 3 will illustrate the problem and the process.
Part 1: Spirit-Led or Purpose-Driven?
1. Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002). See "Driven or Led?"
2. "A Biblical Worldview Has a Radical Effect on a Person's Life, December 1, 2003. [link]. I have been told that Mr. Barna is becoming skeptical about the Church Growth Movement which he earlier supported. [See Re-Inventing the Church] I can see why. His own statistics show the tragic consequences of "cheap grace" and salvation prayers without a Biblical foundation.
3. Gene Edward Veith, "Unbelieving 'born-agains," World on the Web, Dec. 6, 2003,
5. Dr. Robert Klenck, "The 21st Century Church"
6. God's moral law can neither save us nor give us the strength to obey its guidelines. But it gives us a standard for right and wrong -- and it helps us to understand God's holiness, righteousness, mercy and grace.
7. Many echo this belief: "Sin is a normal part of life, and I'm just as good as everyone else -- maybe a little better. Besides, God loves me as I am." While this statement is partly true, it's also misleading. The essence of God's character is not only love. It's also unbending justice, indescribable holiness and perfect righteousness. Without balanced information about God, we can neither know or follow Him.
8. “You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you." Deuteronomy 4:1-2. See also Deuteronomy 12:32; Proverbs 30:5-6 and Revelation 22:18-19.
Note: Rick Warren promised, "The next 40 days will transform your life." [1, page 10] Within the CGM, the word "transformation" often refers to minds and churches being conformed to the new "relational" vision of "community." We will take a closer look at those new "communities" and the mind-changing process of "transformation" in Part 6.
© 2003 Berit Kjos - All Rights Reserved
Berit Kjos is a widely respected researcher, writer and conference speaker. A frequent guest on national radio and television programs, Kjos has been interviewed on Point of View (Marlin Maddoux), The 700 Club, Bible Answer Man, Beverly LaHaye Live, Crosstalk and Family Radio Network. She has also been a guest on "Talk Back Live" (CNN) and other secular radio and TV networks. Her last two books are A Twist of Faith and Brave New Schools. Kjos Ministries Web Site: http://www.crossroad.to/index.html
"It's not surprising. Today's "positive" gospel emphasizes love, minimizes doctrine and ignores divine justice. The essential Biblical truths that prepare hearts for genuine conversion no longer fit."