Rick Warren has influenced millions. His megaselling book "The Purpose Driven Life" has sold millions of copies and remains at the number 2 spot of the CBA hardcover bestseller list. Purpose Driven Church Conferences have trained well over 300,000 pastors and countless churches of all sizes and denominations have worked their way through the six week, 40 Days of Purpose study course.
Recently, the focus of Warren's ministry has shifted. Warren's Purpose Driven Organization has been greatly scaled back laying off 30 staff members and allowing another 24 positions to be phased out by attrition. Warren is now focusing on preaching across Africa and Asia. He believes his purpose driven philosophy can be applied to the devastating problems in Rowanda where desparation on the part of government leaders has opened the door for Warren's message.
Warren has also thrown his philisophical hat in the politically charged arena of global warming. He, along with over 70 other Evangelical leaders signed a statement urging churches to recognize global warming as a serious problem and do whatever they can to help combat the problem. This has proven to be a very controversial move since many evangelicals (including me) have criticized the whole global warming movement as little more than science being driven by ideology. The United Nations has clearly stated that global warming is one of the issues it plans to use to unite all the countries of the world under some form of global government. When you add the fact that radical environmental groups around the world use global warming as their mantra for land grabs through the court system you have the reason so many eyebrows are being raised over Rick Warren's new direction for ministry.
This past month, Warren gained the ire of evangelicals once again by visiting known terrorist state Syria. According to some reports, Warren met with Syrian State Department experts before the trip. Predictably, Syria used Warrens visit as an opportunity to condemn the war in Iraq and to present themselves as a mainstream, peaceful nation who is trying to be a stablizing force in the region. Warren was quoted by the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency as being supportive of Syria's role in the region and expressed concern over U.S. policies including the war in Iraq.
Warren has denied making the statements saying he as always supported the troops and the war against terror. Crosstalk, a radio talk show on the Christian radio network, called Warren a "mindless shill" for Syria. Joseph Farrah of WorldNetDaily said Warren's trip to Syria was the last straw and that he would no longer defend Warren's actions.
While I have serious questions about Rick Warrens involvement in the global warming movement I don't think he has suddenly become the devil with the blue dress on. What makes evangelicals so quick to attack and try to destroy their own? Warren should probably have realized his trip to Syria would be used by the Syrian government for their own purpose. But to conclude that he has somehow become some kind of pro-terrorist advocate is to deny him any benefit of the doubt. Spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ is not helped when evangelical leaders are quick to attack each other. If some leaders have a concerns over Warren's decisions concerning the direction of his ministry they should speak to him privately. Calling him out and condemning his ministry in public when God has unquestionably used him to reach millions is bad for the Body of Christ.
I can't say that I am a huge Rick Warren fan but I also refuse to condemn him as being completely off the reservation just because he has made some decisions I happen to disagree with. It seems to me that much of the criticism leveled at Warren is coming from people who haven't had a fraction of the impact on the Church or the world. I believe God's Word calls us to be slow to be critical and quick to forgive.
When the disciples pointed out to Jesus that others were preaching in His name and conducting an effective ministry, Jesus refused to condemn them. If Jesus was not quick to condemn those who used different methods perhaps we should not be so quick to attack fellow believers before we give them the benefit of the doubt. As believers, we are recipients of much grace from God concerning our sin. Rick Warren, just like every other believer should be held accountable for his public walk with Christ. But perhaps as evangelicals we should not be so quick to assume the worst.
The Director of the Christian Worldview Center at North Greenville College in Tigerville, South Carolina, Dr. Tony Beam received his Master of Divinity from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, and his Doctor of Ministry from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. Dr. Beam also serves as Interim Pastor at Whitefield Baptist Church in Anderson, S.C. and as host of Christian Worldview Today heard Monday through Friday mornings from 7:00am to 8:00am on Christian Talk 660. He also writes a weekly column for The Times Examiner and a monthly column for The Baptist Courier.