Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Rick Warren on the Colbert Report

I was wondering when someone was going to pick up on this. Two nights ago Rick Warren was the guest on The Colbert Report. I wanted to post quickly on this but felt it wise to wait until someone else "broke the story". This morning Denny Burk did just that. It is with much trepidation that I offer my critique. I do not want to be unfair to Rick Warren, and have my critique lost on the person or even worse turn into sinful slander. After watching this it broke my heart. I was infuriated, full of pain, and all sorts of emotions. I want to use such strong words as, "Rick Warren abandons the gospel", but I am not sure that is wise or totally accurate. Nonetheless I urge you to watch the clip. Here are my critiques:

There are a few minor critiques that taken by themselves probably would not have necessitate a post. These are not major issues, but still in my passion to be ever truthful I must mention them.

  1. Warren's conclusion on God's purpose for Creation is typical modern evangelicalism. God created the world just for me and so he could love me. Now, God did create the world with a secondary purpose of creating us to display and give His love to us (not to mention other attributes). But the primary purpose (which Warren does not mention) is that God created the world and the galaxies and everything to display His splendor and His worth. When we put ourselves as the central purpose for Creation we open the door for neutering the gospel.
  2. This is very minor and really a point of semantics, but I did not appreciate Warren's definition of fundamentalists as "someone that stops listening". It depends on what you mean by fundamentalist. Do you mean going back to the fundamentals and keeping essential these fundamentals? If so, then Warren is saying that the framers of the Apostle's Creed and the Nicene Creed are people that stop listening. Carl Henry is a person that stops listening. The list could go on and on, so his definition is not helpful and can be harmful to the discussion.
  3. Warren's doctrine of eternity is also suspect. I am not certain where he gets the idea that life is a practice ground so we are not a doofus in heaven.
  4. His statement about his book being historical Christianity made simple is very debatable. Saying there is nothing in that book that historical Christianity has not taught for 2,000 years is actually a little off. Actually, as we will see in a moment, the problem so often is not that he says things that are unorthodox; it is that often he fails to say things that are orthodox.
  5. Warren saying I have connections at the end about getting Jesus on the show. I understand that he was just joking, and I'm sure given the situation I may have made the same joke. Perhaps I was just so upset at this point that it caused me to boil over, but I found the way he said that highly arrogant.

There are also a few major errors in Warren's presentation. Most of which lie in what Warren failed to say. Bryan Chapell tells a story in his book Christ-Centered Preaching that has stuck with me. Many times in his seminary classes Chapell has played a tape of a preacher's morning meditations. They all nod in agreement. When Chapell says that this man is the leader of a local cult, his students are always astonished. They argue that he clothes his heresy. Then Chapell says, "The radio preacher has not hidden his heresy; he exposes it every time he speaks in what he fails to say. The real problem is that evangelical preachers inadvertently and so frequently present such similar messages that Christians fail to hear the difference between a message that purports to be biblical and one that actually is."(p.267-268, First Edition) What did Rick Warren fail to say?

  1. Jesus. The only mention of Jesus came from the lips of Colbert when he asked, "If we ask Jesus to come into our life will he?" To which Warren responded, absolutely. That's good, and maybe this should be in the minor section. Because we do not always have to mention the name of Jesus (although it certainly would be a good practice). Where I have a problem with his lack of mentioning Jesus is in the next points
  2. Twice it was as if Stephen Colbert (or perhaps the Holy Spirit) were begging Rick Warren to preach the gospel. When Colbert asked, "Am I living my purpose", or "what is the purpose of everyday" that was an invitation to preach the biblical gospel. Warren could have easily spoke of Creation (but again remember his purpose for Creation is not God revealing His glory, but us) then moved into our sinning against our Creator. (This would not have been as awkward as it seems because you could have easily used Colbert's "am I living my purpose" as a launching point). After briefly (it would have to be brief, yet pointed, given the format) discussing the aspect of sin you could preach the Cross. Fairly easy within about a minute. Yet what did Warren do? He did not even mention Jesus, sin, God's glory nothing. He told Stephen Colbert that as long as he is being a good doofus then he makes God smile. What?!? Where does he get the notion that God gets enjoyment out of watching you be you? Colbert being Colbert would be blaspheming God and trampling His glory. God does not enjoy that!

That is enough of a critique. Where does this philosophy come from and what can we do not to slip into it? I believe it is a rejection of the truth behind 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:5 as well as a rejection of the many places in Scripture that we see God's Word and His Gospel is His power unto salvation to those that believe. Warren has the underlying philosophy that we have to "make the gospel simple". There is a part of that which is true, but what often happens is that in "making the gospel simple" we neuter it of any value. In which case we end up preaching on things like purpose and fail to mention the name of Jesus nor be faithful to the biblically revealed Gospel. When men feel like they have to dress up the gospel to make it attractive interviews like this are all you are going to get.

Earlier I mentioned Denny Burk breaking the story. His belief is that Warren should not have even attended the show, so as not to cast his pearls before swine. That very well may be true, but Warren did not cast any pearls. This may be controversial but I am also not so sure that Colbert is swine. I am not sure I would go so far as to say Warren should not have appeared on the show. Maybe not. Maybe. What I do believe is that if were going to go on the show he should have not felt the need to clothe the gospel and preach it unadulterated. I've rambled enough, here is the video, tell me what you think:


  1. Yeah, it's sad that Warren didn't take a definitive stand on really anything in this interview. He could've even used the question about stoning gay people to launch into Christ's atoning work.
    I wonder what his purpose was in this interview. It seems like he wanted to just "get in the door" with "young folk" (I guess I would somewhat mockingly put these words into his mouth) and tell them that God's not like the monkey at the top of the stairs on the Mario game throwing barrels at them.
    I agree with you, Mike, that it would have been much more faithful if he would have taken any of the multiple opportunities Colbert gave him to share the gospel. It seems like Colbert was baiting him, though, so that he could attempt to sound-byte Warren's arguments to death. Perhaps there is more wisdom in Warren's tactics than we see; perhaps Warren is attepmting to share the gospel with Colbert personally - by being on his show, perhaps he'll have more interactions with him. That's a lot of "perhaps," though.
    Nonetheless, I think the moral of the story, though, isn't how bad Warren was. He was there, and I'll assume he was trying to be faithful to the gospel. (Honestly, if I were asked those questions on the spot, I'm not sure how I would have answered them; perhaps that's why I'm giving Warren this much grace...Perhaps this comment is just a testament to my own unpreparedness...I'll take that forthcoming rebuke in advance. Thanks.) Rather, I think we should ask, "How would I have responded to Colbert's questions, and even to his overall spirit?" How do we answer the smoke-screen questions that people throw at us - baiting us for a response - in a way that diffuses their mocking spirits and yet also answers their questions? I had a friend (we've since lost contact) who would re-phrase their questions, and that seems to help quite a bit. Perhaps, too, just being straight up faithful to the gospel would have done that, too; it is the power of God for the salvation of sinners. If the answer is that simple - as I think it is - please forgive me for the link of this post.

  2. Will,

    Thanks for the comment. I have struggled with how best to respond to this. I have never wanted to come across as slandering or attacking Warren. Given the same situation, the quick questions, and Colbert's typical style, I am certain that I would have faltered on areas too.

    I think what I am trying to say in all of this is that the nature in which we falter reveals something about our belief in the gospel. It breaks my heart that we so often feel the need to make Christianity palatable. I agree with Ed Stetzer that the only thing that should be offensive is the Cross. But yet the Cross is offensive, and when we take it (and all of its ramifications like human sinfulness) out for the sake of being "relevant" or "contextualizing" then I think we do quite a bit of harm.

    My main reason in sharing all of this is NOT to say, look at Rick Warren he's a heretic, let's get him. My main reason in sharing this is to teach, and hope that in the future young ministers might trust in the power of the gospel...and that we might proclaim Christ in such a way that after having an interview like that we are discussing Jesus, so that He might be the only boast of this generation.

    Again, thanks for you interaction and I apologize to everyone if it seems like I am attacking Rick Warren. I have tried to refrain from throwing barrels at him. :-)

  3. Hey, I know I said this over the phone, but I wanted to say it here, too: I think the way in which you responded to Warren's interview was right on. Instead of ad hominid attacks, you focused on specific, objective aspects of the gospel (like sin, the cross, Jesus) that Warren left out. I pray that our Chrsitian brothers and sisters throughout the states and abroad might learn to treat one another with respect, love, and dignity - giving each other the benefit of the doubt instead of jumping to conclusions - even where there are seeming (and even legitimate) differences over ministeriology (how we minister the gospel to others). I agree with you, though, that where we falter with the gospel is a lack of belief (and knowledge possibly, but more than likely just believing the truths of which we know). I pray that the Spirit would change our hearts here, as well, quickening us so that no matter where, when, or with whom, we would be ready to share the reason for the hope that is in us. Thanks for your faithful responses, brother.

  4. I watched the clip yesterday and returned to it today before posting my comments.

    One thing that struck me deeply was that Colbert seemed to be more knowledgeable of the Bible than Warren. Warren's description of who God is and God's delight in us being who he created us to be feeds right into a narcissistic culture. (I note that Warren failed to mention that God delights in us being who He creates us to be "in Christ.")

    All in all, it looked to me like Rick Warren played Ed MacMahon to Colbert's Johnny Carson. Warren set him up and Colbert delivered the lines.



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