Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Rick Warren and the MSM

Last night I read a very interesting transcript: Myths of the Modern Mega-Church. Here's the background for it:

Some of the nation's leading journalists gathered in Key West, Florida, in May 2005 for the Pew Forum's biannual Faith Angle conference on religion, politics and public life. Conference speaker Rick Warren, pastor of the largest church in America, addressed misconceptions many Americans have about mega-churches. He also discussed his best-selling book, The Purpose Driven Life, as well as current trends in the evangelical movement, the work his church is doing for AIDS and poverty relief in Africa, and some of his views on hot-button political and cultural issues.

Other conference speakers were John DiIulio (University of Pennsylvania), who spoke on faith-based initiatives, and Reuel Marc Gerecht (American Enterprise Institute), who spoke on Islam and democracy."

Rick Warren, Senior Pastor and Founder, Saddleback Church, Orange County, California

David Brooks, Columnist, The New York Times

Michael Cromartie, Vice President, Ethics & Public Policy Center; Senior Advisor, Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life

The piece is quite long (about 50 pages in MS Word), but it's well worth the read.

A few random observations, for what they are worth:

1) First, hats off to David Brooks. He is a very shrewd cultural observer, and a man who models civility and decency. It seems to me that Mr. Brooks is one of the few major players in the MSM who comes close to "getting" evangelicals. (Many MSMers don't know any evangelicals, and therefore view them as some strange minority in the US.) But Brooks even knows who Switchfoot is!

2) Hats off to Rick Warren for being unembarrassed to explain that salvation is found exclusively in Christ, and that eternal hell awaits those who reject God's plan for salvation. (Or to explain why he is pro-life, supports the death penalty, and rejects gay marriage.) Remember that Warren is in an audience comprised of the top journalists writing today, some of whom are openly hostile to evangelicalism. The temptation must have been great to skirt the issues, pulling an Osteen.

3) Rick Warren does way to much back-patting. I detect a certain appropriate humility with regard to himself as an individual and in how to think of the Christian faith. Warren is the first to tell you that he's an extremely ordinary guy. And at the same time, he is constantly reminding this audience about how much education he has, how much he reads, how much he gives, how successful his church is, etc. I lost track of how many times he reminded the reporters that his book has sold millions of copies.

4) Hats off to Warren for his passionate engagement with poverty and with the global AIDS crisis. And to his desire to involve the church, not government. (Though I'm not sure that's consistent with what I've read about his support of the Live 8 concert and the pressure on governments to relieve African debt.) More churches and pastors should be following Warren's lead here. Many evangelicals have been critical of Bruce Wilkinson and Rick Warren. They have both published phenomenal bestsellers with theological deficiencies. But both of these men are putting their money where their mouth is with regard to AIDS and the spread of the gospel in the third world. We should commend the commendable.

5) Warren is well-read on current trends. With his big Hawaiian shirts and his aw-shucks personality, it would be easy to dismiss him as a guy who only operates at the surface level. But he is indeed quite thoughtful on a number of issues, and invests a lot of energy into "reading the times."

6) One of the more disturbing quotes from Warren:

You know, 500 years ago, the first Reformation with Luther and then Calvin, was about beliefs. I think a new reformation is going to be about behavior. The first Reformation was about creeds; I think this one will be about deeds. I think the first one was about what the church believes; I think this one will be about what the church does.

And this exchange:

ELSA WALSH, THE NEW YORKER: So are you saying doctrine won't be important or is not important if you bring together all these –

MR. WARREN: No, no. I think, though, it's what Augustine said: "In the essentials, unity; in the non-essentials, liberty; and in all things, charity." And I think that's how evangelicals and Catholics can get together.

This, to me, is sort of akin to Brian McLaren writing in A Generous Orthodoxy that "sound doctrine is very, very, very important." But the words and the practice don't match up.

The clear implication from Warren's exchange is that the two hallmarks of evangelicalism--the inerrancy and authority of Scripture, along with the doctrine of justification by grace along through faith alone--are not part of the "essentials." That's certainly disturbing, to say the least. I have no problem working with Catholics on issues like abortion and gay marriage. But it's another thing altogether to imply that we are in creedal, theological agreement.

Unfortunately, I don't have the time to do a detailed analysis of the whole transcript. As I said, these are just some random observations based on a quick read. But if you're interested in these sorts of things, then--as they say--read the whole thing.