(Photo: Saddleback Church)
LAKE FOREST, Calif. – Influential evangelist Pastor Rick Warren has labeled as "flat out wrong" a local newspaper's assertion that he believes Muslims and Christians worship the same God, has partnered with Southern California mosques and has agreed not to evangelize Muslims.
The debate over Warren's alleged beliefs as reported in the Orange County Register has created a firestorm of online discussion, including more than 300 comments underneath the article, and Christians, both leaders and lay people, asking Saddleback Church members and associates a steady stream of questions about the validity of the statements made.
In response to questions raised by The Christian Post, Warren has issued a three-page white paper titled "Muslims, Evangelism and Mission," which asserts that Saddleback Church is preaching Jesus Christ as Savior and a Triune God to the Muslim community. This is not how Muslims view God. The Register, a daily newspaper publication in the area with more than a half-million readers, published an article last week (online and print) stating that Warren agreed not "to try to evangelize" Muslims in a document "outlining points of agreement between Islam and Christianity."
Warren first responded to the Register story, "Rick Warren Builds Bridge to Muslims," by posting an online comment in the reader comments section stating, "I deeply love my Muslim neighbors but this article contains multiple errors – factually and theologically that neither our dear friends in the Muslim Community nor the Christians at Saddleback Church would agree with." The editor of the Register was not available for comment at press time for this article.
Warren's interview addresses questions from within and outside the Christian community on his Muslim outreach.
"Building a bridge has nothing to do with compromising your beliefs," Warren says in an interview done in collaboration with Pastors.com Editor Brandon Cox and The Christian Post. "Because Jesus commanded us to take the Gospel to everyone, I spend much of my time with groups of people who completely disagree with what I believe. I'm constantly trying to build a bridge of love to nonbelievers, to atheists, to gays, to those I disagree with politically, and to those of other faiths."
When asked by CP about the Register's lead paragraph that states he "has embarked on an effort to heal divisions between evangelical Christians and Muslims by partnering with Southern California mosques and proposing a set of theological principles that includes acknowledging that Christians and Muslims worship the same God," Warren stated: "First, as I've already said, Christians have a fundamentally different view of God than Muslims. We worship Jesus as God. Muslims don't. Second, while we urge members to build friendships with Muslims and everyone in our community ("Love your neighbor as yourself"), our church has no partnership with any mosque. For example, I know that some of our members have led Bible study with Muslim friends, which I applaud. But I've never been to it, and it certainly isn't any kind of partnership or merger. It's crazy how a simple Bible study can be interpreted by some people as a plan for a new religion!"
The primary talking point of the controversy appears to be the question as whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God.
Warren's answer: "Of course not. Christians have a view of God that is unique. We believe Jesus is God! We believe God is a Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Not three separate gods but one God. No other faith believes Jesus is God. My God is Jesus. The belief in God as a Trinity is the foundational difference between Christians and everyone else. There are 2.1 billion people who call themselves Christians… whether Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Pentecostal, or Evangelical… and they all have the doctrine of the Trinity in common."
Warren's approach to engaging with the Muslim community has attracted criticism by some televangelists. Jack Van Impe, who left the Trinity Broadcasting Network last year as a result of his accusations aimed at Warren, has suggested that Warren is pushing Chrislam. He points to an Islamic conference in which Warren was a speaker at more than two years ago as evidence.
The term "Chrislam" is used to bolster allegations against Warren. "It's the lie that won't die," Warren told CP. "No matter how many times we refute it and correct that lie, people keep passing it on as truth. Jesus is the only way to salvation. Period. If I didn't believe that, I'd get into much easier line of work! But I do believe that everybody needs Jesus and I am willing to put up with false statements and misunderstandings in order to get the Gospel out."
The complete text of Warren's white paper is reprinted below.
Rick Warren on Muslims, Evangelism & Missions
with Brandon A. Cox & The Christian Post
QUESTION: Do people of other religions worship the same God as Christians?
WARREN: Of course not. Christians have a view of God that is unique. We believe Jesus is God! We believe God is a Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Not 3 separate gods but one God. No other faith believes Jesus is God. My God is Jesus. The belief in God as a Trinity is the foundational difference between Christians and everyone else. There are 2.1 billion people who call themselves Christians… whether Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Pentecostal, or Evangelical…and they all have the doctrine of the Trinity in common.
QUESTION: A recent newspaper article claimed you believe Christians and Muslims worship the same God, that you are "in partnership" with a mosque, and that you both agreed to "not evangelize each other." You immediately posted a brief refutation online. Can you expand on that?
WARREN: Sure. All three of those statements are flat out wrong. Those statements were made by a reporter, not by me. I did not say them ... I do not believe them... I completely disagree with them ... and no one even talked to me about that article! So let me address each one individually: First, as I've already said, Christians have a fundamentally different view of God than Muslims. We worship Jesus as God. Muslims don't. Our God is Jesus, not Allah. Colossians 2:9 "For in Christ dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily." Second, while we urge our members to build friendships with everyone in our community, including Muslims and other faiths, ("Love your neighbor as yourself"), our church has never had any partnership with a mosque. Friendship and partnership are two very different levels of commitment. Some of our members have hosted a Bible study with Muslim friends, which I applaud, but I've never been to it, and a Bible study certainly isn't any kind of partnership or merger! It's just crazy that a simple Bible Study where people explore Scripture with non-Christians would be reported as a partnership and others would interpret that as a plan for a new compromised religion. Just crazy! Third, as both an Evangelical and as an evangelist, anyone who knows me and my 40 year track record of ministry knows that I would never agree to "not evangelizing" anyone! I am commanded by my Savior to share the Good News with all people everywhere, all the time, in every way possible! Anyone who's heard me teach knows that my heart beats for bringing others to Jesus.
QUESTION: That same article mentioned that you ate an Iftar dinner with Orange County Muslims. What is that all about?
WARREN: It's called being polite and a good neighbor. For years, we have invited Muslim friends to attend our Easter and Christmas services and they have graciously attended year after year. Some have even celebrated our family's personal Christmas service in our home. So when they have a potluck when their month of fasting ends, we go to their party. It's a Jesus thing. The Pharisees criticized him as "the friend of sinners" because Jesus ate dinner with people they disapproved of. By the way, one of my dear friends is a Jewish Rabbi and my family has celebrated Passover at his home, and he attends our Christmas and Easter services. I wish more Christians would reach out in love like Jesus.
QUESTION: Why do you think people who call themselves Christians sometimes say the most hateful things about Muslims?
WARREN: Well, some of those folks probably aren't really Christians. 1 John 4:20 says, "If anyone says, 'I love God,' yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen." And 1 John 2:9 says "Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness." I am not allowed by Jesus to hate anyone. Our culture has accepted two huge lies: The first is that if you disagree with someone's lifestyle, you must fear them or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense. You don't have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.
QUESTION: Let's talk about evangelism. In the past 10 years, Saddleback Church has baptized over 24,000 new believers. No other church comes close to that record. You are likely the most evangelistic church in America. What's the key?
WARREN: We are willing to do what many other churches are unwilling to do. We are willing to go beyond our comfort zone.
QUESTION: For instance?
WARREN: Because Jesus commanded us to take the Gospel to everyone, I spend much of my time with groups of people who completely disagree with what I believe. I'm constantly trying to build a bridge of love to nonbelievers, to atheists, to gays, to those I disagree with politically, and to those of other faiths. We don't wait for these people to come to church; we go to them and share with them on their turf, not ours. Every member is a minister and a missionary. Saddleback was a missional church 30 years before the term became popular. We just called it being "purpose driven."
QUESTION: "Building a bridge" sounds like compromise to many people.
WARREN: Building a bridge has nothing to do with compromising your beliefs. It's all about your behavior and your attitude toward them. It's about genuinely loving people. People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care. Before people ask, "Is Jesus credible?" they want to know if you are credible. Before people trust Jesus they must trust you. You cannot win your enemies to Christ, only your friends. It's part of what Paul calls "the ministry of reconciliation." It is Christ-like to treat people with dignity and listen to them with respect.
QUESTION: Why are most Christians so ineffective at sharing their faith?
WARREN: I have a whole seminar on that! First, they don't really have any unbelieving friends. They spend all their time with other Christians. As a result, they are afraid to share their faith because it feels unnatural to them. For most people to come to Christ, you must build a relationship with them first. You must love them. The truth is, most Christians love everything else more than the people around them that Jesus died for. Second, many don't really believe that people are lost without Christ. Third, many Christians are afraid of the criticism they will receive from other Christians if they hang out with unbelievers. It was the religious people who hated Jesus the most. They criticized him for associating with tax collectors and lepers and prostitutes and politicians and going to parties. Lost people loved Jesus but the religious folks saw his associations as dangerous compromise. The same is true today. Modern Pharisees still use guilt by association as a weapon. Just read the blogs. They'd rather hunker in a bunker and attack those courageous enough to reach out to non-Christians. I do not fear the disapproval of others. I fear the disapproval of God on my disobedience to what he has clearly commanded us to do.
QUESTION: What is the P.E.A.C.E. plan?
WARREN: It is a biblical strategy of ministry based on five activities Jesus modeled in his ministry. Saddleback members have been beta testing it for the past nine years all around the world. Each letter of P.E.A.C.E. represents one of five things Jesus taught his disciples to do: P stands for Plant churches. E stands for Equip leaders. A stands for Assist the poor. C stands for Care for the sick. E stands for Educate the next generation. The PEACE plan is accomplished by local churches through local churches. It is based on three passages of Scripture and the specific instructions Jesus gave to his teams that he sent out. There are at least a dozen major differences between the PEACE Plan and the traditional, typical mission program of NGOs and parachurch organizations of the past 100 years. It is a return to the missional strategy.
QUESTION: What is the PEACE Center?
WARREN: Based on Jesus' instructions in Acts 1:8, we practice the PEACE Plan in three dimensions: PERSONAL PEACE – my ministry to those closest to me; LOCAL PEACE – our congregation's ministry to our community; and GLOBAL PEACE – serving other local churches around the world as those congregations do their own local PEACE. The PEACE Center is the building on our church campus that houses about three dozen of our 300 ministries to the community. It offers our food bank, job training, family counseling, legal aid, car repair, tutoring, English as a second language, legal immigration assistance, and many other ministries.
QUESTION: I read an article that claimed you were building a PEACE Center to bring Muslims and Christians together in peace.
WARREN: It was the writer's mistake. He got two different stories confused. Our recently opened PEACE Center, on the Saddleback Church campus has NOTHING ...zero... to do with our Muslim friends.
This is an example of why I always doubt what I read in newspapers and blogs about ministries. Secular reporters trying to cover churches and theological issues often get it wrong. But then Christian bloggers, instead of contacting the ministry, blindly believe, quote and repost the errors made by secular reporters. Then those errors become permanent, searchable, and global on the Internet. I couldn't count the number of times a secular reporter has gotten a story about Saddleback wrong but then it is perpetuated by Christians who never fact-check. And the three factors I mentioned about the Internet make it impossible to correct all the misperceptions, and outright lies that get repeated over and over.
QUESTION: You mentioned legal immigration services. How many languages do Saddleback members speak?
WARREN: At last count, I heard we speak 76 languages in our church family. One of our 10 values, the "A" in our S.A.D.D.L.E.B.A.C.K. strategy, is that we are an ALL-nation congregation. We are a multi-ethnic church. We want our congregation to look like heaven will look – with every age, race, tribe, and economic background represented.
QUESTION: What is the goal of your ministry?
WARREN: To know Christ and make Him known! To live out Jesus' Great Commandment and Great Commission! In fact, this has been the motto of Saddleback Church since we started it in 1980: "A great commitment to the Great Commandment and the Great Commission will grow a great church." Everything we do comes out of these two great texts. God's five eternal purposes for both our lives and the church proceed from these verses. The Purpose Driven Church and The Purpose Driven Life explain this in detail.
QUESTION: Through the PEACE Plan, Saddleback became the first local congregation in 2000 years of Christian history to send its members to literally "every nation" as Jesus commanded.
WARREN: That's correct.
QUESTION: How did you accomplish that?
WARREN: By taking Jesus' command seriously. When Jesus said, "Go to EVERY nation" we asked ourselves as a church family, "Has any local church in 2000 years ever actually done that? If not, why don't we be the first!" So we set a goal to send our members to every nation of the world to do the five tasks of the P.E.A.C.E. Plan by the end of 2010. Of course I know that the Greek ta ethne refers to people groups or tribes not political nations, but you have to start somewhere! So we decided that we would send our members on mission to all 197 nations in the world. (There are 195 nations in the United Nations. The only two nations not in the United Nations are Taiwan and Serbia.) On November 18, 2010, a Saddleback team went to the last nation, #197, a small island in the Caribbean called, St. Kitts. Now, our goal for the next decade, which we call our Decade of Destiny is to mobilize a network of churches who will commit to planting new churches in the final 3,600 unengaged people groups that still do not have a Christian church.
QUESTION: How many members did you send out to complete your church's goal of taking the gospel to every nation?
WARREN: 15,867 members were sent out. Of course, we've gone way past that in the last year.
QUESTION: What is your mission goal this year?
WARREN: Within a year from this Easter, we intend to plant new churches in 12 strategic cities around the world as resource centers and base camps for the greater goal of planting churches in the 3600 unengaged people groups.
QUESTION: What are those 12 cities?
WARREN: Tokyo, Berlin, Johannesburg, Bangalore, Buenos Aires, Hong Kong, London, Freetown, Moscow, Mexico City, Amman, and Manila. Anyone who'd like to be a part of the team should contact me at PastorRick@saddleback.com or on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn.
QUESTION: What are your greatest frustrations about evangelism?
WARREN: That Christians would rather argue than evangelize. That people are more interested in winning arguments that in winning people. That people are more interested in making a point than in making a difference. That people put politics above the souls of people. That people are more afraid of guilt by association than allowing others to go to hell.
QUESTION: If anyone wants to learn or teach their church how to be more effective in evangelism and missions what should they do?
WARREN: Write to me at PastorRick@saddleback.com and ask me for an invitation to the group of leaders I train each week through a private webcast.
QUESTION: Any last word?
WARREN: Reach one more for Jesus! Anyone who's read Purpose Driven Life knows those were my father's last words and deathbed instructions to me. It is the theme of my life and I invite you to make it yours. Nothing is more important than the eternal destiny of those around us.