Rick Warren and his mega-bestseller The Purpose Driven Life are back in the spotlight and under scrutiny, following the release of a recent interview with Pastor John Piper.
Warren was given the opportunity to clarify and articulate his theological views after years of enduring criticisms from largely Reformed Christians over biblical doctrines. He was criticized, for example, for leaving out the term repentance in the prayer he wrote for nonbelievers to pray in his book. (Warren affirmed repentance as central to the Gospel in the interview.)
But despite the criticism, the Saddleback Church pastor has influenced millions around the world with his "Purpose Driven" books. He is also known for his simple way of communicating and reaching out to different types of individuals, churches and nations.
In Latin America, Warren has reached several countries with the book The Purpose Driven Church, which emphasizes fellowship, discipleship, worship, ministry and evangelism, as derived from the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:37-40) and the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20).
Juan Carlos Flores, president of the Foundation of Leadership and Innovation Liderinnova, along with his wife, Orietta Oreamuno, began in 2002 to teach the paradigm presented in The Purpose Driven Church both inside and outside of Costa Rica to other Spanish speaking countries. He was one of six American teachers in the 40 Days Campaign produced by Purpose Driven Ministries.
The foundation has already reached Mexico, Costa Rica, Colombia, Argentina and Venezuela. In 2007, they held a conference in Venezuela, where hundreds of pastors and Christian leaders gathered to talk about the “Purpose Driven Church.” The attendees were excited about the idea of bringing health to the churches so that it can grow naturally.
"We were commissioned by minister Rick to bring it to people in the same way we’ve received it. We received it by grace and now we want to give it in the same way," said one of the speakers at the conference.
For Nereo Reppak, a pastor from Ojeda, in northwestern Venezuela, talking about the “Purpose Driven Church” excited him.
"The teaching that it brought was fresh, Christ-centered. It … organized the church around God's purposes. For three years, I've been praying for an answer from God for our city and with special training and the visit of Pastor Juan Carlos Flores and his team we have been re-energized and focused.”
In Brazil, the movement of planting churches based on this model started in 1998. In 2008, it was already adopted by more than 500 congregations.
"It is a proposal for spiritual growth. The numerical growth is only a consequence," said Baptist minister Carlito Paes, president of Purpose Ministry, founded in Brazil in 2002, according to Brazilian magazine Eclésia
A successful example was First Baptist Church of Sao Jose dos Campos, who saw an increase in membership from 600 to over 3,000 members, according to the report of Eclésia in 2008.
Warren was in Brazil in 2008 and was well received by 2,500 attendees of a conference, where many said they were surprised by the simplicity of the American pastor.
Warren’s popularity may be unmatched as a pastor in the world. With fame though, he has also drawn wide criticism for his theology. Surprisingly, however, during the recent interview Piper defended Warren against critics. Though the Reformed theologian did not agree with Warren on everything, he still found a lot of Warren’s views to be solid biblically.
Some pastors in Brazil weighed in and noted that while they agree more with the theology of Piper, they also espouse the pragmatism of Warren.
"I'm more with the line of thought of John Piper, because he is more doctrinally reformed,” said Augustus Nicodemus Lopes, a Presbyterian pastor, to The Christian Post. "He is more solid regarding biblical doctrines than Rick Warren. And Rick Warren is more focused on the growth of churches; he is very pragmatic."
A fellow pastor in his church, the Rev. Leandro Lima, also commented, “John Piper is more consistent, he has a theology far more solid than Rick Warren.” But he added, "Rick Warren's book is good, it helps Christians seeking a purpose for their lives."
One limitation of the book, however, is that it says little about the "redemption of the Christian message of salvation that has to do with the cross of Christ," Lemos noted.
During the interview with Piper, Warren clarified that the book had not been written for the nonbeliever but it was rather designed as a workbook for the church. Warren only realized at the end of writing the book that a nonbeliever may come across it. He thus decided to add a bit on salvation. If he could write it again today, he said he would have explained salvation “far much more in detail,” along with justification.
Dr. David Charles Gomes, professor of Philosophical Theology at Mackenzie University, said he received a copy of Warren’s book The Purpose Driven Life during a presidential breakfast in Washington when it was just published.
He shared, “The idea of a central purpose, of an organized life with God is very correct and very good. At first he was bringing an emphasis that was kind of lost and it pleased me.” However, he noticed over time “that it was turning into a movement where having purpose became the main purpose. Being a church with a purpose became the purpose in itself. Then I worried.”
He acknowledged Warren’s popularity worldwide and credited the popularity to “the fact that he appeals to several strains of churches of different denominations.”
"People are interested because they see the success of his idea of restoring purpose in the life of the church."