Sunday, January 29, 2006

Purpose-Driven Life, first seven chapters

Our church is going to embark on '40 days of purpose' , in about three weeks. I don't feel good about it, but wanted to be fair so I've started reading Rick Warren's book. I'm putting aside the American hype (expecting people to sign pledges, telling them it's no coincidence they've picked up the book, all that hyperbole on the back cover blurb...) and trying to see (a) what it says (b) whether it's appropriate to me (c) whether I feel it's appropriate for our church. The thing is, I don't feel a lack of purpose. I don't know anyone who does.

In the first seven chapters, the book addresses some very basic Christian issues: life isn't about us, it's about God. Living on earth is just a short preparation time for eternity in Heaven. What we see isn't all that exists. It's important to find what God wants us to do, and live our lives according to his purposes. We're here for five main reasons: to glorify God, to grow more Christlike, to be part of a family within the church, to serve our brothers and sisters, to tell others about Jesus.

Well, duh (as they say in the USA) . I knew all that when I was about ten... it's kiddie Sunday School stuff. It was probably touched upon as something 'obvious' when I did confirmation classes at age 14. Growing up Anglican, we used liturgy week after week that covered most of that, and I don't really see how anyone who's a Christian could NOT be aware of it.

Apparently the 'campaign' in churches is partly intended to invite unbelievers along - but I don't really see that those who aren't Christians would even get half-way through the first chapter. This isn't Nicky Gumbel explaining logically and convincingly who Jesus was, based on historical evidence. No, Rick Warren leaps straight in with verses from the Bible as 'proof texts' of what he says. Fair enough for those of us who believe Scripture is the Word of God, but for those who are ambivalent about God altogether, why should Bible verses convince them of anything?

I have a slight gripe about all the Bible references, too. Rick Warren seems to switch translations every couple of sentences. I have no objection to modern translations of the Bible, and - at times- comparing several of them to find the real meaning of the Hebrew or Greek. But I don't see how it works to mix and match, apparently finding versions that fit best with what he's trying to say, and often taking them right out of context. For instance, in one place he quotes: 'Nobody can serve two masters". Yes, Jesus said that. But he was talking about the problems of being fixated on money. It's true that we shouldn't have any idols at all, and that serving God should come before everything else, but Rick Warren is taking a verse out of context and using it to 'prove' something that wasn't originally meant. I don't disagree with his conclusions, but the logic is faulty. It's along the lines of:

Rover is brown. Some dogs are brown. Therefore Rover must be a dog.

Maybe it's true that Rover is a dog, but the premises as stated do not lead to that conclusion.

Perhaps this sounds nit-picky. I'm not about to throw out the entire book based on a few logical failings such as this (that, after all, would be a logical error in my own reasoning... a few faults in anybody's teaching doesn't make them unsound). But it bothers me that this kind of thing is allowed to get in such a high-profile book, which must have been edited and republished many times.

For myself personally, I disagree with some of what is suggested. For instance: live each day as if it were your last on earth. OK, if I were a money-grubbing workaholic, this advice might make me slow down a bit and appreciate my family more. In those circumstances, it wouldn't be a bad thing.

But for a family-orientated procrastinator like myself, such exhortations don't help at all. If this were my last day on earth, I certainly wouldn't bother to wash dishes. Or mow the lawn. Or do laundry. Or catch up with finances or paperwork. I manage to motivate myself to do these things (sometimes) by focussing on the future - by the thought of the task completed, and how it benefits us all. I can go along with Warren's suggestions of looking after what God has entrusted to us (in my case, my home and family) and looking forward to eternity in general. But if I spent all my time thinking about it, I'd be - as the old quote says - 'so heavenly-minded I'm no earthly good'.

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