Recently on his website Richard Abanes, who has just written the book Rick Warren And The Purpose That Drives Him: An Insider Looks At The Phenomenal Bestseller, decided to make a non-issue into an issue when he misrepresented my position concerning Rick Warren, by saying I “attacked” Warren, when the truth is, I have nothing against Warren personally.
Setting The Stage
Unfortunately Abanes decided to begin his own “confrontation” with me, by opening with what seems to be a bit of character assassination.
ABANES: Ken Silva bills himself as “an ordained SBC [Southern Baptist Convention] minister who has dedicated himself to the study of Comparative Religions and non-Christian cults.” Silva’s ministry—Apprising Ministries—is described as “a tax-exempt, non-profit labor, specializing in apologetics and counter-cult evangelism, rooted in classic, historic, orthodox Christian theology. The goal is to provide sound reasons to believe in Jesus, the Christ, and to defend the faith.” Apprising Ministries is “designed to be an aid to Christian churches in furthering the Kingdom of God through sound biblical doctrine so that more and more believers will be able to live out the Lord’s mandate of Jude 3.” (http://www.abanes.com/kensilvamain.html)
Silva: It needs to be noted that I do not “bill” myself as an ordained Southern Baptist minister (SBC), as it might be on some showbiz marquee. I am simply stating a fact when I inform people that I am an ordained minister, as this is what happens when one is first installed as pastor of a church, which is affiliated with the SBC. The rest of what Abanes says is correct regarding the commission I was given by Christ to fulfill through His Apprising Ministries.
ABANES: In all fairness, it must be noted that Silva has done some good work in the area of apologetics, as evidenced by various endorsements he has received from noted/recognized apologists and workers in the counter-cult arena—i.e., Norman Geisler, Ron Rhodes, and James Walker.
Silva: In all fairness to Abanes, these are kind words, and so we’ll let the Lord be the judge of their truth.
ABANES: Unfortunately, Silva has widely missed the mark regarding Rick Warren. He has seemingly fallen for several urban legends about Warren, most notably the widespread false notion that Warren is some kind of “disciple” of Robert Schuller.
Silva: For the record, one would be hard-pressed to call the following “urban legends” and a “widespread false notion.” The examples I’m about to show you are from primary sources, which I have personally read, and that as a pastor of a local church actually cause me great concern for my own congregation.
While those of us in the discernment camp have been aware of these quotes for some time, it would appear as if Abanes was not. And, to the unbiased, it would seem that my conclusion Warren “is some kind of ’disciple’ of Robert Schuller,” is actually based on some solid evidence. So, rather than “widely“ missing the mark–it would instead be the mark.
The Record Says
In the very liberal publication Christian Century, April 10, 2002, the discerning reader will see something quite interesting about this very influential personality, Robert Schuller, a wolf in sheep’s clothing who crept into the Evangelical community unaware.
THE EVER-EFFERVESCENT Robert H. Schuller–who says he invented the megachurch–was bubbling about the architectural atmosphere of the Crystal Cathedral, which is replete with statuary, greenery and fountains. He said the architectural plan ensures that the nearly 10,000-member church he founded will last for years, regardless of who is in the pulpit… “I launched the megachurch movement through the Institute for Successful Church Leadership in 1970,” he said, referring to his annual pastors conference at the Garden Grove church. “There were no megachurches 32 years ago–we were the closest thing to it.” (Online source, caps in original, emphasis added).
Now, whether one agrees with Shuller or not is to miss the mark, because this is Schuller’s own opinion concerning the importance of his Institute. And then, in an article numbered 1783, and dated 04/04/04, Robert Schuller himself writes, about his Institute and Rick Warren:
What has been accomplished already through this church is phenomenal because of the dedicated members and friends we have. I see the results today of the Institute for Successful Church Leadership which we dared to launch 35 years ago and it is still going strong. Here ministers are inspired to believe in their dreams and to present the good news of the gospel in positive terms. And some of those students are well-known. Bill Hybels now pastors the largest church, I think, in the United States, the Willow Creek Community Church. Bill has often said that there probably would not be a Willow Creek Church if he hadn’t been able to come to our pastor’s institute here. I’m so proud of him.
And there’s Rick Warren, a pastor who today is phenomenal. He came to our institute time after time. Then, in “Christianity Today,” Warren’s wife was quoted as saying, “When we came to that institute, we were blown away.” How God has blessed him. And today Rick Warren is blessing millions of people. (Online source, emphasis added).
However, the question I haven’t heard anyone ask is this: Why was Rick Warren even going to this Institute to learn how to grow a Christian Church from an unbeliever in the first place? And the above, taken together with the following, would certainly make it seem as if Warren has at the very least been influenced by the dubious philosophies of Robert Schuller. And here is that quite revealing confession by Warren’s own wife in the article from “Christianity Today” magazine which Schuller alluded to in the above quotation:
During his last year in seminary, [Rick Warren] and Kay drove west to visit Robert Schuller’s Institute for Church Growth. “We had a very stony ride out to the conference,” she says, because such nontraditional ministry scared her to death. Schuller, though, won them over. “He had a profound influence on Rick,” Kay says. “We were captivated by his positive appeal to nonbelievers. I never looked back”… Imitating Schuller, Warren walked the (then unincorporated but fast-growing) town of Lake Forest, asking what kept people from going to church. (Online source, emphasis added).
Apparently Warren’s own wife was under the impression that Schuller had influenced her husband. And, as close as Abanes might see himself to Warren, it is doubtful he is as close to him as Warren’s own wife.
If perchance someone might think all of this is simply old news, Schuller himself clearly doesn’t think so, as on his website, as of 8/1/05, we read:
We are the home of the world’s first Church Growth Institute, -launching the mega-church movement in the 20th century. Tens of thousands of pastors, including famous graduates Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, Bishop Blake, Walt Kallestad, and Sundo Kim of Korea, were mentored here. (Online source, emphasis added)
Truth is stranger than fiction, is it not? Warren is a “graduate” no less of the Institute for Church Growth, run by someone even Abanes himself considers a heretic. In the interest of fairness, it should be noted that Warren clearly does deny Schuller is his mentor. I see no reason to doubt that he just might feel this way. But, as one can plainly see above, Schuller is still under the impression that he mentored Warren.
So, it would seem that Warren needs to clear up Schuller’s own misconception, as this is not something I have “seemingly fallen for,” nor did this opinion of mine arise from “several urban legends about Warren,” and it is clearly not a “most notably…widespread false notion.”
All this aside, however, the issue is not–did Robert Schuller personally “mentor” Rick Warren–the issue is: Were the teachings and philosophies of Schuller’s liberal theology (to say the very least) contributing influences in the founding of Warren’s “purpose-driven” phenomenon.
And clearly they were:
Imitating Schuller, Warren walked the (then unincorporated but fast-growing) town of Lake Forest, asking what kept people from going to church.
You see, it is one thing to say someone’s not your mentor–but it is quite another to have to deny the facts that are in print–no matter how “old” you may personally feel these facts are. The documented quotes I presented here do exist from credible religious sources, and anyone can pull these references for themselves, just as I have done for you here. I didn’t just make this up from urban legends and false notions, as Mr. Abanes contends.
Following Christian Ethics
ABANES: This is a particularly odd attack on Warren since Silva is a Southern Baptist minister—as is Rick Warren! Silva could have just picked up the phone and called a fellow Southern Baptist to ask him for clarification and confirmation. But instead, Silva basically let Warren have it with both barrels, so to speak.
Silva: I’m not sure what world Mr. Abanes is currently living in, but differences among Southern Baptists have always existed, and I suspect they will continue to until our Lord’s return. Also, there simply isn’t a network of SBC pastors that provides us immediate access to each other. This is just not practical, and has nothing to do with the factual information, from public records, that I have just presented. And, as a fellow apologist, if Abanes had “just picked up the phone” and called me, I would gladly have explained this to him.
As far as letting Warren “have it with both barrels,“ I strongly feel from the preceding evidence, and based on my own personal research, that Warren’s Schuller-inspired methods of church growth are actually harmful to the Body of Christ. And it is certainly a part of my ministry, as a pastor myself, to speak out when I see something that could potentially harm my flock.
So I simply followed Paul’s biblical admonition to Timothy and spoke out. 2 Timothy 2:16-18 – Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly. Their teaching will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have wandered away from the truth.
You will also notice that Paul named the names of those he felt were in error, and to the best of my knowledge, he did not try and call them first for clarification. Apparently, their teaching was a matter of public record, as is Warren’s. If the reader would like any further information on my distress over consumer-oriented churches, I refer you to my article A Southern Baptist Pastor Shares Concern Over Seeker-Sensitive Churches (http://www.apprising.org/archives/2005/09/a_southern_bati_1.html).
ABANES: Ironically, two of Silva’s endorsers—James Walker and Ron Rhodes—have actually endorsed my book Rick Warren and the Purpose that Drives Him, which defends Warren from the very charges that Silva makes! (see the endorsements here).
Silva: It is true that Walker and Rhodes do both endorse Abanes’ book, and what any of this would mean, would be up to both of them. I think it is sad to attempt to “drag” them into a controversy that Abanes has wished to stir up, for whatever reason.
I do not presume to know his motivation for this, but it is an interesting fact that Abanes has been all over the Internet–in many venues recently “defending” Rick Warren–and interestingly enough, he does just happen to manage to mention his book each time. But I do know this, you can search high and low on my Website, and you won’t find anything for sale. I write to defend myself, and to protect the flock, that Jesus entrusted to me to care for.
Abanes Critiques My Work in Christ
ABANES: Silva’s attacks on Rick Warren appear in a lengthy article with the revealing title The Falling Away of the Evangelical Church. The following comments represent my responses to various false statements/misconceptions in Silva’s article.
Silva: It is my view that the phrase “attacks on Rick Warren” is an overstatement, and gives the impression that my article is all about Rick Warren, which it clearly is not. Abanes wrongly assumes a priori that my views on the Church Growth Movement in general always include Warren, when they do not. I’m not sure what he means by “the revealing title,” as I assume a title should reveal an author’s intent. You might note it once again: The Falling Away of the Evangelical Church. And Warren is possibly but one of the contributing factors in my view.
ABANES: SILVA: “[T]he Evangelical church itself has all but surrendered the awesome majesty and holiness of the Lord God Almighty for a god of mush who has about as much power as Tweety Bird. . . This kind of unpalatable rubbish from Schuller we have just looked at, pure uncut skubalon, has even infiltrated the Evangelical community through his devotee Rick Warren and the so-called Purpose-Driven Church.”
Silva: This above excerpt from my “lengthy article” (is there something wrong with length?) does not accurately reflect the context of my comments. As I previously stated, Abanes wrongly assumes as a matter of fact that whenever I am discussing the Church Growth Movement as a whole that it is always with Warren in view. With all due respect to Warren, he personally is not among my main concerns, and it would appear instead that it is Abanes himself who has a preoccupation with him. In this particular section of the above quote I’m talking about “psychologically man-centered evangelicals” and only intended to mention Warren in passing, as an example in my opinion.
Here is the quote from my article in context:
In his book Hard To Believe Dr. John MacArthur talks about the exasperating influx into the Church of “psychologically man-centered evangelicals” (p.3). He says:
It’s interesting how this trend has come into the church. I’ve been around long enough to have seen it arrive. It blossomed, I think, most pointedly through the effort of…[the] religious personality Robert Schuller and a book he wrote a number of years ago called Self-Esteem: The New Reformation… It was an effort to replace the biblical gospel with a new gospel. And it worked.
In that book, Robert Schuller attacked the Protestant Reformation. Calling for a new reformation he wrote: “It is precisely at this point that classical theology has erred in its insistence that theology be ‘God-centered’ and not ‘man-centered.’” So, according to Schuller, the first thing we have to do is put an end to classical, God-centered theology and replace it with man-centered theology” (ibid., emphasis added).
Have you ever heard anything so foolish? By its very definition the word theology means “the study of God.” MacArthur goes on:
To define man-centered theology (an oxymoron), [Schuller] wrote further, “This master plan of God is designed around the deepest needs of human beings – self-dignity, self-respect, self-worth, self-esteem” (ibid., emphasis added).
This sounds like self-ishness to me. Dr. MacArthur is right when he says:
For Schuller, the pearl of great price is self-respect and self-esteem. He went on to say, “Success is to be defined as the gift of self-esteem that God gives us as a reward for our sacrificial service in building self-esteem in others. Win or lose: If we follow God’s plan as faithfully as we can, we will feel good about ourselves” (ibid., p.4, emphasis added).
Is that what God really wants for us? To make ourselves feel good in our sin; to become complacent in our walk with Jesus, and to just stay in the “playpen” of Christianity our whole lives? Doesn’t anyone lament the pathetic weakness of our Christian witness today, where our words simply end up bouncing off arrogant sinners like the proverbial b-b’s off a brick wall? Doesn’t anyone weep anymore for the millions whose final destination will be eternal torment in a literal place that Jesus Christ of Nazareth Himself called Hell?
We are now about to uncover the real reason that we are in the quagmire of sin in which we find ourselves here in 21st century America. As stated previously, it is because the Evangelical church itself has all but surrendered the awesome majesty and holiness of the Lord God Almighty for a god of mush who has about as much power as Tweety Bird. And if you wish to understand these times in which we live, then you must first come to recognize this incontrovertible fact.
This kind of unpalatable rubbish from Schuller we have just looked at, pure uncut skubalon, has even infiltrated the Evangelical community through his devotee Rick Warren and the so-called Purpose-Driven Church. Point of fact, it would truthfully be more proper to call it the Pragmatic Church. This fatally flawed view of mankind’s true nature is in reality the root reason why we see such a lack of reverence for God that we have become systematically indoctrinated into accepting in our generation. However, it is abundantly clear that you sure won’t find a mandate for this kind of “theology” in Holy Scripture (excerpt from Silva, “The Falling Away of the Evangelical Church”).
Abanes’ Tone Becomes More Personal
Abanes: RESPONSE: This accusation by Silva is nothing less than bearing false witness. It does a terrible disservice to those individuals who look to Silva as a reliable source of information. And his error regarding Warren also reflects poorly on those noted/recognized apologists who have allowed Silva to use their name as a mark of Silva’s reliability (i.e., Norman Geisler, Ron Rhodes, and James Walker).
Silva: First of all, there is that much broader context within my article that Abanes apparently doesn’t see, and the last time I checked, to voice one’s view in this nation, is not an “accusation.” And certainly Abanes himself doesn’t seem reticent in expressing opinions of my work in Christ. Secondly, those of us who teach God’s Word in the public arena should expect to be scrutinized. Actually, the Bible says we should welcome it (see Acts 17:11).
And, the fact that I am reflecting “poorly” in a similar manner along with Dr. John MacArthur, one of the finest Bible expositors of this generation, and senior pastor of a 10,000 member church, which is not in any way associated with modern church growth ideas, is something I think that I can live with.
ABANES: First, Rick Warren is NOT a “devotee” of the heretic-liberal Robert Schuller (see my information in Warren and Schuller). Second, Warren has openly stated that he does not support Robert Schuller’s false doctrines and heretical notions (see my information in Warren and Schuller). Some of his strongest condemnations of Schuller can be found in my book Rick Warren and the Purpose that Drives Him.
Silva: If only Abanes could figure a way to just happen to mention his book more often. I covered this earlier, and truthfully his arguments here remind me of a Mormon missionary defending Joseph Smith. Let’s make this abundantly clear. When one uses hyperbole he does not expect to have a statement taken literally.
Case in point. The Master Teacher–Jesus Christ of Nazareth–said to the religious leaders of His day:
“If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now am here. I have not come on my own; but he sent me. Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:42-44)
Now, surely the Lord isn’t trying to teach us here that He believed these men were the literal children of Satan by procreation, and yet He says to them: You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire. Christ is clearly using a figure of speech in telling them they act as if they are the devil’s children, because they (perhaps even unknowingly) follow his ”desire.”
And so, this is the context of my “devotee” comment re. Warren. It sure appears to me, based on the many comments contained in primary sources, and what I have personally observed in my research, that Warren has absorbed at least some of Schuller’s dubious philosophies concerning church growth, perhaps even unknowingly. Thus, in some respects Warren is a Schuller “devotee,” in my opinion.
ABANES: Third, Silva gives no proof whatsoever of his accusation about Warren preaching a “god of mush” reflecting the kind of liberal Christianity taught by Schuller. Even Warren’s use of an occasional schullerism like “you need hope to cope” (e.g., in The Purpose Driven Life) would not count as proof that warren has embraced Schuller’s heretical views. When it comes to Warren’s major/central beliefs/teachings about God, he embraces and advances the orthodox, historic doctrines of the faith (see this information on Rick Warren and the essentials of the faith).
Silva: This is a straw man, as I never said that Warren preaches a “god of mush reflecting the kind of liberal Christianity taught by Schuller.” What I said was actually much stronger: The Evangelical church at large preaches a “mush god” (as coined by Leonard Ravenhill) with about as much power as Tweety Bird. Here, it might be said, I stand guilty of reflecting “poorly” alongside A.W. Tozer, who was saying this same thing before I was even born. You know, my mother warned me about the company I keep.
ABANES: SILVA: ” Point of fact, it would truthfully be more proper to call it [the purpose driven church] the Pragmatic Church.” RESPONSE: Point of fact, Rick Warren’s model for church health—i.e., the purpose driven church—has little to do with pragmatism…it is a Biblical approach. It is solid New Testament…see my book Rick Warren and the Purpose that Drives Him).
Silva: Was that another plug for his book? There was a long “commercial” for Rick Warren’s methods of church growth and church health that I omitted here, but all Abanes has done is to simply share his own opinion about Warren’s work, which he, of course, is entitled to. However, the truth is, there are many Christian leaders who already disagree, only some of us have the guts to stand up and to speak publicly, just as our Lord did. As this apostasy increases, let’s pray the number will be growing.
ABANES: SILVA: “This fatally flawed view of mankind’s true nature is in reality the root reason why we see such a lack of reverence for God that we have become systematically indoctrinated into accepting in our generation.” RESPONSE: Silva applies this accusation to Warren, who Silva apparently thinks has compromised the Biblical/orthodox teachings on the nature of man. But nothing could be further from the truth. Warren preaches on the innate sinfulness of all humanity (i.e., the sin nature), that everyone is a sinner, that Christians are still sinners (but saved by grace alone through faith alone), and that until a person is born-again through faith in Christ, they remain separated from God by their sins, and as a result, will be separated from God for all eternity in hell (for documentation, see my book Rick Warren and the Purpose that Drives Him).
Silva: As I have previously stated, in my view, this “accusation” includes far more than just Rick Warren. All one need do is to look at news reports within the Church, and watch as denominations–one after another–are caving in on women in leadership, and ordaining unbelieving and sinful men, who are openly mocking God’s Word, into positions of leadership within our Lord’s precious Church. Do we really think He sleeps?
Unfortunately, in my humble view, Warren (knowingly or unknowingly) is only assisting this type of “theology.” A theology, I might add, which has been around long before he and Schuller ever arrived on this planet (see–Genesis 3:5). In Warren’s case, while his teaching may seem to be orthodox, the real issue is: How does this theology then resonate in the ears of the unsaved, provided that they even end up hearing it?
ABANES: SILVA: “The great preacher and theologian Jonathan Edwards, author of the classic sermon Sinners In The Hands Of An Angry God, was right when he said: ‘the reason we find the [idea of God’s holiness and] hell so offensive is because of insensitivity to sin; we simply don’t hate sin as God hates it’ (Dixon, p.196, emphasis added). Herein lies the reason that so few Evangelical Christians are willing to take a stand against the ill-conceived worldly ideas of C. Peter Wagner, Bill Hybels, and Rick Warren, who has even resorted to using secular business models as part of his church growth strategy.” RESPONSE: It is amazing to me that Silva would simply repeat these kinds of false accusations as if they were verified truths rather than snippets of gossip. First, Silva does not even seem to be aware of the fact that C. Peter Wagner, Bill Hybels, and Rick Warren are very different in their approaches to church organization, structure, and growth. Warren, for example, is no longer even in the Church Growth Movement any longer. In fact, he has not been in it since the mid-1980s! (see this brief statement)
Silva: Dr. John MacArthur has already addressed the subject of “psychologically man-centered evangelicals” affecting many church leaders in his book Hard To Believe that I mentioned earlier. Anyone who does even a cursory study of the preaching of great men of God like Whitefield, Edwards, Moody and Spurgeon, men far more gifted than I, should be able to see that much of modern Evangelicalism does have a softer view of the severity of sin than these men did. So, I would say that rather than “false accusations,” this is actually perilously close to “verified” truth.
And, for Abanes’ benefit, I happen to be well aware that the infamous three he mentioned above are different in their over-all methods. But the fact remains, each of them has clearly shown openness to pragmatic approaches within those differences, so this is really much ado about nothing by Abanes. The fact that Abanes tells us Warren “is no longer even in the Church Growth Movement” is the very point I make. Do we really think any of those powerful men of God I mentioned earlier would have even been involved in it at all?
ABANES: Second, as for “sin,” again, Silva is relying on the worn-out rumor that Rick Warren does not preach against sins—both generally and specifically. This particular rumor has gained a life of its own despite the fact that warren talks about sin and repentance in not only his books, but also in his sermons and in his purpose driven church conferences! (see this brief collection of assorted sin/repentance quotes).
Silva: An “award-winning journalist,” especially one who professes to be “a mainstream evangelical christian” (sic) (http://www.abanes.com/abanespurpose.html) should know better than to judge another Christian’s intentions by saying that I was “relying on the worn-out rumor that Rick Warren does not preach against sins—both generally and specifically.” The Lord knows I have never even heard of this so-called “rumor,” so I could not have been relying on it.
And Abanes is misrepresenting me here, I am not saying that Warren doesn’t preach about sin. What I am saying is that much of the Evangelical church doesn’t even have a proper concept of sin to preach about. As a result of years of bowing down before the god of psychology, sin has been turned into a “disease,” and God the Holy Spirit is not bringing true conviction upon men’s hearts, despite a preacher’s “biblical” vocabulary. This is the problem with a “superficial” Christianity–which is an oxymoron in itself.
A Perspective From The Bible Itself
Now, while the historical context of this next passage of Holy Scripture is Paul having caused sorrow in the church at Corinth by stern discipline, this also applies to those in the modern Church Growth Movement(s) who are “softening” the true Gospel of Jesus Christ, in an eternally flawed effort to placate this arrogant nation. And the result produces the polar opposite of what the Bible is about to say:
Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done.
(2 Corinthians 7:10-11)
The truth is, thanks in large part to the incredible lack of judgment shown by eminent Evangelical statesman Billy Graham in regard to Robert Schuller, the undiscerning among the sheep would end up embracing this wolf, and his “man-centered” theology then took a much more solid root within the Evangelical church than people have imagined. And the result was a violation of Ephesians 4:30 – And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.
Long ago Jesus began to grieve over His Evangelical community, and when the Lord grieves, and few pay attention, the Holy Spirit ever so quietly withdraws, and men are left to carry on “religiosity” in churches, that are but churches in name only. Do we not remember – ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty (Zechariah 4:6).
This verse would also include the following admonition: “Not by man-centered, pragmatic, consumer-friendly ideas (no matter how well-intentioned), but by My Spirit‘s power, will I honor your preaching, says the LORD Almighty.” Remember, we can’t convict anyone of sin, and we cannot regenerate anyone, this is solely the realm of God the Holy Spirit. It remains my conviction based on solid biblical exegesis that God doesn’t need our help now to grow His Church, and the absolute truth is, He never did (see–Acts 2:47).
Abanes Turns To Attack
ABANES: SILVA: “For no matter what the intentions of the Bill Hybels and the Rick Warrens might have been—as honorable as they probably were—the absolute truth remains that the ‘user-friendly’ churches undoubtedly end up adulterating Christ’s glorious Gospel, a fact that is quite clearly unmistakable to those who have eyes to see.” RESPONSE: In this one statement, Silva has condemned anyone and everyone who would disagree with him. They, to use Silva’s words, simply do not “have eyes to see” that warren has not adulterated the gospel. Ironically, in making this charge Silva condemns the very apologists who have endorsed him—i.e., Ron Rhodes and James Walker—two men who have endorsed my book on Warren titled Rick Warren and the Purpose that Drives Him.
Silva: Does Abanes have a new book out? The majority of this has been covered in my rebuttal above, but as a pastor, it is my calling to speak forth God’s Word as I feel led. And this I have done sincerely, and should the Lord choose to sustain me, I will continue to do so without apology. To quote Dr. Walter Martin: “Your argument is with God, and not with me. When you win that one, come back and see me.”
I cast no aspersions concerning brothers Rhodes and Walker, as I do not know their views concerning the broader theme of my proclamations concerning Evangelicalism, and I reiterate my opinion that Abanes does these men a disservice by attempting to bring them into something they may have no knowledge of whatever. Can he not stand on his own opinions?
ABANES: And Silva negatively changes without warrant the term “seeker-friendly” to “user-friendly” in an obvious effort to paint seeker-sensitive church services and Warren’s purpose driven model as some kind of business-like marketing approach to spirituality. But this is the very opposite of what Warren himself has stated: “Attracting seekers is the first step in the process of making disciples, but it is not the driving force of the church. While it is fine for a business to be market-driven (Give the customer whatever he wants), the church has a higher calling. The church should be seeker-sensitive but it must not be seeker-driven. We must adapt our communication style to our culture without adopting the sinful elements of it or abdicating to it” (The Purpose Driven Church, p. 79-80).
Silva: As far as changing “without warrant” between terms like “user-friendly,” seeker-sensitive,” etc., I am hardly alone in doing so, so I feel this warrants no further comment. The rest of his diatribe is simply a judgment of my motives, and no more than his opinion concerning church growth, etc. Apparently this is also the opinion of Rick Warren, based on what his personal “biographer” quotes him as saying. I just happen to strongly disagree with his opinions. However, here we see the ugly result of relativism in our society. To criticize someone’s beliefs, and opinions, is not to attack them personally. Since Abanes says this field of apologetics is within his area of “expertise,” then he ought to have known this already.
ABANES: SILVA: “How can a man, who is under the just condemnation of a perfect God and deserving the penalty of death, possibly hope to be made righteous before Him? And, is there anything we can do to make ourselves worthy of Heaven? The Bible shows us in no uncertain terms that we must answer both of these questions categorically—absolutely not! And this is precisely the problem with Schuller “disciple” Rick Warren’s “purpose-driven” ideas. In his skewed understanding of mankind’s true nature—anything but worthy of dignity and respect—his “theology” essentially ends up advocating putting a little band-aid over the most gaping of wounds.” RESPONSE: Silva, to be blunt, does not know what he is talking about and is simply continuing what has new become standard for Warren’s critics—spread rumors, hearsay, and false accusations. Not only does Silva again repeat the urban legend about Warren being Robert Schuller’s “disciple,” but he falsely asserts that Warren’s theology presents a “skewed” understanding of man’s sin nature that no real answer is ever offered by Warren (i.e., Christ’s death for the forgiveness of our sins). Instead, according to Silva, Warren merely offers some kind of “band-aid” over the problem. But in order to show the absurdity of Silva’s claims, all one has to do is look at the many statements Warren has made regarding these issues and read through Warren’s 2004 Easter sermon.
Silva: I am comfortable letting Jesus decide, as someone He sent out as a pastor/teacher, whether or not I know what I am “talking about.” But since Abanes asked for a “real answer,” I shall gladly offer it to him. I draw his attention Roman 5:6 – You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. It readily becomes obvious to everyone with eyes to see that mankind didn’t do anything for this to happen.
And, if the truth be told; we actually did everything we could in our power as creatures to give our loving God every reason not to come in the Person of Christ to die for us. You’ll also notice in the b part of verse 6 – [that] Christ died for the [“preservation of the dignity of mankind–who actually have many ‘redeeming’ qualities.” No!] Christ died for the ungodly.
How could God the Holy Spirit have made this point any more lucid? The late Dr. Walter Wessel–who taught New Testament at Bethel Seminary–puts it very well when he says about this verse of Romans 5 – “God’s free grace…is not the result of any inherent worthiness found in [mankind]. In fact, it is lavished on us in spite of our undesirable character” (NIV Study Bible, 1985 ed., p.1712, emphasis added).
Do you know why so many people don’t like this type of teaching? One word gives us our answer. P–R–I–D–E. Sometimes the truth hurts, doesn’t it? One other quick comment here on Romans 5:6 – You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. I would like to bring out this word powerless–which is asthenes in the Greek. It means “without strength,” “impotent,” and “feeble” – as in “wanting in manliness and dignity” (Thayer‘s Greek-English Lexicon,p.80). You see, at just the right time, when we [human beings] were without power–helpless–feeble–impotent–and lacking dignity. So, in reality, mankind’s true state before our Holy and Righteous God is not really such a pretty picture is it?
Who Is Actually Worthy–Man or God?
Because the image of God has been gradually changed into the image of man–hence blasphemous phrases such as “the Big Man upstairs” –more and more of today’s professing Christians do not have much of an idea about the true nature of the one true and living God of biblical revelation–Yahweh Elohim–Who said to Moses: “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” (Exodus 3:5). Too often today Christ Jesus–our Creator God in human flesh–is presented as our “pal,” and therefore, the average person listening to much Evangelical preaching in America today, simply does not understand what He was saying when He stood upon His earth:
“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn ” ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her motherinlaw—a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’ “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.
The inspired Gospel writer Luke then adds–[Jesus] said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me (Luke 9:23). In the first century setting, with writhing bodies hanging on crosses all around them, these people would have known immediately, that Christ was offering them a daily death sentence to self.
So, why would our Lord Jesus Christ of Nazareth–Himself pure love in human flesh–say: “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Why, because our Creator God deserves this kind of devotion, for only He alone is worthy of glory. Soli Deo Gloria! Does anyone still remember the Protestant Reformation?
Abanes, by his own admission is:
a mainstream evangelical christian, who lives each day in what i believe is full-time service to God.i live out what rick warren has called the five purposes of God (see the purpose driven life by rick warren, senior pastor of saddleback church). this is known as the “purpose driven” life. according to warren, all of us were planned for God’s pleasure, formed for God’s family, created to be like Christ, shaped to serve God in ministry, and made to live out a mission (http://www.abanes.com/abanespurpose.html, lower case in original).
And this “mission” is precisely the mark I have aimed for in my writing. Because when all is said and done in the “mainstream evangelical” church, it sure would appear to me that the sons of this world in our contemporary American society have had a great impact upon the Church, rather than the Body of Christ fulfilling its mandate, given by our Lord to be in the world, but not of it. The result of which is that the Christian Church in the United States has had precious little effect on the very culture we have been sent to reach for Him.
For we must never forget what Christ Jesus–the Master Teacher–told us:
I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified. (John 17:14-19)
As you know, the word sanctify, means to be set apart to God. And, as I’m sure you are also aware, when Christ ascended He gave gifts to men. The Bible tells us – It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up – Ephesians 4:11-12. So we can see that it is God’s will to also guide us through other people.
Earlier we saw that Abanes considers himself, among other things, to be someone who attempts to “live out what Rick Warren has called the five purposes of God.” So I think I am on solid ground here when I say that Abanes can be accurately described as an ardent admirer of Rick Warren, and his teachings about God. And as I have just pointed out from Ephesians 4, this is not necessarily a problem in and of itself.
For the absolute truth is that every Christian is shaped to some degree or other by the teachings and lives of men. As a matter of fact, in the first interview in the Challies Dot Com Summer Interview Series Abanes himself said:
…I am personally always interested in people and their past, their accomplishments, and what they have done in life. It gives you insight into who they are and what has molded them. (http://www.challies.com/archives/001173.php#more)
However, in his criticism of my own assessment of Warren‘s teachings about God, it is actually Abanes himself who has “widely missed the mark” when he fails to take into consideration his own words. It is my prayer that Abanes would come to understand that my view of Warren’s theology has itself been shaped by Warren’s own “past” and his “accomplishments.”
And here I find myself in agreement with Abanes that one can indeed gain “insight into who” someone is “and what has molded them” by their past accomplishments. Let us say, for example, that Warren being a “graduate” of Schuller’s Institute for Church Growth , would certainly appear to give me some “insight” into what “molded” at least a few of his theological ideas.
So then, the key question for us now becomes: Are the teachings we are following from these men consistent with what God has already revealed about Himself in the Bible? And this is one of the critical issues of our time that I have addressed in The Falling Away of the Evangelical Church, mentioning Warren, among others, as an important contemporary example of a teacher who is currently molding the walks of so many people within the mainstream Evangelical church today.
In this generation, in which postmodernism has had such a profound effect on our secular culture, and sadly, upon the Church itself, this is a critical time in history when we need God’s power in our lives like never before. And I happen to find it quite revealing that when Abanes was asked to give his opinion on “three books every Christian should read (apart from the Bible),” he did not include any by Warren in his answer.
However, within his reply, Abanes did mention Spurgeon, who was one of those great men of God I talked about earlier:
I would say at least one book by one of the great preachers/teachers is important to have in one’s library (or a compilation of quotes)—i.e., anything by C.H. Spurgeon, Oswald Chambers, or A.W. Tozer. I read all of these guys as part of my daily/weekly study and devotional. (http://www.challies.com/archives/001173.php#more)
Here Abanes and I would be on the same ground. As I survey Evangelicalism, and look closely at the type of Christian life and commitment its preaching has been producing, particularly in the past twenty years, I say that if we are to truly discover the purpose to which Christ has called His followers, then with Abanes, I would agree, we are much better off listening to the biblical teachings of a man like A.W. Tozer, “one of the great preachers/teachers.”
Though he wrote this fifty years ago, I offer that, to the discerning eye, Tozer, who was a gift given to the Church as one of the Lord’s pastor/teachers, was speaking forth God’s Word down through the corridors of time about the modern Church Growth Movement, and its misplaced emphasis on a pragmatic man-centered theology when he said:
For centuries the Church stood solidly against every form of worldly entertainment, recognizing it for what it was—a device for wasting time, a refuge from the disturbing voice of conscience, a scheme to divert attention from moral accountability.
For this she got herself abused roundly by the sons of this world. But of late she has become tired of the abuse and has given over the struggle. She appears to have decided that if she cannot conquer the great god Entertainment she may as well join forces with him and make what use she can of his powers.
So today we have the astonishing spectacle of millions of dollars being poured into the unholy job of providing earthly entertainment for the so-called sons of heaven. Religious entertainment is in many places rapidly crowding out the serious things of God. Many churches these days have become little more than poor theaters where fifth-rate “producers” peddle their shoddy wares with the full approval of evangelical leaders who can even quote a holy text in defense of their delinquency.
And hardly a man dares raise his voice against it. The great god Entertainment amuses his devotees mainly by telling them stories. The love of stories, which is a characteristic of childhood, has taken fast hold of the minds of the retarded saints of our day, so much so that not a few persons manage to make a comfortable living by spinning yarns and serving them up in various disguises to church people. What is natural and beautiful in a child may be shocking when it persists into adulthood, and more so when it appears in the sanctuary and seeks to pass for true religion.
Is it not a strange thing and a wonder that, with the shadow of atomic destruction hanging over the world and with the coming of Christ drawing near, the professed followers of the Lord should be giving themselves up to religious amusements? That in an hour when mature saints are so desperately needed vast numbers of believers should revert to spiritual childhood and clamor for religious toys? (Online source)
To this I add, amen.