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Chapter 5: Conclusion.

This conclusion will seek to evaluate the potential usefulness of Warren’s Purpose Driven ecclesiology looking to detect helpful insights which may be transferable into situations where the church is in decline or simply absent from community.

Warren’s contributions to the 21st century church through his Purpose Driven ecclesiology is immensely challenging and it would be to do a great injustice to him to ignore his years of sacrificial service, the energy expended in the development of a 21st century post modern ecclesiology i.e. Saddleback, and the amazing national and international influence his seeker sensitive model is having through his writings and church growth seminars.

Ecclesiologically, Warren has encouraged and assisted many church leaders worldwide in their struggles with declining church situations, calling for a return to the scriptures to seek the biblical purposes that God designed for the church to fulfil. Clearly Warren believed that only in the word of God can His purposes be discovered. He refutes the possibility of humankind in any way creating the purposes for the church.[1]

His commitment to the sovereignty of God’s word and to revelation is uplifting in a post modern age where theologians, ministers and leaders within the church are seriously challenged with doubt over the reliability and authority of the scripture.His commitment to the scriptures is clearly manifested in his confessed commitment to evangelical experience, doctrines and ministry.[2]

In chapter 4 Warren’s personal spiritual experiences i.e. conversion, commitment and guidance, all of which are the process of the revealed word at work in his life through the Holy Spirit are recorded. His vision is to see the Saddleback church develop numerically through conversion growth.[3] His desire to make discipleship challenging, membership meaningful through a series of church covenants and church discipline a priority and all of these are made possible by a well developed internal church process.[4]

That process incorporates well developed programmes that leads the unchurched as community to become the crowd, then the congregation, the committed and finally the core group of trained community workers.[5]Warren is driven by a desire to remove hindrances and stumbling blocks,[6] making the eventual conversion of the unchurched a greater possibility. It needs to be realised that his books, the Purpose Driven Church and the Purpose Driven Life cannot contain every ministry thought covering 25 years in Saddleback.

Also the realisation that in another 25 years Warren’s ecclesiology may well develop and mature in areas that are at this stage of the Saddleback story perceived to have inherent weaknesses.It is also important to remember that Warren is not writing as a systematic theologian, he writes as a pastor to pastors.[7] In the light of that theological weaknesses maybe detected in the text while in reality there is no such weakness theologically in the writer beliefs. 

This critical analysis is based on what Warren has included in his books, believing that Warren has consciously constructed his ecclesiology with faithful commitment to the biblical text, a balanced hermeneutic and a genuine desire to impact the unchurched world with the gospel. This dissertation attempts to understand Saddleback’s ecclesiology through Warren’s eyes, and not as a large numerical group meeting on a 120 acre site each week.

Location, numbers, property are not as important to the writer as the vision, theological beliefs and the process used by Warren to achieve the invisible church made visible. Warren’s ecclesiology is accepted and rejected by many but its greater virtue is that it cannot readily be ignored. For the seriously concerned about church decline there are immense challenges to be considered as this ecclesiological model is analysed.

Warren’s PDC finds it origins in the construction of his 3 personal spiritual beliefs i.e. conversion, commitment and guidance coupled with his 4 non-negotiable doctrines i.e. Sovereignty of God, Holy Spirit, The Word and Revelation. Warren’s discovery of his five biblical principles i.e. worship, discipleship, fellowship, ministry and evangelism have become the foundation behind the vision of the PDC. These personal experiences, non negotiable doctrines and the five biblical principles reflect something of the evolving personal vision of Warren as he stepped into ministry.                    

Brian McLaren suggests that, “if you have a new world, you need a new church”.[8] He reminds his readers that this new relevant church has to be a “new frame work for our theology, not a new spirit but new spirituality, not a new Christ but a new Christian, not a new denomination but a new kind of church in every denomination.” [9] Warren’s response to such a challenge was the development of the PDC and a market structured process to deliver “a new kind of church in every denomination”.[10] 

While Warren’s evangelical credentials are for many impeccable,[11] problems quickly began to surface in his interpretative methods which lead to applications that do not always represent the intention of the text he uses to support the development of his ecclesiological model. His evangelistic zeal is without challenge but his methodology as will be indicated here could have a detrimental effect on the unchurched. It will be argued that seeker sensitive methodology may make genuine repentance unlikely, therefore salvation from sin is not realised and while a visible church may exist as an institution, the invisible church made visible on earth through repentance and faith is still unrealised.

It will also be concluded that by highlighting the five biblical principles as the purpose of the church[12] the primacy of the gospel and its implications may be compromised to such a degree that Saddleback ecclesiology falls short of biblical standards. Murray suggests that, “church centred missionary thinking is bound to go astray because it represents an illegitimate centre for mission”, [13]how much more a purpose-centric missiology. Murray comments, “It is not unusual where churches are being planted for evangelistic reasons that theological reflection may be less evident in the process”.[14]

There always seem to be the “temptation advocating new strategies and methodologies to focus on skills and practical issues rather than spirituality”.[15]Warren calls “for a return to 19th century evangelicalism”,[16] where both the spiritual and physical needs of the unchurched are met through vibrant and positive missiology. Warren professed evangelical beliefs as presented in chapter 4 have been influenced by the theology of Criswell, the psychology of Schuller, the pragmatism and sociology of McGavran and the marketing genius of Drucker.

In the light of that, there are two immensely important questions that this conclusion must address, firstly, what is the nature of Warren’s message and secondly, what is the value of his method of communication for a 21st post modern world. Ultimately Saddleback’s purpose driven church will not be primarily judged on its numbers, location, marketing potential, communication ability, leadership development and other important ecclesiological factors.

It will be judged on the quality and integrity of its message and the acceptability of its delivery process.Howland suggests,seeker church pastors hold evangelical theological positions on the Bible, the divinity of Christ, and the nature of- and conditions for attaining-eternal life, they also hold reformed view on the depravity of human nature, in fact most seeker church pastors claim that the Christian message must include some mention of Hell.[17] 

Saddleback’s ecclesiology is shaped by its commitment to a post modern seeker sensitive approach to ministry. Like the CGM and the MCM, Saddleback is committed to a seeker friendly message. Warren suggests that, “I do not believe verse-by-verse teaching through the books of the Bible is the most effective way to evangelise the unchurched, instead you must find common ground”.[18] Immediately the priority of common ground is placed before good biblical exegesis. Murray suggests that common ground or methodology given a prominent place begins to subtly marginalize spirituality.[19] 

Common ground or being seeker friendly is the focus of Saddleback’s community ministry.[20] While Warren holds an evangelical interpretation of the Gospel, his encounter as we will see with the unchurched through a seeker sensitive model, causes him not to deny truth, but to de-emphasise the more challenging facets of doctrine to accommodate the seeker sensitive model.This is a key driving principle in Warren’s contextual process; he does not deny an orthodox interpretation of Biblical truth but de-emphasises it.

This approach creates controversy and many scholars take issue with Warren’s ecclesiology at this point. Howard Snyder writes that,God has given us the Bible not only to know that we may know the way to heaven but also so that we may know how to live corporately on earth as the body of Christ.[21] These particular challenges for those involved in a seeker sensitive approach to the unchurched, is highlighted by Bill Hybels, who suggests, “we all have a tendency to avoid the sin issue, the message would be so much more comfortable without it”.[22]

De-emphasising or dismissal of some of the difficult doctrines is alluded to in this comment. The question arises, does that imply an incomplete delivery of the Gospel, if so, can it then be defined as not rightly dividing the word of Truth? Snyder suggests, Frankly, I have been surprised through the years with the superficial way the scriptures have been dealt with in some Church Growth texts-the misapplication or misappropriation of biblical metaphors or other biblical material in the interest of views of Church Growth that have little or no real scriptural basis.[23] 

De-emphasising doctrine at the expense of essential truth to gain a listening ear creates many difficulties. Snyder argues, “under God, the Bible is the supreme and final authority concerning the church’s life and growth”.[24]To deliver only those parts of the message that are positively appealing to the hearer is a seeker sensitive strategy. Clearly this is a CGM and MCM strategy for it focuses on what is appealing and avoids that which is too challenging or unpopular to the post modern consciousness.

Synder would argue, that all Church Growth thinking must be critically examined by the written word of God and by the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, the incarnate word, applied by the Holy Spirit. This means that all theories and techniques for the growth of the church must be carefully tested for biblical compatibility.[25] Certain reconstruction of the Gospel presentation is necessary to achieve the seeker sensitive goals.

It is not necessary to deny truth but it is favourable to de-emphasise it to gain numerical success. Saddleback, as with many of the sensitive seeker churches i.e. Crystal Cathedral, Willow Creek or Flamingo Road church in Florida, present the needs of the audience as paramount, while relegating any over challenging theology to a very secondary position. Schuller comments,I don’t think anything has been done in the name of Christianity that has proven more destructive to human personality and hence counter productive to the evangelism enterprise than the often crude, uncouth, and unchristian strategy of attempting to make people aware of their lost and sinful condition. [26] 

Schuller sums up the seeker sensitive philosophy and leaves the readers in no doubt  where the theological emphasis should be placed. In this type of presentation of the Gospel it would seem that truth is being with held or re-interpreted in ways which cannot clearly be seen as good hermeneutics.Os Guinness[27] would suggest that the Mega Church pastors are simply giving people what they want to hear as opposed to what they need.

If their presentation of the Gospel message omits important and vital elements of teaching, can it then be considered a legitimate Gospel proclamation? The Gospel presentation of seeker sensitive churches is developed in a “non confrontational”[28]way. Instead of seeing the Judgement of God on sin, Warren’s proclamation of this event becomes, You’ll miss your reward your heart yearns for, which is to be affirmed from the father who is in heaven.

You don’t want to miss His rewards. You don’t want to miss his compensations, because they are rich. They are soul satisfying.[29] Tom Holladay an assistant pastor at Saddleback suggests that Warren’s theological views are “classic Southern Baptist” which upholds the Calvinistic position. But Warren easily moves to an Arminian position allowing his seeker sensitive church to justify the use of pragmatic and marketing techniques to achieve their goals.

John MacArthur in his book, “Ashamed of the Gospel” suggests a “philosophy that marries marketing technique with church growth theory is the result of bad theology.” [31] Warren argues that if you package the Gospel in a particular way that is contextual, automatically people will be converted to Christ. Murray writes, “Over emphasis on methodology may be a contributory factor to failure in some situations”.[32]

He also reminds his readers that, “there are ways not to plant churches, most have encountered difficulties related to unclear vision”.[33]The problem for Warren is that his Gospel presentation highlights, not the sovereignty of God in the act of salvation, but the power of the human will in its choices. If the only goal is an instant decision and not a life changing event, then message and method of delivery needs to be reviewed and changed.

Warren has challenges to face in the area of new ground. The new ground may well be very dangerous ground, for its makes the possibility of radical and genuine discipleship incredibly difficult. Snyder comments that, It is God’s will not only to plant, grow and perfect the church but also to renew it.

Most Church Growth theory has focused on the planting and growing of the church, with perhaps some attention given to the perfecting or discipling.[34] Synder suggests that when wrong emphasis is placed on the church at the expense of  discipleship that in itself is a deviation from biblical imperatives. How then can  Saddleback ecclesiology is understood through its defined or redefined message?

[1] Warren, The Purpose Driven Church, 13-15.

[2] Abanes, Rick Warren And The Purpose That Drives Him, 25.

[3] Abanes, Rick Warren And The Purpose That Drives Him, 8.

[4] Warren, The Purpose Driven Church, 309f.

[5] Warren, TPDC, 321.
[6] Warren, TPDC, 16.
[7] Warren, TPDC, 7.
[8] Brian D. McLaren, The Church on the Other Side, Grand Rapids, USA, Zondervan, 2000, 11.
[9] McLaren, TCOTOS, 14.
[10] McLaren, TCOTOS, 14.
[11] Warren, The Purpose Driven Church, 11-12.
[12] Warren, The Purpose Driven Church, 81.
[13] Murray, Church Planting, 31.
[14] Murray, CP, 30.
[15] Murray, CP, 33.
[16] Abanes, Rick Warren And The Purpose That Drives Him, 25.

[17] Kimon Howland, Seeker Churches, New Brunswick, NJ, Rutgers University press, 2000, 93.

[18] Warren, The Purpose Driven Church, 294.
[19] Murray, Church Planting, 33.
[20] Warren, The Purpose Driven Church, 157.
[21] Engle and McIntosh, Evaluating The Church Growth Movement, 210.
[22] Bill Hybels, Christians in the Market Place, Wheaton, IL, Victor Books, 1988, 40-41.

[23] Engle and McIntosh, ETOGM, 211.

[24] Engle and McIntosh, ETOGM, 210.
[25] Engle and McIntosh, ETCGM, 211.
[26] Schuller, Self-Esteem : New Reformation, 14.

[27] Guinness, Dinning With The Devil, 78.

[28] Howland, Seeker Churches, 95.

[29] Howland, SC, 95.
[30] Abanes, Rick Warren And The Purpose That Drives Him, 81.
[31] John MacArthur, Ashamed of the Gospel, Wheaton, IL: Crossway books, 1993, electronic version.
[32] Murray, Church Planting, 5.
[33] Murray, CP, 6.
[34] Engle and McIntosh, Evaluating The Church Growth Movement, 211.

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©2008 Church Education Trust