I am reading The Purpose-Driven Life along with other members of my church in a 40-day study of Rick Warren’s blockbuster book. The book contains both positives and negatives. On the positive side, no serious Christian could argue with the main points of the book, which are but a summary of what every Christian should be about: worship, fellowship, discipleship, ministry, and evangelism. Rick Warren is right on target with these as they are clear imperatives that appear in different ways throughout scripture.
There are, however, certain drawbacks to this best-seller that one would do well to pay attention to. Warren’s frequent proof-texting sometimes runs roughshod over the context of the verse in question with the result that one is sometimes left with a less-than-accurate understanding of the biblical writer’s real intention. The use of paraphrased versions of the Bible (New Living Translation, The Message) also leaves much to be desired.
In this essay, I would like to focus on one particular area of concern. Warren appears to embrace a kind of dualism that is frequently heard in popular evangelical preaching today. In chapter 4, Warren explains that people are “made to last forever,” and he embarks upon an explanation of the nature of the eternal state. He writes: “One day your heart will stop beating. That will be the end of your body and your time on earth, but it will not be the end of you. Your earthly body is just a temporary residence for your spirit” (p. 37). This passage seems to suggest that our non-physical self (the soul) is eternal while our physical self (the body) is only temporary. A mind/body dualism emerges here that is foreign to the Bible. Warren quotes 2 Corinthians 5:6 to explain the different mode of existence which believers have in “heaven”: “Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.” From Warren’s explanation of this text, one is left with the impression that our future mode of existence in heaven is non-physical, being characterized by not having a physical body.
Yet this is not at all what Paul teaches in 2 Corinthians 5:1-10. In fact, Paul is teaching quite the opposite. Paul is arguing that our ultimate hope is that God will resurrect the bodies of believers after they die. The eternal state is very much a physical state. In the eternal state, Christians will not be “unclothed” (2 Cor 5:4), but will have put on the clothing of a new resurrected, glorified body.
This hope of resurrection is actually the center of New Testament hope. Christians are supposed to look forward not only to heaven, but to resurrection. That is why Paul urged the Thessalonians who were burying their loved ones who had died: “13 Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. 14 We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15 According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first” (1 Thess 4:13-16 NIV). Paul encouraged the Thessalonians who were grieving the death of their loved ones by telling them that God would resurrect their bodies just like He resurrected Jesus’ body.
One of God’s purposes for Jesus’ resurrection is that believers should look to Christ’s resurrection as an example of what He will do for them in the future. Consider Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 15:16-22: “16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. 20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” Paul’s argument is that if Christ has not been resurrected then believers won’t be resurrected either. He simply assumes that resurrection is what all Christians should be looking forward to after death.
In 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 Paul uses the doctrine of resurrection to refute those who say that the physical body is morally irrelevant to God. Paul argues that the believer’s body is not for immorality but for the Lord because the Lord will one day raise up the believer’s body just as Jesus’ body was raised. Indeed, the physical body is called “the temple of the Holy Spirit.” No dualism here. In fact, Paul is arguing against the very kind of mind/body dualism that has become so prevalent in the modern day.
We would all do well to keep in mind a purpose-driven resurrection. God’s ultimate purpose for the believer is that they should glorify Him forever in resurrected physical bodies. He wants us to believe His promise that we will be raised just as Jesus was. We won’t be like Casper the friendly ghost, disembodied “spirits” roaming to and fro upon the clouds. We will be ourselves again, as God always intended for us to be: whole, physical, sinless, perfected, glorifying him. Until we fix our eyes on that hope, we are hoping in something less than what God purposes for us.
In chapter 4, Warren completely misinterprets 1 Corinthians 2:9, which he quotes from the Living Bible: “No mere man has ever seen, heard or even imagined what wonderful things God has ready for those who love the Lord.” Warren uses this verse to make the point that the human mind cannot comprehend what heaven will be like (p. 38). Yet when considered in context, 1 Corinthians 2:9 is clearly not talking about heaven, but about the cross of Jesus Christ (1 Cor 1:24). Indeed it is the wisdom that is “hidden” from the rulers of this age (1 Cor 2:7). Yet this wisdom has been revealed to believers “through the Spirit” (1 Cor 2:10). Paul’s point is not that something has been hidden from Christians but that something has been revealed to them that is not revealed to others. Christians can see and enjoy the wisdom of God in the cross. So Warren has completely misunderstood this text. Christians do in fact understand “what wonderful things God has ready for those who love the Lord.” As a matter of fact, this is what distinguishes believers from unbelievers. Believers “get it,” and unbelievers don’t.
There are many examples throughout the book. Consider Warren’s argument in chapter 12 on “Developing Your Friendship with God.” In this section, Warren claims that a healthy friendship with God includes “accusing” God when one is not pleased with what God does. Warren uses Moses’ words in Exodus 33:12-17 from The Message to bolster his point: “‘Look, you tell me to lead this people but you don’t let me know whom you’re going to send with me. . . . If I’m so special to you, let me in on your plans. . . . Don’t forget, this is YOUR people, your responsibility. . . . If your presence doesn’t take the lead here, call this trip off right now! How else will I know that you’re with me in this, with me and your people? Are you traveling with us or not? . . .’ God said to Moses, ‘All right. Just as you say; this also I will do, for I know you well and you are special to me.’” (quoted on pages 93-94). Does The Message really capture the content and tone of the conversation between God and Moses in this text? Compare that translation to the one found in the NASB, the translation widely regarded by scholars to be the most literal English translation: “12 Then Moses said to the Lord, ‘See, Thou dost say to me, “Bring up this people!” But Thou Thyself hast not let me know whom Thou wilt send with me. Moreover, Thou hast said, “I have known you by name, and you have also found favor in My sight.” 13 Now therefore, I pray Thee, if I have found favor in Thy sight, let me know Thy ways, that I may know Thee, so that I may find favor in Thy sight. Consider too, that this nation is Thy people.’ 14 And He said, ‘My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest.’ 15 Then he said to Him, ‘If Thy presence does not go with us, do not lead us up from here. 16 For how then can it be known that I have found favor in Thy sight, I and Thy people? Is it not by Thy going with us, so that we, I and Thy people, may be distinguished from all the other people who are upon the face of the earth?’ 17 And the Lord said to Moses, ‘I will also do this thing of which you have spoken; for you have found favor in My sight, and I have known you by name.’” The Message makes it sound like Moses disrespects God, a notion that does not appear in the NASB.