A Wesleyan Companion to “The Purpose Driven Life.”
By John W. Boley
© August 2004
Saddleback Valley Community Church, in Lake Forest, California, is a mega-church which has shown phenomenal growth under the pastoral leadership of Rev. Rick Warren. Warren is a Southern Baptist preacher’s kid, educated at Southwestern Theological Seminary (M.Div.) and Fuller Theological Seminary (D.Min.), who planted this congregation in the rapidly growing, largely unchurched south Orange County suburb.
Since its beginning in 1980, under Warren’s gentle, warm, visionary leadership, Saddleback Church has grown into a phenomenon rarely seen under the big umbrella of American Protestant Christianity. The number of baptisms, members, constituents, and weekend worshipers is staggering. The Spirit is moving – lost souls are being found, worship services are vital and relevant, and the Saddleback staff is pioneering new ideas and methods for their servant leadership at Saddleback, and now around the world.
Like Willow Creek Church in the suburbs of Chicago, Saddleback has become a world leader in methods, materials, marketing, and making disciples. With the publishing of “The Purpose-Driven Church” in 1995, Warren provided a huge gift to Christendom by putting in writing much of his vision and method. The focus is as the name implies – God is calling churches and disciples to be “purpose driven” – to go about the call of Christ in very intentional ways, recalling our central purpose of making disciples for Jesus Christ, breaking out of the mold of “church as usual” in our comfortable American Protestant way.
Acting on the advice of others, and following his own hunches – or perhaps as led by the Holy Spirit – Warren realized that he skipped a step – he wrote about what churches are called to do before writing about what individual Christians are called to be. So, he took time off from his duties at Saddleback and went back to the desk and Bible and wrote a “prequel” to “The Purpose Driven Church,” in 2002 publishing “The Purpose Driven Life.”
This book, now a New York Times best-seller, does for individuals what his previous effort does for churches – it asks people to focus on the purposes for their lives. It uses as the launching question, “What on earth am I here for?” From this existential query, he answers the question by stating that all human beings are to have five basic purposes:
1. You Were Planned for God’s Pleasure
2. You Were Formed for God’s Family
3. You Were Created to Become Like Christ
4. You Were Shaped for Serving God
5. You Were Made for a Mission
These five purposes, then, correspond to the five functions of the Christian life – Worship, Fellowship, Discipleship, Ministry, and Evangelism:
1. Bringing pleasure to God is called Worship.
2. Experiencing life together in God’s family is called Fellowship.
3. The process of becoming like Christ is called Discipleship.
4. Using my SHAPE to serve others is called Ministry.
5. Fulfilling my mission is called Evangelism.
Warren has done a superb job of focusing in on the basic joys/responsibilities/ purposes of being a follower of Christ. For millions of people, particularly lukewarm Christians, Christians on the periphery of organized faith, Christians who question the orthodox doctrines, and Christians who are static in their commitment, Warren provides a compelling vision of the life driven by the purposes of Christian living.
“The Purpose Driven Life” has been translated into a program for use by local churches called “40 Days of Purpose.” The Saddleback folks are brilliant programmers and marketers, and have provided this program to anyone who would desire to bring the basics of the purpose driven life to their local church. Any local church in the world can obtain a multitude of materials to help promote this campaign for their own use, and thousands of churches of all types and shapes have done so and are doing so.
40 Days of Purpose is designed to follow along with “The Purpose Driven Life.” For a 40 day program, including corresponding weekend worship services, small groups and Sunday School classes, a local church can read a chapter of the book each day, use video curriculum to introduce it and expound on it, and use small group settings to bring it to life and create fellowship at the same time. It is a program of great success that can bring new life to the call of being a disciple of Jesus Christ.
First United Methodist Church – Mt. Pleasant
The congregation I serve, First United Methodist Church of Mt. Pleasant, Michigan, decided to conduct the 40 Days of Purpose in the fall of 2004. To that end, we developed a pilot group to go through the program and make plans for the fall. The group began reading the book in the spring of 2004. And something became very clear to all of us – that while there was much great material in this book, there was much in the book that made us squirm. This pilot group of faithful United Methodists, as it began the book, felt that something was amiss – there were serious problems with parts of the book.
Fortunately, for once in my life, I was ahead of them. Possessing a Duke University seminary education and having lived in western Michigan for many years (a center of the reformed movement in North America), I knew that what caused them to squirm, but what they could not articulate, was the Calvinist theology underlying the book. Needless to say, the pilot group had some fruitful discussions about Calvinism and our Wesleyan roots. Out of these discussions came the realization that if we were going to do 40 Days of Purpose, we would have to come up with a mechanism to provide our congregation with an explanation for what they were reading, where we United Methodists might agree, and where we might disagree. Hence, this paper.
The claim that I have made to this pilot group, when some questioned whether we could even do this in a United Methodist Church, proceeds along these lines:
1. That “The Purpose-Driven Life” is a superb work providing great focus and direction for Christians everywhere;
2. That Warren’s five purposes are right on target and that there are few Christians anywhere who could argue with them; Warren’s work is amazingly ecumenical in spirit and understanding;
3. That the lenses (as in eyeglasses) that Warren wears in everything he thinks and writes and sees are based in his Baptist / Calvinist roots and education;
4. That our United Methodist congregation can still read this book and do this program and that it will be most beneficial;
5. That we can read this work through the lenses of Wesleyan thought without detracting from the idea of the purpose driven life;
6. That the purpose driven life and Wesleyan thought are just as compatible, if not more so, as the purpose driven life and Baptist / Calvinist thought;
7. That this is a golden teaching moment for our congregation to obtain the benefit of the 40 Days of Purpose while at the same time solidifying our Wesleyan beliefs.
I mentioned to a few of my United Methodist colleagues that we were going to use 40 Days of Purpose, but that I was going to write a companion to it to raise Wesleyan concerns. Most were supportive of the program. But some questioned whether 40 Days of Purpose should be done at all in the United Methodist Church. All were supportive of the idea of a Wesleyan Companion. Some were especially concerned that our Wesleyan distinctiveness will get overrun by Calvinist/Baptist theology. As an ecumenical church, we United Methodists are open to differing theological understandings as possessing their own truth under the broad umbrella of Christian thought, but we must also protect and defend our own Wesleyan distinctiveness and its particular form of truth.
One colleague in particular, Rev. Chris Momany, Chaplain at Adrian College, offered an image that seems appropriate. He likened the 40 Days of Purpose to a Trojan Horse – a seemingly attractive package that is brought into our midst, but which potentially has the power to undermine our beliefs and convictions. With the release of the movie “Troy” this summer, it is an especially powerful image. Warren’s Baptist version of Calvinism brought into our local congregations is in many ways contrary to our Wesleyan understandings, and it would be tragic indeed if we United Methodists lost what is ours.
Note: It is difficult to talk about “Baptist” theology. The broad movement called “Baptist” is based on a few primary and common truths relating to believer’s baptism, the authority of Scripture, congregational polity, and individual conscience in Christ. Beyond that, there is much freedom of thought in the Baptist world – different conventions and congregations and individuals can go their own way. In contrast, there is much freedom of thought in Wesleyanism as well, but its “connectional” nature, its Arminian theology (see below), and the ongoing presence of one powerful personality, John Wesley, make it more identifiable.
This paper is an attempt to explain in plain yet critical language where we differ from “The Purpose Driven Life,” based on the distinctions between Wesleyaninsm and Calvinism. To reiterate, there is much in “The Purpose Driven Life” that all Christians can affirm, and we would not be doing this at Mt. Pleasant First UMC if we could not enthusiastically endorse the total benefit of the book and the program. But for those who have evolved from the Methodist Movement of the Wesley brothers, some correctives and explanations must be made. This paper is one person’s version of a companion (it is not a “response” or a “rebuttal”) to “The Purpose Drive Life” – to offer a basic level theological discussion of Calvinism and Wesleyanism, in hopes that participants will be edified and grow in knowledge and love of their roots, and in the knowledge and love of Jesus Christ.
Disclaimer: Having not been immersed in the complexities of Calvinist thought as I have been in the complexities of Wesleyan thought, I freely admit that what may follow may not be a full, or nuanced, representation of Calvinist or Baptist thinking. As always, I will pray for and seek further enlightenment.
Now you have a choice. If you want the Short Version, go for it. However, if your interest is peaked and you desire to wade through some pretty heavy theology, go straight to the Long Version on page 5.
How much of our lives here on earth is controlled by God? Does God control our actions? Our thoughts? Or how about events? Or, does God control nothing – leaving it to us to think and act on our own? Does God predetermine our salvation? Or can we “earn” our salvation?
One school of thought can broadly be labeled Calvinism and stands for the proposition that God has maximum control of our thoughts and actions here on earth. The fancy label for this is called “theological determinism.” With respect to salvation to eternal life, determinism is called “predestination” and “election.” Calvinism stands for the proposition that God determines thoughts and actions and events, elects some for salvation and others for damnation, and predestines it all to happen.
Another school of thought can broadly be labeled Arminianism. Arminianism stands for the proposition that God exerts little control over human thoughts and actions and does not elect or predestine some for salvation or damnation. Salvation is still a gift from God, but it is measured by God’s judgment of human faith or actions. Human beings operate with a maximum amount of free will and ability to choose, and then live with the consequences of their thoughts and actions.
Wesleyanism is understood to be within the Arminian world, but with a particular emphasis on grace. John Wesley’s principle contribution to the world of theology is his belief in “prevenient grace,” the grace that “goes before” to give people a basic level of conscience and to give people the ability to say “yes” or “no” to God. Prevenient grace provokes a response in human beings, and if the response is “yes,” then the path of salvation continues.
In Wesleyanism, human beings are saved by “justifying grace” and then attempt to lead a holy life with the help of “sanctifying grace.” In Wesleyan thought, with the ongoing gift of prevenient grace, human beings call upon free will to live life on this earth in ways that are not determined, and with the hope and trust that salvation is at life’s end.
Now, if you do not want to read the Long Version, please turn to page 14 for the discussion about “The Purpose Driven Life.”
God’s Providence - Free Will and Determinism
One of the principle questions facing all religious faiths in all times and places is the extent to which God actually controls events on this earth. In Christianity, every belief imaginable exists, from an understanding that God controls nothing, to an understanding that God controls everything. This discussion largely takes place under the rubric of God’s “Providence.”
At one end of the spectrum is an understanding that God is absent from the universe, even though God created it. God created, laid down some natural rules, and then left town. God is not present and active, God never controls events, and God leaves human beings to their own devices at all times and places – God gives human beings maximum free will to carry on their lives as they see fit. Natural events, like tornados and rain, and human events, like car accidents and malicious activity, are just a part of the collision of thoughts and molecules that result with such freedom in creation. God wound up the clock of creation and lets it unwind by itself. Many of the “founding fathers” of the United States, including Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, were “Deists,” and believed in God along these lines.
At the other end of the spectrum is an understanding that God is in control of everything, in nature and in humanity. Tornados and rain are sent by God, and the actions and thoughts of human beings are all a part of God’s pre-determined design for creation. In this understanding, there is no human free will. God directs all movement and choice. This understanding is usually called “theological determinism.”
Note: Determinism is widely accepted in other areas of science and philosophy. Most agree that such things as genetics, culture, upbringing, economics, chemistry, biology and physics support deterministic understandings – that thoughts and actions are caused by pre-existent factors. The statement of Riff in “West Side Story,” “I’m depraved on account I’m deprived” might be an example. Theological determinism is the particular understanding that God specifically controls events.
Most Christians exist somewhere on this spectrum – few operate at its ends. Most Christians believe that God at some level is present and active through the power of the Holy Spirit, and so they cannot abide with ideas of complete free will in humanity or in nature. On the other hand, most Christians believe that God has granted humanity free will at least to some extent and cannot abide by the thought that all events are programmed – that human beings are merely puppets on God’s strings. Here is a visual that may make some sense.
God’s Activity on Earth
Maximum Control No Control
Determinism ←-------------------------------------------------------------------------→ Free Will
(The tendency of Calvinism) (The tendency of Wesleyanism)
At the heart of Wesleyan “squirming” over “The Purpose Driven Life” is the Methodist propensity to move toward free will on this spectrum, and the propensity of Calvinism to move toward determinism.
Note: In the Christian faith, free will is always understood to be diminished by sin. For some, like Augustine, writing in the 4th century, human beings are in such bondage to sin that they exercise very little free will at all. Determinism here is based on sin, not on God’s control. In contrast to this, Pelagius, a 4th century British monk living in Rome, believed that sin held little bondage over humanity and human beings could operate in complete free will, achieving salvation on their own power. The raging debate between Augustine and Pelagius at that time lays the groundwork for the ongoing debate between Calvinism and Wesleyanism.
In its variations, determinism has as a root idea that there is an inevitability or necessity in events, that events are all planned out, all scripted, and are being played out according to the script. This understanding is implicit in the Bible as God is seen as being in control of everything and nothing happens but for the will of God. Many Biblical events are attributed to God in this determinism, not the least of which is our common understanding that Jesus went to the cross as part of a pre-written script that was merely played out by everyone as if they were puppets acting without their knowledge that it was all scripted. To place it in the context of our friend and foe, Judas, determinism would say that Judas’ betrayal of Jesus was a necessary part of the script – Judas was a puppet with no individual will. Jesus’ foreknowledge of Judas’ betrayal certainly suggests this understanding.
Determinism is usually described as being either “hard” or “soft.” “Hard determinism” is used to indicate the view that all events are rigorously determined and that even moral and ethical thoughts are controlled. This renders such things as “ought” and “guilt” meaningless. So, Judas was just playing his part, and also had no real culpability because he had no real choice in the matter. “Soft determinism” also holds that all events are determined, but claims that moral and ethical thoughts are more independent, and are still meaningful in society. So, Judas was just playing out his scripted role, but he was sort of guilty, or at least we should treat him as guilty because society must operate with justice.
Determinism is often understood in everyday language under the definition of “fate” and “fatalism,” or “destiny.” In common parlance, people say, “Oh well, what will be, will be,” or “Well, it was meant to be,” or “It was destined to happen,” or “His days were numbered,” or “I guess it was just God’s will,” or, “God took your baby.” Much language seeking to explain otherwise unexplainable happenings is deterministic language. We human beings have a special tendency for determinism in the face of tragedy and death. In more positive situations, people will say, “It was only by God’s grace that we avoided that oncoming truck,” or, “Receiving that check in the mail was ‘providential,’” or “God let me come to church today,” or, “My guardian angel was looking out for me.”
Most determinism is believed and verbalized out of respect for God’s sovereignty (ruling independence), omniscience (all-knowing), omnipotence (all-powerful), and omnipresence (ever-present) – God is the union of absolute power and goodness; God is the maker, controller, redeemer of the universe; God cannot be limited; God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, etc. If we believe these things, then any effort to throw free will into the mix is a limitation on God’s sovereignty, power, knowledge, or presence. This is not acceptable or possible for some, who believe that in order to give God God’s due, out of respect for God, everything must be attributed to God.
John Calvin and Determinism
John Calvin was the great French pastor and theologian who lived and worked primarily in Geneva in the mid 1500’s. A younger contemporary of Martin Luther, Calvin was often thought of as the brains of the Protestant Reformation, while Luther was the brawn. Calvin’s “The Institutes of the Christian Religion” in its final state, is a definitive work for much of Reformation thought, and what thereafter became what is known as the Reformed church. Calvin wrote the “Institutes” in 4 volumes – a massive work that still lives.
Calvin approved of determinism for the reasons stated above relating to God’s sovereignty. For instance, Calvin said in Volume 1, Chapter XVI, 5 of the Institutes, “Not a drop of rain falls without the express command of God.” Calvin’s overall attitude was that there is a direct cause and effect between God’s will and events on earth – nothing happens on earth that is not God’s will, and everything that happens is God’s will.
Many Christians of course see problems with this, despite its Biblical basis. How can human beings be genuinely free and responsible? How can we say that God is good when everything is planned in advance? If God doesn’t trust us with anything, then why were we created? Making me a puppet means that God does not love me; if God really loved me God would give me freedom of choice and action. How do we deal with evil? Does God control all bad things that happen too? Etcetera.
Free Will, Determinism and Salvation
Calvinist theology is deterministic to its core because of the central belief in the sovereignty of God. But it is in the arena where determinism is specifically applied to salvation that Calvinist understandings have made their greatest impact.
Prior to looking at Calvin’s particular contributions to Christian understandings of salvation, let’s look generally at the different possibilities relating to God and salvation:
1. Election. The first possibility is that God elects some to salvation. Election is a thoroughly Biblical concept. For example, Israel was elect through the covenant of Abraham to be a light to the nations. The Old and New Testaments are full of language and examples of God’s election. God makes these elections in God’s sovereignty, and that is ok, because God is God and we are not. That some are chosen and some are not is just part of the way that God set things up.
2. Universalism. At the other end of the spectrum is universalism – that all human beings are ultimately saved. Everyone is included because the grace and forgiveness of God overwhelms any activities here on earth. This is not a particularly Biblical concept, but it is popular (especially at funerals) and based in the belief in God’s overwhelming mercy and forgiveness.
3. Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism. A middle ground between these two extremes is called Pelagianism, after our friend the British monk. Election says that God chooses some and rejects others. Universalism says that God chooses all and rejects none. Pelagianism, says that whomever God chooses depends on the faith and actions of the individuals here on earth.
a. Pure Pelagianism. Pure Pelagiansim says that human beings are saved if they obey God’s commandments by what they do and believe. God has made a blanket grant of salvation based on works and beliefs here on earth – that human beings can “earn” their salvation based on their goodness. You are automatically saved, or better yet, you are entitled to be saved, if you are a “good” person, or do good things, or if you believe the right thing (about abortion or politics, for example). This is equivalent to “self-salvation” based in entitlement. It is based on an understanding of the basic goodness of humanity and is not weighed down by original sin. Interestingly, this understanding has been considered a heresy in the Roman Catholic and the Protestant church, yet it is widely believed in both branches.
b. Semi-Pelagianism. Semi-Pelagianism, on the other hand, suggests that all are unworthy in God’s sight because of original sin/the fall. No one is entitled to salvation, but all can make the right choice by saying “yes” to God, and acknowledging our need for grace, placing our faith and trust in Christ, and seeking to love God and be in reconciliation with God and neighbor. Then, God, in God’s sovereignty, grants salvation as a gift.
Calvinism is very explicitly based in election. As we shall see, John Wesley rejected election as it is combined with predestination. But he also rejected universalism. And oh by the way, he also rejected Pelagiansim. Hmmmm? Let us turn to the specifics of Calvinist and Wesleyan thought related to salvation.
Calvinism and Salvation
As with all thoughts and movements, Calvinist thought has gone through much revision and evolution. A central part of the discussion revolves around understandings of election (the act of God selecting some) and predestination (the fact that this is all done ahead of time, even before birth, perhaps even at the beginning of time.) Ideas of election and predestination did not originate with John Calvin. These concepts are thoroughly Biblical and have been the subject of much discussion and writing within Christendom from the earliest days. Augustine, Anselm, Luther, and others have thrown their faith and brains into the discussion. Calvinist thinking, however, as it has evolved, has brought to us the chief focus and discussion of the beliefs and practices of election and predestination.
Central to the discussion of election and predestination is the understanding of the sovereignty of God, omnipotent and omniscient. Since all of life is based on grace, and faith and salvation are a gift from God, then it logically follows that God selects who will receive faith, and therefore God elects who will be saved. A principle Biblical passage that supports understandings of election and predestination is Romans 8:30, “For those whom he predestined, he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.” Romans 8:30 (NRSV)
Major schools of thought developed around positions taken on the complexities of what was becoming known as Calvinist thought. Does God foreknow everything, or does God base God’s decisions in other immutable understandings? Does God grant salvation to some (single predestination), or does God grant salvation to some and condemn others to damnation (double predestination)? Is there a difference? Is election related only to salvation, or to all of our actions and thought (determinism)?
One of the principle players in these debates about the nuances of predestination and election was a Dutch scholar, pastor, and teacher named Jacobus Arminius. Arminius, while believing in predestination, believed that predestination was based on God’s foreknowledge, not based in God’s sovereign choices and decrees, the position of a stricter Calvinism. In other words, in God’s omniscience, God indeed foreknows everything, but that does not remove humanity from its free will – salvation is based in the foreknown faith of human beings, not in the prior to birth decree based in God’s sovereignty.
As the controversies raged, a consensus emerged in the Reformed church that could be called “orthodox” Calvinism. It reached its culmination at the Synod of Dort in 1618-1619, which decreed the definitive answers. Stricter Calvinism prevailed, and Arminian Calvinism was defeated. Out of these decrees came an easy way to remember what orthodox Calvinism stands for under the rubric TULIP. TULIP stands for the following (notice the Dutch connection):
T – Total Depravity – All humans beings are sinful and stand helpless before God, and are totally dependent on God for grace and salvation;
U – Unconditional Election – God, in God’s absolute sovereignty, decrees that some are elect for salvation and some are elect for damnation; this has occurred prior to the birth of an individual, is not based on works, and is not based in God’s foreknowledge;
L – Limited Atonement – Christ died not for all humankind, but only for the elect;
I – Irresistible Grace – Those whom God has elected cannot resist this grace or backslide out of it;
P – Perseverance of the Saints – Those whom God has elected will persevere to salvation and eternal life.
Since this time, “Calvinism” has become the term that loosely describes an understanding of determinism, election and predestination, in its various forms. “Arminianism” has become the term that loosely describes an understanding of “free will,” in its various forms (even though Arminius himself believed in predestination, but based in God’s foreknowledge, not God’s immutable decrees).
The Methodist Movement
With the rise of the Methodist movement in the 1700’s, Calvinist understandings of election and predestination found a new venue for vehement discussion. Calvinism had jumped the English Channel in the 1500’s and 1600’s in natural ways. With the normal flow of people and ideas and literature, Calvinism did not stay in its Rhine River basin, but spread over all of continental Europe and the British Isles. For instance, John Knox, a student of Calvin, took Calvinism back to Scotland where it took hold in the Presbyterian Church.
In the Church of England there was no uniform position taken. In the 1500’s and 1600’s, the Church of England struggled with the vestiges of Roman Catholicism and new understandings of the Protestant Reformation. As Protestantism slowly won out over Catholicism, a further struggle existed between Calvinist thought, held primarily by the Puritans, and the Arminian position, taken by non-Calvinist Protestants and the vestiges of Catholic thinking. It was in this struggle that the broad movement called “Baptist” emerged. And later, it was in this struggle that the Wesley brothers advanced what became known as the Methodist Movement.
John Wesley, 1703-1791, founded the Methodist Movement as a way of bringing reform to the Church of England. It was an evangelical movement, designed to bring the masses back to Christ and back into the Church of England, which had de facto excluded them in its support of the aristocracy. Wesley preached some 40,000 sermons, traveling the length and breadth of England on horseback until his dying day. Brother Charles Wesley wrote some 6000 hymns. Together, their reform movement transformed England by bringing hope to the masses in an ugly industrial time. Upon John’s death, this Methodist Movement naturally split from the Church of England.
John Wesley agreed with much of Calvinism. He agreed with the doctrine of “total depravity” and was thoroughly Protestant in his understanding of “justification (salvation) by faith through grace.” But he was adamantly opposed to the doctrines of “unconditional election,” “limited atonement” and “irresistible grace.” Wesley believed that unconditional election also meant unconditional damnation, an idea that he saw as contrary to Biblical truth. And his blood boiled when Calvinists suggested that Jesus Christ died only for the elect, and not for all. And he believed that “irresistible grace” led to either quietism, the belief that suggests that no action on this earth is necessary, or antinomianism, the belief that once salvation was assured, there was no moral restraint - anything goes.
In Wesley’s words, the doctrine of predestination, “makes revelation contradict itself. For it is grounded on such an interpretation of some texts (more or fewer it matters not) as flatly contradicts all the other texts, and indeed the whole scope and tenor of Scripture.” Works, VII 379-380. (Emphasis added).
Even though some of his friends, notably George Whitefield, were basically Calvinist in their thinking, John Wesley exercised such force of personality that Calvinism never gained a serious foothold in the Methodist Movement, even though the Church of England still contained both Calvinist and Arminian elements.
Wesley was a strong believer in the free will of human beings, but he could not be Pelagian because of his belief in original sin. He offered a way of looking at things that has supported human belief in free will, while still being faithful to the Protestant understanding of “total depravity,” and “salvation by faith through grace.”
Wesley was not a systematic writer like Calvin. His theology has been discerned from his sermons, his journals, his letters and his other public writings. Many have systematized Wesley since his time. The collective theology of John Wesley is often called his “order of salvation,” or ordo salutis.
Wesley’s principle contribution to the world of theology is his emphasis on grace: “prevenient grace,” “justifying grace” and sanctifying grace.” He is most noted for his focus on “prevenient grace.” He believed with Calvin and Luther in the “total depravity” of humankind, but with “prevenient grace,” God begins the work of redeeming each individual with the goal of salvation to eternal life.
Prevenient Grace is the grace that “goes before.” It is grace given “free to all and free in all.” Prevenient grace basically does two things. It provides every human being with a basic level of conscience and with the ability to respond to God. Generally, all human beings have deep within them the need and desire for a spiritual life – we are all seekers, in every culture and land and time. This is a direct result of God’s prevenient grace. Specifically, every human being, as a result of prevenient grace, has the ability to say “yes” or “no” to God. God leaves this choice to us, and we make it at our peril. The choice would not exist but for prevenient grace.
In the ordo salutis, Wesley takes us through other stages on the path of salvation. If in response to prevenient grace, we say “no” to God, then our choice has been made, at our risk. But if we say “yes” to God, then we begin to be convicted of our sin and seek reconciliation with God. It is through justifying grace then that we are pardoned from our sin and salvation may be granted. After being “saved” through justifying grace, we can, with the power of the Spirit, be “regenerated” and receive “reassurance” of our worth in God’s eyes and our salvation to eternal life.
Unlike many of his Protestant colleagues, Wesley moved way beyond the understanding of justification by faith alone, to an understanding of the important role of sanctification in the life of the believer. Through sanctifying grace, God helps the believer lead a holy life, with the hope of moving on to perfection in love in this life. Sanctifying grace is God’s gift, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to help us become “holified” as a life-long process. Wesley was heavily influenced by Roman Catholic understandings of sanctification much more than his Protestant counterparts, who were mostly concerned with justification by faith alone as a corrective to the medieval Roman Catholic system of penance.
Many have suggested that Wesley took the best of Protestant understandings and the best of Roman Catholic understandings and put them together, into a cohesive understanding of the “order of salvation.” Here is a rough thumbnail sketch of Wesley’s thinking:
The Justification Side The Sanctification Side
(The Work of Christ) (The Work of the Holy Spirit)
The Protestant Ethic of Grace The Catholic Ethic of Holiness
Total Depravity Sanctifying Grace
Prevenient Grace A Holy Life
Human Response Perfection in this life
Justifying Grace Glorification
Pardon / Salvation Eternal Life
The key idea to understand for the purposes of this paper is the role of prevenient grace as an alternative to determinism and election / predestination. Calvinism, being thoroughly deterministic, suggests that the decrees relating to salvation are made in God’s sovereignty, and there is nothing anyone can do about it. With his understanding of prevenient grace, Wesley breaks up the logical necessity of predestination, by suggesting the means for God to offer everyone the ability to respond and choose. The choice is not to be “saved,” salvation only comes from God through God’s gift of justifying grace, but the choice is to say “yes” or “no” to God’s grace. As a result of the Wesleyan understanding of prevenient grace, election and predestination are not logically required, and determinism is just plain out of context.
As previously discussed, Calvinist understandings of salvation are based in election. But as you can see, Wesleyan understandings of salvation most closely resemble semi-Pelagianism. Wesley indeed rejected election and universalism. And he resisted Pelagianism because he did not believe that humans could in any way “merit” salvation. Although Wesley would probably not have called himself semi-Pelagian, again because it implies too much human ability and merit-demanded entitlement, the Wesleyan understanding of salvation is most closely semi-Pelagian. You knew it all along. Aren’t you glad to know this little tidbit?
In “The Purpose Driven Life,” Rick Warren never explicitly discusses the Calvinist doctrines of election and predestination. Frankly, this is somewhat curious. It is curious because, as we shall see, Warren’s thinking and writing contain many statements of determinism. But election and predestination automatically flow from determinism, even though a believe in election and predestination does not require a belief in determinism, except as to salvation.
To say this differently, contrary to popular thinking, election and predestination only apply to salvation. They do not apply to thoughts and events on this earth, even though we often casually use terms such as “preordained” or “foreordained” to mean just that. Determinism applies to events and thoughts. If events and thoughts are pre-determined in God’s sovereignty, election and predestination automatically and logically follow. But the reverse is not true. One can believe in election and predestination to salvation without believing that all events and thoughts are pre-determined. You cannot be a determinist without also believing in election and predestination. You can believe in election and predestination without being a determinist as to thoughts and actions. Whew! I hope that makes some sense, because it explains why I went through all that stuff about salvation. And it comes into play as we look at the determinism in Warren’s writing.
A Word about Proof –Texting
Rick Warren uses a method of Biblical interpretation called “proof-texting.” Proof-texting is a style which pulls out passages from the Bible to “prove” a point being made. It is very common throughout Christendom. Proof-texting is not favored in some circles because the Biblical text that is used for the proof can easily be taken out of context. The fear is that proof-texting can easily lead to dishonesty in the use of the Bible for purposes that are then inconsistent with Biblical truth.
Warren proof-texts extensively in “The Purpose Driven Life,” and he does so using many versions of the Bible, both literal translations and paraphrase translations. He admittedly picks and chooses the versions which best support his point. Not unusual. I have not examined every Biblical reference to be sure that the context and the language are consistent with the proofs that Warren is offering. My gut impression is that Warren has tried to keep contexts and texts and proofs consistent. Although this is not a style of writing and Biblical analysis that appeals to me, it does not appear, without further analysis, that Warren can be faulted.
“The Purpose Driven Life”
Most United Methodists squirm when they pick up “The Purpose-Driven Life” and read its first entry. After the title page and copyright page, before even the table of contents, the dedication page reads:
“This book is dedicated to you. Before you were born, God planned this moment in your life. It is no accident that you are holding this book. God longs for you to discover the life he created you to live – here on earth, and forever in eternity.” Warren then goes on to quote Ephesians 1:11 (Msg) supporting this dedication.
Many Methodists will read no further. Intense, driven, passionate ole’ John Wesley might have thrown the book across the room. Or at least he would have blasted Warren in writing, perhaps in his widely read “Arminian Magazine.” Few Methodists are able to articulate doctrines of determinism, election, predestination, irresistible grace, prevenient grace, etc. But there is something here that smacks us as contrary to our understanding of God. God put this book in my hands? God timed when I would be reading it? I thought I had decided to read it with my morning coffee! Is my life so controlled and so programmed and so planned that I have nothing to do with it? Is my salvation already determined? Why should I worry about anything? Can I make no moral choices?
Oh, I get it. God in God’s power and goodness and omniscience can foresee everything, so God foresaw that I would be holding and reading this book. No, that’s not what Warren suggests. He says in no uncertain terms that God planned this moment. Ouch! I guess I am a puppet after all. Does this planning go to thoughts and actions, or just actions? What part of it, if any, do I control? Hard determinism? Soft determinism? Hard to tell.
In fairness to Warren, this is the strongest statement of determinism in the entire book. Most of the rest of the book is not nearly so deterministic, in fact determinism diminishes as the book proceeds. However, this statement creates a climate for the entire book that suggests determinism in a way that most Methodists cannot agree. We just think that there is so much more freedom in creation. And it is a gift. And it is glorious. And it doesn’t limit the sovereignty of God.
What on Earth am I here for?
Day 1: It all Starts with God.
Day 2: You are Not an Accident.
After Day 1 lays a groundwork by suggesting the rightful place of God in our lives, Day 2 is loaded with deterministic statements. Here are some of them:
“Your birth was no mistake or mishap, and your life is no fluke of nature. Your parents may not have planned you, but God did.”
“Long before you were conceived by your parents, you were conceived in the mind of God.”
“God prescribed every single detail of your body. He deliberately chose your race, the color of your skin, your hair, and every other feature.”
“Because God made you for a reason, he also decided when you would be born and how long you would live. He planned the days of your life in advance, choosing the exact time of your birth and death.”
“God also planned where you’d be born and where you’d live for his purpose.”
“Nothing in your life is arbitrary. It’s all for a purpose.”
“Most amazing, God decided how you would be born. Regardless of the circumstances of your birth or who your parents are, God had a plan in creating you. It doesn’t matter whether your parents were good, bad, or indifferent. God knew that those two individuals possessed exactly the right genetic makeup to create the custom ‘you’ he had in mind. They had the DNA God wanted to make you.”
“God never does anything accidentally, and he never makes mistakes. He has a reason for everything he creates. Every plant and every animal was planned by God, and every person was designed with a purpose in mind”.
Day two oozes with determinism. It is hard to tell whether this is hard or soft determinism, but tends toward hard determinism because attitudes and thoughts as well as physical events and actions are controlled by God. Rev. Warren does not discuss salvation, but you can see how this determinism must, repeat, must, spill over into election and predestination.
Rev. Warren’s attitude is one of extreme gratitude. His love of God pours off the page. His respect for God’s sovereignty is profound. This attitude leads to a desire for worship, and that is Warren’s point. Warren appears also to be trying to raise the reader’s self-esteem by proving that God loves each and every one of us and that we have a special place in God’s creation. Ok, now I can move on to find out my purposes.
In Wesleyan terms, we would certainly not disagree with the general purpose behind creation – that God is a lover and a creator – or for God’s love of each human being. But all of that is possible without such profound determinism. Wow! I didn’t know that I was so pre-programmed. I didn’t know I had so little say in my life, once it was indeed started. I didn’t know that my specific purpose was chosen for me.
Perhaps we can affirm all of this in a general sense, but not in a specific sense. Certainly God has a general plan for God’s creation. Certainly God loves humanity and wants humanity to fulfill God’s desires for a purposeful creation. Certainly God loves each human being and has a general desire/plan for each life – a life filled with love and meaning. And certainly God created a diverse humanity filled with all sizes, shapes, colors and abilities. But does general understanding of God’s sense of purpose for creation and its individuals require that there be specific plans for everything, everyplace and everyone?
With his understanding of prevenient grace, Wesley proclaimed the love of God in a new way. Out of love, God grants each human being a measure of grace to create that basic level of conscience and to give each human being an ability to respond to God with a “yes” or “no.” Then, we go on our way depending on our answer. God’s prevenient grace never goes away – God is knock, knock, knocking – and if the answer to God is “yes” then God’s justifying and sanctifying grace will follow.
In Wesleyan understanding, the measure of love that God has for humanity is reflected in the freedom that we are given. Free will, not determinism, is a greater measure of the love of God. For the Wesleyan, the trust and freedom granted by God to humanity is much more worthy of worship than is the possibility that we are merely puppets on a string.
Is this a limitation on God such that it has no place in the respect and love for God? No! As an eagle pushing the eaglet out of the nest, as a parent launching her children into the world, God has chosen to limit God’s total control of everything in creation out of respect and love. It is not an inherent way of diminishing God’s basic power and goodness. Rather, God has chosen self-limitation in order to grant full human potential. This is greater love than can exist in determinism.
Warren’s determinism also calls into question God’s justice. If all my days are planned, and my death is planned, why is God so arbitrary? So the death of the child who is killed in the car accident was planned long before the child is born? Is there any justice in that? A Wesleyan would much prefer to say that the death of that child in the car accident was not planned by God, and God’s heart was the first to break, but that God did not intervene because the freedom built into creation is too valuable to be tampered with. Accidents are the price of freedom. God’s love will be shown toward that child when she is received into God’s loving arms in the eternal realm.
Rev. Warren seems to suggest that because there is a God who created the universe, every jot and tittle of that universe was prepared and planned for a purpose, and that without God there would be no purpose at all. Agreed on the last part, without God there is no purpose in the universe, however, would it be possible to say that there is a God who created the universe, but that a huge amount of freedom has been built into creation as a gift from God, so that creation itself can evolve into the greatest that it can be. The grant of freedom combined with prevenient grace gives humanity maximum potential. It is the result of maximum grace and maximum love.
Day 3: What drives your life?
Between Day 2 and Day 3, Warren makes an interesting shift. Gone are the severe overtones of determinism, and ahead are the serious challenges of free will. I must confess, the abrupt change in tone and focus makes me think I’ve missed something and have not analyzed Day 2 correctly.
Warren goes through a discussion of the possibilities of what drives people; guilt, resentment and anger, fear, materialism, need for approval. Certainly this discussion is right on target and truthfully depicts the human condition. What is confusing is that in Day 2 we just learned that at least some things are planned out to the smallest detail. Now we are going through the things that provide challenges to human choice. What gives?
All of this writing on what drives people is perfectly consistent with the Wesleyan understanding of original sin and prevenient grace. I’m not sure it is consistent with Warrens’s understanding of determinism. Perhaps I have missed something. Perhaps we’re learning that Warren is a soft determinist, but not a hard one; that our origins and actions are determined, but not our thoughts and choices. Or perhaps Warren’s understandings of the various shades of determinism in Baptist thought are too subtle and sophisticated for this Wesleyan to understand.
Warren then launches into a discussion of the benefits of knowing your purposes in life – that it gives meaning to life, that it simplifies life, that it focuses and motivates life, and that it prepares us for eternity. Right on! All of those things are indeed byproducts of the purpose driven life. Our only statement would be that these things are so much more beneficial and effectual if they are the result of free will intentionality than as the result of determinism.
Day 4: Made to Last Forever
Rev. Warren’s point on this day is well taken and of course one of the basics of the Christian faith – Christians are saved for life everlasting. Interestingly, on p. 37 he bases this salvation on the choices that we make in this life:
“While life on earth offers many choices, eternity offers only two: heaven or hell. Your relationship to God on earth will determine your relationship to him in eternity. If you learn to love and trust God’s son, Jesus, you will be invited to spend the rest of eternity with him. On the other hand, if you reject his love, forgiveness, and salvation, you will spend eternity apart from God forever.”
There is really only one way to quibble from a Wesleyan standpoint with Warren’s statement of heaven and life everlasting. And that is, that Wesley put a much higher priority on life on this earth. Wesley of course believed in salvation to eternal life through justifying grace. However, unlike many Protestants, Wesley went way beyond salvation to sanctification and perfection, influenced by Roman Catholic thought. In so doing, Wesley placed huge emphasis on transforming life on this earth – abolishing slavery, working for child labor laws, etc. In other words, the purpose of the Christian life is not just to get to heaven, but to do God’s will on this earth, trusting that heaven will be there at the end. More on this later when we talk about the purposes of ministry and mission.
Day 5: Seeing Life from God’s View
Warren is challenging us to see life in general and our lives in particular from God’s view. This is a very good exercise for all Christians. He then suggests that our lives are both a test and a trust. Solid Christian understandings here. We Wesleyans would merely suggest that these understandings are more valid and more profound with an understanding of free will and prevenient grace than with an understanding of determinism. Warren even cites instances in the Bible, including Adam and Eve, who failed tests at times. Talking about failed tests is problematic when the understanding of life is based in determinism. Even with the nuances of hard and soft determinism, and the confusion between “foreknowledge” versus “immutability,” tests and trusts make much more sense in Wesleyan terms than in Calvinist terms.
Day 6: Life is a Temporary Assignment
Warren is suggesting that we take the long view when we make our decisions and claim our values. Again, a wonderful Christian truth. But Warren’s understanding as phrased in the “Point to Ponder” – “This world is not my home,” is a little to simplistic and “other worldly” for a Wesleyan, perhaps too “pie-in-the-sky.” It tends to lead to quietism in this life, something that Wesley flatly rejected, as evidenced by his ultimate rejection of the Moravians. Heaven is a wonderful reward, a wonderful hope, a wonderful anticipation. But it does not diminish the call to transform this world through grace and love. Wesleyans can never be quietists. I do not believe that Warren is a quietist, he wants the long view to affect changes in attitude and action here on earth. Still, his discussion tends toward quietism compared to the Wesleyan understanding of personal and social holiness.
Day 7: The Reason for Everything
This is a terrific summation of the first section of the book. Warren has such a wonderful ability to clearly delineate the joys and responsibilities of the Christian life. This is the climax of the question, “What on earth am I here for?” by providing the ultimate answer – We are here to glorify God.
My only question would be concerning Warren’s statement on p. 56 that we are to love “other believers.” Certainly this is true, and the Biblical passages support this. But there are curious omissions – Doesn’t Jesus tell us to love our neighbors (“neighbor” is defined with reference to the hated Samaritans) and to love our enemies? Wesleyans would not limit our love only to believers. While Warren is not suggesting that we hate non-believers, the distinction is indicative that Warren’s primary concern is for salvation, with other believers, while a Wesleyan understanding would again be more focused on transformation of this world, which includes love of neighbors in the Samaritan model, and love of enemies, prior to the reality of salvation.
Purpose # 1: You were Planned for God’s Pleasure. Bringing Pleasure to God is called Worship.
This is an absolutely marvelous discussion of the primary purpose of the Christian faith – worship. Few writers have ever been so direct and thorough about this primary purpose. As I read it, day by day, it brought countless smiles to my face as someone finally articulated these matters so directly and compellingly. We should all applaud Warren’s terrific and truthful work. It is this Purpose and discussion more than any other which has led me to support Warren’s work in total.
My only statement sounds like a broken record – the worship of God takes on more glory, more importance, more grandeur, more efficacy, more value, when we understand that human beings are doing it in free will in response to grace rather than in programmed determinism. Free human beings worship better than do planned puppets. And my guess is that God appreciates the worship more when human beings choose to do it in response to God’s love than when they do it as a required part of the determined program. Warren seems to understand this, and the flavor of his writing under this Purpose is the flavor of free will rather than determinism. But it doesn’t jive with his earlier determinism.
Purpose # 2 – You were Formed for God’s Family – Experiencing life together in God’s family is called Fellowship.
Warren launches into a discussion about the fellowship of God’s family. Fellowship is a universal Christian understanding, and John Wesley understood it as well as anyone in history with his use of classes and cells in the Methodist movement in England. Wesley was a forerunner of the current understanding of “small group ministries!”
We Wesleyans would have one major disagreement with Warren’s discussion, and that relates to baptism. A clear doctrine of Baptists, regardless of the strand of Baptist history and theology, is that baptism must be “believer’s” baptism after a born-again experience. Believer’s baptism focuses on the choice of the individual to belong to God and place their faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Ironically, this understanding of choice is Arminian to its core and is at odds with the kind of Calvinism that is the primary origin of the Baptist movement. It is more in line with the Anabaptist roots of the Baptist movement.
Wesleyans do not require a “born again” experience to be baptized or to be considered “saved.” Instead, Methodists talk of taking children and “nurturing them in the faith.” When children are properly nurtured, often times they cannot point to a born-again experience. And yet they are just as Christian as those who can point to a born-again experience. The response of “yes” to God’s prevenient grace is a kind of conversion experience, but it does not need to rise to the level of a “born-again experience” as defined in Baptist thinking.
That being said, Methodists believe in both infant baptism and believer’s baptism. Both are a means of grace. Infant baptism was inherited by the Methodist Movement from the Roman Catholic Church through the Church of England. It celebrates initiation of the child into the Church and the overwhelming nature of God’s grace, which no one fully understands and is effective regardless of volition. Believer’s baptism celebrates the human response to God’s grace, and human choice in saying yes. In accepting both methods of baptism, Methodists are acknowledging that both types are correct. We are embracing the reality of the mystery of grace with the importance of human choice.
Many in the broadly defined Methodist Movement believe that believer’s baptism is more consistent with the Wesleyan understanding of prevenient grace and human choice in response. Many believe that infant baptism with its understanding of churchly initiation in mysterious grace is more consistent with Wesley’s overall understanding of the role of grace in our lives. We Methodists will continue to hold these two in creative tension, affirming both the churchly and the evangelical, the Catholic and the Protestant, and the subjective and the objective, the receipt of grace and the proper human choice.
Our Baptist brothers and sisters are more uniform in requiring a born again experience combined with believer’s baptism, but this seems at odds with determinism and does not grasp the complex truths that Methodists understand.
This is a beautiful statement about the call to love. I especially appreciated Warren’s statement that love is what life is all about, and that we will be evaluated on how well we loved when eternity comes knocking. Quoting Matthew 25: 40, on p.126, Warren says that we will be evaluated based on those whom we have loved who are in need. This is again a mixing of Protestant and Catholic understandings of salvation, but definitely Biblical, and more Methodist than Calvinist.
Day 17: A Place to Belong
This is a grand statement of the important role of fellowship in the church and the benefits of the church family. On p. 131, Warren makes a great statement about the nature of the church: “The church is a body, not a building; an organism, not an organization.”
All of this discussion goes across denominational lines. His final section of this chapter is entitled, “Your Choice.” In this section, Warren boldly discusses commitment to the church. That it is a choice is clear from the section title. No determinism here - good Arminian theology easily fitting in with the Wesleyan understanding of prevenient grace.
Day 18 : Experiencing Life Together
Day 19: Cultivating Community
Day 20: Restoring Broken Fellowship
Day 21: Protecting Your Church
This is more magnificent discussion about the church fellowship and ways to participate in it. Every person who joins a church at any time at any place should be required to read this. Wonderful stuff!
Purpose # 3: You Were Created to Become Like Christ – Becoming like Christ is called Discipleship
Day 22: Created to Become Like Christ
Warren here lays groundwork for our call to be disciples of Jesus Christ. He correctly disputes current theologies of prosperity and criticizes Christian faith based in self-absorption. This moves Warren to a discussion of the work of the Holy Spirit, and the priority of “Sanctification.” Again, sanctification means to become holy in this life – like Christ.
Sanctification is not a doctrine unique to any branch or denomination of Christianity. However, many Protestants have diminished the necessity of sanctification, instead stopping at justification. In other words, “I’m saved, thanks be to God, end of story. Now that I’m saved I don’t have to worry about anything anymore. Too bad that you’re not saved like me.”
Please excuse my cynicism, but Wesleyans are skeptical of any thought process that focuses on justification over sanctification. They are equal. Justification is based on the redeeming work of Christ. Sanctification is based on the sustaining work of the Holy Spirit. As Wesley so powerfully pointed out, thought processes that stop at justification tend toward quietism and antinomianism, two things that are unacceptable in Wesleyan thinking.
As discussed earlier, Wesley, with his Roman Catholic influence, placed strong emphasis on sanctification and “moving on to perfection” in this life. It is good to see Warren’s emphasis on sanctification – it hasn’t always been primary in Baptist thinking.
It is especially good that he describes it as a long, slow, lifelong process. This is very consistent with Wesley’s understanding – the need for lifelong sanctifying grace. It also directly attacks a development – some would call it a heresy – that has existed in Methodism and in Baptist circles stemming from the mid-1800’s, called “entire sanctification,” which suggests that anyone can become completely and thoroughly sanctified in a one-time event. (Not to be confused with a one-time born-again justification event).
Day 23: How We Grow
Warren’s discussion flows into how all this happens. Here he enters into a wonderful discussion about “intentional” spiritual growth and the key role of thought in becoming like Christ. Another good discussion that is completely consistent with Wesleyanism. It reminds us of the Wesleyan “Quadrilateral,” which tells us that discerning God’s will should always start with Scripture, and then be tested and revised by Tradition, Reason and Experience. Wesley himself was a scholar, as was Calvin, and placed prime importance on the role of reason and intellectual rigor.
Day 24: Transformed by Truth
Here Warren’s discussion moves to the necessity in sanctification and discipleship to submit to the right authority. Of course this is right and all Christians would affirm it. There is one place where we Wesleyans might disagree with his analysis. On p. 187, Warren suggests that we must all submit to the Bible as our “final authority.” In Wesleyan terms, based on the Quadrilateral, we place Scripture is the “primary authority,” but that Scripture must be tested by tradition, reason and experience. Scripture is not “final,” but it is “central.” This is a subtle difference, but very profound in its application to life. Warren’s way leads easily to fundamentalism – the self-proclaimed absolute truth of literalism. Having heard Warren speak, I do not believe that Warren would call himself a fundamentalist. However, the Southern Baptist convention has been taken over by fundamentalists and it leads to a kind of absolutism that most Wesleyans cannot accept.
The Quadrilateral approach, with the primacy of Scripture, allows for grander, richer, metaphorical understandings of the Bible, and admittedly allows us to move beyond the Bible where appropriate with the power of the Holy Spirit. While this is heretical for fundamentalists, it is a gift from God for Methodists. For instance, Methodists reject from the Bible its acceptance of slavery and its condemnation of women leadership in the church. With the Quadrilateral, we have no problem moving beyond these things. The Southern Baptist convention, in its fundamentalism, has problems moving past these things. Its recent rejection of women ordained clergy, while being unacceptable to United Methodists, is in reality being consistent with a fundamentalist approach. Methodists would strongly disagree and suggest a different use of the Bible, but at least Southern Baptists are trying to be consistent.
We Methodists love the Bible. We love to study it and have it shape our lives. Methodism at its core is a movement to spread “Scriptural holiness.” And we believe that the Bible is an inspired book. But we are not fundamentalists. Instead, we want the Holy Spirit to lead us to the truths contained in the Bible with the richness of life’s traditions, reason and experience.
Day 25: Transformed by Trouble
Here Warren enters into a discussion about the sanctifying and transforming reality of trials in our lives. Of course he is correct about the spiritual maturity that suffering can bring. He is dispelling a popular understanding that suggests that everything in life for the Christian will always be healthy, wealthy and wise.
It is hard to understand quite where Warren is coming from in terms of determinism in this discussion. Warren correctly suggests that suffering and mistakes and sins and hurts can be learning experiences and part of the grand plan that brings spiritual maturity and becoming like Christ. What he is unclear about is God’s role in bringing these afflictions. Does God directly will them as a test or lesson for us, as happened to Job? Are they part of God’s specific plan for my life? Or are they just a part of creation, part of the general plan for our lives, causing us to learn and grow? Warren is not very clear on this very important aspect in the discussion of free will and determinism.
A Wesleyan might say that God does not necessarily bring trial and tribulation specifically to our lives, even though they are generally a part of creation, but that in all events, God can bring good out of evil, and we can learn and grow.
Day 26: Growing through Temptation
Day 27: Defeating Temptation
A terrific discussion of temptation and its problems and benefits applicable to all Christians.
Day 28: It Takes Time
See the discussion on Day 22 concerning the lifelong process of sanctification and discipleship.
Purpose # 4: You were Shaped for Serving God – Being shaped to serve God is called Ministry
Day 29: Accepting Your Assignment
Throughout this section, Warren provides a beautiful discussion about the importance of service. His direct statements about the call to be in service are compelling. He is most definitely taking to task those consumer Christians who go to worship and do everything for their own consumptive needs, not understanding the need to give back and contribute to the greater good.
He draws a distinction between ministry and mission. Ministry is done with and to other believers, and mission is done with or to non-believers. This may be a helpful distinction for some people.
Day 30: Shaped for Serving God
Day 31: Understanding Your Shape
Here Warren gets into the nitty-gritty of how we individual Christians engage in ministry – all of us are “SHAPED” to serve God. While all would agree on the uniqueness of each human being, and that we are to bring all of our uniqueness into ministry, we get into murky waters again with respect to determinism and free will. On p. 235, Warren suggests that God deliberately mixed each person’s “DNA cocktail” in preparation for our ministry. He then goes on to say that “not only did God shape you before your birth, he planned every day of your life to support his shaping process.”
The waters are murky indeed! Once again, Warren’s determinism calls into question how we as individuals take our spiritual gifts and nurture them in free will and Christian commitment. We don’t know all the answers, but we Wesleyans squirm at such determinism, whether it is hard or soft, and the seeming disregard for freedom in creation.
Day 32: Using What God Gave You
Warren’s discussion here seems to mesh very well with Wesleyan understandings of how God works – that we each have a SHAPE, and that we are to nurture and practice these blessings for the glory of God. Warren’s discussion of the dangers of comparing or conforming our ministry to others seems especially poignant in our world today.
On p. 252, we see a reminder of the very basics of Warren’s Calvinist thinking. He states, “Your shape was sovereignly determined by God for his purpose, so you shouldn’t resent it or reject it.” The use of the word, “sovereignly” is really not necessary to the sentence, yet it naturally flows from Warren’s pen because all Calvinist thinking is based in the strong belief in the sovereignty of God. Again, this is not so much a problem for Wesleyans, but we don’t agree with the determinism that seems to always flow from this Calvinist emphasis on God’s sovereignty.
Warren’s discussion on p. 254 about developing your SHAPE is indeed a good one, applicable to all Christians, young and old. It is certainly consistent with the Wesleyan understanding of sanctification and sanctifying grace. It seems more Arminian than Calvinist.
Day 33: How Real Servants Act
Day 34: Thinking Like a Servant
Day 35: God’s Power in Your Weakness
These are wonderful discussions of the nature of servanthood. Warren even uses a great quote by John Wesley, “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as you ever can.” Great stuff!
Purpose # 5 – You Were Made for a Mission – Fulfilling my Mission is called Evangelism
Warren’s discussion under all five days of this Purpose is heartwarming and compelling. He provides a terrific discussion about the joy and obligation of evangelism, based primarily on the Great Commission of Matthew 28. His account of his final days with his father is ever so touching. His desire to see salvation for as many human beings as possible appears genuine and highly motivating.
A Wesleyan perspective affirms this viewpoint completely. His discussion of becoming a world-class Christian is very Wesleyan, although we would use the language of “sanctification” and “perfection” in place of his more relevant and contemporary language.
What is noteworthy, though, is not what Warren says, but what he does not say. A giant hole in Warren’s discussion is on the aspect of mission/evangelism related to the prophetic role of Christianity and its particular emphasis on peace and justice concerns.
In stating purpose # 5 as “You were made for a mission,” Warren is correct and leaves much room for Christ’s prophetic ministry as part of the mission. When he says, then, that the mission is “evangelism,” he tends to narrow the possibilities of mission to the conversion of non-Christians to faith and salvation in Christ.
For a Wesleyan, “mission” is much broader and includes the transformation of society. Wesley saw the injustices and horrors of industrial England and worked to change things. He opened medical clinics, he abhorred slavery, he lobbied for changes to child labor laws, he was concerned with public health and the fight against alcoholism. He both confronted systems and worked within the system. He understood that there were powers and principalities at work that Christ calls us to change, for the salvation of people in this life and the ongoing justice and transformation of society. For Wesley, Christianity is never quietist or other-worldly, but always focused on transformation in this life.
This kind of understanding seems absent from Warren’s understanding of “mission.” He does, however, touch on these things in one place, p. 293, where he talks about sharing your life message, which includes your passions. He encourages people to share and work on their passions, including justice issues, concluding, correctly, that the Bible is filled with commands to defend the defenseless.
Again, he is certainly correct in this statement, but it is a miniscule discussion, done in the context of one Christian sharing his/her passion with a non-Christian for the purpose of conversion. By contrast, a Wesleyan writer would have spent several days under Purpose # 5, also discussing the need to transform society, the need to balance personal piety with social witness, the need to confront the powers and principalities. A Wesleyan writer would discuss the success of the Methodist Movement over the years in doing peace and justice work, and the call of Christ to turn over the tables in the temple and expose the corruption and blasphemy of the contemporary Romans, Herodians, Sadducees, Pharisees, Zealots and Essenes.
This is no minor omission. It renders his entire discussion of Purpose # 5 only partly correct. Frankly, it makes it defective. We Wesleyans have a much richer and comprehensive understanding of “mission” than do those from primarily “salvationist” churches. Wesleyans understand that there are truly twin pillars in the Christian faith – salvation to eternal life, and ethical transformation of this life. Thank God for that.
Warren has indeed provided a great gift to Christendom. Few books cover the Christian faith and life so well, are so user friendly, and so applicable to today’s world. This book will transform lives for years to come.
But we Wesleyans have a hard time discerning where Warren is coming from some of the time. The book starts out with a dose of determinism that smacks the average Wesleyan in the face. Some of us cannot get past it. But much of Warren’s discussion is very “free will” oriented, suggesting that it is in our choices that we respond to God correctly or incorrectly. On the vast majority of pages in the book, Warren is not deterministic at all, and we would think that a good United Methodist was writing the book. And then, seemingly out of the blue, a shot of determinism jumps off the page and makes us Wesleyans scratch our heads.
Again, I confess a lack of knowledge and experience in Baptist thought – where it affirms Calvinism, where it pursues Arminianism, and where it forges its own nuanced way. Still, Warren seems to be both Calvinist and Arminian in a way that seems contradictory. Perhaps Warren is a soft determinist in such a way that election and predestination are not the logical consequence. This is hard to comprehend, and Warren’s determinism comes across as much harder. Or, perhaps, he is basically Arminian in understanding, but cannot depart from the overarching “sovereignty of God” dictates of basic Calvinism, and has put in a required dose of determinism to make it theologically correct in the Baptist tradition. Just a guess. This is particularly suggestive since Warren at no time uses the words “election” and “predestination,” which are the logical necessities of determinism.
In any event, there is much to learn from this book. We Wesleyans must just get past the shocker of determinism that meets us when we open the book. Once we catch our breath and keep the book in our hands, it is most helpful.