John Piper Interviews Rick Warren

At the last DG national conference, there was a lot of controversy surrounding the fact that John Piper invited Rick Warren to be there as a speaker. Personally, I didn’t find anything too terribly helpful about the session (it was a video session, due to personal emergency on the part of Warren) but there was also going to be a promised interview between Piper and Warren. Since Warren couldn’t make it, they promised that they would do the interview at a later date. This interview took place on May 1st, and I didn’t hear anything about it until today, May 18th. I figured that was strange just because of how much attention Warren receives both negatively and positively. Originally, this video and pdf transcription were hosted on, but right after I finished watching it, the video disappeared. Now, whether that’s a simple technological error or some sort of huge conspiracy I don’t really care about. It is unfortunate though because I know this interview was eagerly anticipated by many. Should the video go back up by the time you read this, it should be here, or at least that’s where I found it. I apologize for the fact that this will probably jump around a lot but that’s just the way it’s going to work for my memory working with almost 90 minutes of interview.

I was hoping to have the transcript or video to cross reference as I was writing this blog, but since that’s unavailable to me currently, I’m just going to have to go off memory. One of the very first things Piper asks him is if he would change anything about the book if he were to rewrite it now, and Warren responded by saying that he would change a lot because when he was writing it, it was meant to be a study guide for his church to go with a program they were doing (I forget which program). Therefore, the book was made with Christians, specifically his church, in mind and not for the unbeliever. As he was finishing, he realized that the unbeliever might read it and therefore added something about salvation as an afterthought. He said if he were to write it again, he would want to more clearly define salvation.

Piper had taken 20 pages of notes on the Purpose Driven Life (the subject of the interview) and they went through several different things, including the 5 Points. Some of the first things that stuck out to me was the fact that he kept saying that he views himself as an evangelist and that his evangelistic method was  to “build a bridge between my heart and theirs so that Jesus can walk across” and truthfully, I don’t really understand what he means by that. Perhaps my biggest issue with the interview was what he referred to as his hermeneutic when dealing with Scripture. He repeated a few times that when he sees passages in Scripture that appear contradictory, he just believes them both and is able to hold them in tension in his mind. He stated that he believes these are not actual contradictions, but rather, his mind simply isn’t able to comprehend how they fit together. Now this is a fine approach in the sense that you don’t overemphasize one or the other if there is an apparent contradiction, but it seems to me that he seems to forcibly hold them apart in his mind. There doesn’t appear to be any attempt to try and work them out or to actually feel the tension. For example, he claims that he believes in the doctrine of Unconditional Election, but that he is a “John 3:16 Christian”. Now, divine sovereignty and human freedom has been something that has been discussed for a very long time, and people have written extensively on how they work together. Warren seems to just say he believes them both and let it be. However, throughout the course of the interview, he seems to stress one side over the other.

He says that he believes the 5 Solas, but he wouldn’t call himself a Calvinist due to the connotation that term carries. He says he is a monergist and does believe in the doctrines of grace. He would say he’s a John 3:16 Christian and an evangelical. To me that’s a very strange string of statements. If I were to tell someone I’m a Calvinist, they could rightly assume that I’m a monergist, that I believe in the 5 Solas, that I’m an evangelical, and that I believe in the whole Bible. I’m not entirely sure what he means by being a “John 3:16 Christian”. Perhaps that means that he simply believes the verse…but that would mean what, saying “I believe ‘”For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.’”? I don’t really know if that’s helpful. Do you mean that you’re stressing the fact that God loves the whole world? What does that love mean? What does it entail for the whole world? Does that mean that you’re stressing the –whomever believes- aspect of that verse? There are so many questions that sort of a statement brings up that I don’t think it’s very helpful, especially without going into what he means by it and what its implications are.

Flowing from that somewhat, he was quite clear about what he believes about hell and that his not a universalist, and that hell is real and that there is no possibility about salvation after death, and that purgatory doesn’t exist. He also mentioned abortion and homosexuality, however when referring to an interview with Larry King, he said that on the question of homosexuality his response was “Look Larry, let’s not even talk about the Bible. Look at it this way, biologically, we have men and women and certain parts were meant to go together. I rest my case.” and while there is truth to making an argument from biology, why would you go simply with that and purposefully not mention the Bible?

Overall, I thought he was a bit squirrelly on the doctrines of grace. He was very quick to point out that he believes in them, but then also quick to then emphasize only the passages which are often alleged against reformed theology. The one interesting aspect about the doctrines of grace that was discussed was Limited Atonement. Warren admitted that that was the one point of the traditional TULIP acrostic that he had issues with. Piper explained what his view was on the subject and how Christ died for all men in one way and how he died for the elect in another. Warren said that their views were closer than he thought they were and that he liked what Piper said and would like to hear more about it. Unfortunately that’s all that happened at that point. There was no discussion on what Warren thought about the doctrine or where he disagreed or anything.

Within the context of this interview, Rick Warren was speaking quite doctrinally, but it seems that much of the rest of his ministry whether that be preaching or writing etc. simply doesn’t reflect that emphasis. The question of “deep preaching” came up and he said that what most people mean by deep preaching is the use of theological terminology and how he taught several-week long series on sanctification and justification (I think those were the two he mentioned) but never mentioned the words. Now hold on there Ricky…I understand the point he’s trying to make in that using big words simply to sound smart or esoteric or theological is wrong. That is akin to the old “JPMs” in music back when Christian music was getting attacked. However, to then take that and preach entire sermon series on such important, and Biblical, concepts as sanctification and justification without mentioning the words?!? These are not simply big words for the reasons mentioned above. These are terms that are mentioned in the Bible, and are terms that are essential and foundational to Christianity as a whole. What happens when the congregants of Warren’s church are reading the Bible and run into these terms? Now, I’m sure he could easily counter this with another point he brought up in the interview; that is, that his church has a course (I forget the length) on systematic theology that is taught and that all members/small group leaders etc. are required to take it, and that they would learn the meaning of the terms there. Ok, that’s great but it’s not simply the having of a required course in systematic theology that is the issue here. Bart Ehrman could (and probably does?) teach a class on systematic theology and use the same terminology and have completely different meanings for them.

There is a critique on Rick Warren that suggests that he’s a chameleon, and actually I’m likely to agree with that, though not in the strongest sense. For example, within the context of this interview, he was speaking doctrinally quite a lot. Now, he didn’t expand on several things and even seemed to drift off topic quickly a lot, but he was at least talking about foundational Christian doctrine honestly. Yes, I understand that’s not the issue, but the point is that if you took this interview by itself you could probably paint a different picture of Warren than you would from taking a look at other aspects of his ministry. Does that mean that he is purposefully and maliciously a sheep in wolf’s clothing? I don’t think so. Does that mean that he is simply doing as Paul does in 1 Corinthians 9:19-13? Again, I don’t think so. I’m sure people could argue for one side or the other on that one but I’m guessing it more stems from a desire to not get into conflict “within the fold”. He stated a couple situations where he confronted confrontation with Larry King or a Jewish woman attending a lecture/sermon (I forget) about hell, so he’s clearly willing to have confrontation. However, once you get into the sphere of Christianity, he seems to not want to rock the boat much. Which is why, I think, in this interview, he talked doctrinally and about the doctrines of grace. Why? Because he was being interviewed by John Piper, who is one of the leading spokespeople for Calvinism. He does seem to tailor his messages or his approach to his audience. I wouldn’t say that I’m throwing him under the buss, but I’m also not recommending anything of his to anyone. At best, I find him to be mostly unhelpful.

Keep in mind that this is dealing solely with the content of this interview. For a more thorough dealing of Rick Warren, his theology/ministry/thought, I would encourage you to read what Michael Horton wrote here. Also, I apologize for any discrepancy in what I wrote and what was actually said in the interview and would appreciate it if you would bring any to my attention. Hopefully this interview/transcription will be back up soon so that people can take a look at it, and so that I can go back and cross-check and dig more into it.


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