There is much in this article that should be addressed, but it seems to be the same old arguments to me, and most of them are red herrings. His contemporary approach is criticized, especially the use of music. The article says, “Does God really love today’s cultural ‘variety?’ I doubt that God is pleased when we feed our natural cravings for emotional stimuli. When ancient Israel became bored with God’s Word and embraced a wide variety of cultural and spiritual thrills, God disciplined them severely. He even compared his wayward people with a ‘wild donkey… that sniffs at the wind in her desire.’ Jeremiah 2:24.” I hesitate to even address the issue, but it seems to go to the core of what Warren is about. First of all, the statement, “I doubt that God is pleased…” I don’t want to hear “I doubt.” I want to hear “I know!” Give me a reason that God is displeased when we feed our “natural cravings for emotional stimuli.” What does that even mean? Are you including all emotional stimuli? If so, you ruled out most of the Psalms, you ruled out a trip to an amusement park. Heck, you even ruled out a good hearty joke. The article goes on to say, “When ancient Israel became bored with God’s Word and embraced a wide variety of cultural and spiritual thrills…” You mean like sexual immorality and idol worship? Is this person really comparing Rick Warren to this? The article goes on to say, “Our human nature (‘the “flesh’) is no different than theirs. We, too, are tempted to trade God’s very best for the world’s gratifications.” This person needs to define “the world’s gratifications.” What does that mean? Is this person referring to enjoyable worship? If so, if a person enjoys worship, does that mean it is wrong?
Another quote: “When church leaders use energizing music, emotional stimuli and short, light messages to satisfy the flesh with its ‘felt needs,’ they tend to obscure our deeper spiritual needs.” Oh…now I understand. This person has obviously not read Rick’s books. You may critique his theology all you want, but to say that his messages are light and short is just completely wrong. I also find it interesting as I look at the ministry of Jesus, that He met “felt needs.” He didn’t refuse to heal the blind man until the blind man had heard an auditory presentation of the gospel. He just healed him. I believe this is just where the rubber meets the road for most Gen-Xers like myself. I’m really tired of being preached at by people, particularly pastors, who have had virtually no impact on their communities but still insist that their ministry is effective. Well, if their ministry were effective, they would obviously see a difference in their church, specifically a numerical difference. The bottom line is, their presence in the community is not affecting their community like it should, if at all. And just what are these “deeper spiritual needs.” Could that be referring to salvation? Hmmm, this article says that there are 50,000 people are on the church roles of Saddleback. (I do not believe that statistic is accurate, but I will grant it to this person.) Let’ say that 40,000 of these people, 80% if you will, are not genuine conversions. I believe that to accuse any church of having 80% of their church members not be Christian is a pretty devastating claim, but grant me that. That would still leave 10,000 people that are genuine. And that’s a lot more disciples than most pastors see in a lifetime. I do not want to boil all of this down to numbers, but let’s face the real facts. Numbers are at least one way of measuring the success of a church. Anyone who denies this is just not seeing the forest for all of the trees. Even if you do not agree with the theology of a church, you can say that is has been successful by looking at their numbers. The real question is how one defines success. If you see success as using the same methods that someone has used for over a hundred years because they are right or biblical, then I would like to see your argument for this. I don’t think the burden of proof is on Warren here. Anything that he had to prove has been proven by the success of his church.
Warren’s marketing approach has also been criticized. I honestly find this one of the most ridiculous objections. Warren is being criticized because he took the time to learn the demographics of his community. I dare say that most pastors could not tell you the make-up of their community. Is it really wrong to try to understand the people you are ministering to? I would consider this one of the most important things a pastor could do.
The bottom line of all of this is, if one uses the Acts 2 model of the church, then there are many ways a pastor can organize his particular church. Warren has created one within that paradigm that works and he has chosen to share that with others. Personally, I find it one of the most biblical and effective ways that church can be organized and I think the numbers also support this. Like it or not, Warren’s church is the fastest growing in the United States. Could it be that he may be doing something right?