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Former drummer for Gary Lewis and The Playboys and The Coasters. Tim has also played with Paul Baloche, Lincoln Brewster, Darlene Zscech and Hillsongs, Jeff Fenholt, SteveCamp among others. Tim founded The Simply Agape Project in 2001 to get free Christian music to the troops. Recordings have been made with Tim, and friends Alex Acuna, Abe Laboriel SR, Justo Almario,Steve Camp , Jared Ming and some wonderful Independant Christian artists.The Somebody Brave CD also features words of encouragment to the soldiers from Pastors, Moms, Dads, and Lt Col Brian Birdwell a Pentegon 9/11 survivor Tim is married to Donna Wirth and has four children Alan 25,Steven 23, Brittany 22, Bethany 21. Tim has played in numerous churchs as well as shows on TBN. Tim has also performed on JCTV on the show Generation Worship featuring worship leader Jared Ming. Tim has a book published worldwide titled "Pass The Plate And Let Us Prey" (My Search For Black and White Christianity in a Gray Nation)

Sunday, September 17, 2006

An examination of Rick Warrens Teaching on "Expotential Growth"

An Examination of Rick Warren’s Teaching on “Exponential Growth”


by Brian Jonson




Rick Warren, pastor of the largest Southern Baptist Church in the world, has become a household name. Author of the best selling book “Purpose-Driven Life”, he has more exposure both to the unsaved world and church than almost any other Christian author. Clearly, when he speaks, people listen. James 3:1 reminds us that teachers are under a different level of scrutiny from God than anyone else. Tasked with being an evangel of the Good News, a minister must approach his calling with the utmost sobriety and care. In this brief discussion, I have no intention of calling into question Rick Warren’s motives. I have no reason to believe that he doesn’t love God, his church and the unsaved. There is nothing in his life that leads me to believe he is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. However, the Bible encourages us to examine all things as Bereans and be discerning. No one is above this biblical examination. The ends never justify the means when it comes to Christian ministry.



The video[1] on exponential growth, presented by Warren, is one of the most shocking teachings I have ever seen emerge from a Southern Baptist. Our denomination is considered conservative and thoroughly Bible-based. When a minister in the SBC presents philosophies or doctrines that are contrary to scripture, he must be rebuked. This is true of the pastor of the smallest congregation as well as the largest. The fact that Saddleback Church is the largest in our movement makes this action so much more urgent.



I am not ashamed to confess that I have never been a fan of The Purpose-Driven Life, Church or associated activities. I read some of both of these books and, frankly, didn’t need to finish either one. There are two distinct features present in Warren’s philosophy. First, he relies on pragmatism and weak doctrine. Second, he misuses scripture to such a degree that I question whether he had a single course in Biblical hermeneutics.



Pragmatism is the practice of relying on methods or techniques rather than our Sovereign Lord for results. Pragmatism is the notion that meaning or worth is determined by practical consequences. It is the philosophy that looks to the world’s marketing methodologies or poll results rather than Biblical examples or mandates. When determining how to “run” a church a Bible-based pastor will ask the question “what most honors God or is clearly revealed in Scripture” while the pragmatist will take a survey in the community. One of Warren’s more famous actions is in the area of music. He claims he polled the surrounding community and asked what their musical preference was. After determining the popular consensus, he “got rid of the organ” and set up a rock band. There is nothing unbiblical about a “rock” band, but making that determination based on a poll of unsaved people is a questionable method at best. R.C. Sproul put it well when he said this:



The only seekers we tend to draw with seeker sensitive services are believers seeking a different church. By presenting a God who wants us to look at ourselves, who doesn't judge and command, who has a wonderful set of insights on how to have a happy, healthy marriage we put God's imprimatur on narcissism. There's nothing evangelicals like more than to be told that God loves them just the way they are.



But why aren't the seekers coming? They like pop music, so we give them pop music. They like stories so we give them dramas. They like anonymity, so we let them have it. They like convenience, so we'll change their oil while they're here (this by the way is being done). The problem is that we can do none of these things as well as the world can. Why get up on a Sunday morning and drive somewhere to listen to pop music, when it’s as close as my stereo? Why settle for cheesy scripts and sets when the television does it so much better? Why spend an hour getting an oil change when the pros can do it in ten minutes?[2]



Warren’s weak theology and misuse of scripture is significant and replete throughout his material. Conspicuously absent in “The Purpose Driven Life” is a clear definition of what it is to be born-again.[3] There is no question in my mind that this is one of the reasons it remains on the best-seller lists. Perhaps the following quote is as close as Warren comes to explaining what it is to be redeemed:



“God won’t ask about your religious background or doctrinal views. The only thing that will matter is, did you accept what Jesus did for you and did you learn to love and trust him?” (Warren: 34).



Really? If that is true, then the Mormons should take great comfort. After urging his readers to believe God chose them and receive the Holy Spirit for power to “fulfill your life purpose” (Warren 58), he offers a little prayer that will save people. According to Warren, here is how you are saved: “I invite you to bow your head and quietly whisper the prayer that will change your eternity, ‘Jesus, I believe in you and I receive you.” Then he makes this promise, “If you sincerely meant that prayer congratulations! Welcome to the family of God!” (Warren: 59)



Where is the wrath of God against sinners? Where is the atonement of the blood of Christ? This is one example of Warren’s weak theology.



Regarding his misuse of scripture, consider the following:



“The Bible says, ‘Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self’” (Warren: 19).



The passage he quotes is Matthew 16:25. The translation (or paraphrase) is from The Message. The New King James reads “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”



Clearly, this passage is teaching that we are to consider our lives dead (carry our cross) daily in order to follow Christ. This passage does not teach anything about self-help or self-esteem. And yet, Warren makes an odd leap to just that when he says “It is about becoming what God created you to be” (Warren: 19). This is simply untrue.



There are many examples of this type of error in his book. Warren attended Robert Schuller’s school of church growth. Schuller’s emphasis on self esteem and pragmatism are very clearly adopted in Warren’s philosophy. Schuller endorsed “The Purpose Driven Church” in the first few pages. How Warren could accept the endorsement of a man who has denied sin and completely lost the gospel is beyond me.



I would now like to discuss the “Exponential Thinking” video that I mentioned at the beginning. This video is intended for pastors who are preparing for their “Purpose-Driven” church program. In this 20 minute presentation, Rick Warren departs from sound hermeneutics over and over again. From the first few sentences, I could easily have replaced this Southern Baptist with a modern Charismatic and would not have noticed a difference. There was almost nothing Baptist about his brief discussion.



Here are some things Warren said in the first few minutes:



“…Most important principal - exponential thinking.”



“If you want God to do something really big in your church, you're going to have to apply the principals of exponential thinking as taught in the Bible.”



“The Lord clearly put an idea in my mind...God spoke to me that my faith was not big enough..."you must think exponentially" was the thought that God kept putting in my mind.”



Now, my first thought is, “what is exponential thinking?” He is asserting that it is “the most important principal” and so it is fair to examine this term as he defines it. Essentially, Warren claims exponential thinking is “adding a zero” to whatever number you have in mind. Let’s put this in context. Warren is introducing a church growth strategy and claims this term is the most important principal. What is the church? Is the church an organization? Is it a business? Is it a non-profit benevolence organization? Is it a counseling center? No, the church is the living Body of Christ. It is not an organization; it is an organism. Christ is the head and He is the responsible for its growth. Consider Acts 2:46:



46 pSo continuing daily with one accord qin the temple, and rbreaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And sthe Lord added 8to the church daily those who were being saved.[4]

It seems clear to me that the “most important principal” of church growth is the sovereign oversight of the Lord Jesus Christ. Warren’s strategy of exponential thinking supplants God’s role as the One Who ultimately grows His church. No amount of strategies, gimmicks, persuasion or promises will result in true church growth. Our sovereign Lord is the One responsible for that.

When Warren says “if you want God to do something really big…” then you have to think exponentially. Also, he says “God spoke to me that my faith wasn’t big enough.” I have to admit, when I saw him make these statements I instantly thought of the type of false teaching one sees on TBN any given day of the week. Hebrews 1 says that “God…has in these last days spoken to us through His Son.” No one hears the audible voice of God. If Warren meant to say that he felt an impression that his faith wasn’t big enough, then he should be careful to word it that way. A responsible Pastor shouldn’t be this careless. Regardless of how it was worded, one must question whether it is a valid statement. If God is the One who is responsible for growing His church, and no other method is therefore legitimate, then would God chastise Warren for a lack of faith in something he can’t do? From the very beginning, his premise is faulty. Nonetheless, he claims God gave Him 10 principles related to exponential growth. They are:



Exponential growth is possible - Gen. 47:27


With his first point, Warren begins the train wreck of faulty exegesis.



27 So Israel cdwelt in the land of Egypt, in the country of Goshen; and they had possessions there and dgrew and multiplied exceedingly.[5]



Somehow, Warren wants to take this passage out of context and attempts to apply it to a specific church growth program promise. The Genesis passage simply states a fact; the children of Israel multiplied exceedingly, even exponentially. However, this is directly tied to the fact that God specifically told Abraham that they would! There is nothing revelatory here. There is nothing related to Warren’s “40 Days of Purpose” program here. Surprisingly, he analogously mentions Starbucks and Krispy Kreme as examples of why we should expect our churches to grow exponentially. Instead of recognizing that the church is not a business, he compares it to two fast-growth companies. Anyone with a reasonable amount of discernment should see the invalidity of this illustration.



Exponential growth is the New Testament model – Acts 6:7


7 Then mthe word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many nof the priests were obedient to the faith.[6]

Warren takes a general statement about the Body of Christ and applies it to individual congregations. Has the church grown exponentially since the book of Acts? Certainly. Should we expect that same growth in each congregation? Nothing says we should. By God’s Providence, there are Christian churches in nearly every community of America. Many of these communities are very small. Some of them are in dying towns. Is it reasonable for a small, God-honoring church in a small town to experience exponential growth? I would say no. Does this mean the pastor’s faith is deficient? I don’t think so. Calling exponential growth a New Testament model is only accurate if one refers to the body of Christ as a whole and not individual congregations.



Exponential growth brings honor to God – Is. 26:15


15 Thou hast increased the nation, O LORD, thou hast increased the nation: thou art glorified: thou hadst removed it far unto all the ends of the earth.[7]





This point is almost unnecessary. No one questions the truth of what is stated here. The passage in Isaiah is looking toward the prophetic reality that Israel would be increased after their captivity. God would not forget them and He would restore them and return growth. God will receive honor for that. There is no direct application to an individual congregation here. Worse, he makes the following statement regarding this point:



“We limit God when we think of addition instead of multiplication...God wants us to think in exponential terms”



He does? Where does God say that in His Word? The viewer is asked to accept this statement at face value without any support whatsoever. Perhaps Warren relies on the fact that he has already indicated that he hears the very voice of God, so how can we question him? The very suggestion that we “limit God” is blasphemous. It is an ultimate affront to a Sovereign God to suggest that our actions, or inactions, somehow deny Him the ability to accomplish His purposes. There is very, very bad theology here and I am afraid most viewers won’t even notice it.



Exponential growth captures the attention of the unbelieving world – Ex. 1:12


12 But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew. And they were grieved because of the children of Israel.[8]



Any layman bible student could identify this passage as meaningful only because of its context. The Egyptian task-masters were laying a heavy burden on the enslaved Hebrews. Because of the Abrahamic promise of phenomenal growth, the children of Israel continued to magnify in numbers in spite of their maltreatment. The Egyptians were grieved because they witnessed this fact. With complete mistreatment of God’s Word, Warren hurls this example into the New Testament age and says this, “Wouldn't you like people...to be alarmed because your church is growing so fast?” I don’t understand how Warren can ask this type of question.



Exponential growth is caused by God – Deut. 1:10


10 The Lord your God has multiplied you, jand here you are today, as the stars of heaven in multitude.[9]



This passage is related to Israel, just as was the case in earlier points. Nonetheless, his statement, “exponential growth is caused by God” is unarguably true. My question for Warren is this: If exponential growth is caused by God, then why are you teaching people how to achieve it by using your program? I truly wonder if Warren is remotely aware of how he contradicts the purpose of his program by acquiescing to God’s sovereignty here.



Exponential Growth is the result of God's blessing on your life – Is. 51:2


2 Look unto Abraham your father, and unto Sarah that bare you: for I called him alone, and blessed him, and increased him. [10]



Warren seems fixated with God’s promise to Abraham to magnify the Israelites, probably because it fits his thesis so well. This technique, finding isolated or unrelated scriptures that support a particular thesis or position, is becoming more and more common among Southern Baptists. When a pastor/teacher approaches the Word of God piecemeal instead of verse by verse and in context, he is in danger of serious interpretative errors. This is a perfect example. Additionally, the supposition he is making in point six is faulty. It is a logical “if/then” statement. If God blesses your life, then you will experience exponential growth. He is attributing this growth to God’s blessing. Then, he applies this to each church congregation equally. As I said earlier, it is unreasonable to expect every local church to grow as Warren expects them to grow. There are various demographic and certainly spiritual reasons why certain churches will not grow exponentially. I’ll go so far as to say the Bible indicates growing apostasy in the last days, not a surge in church growth. If anything, we might expect to see less growth since the Way is narrow.



Exponential Growth makes God smile. He rewards it – no scripture reference


Warren referenced the parable of the talents after presenting this point. Perhaps the reader has noticed what I noticed – if exponential growth is caused by God (see point 5) and if it brings God honor (point 3), then why is God rewarding man for it? He is teaching how to cause exponential growth to occur but then says it is all up to God. After saying it is all up to God he is claiming God will reward us for doing it. This is contradictory and confusing, at best.



The only barrier to exponential growth is our own unbelief – Mark 6:52


52 For ythey had not understood about the loaves, because their zheart was hardened.[11]

There is nothing in the above verse that relates to whether or not a local church will experience a specific amount of growth. Does our lack of faith limit God? No, certainly not. Does our lack of faith limit our effectiveness or restrict what God may do through us? That question deserves careful theological consideration. On at least one occasion our Lord limited the miracles that he did based on a lack of man’s faith (Mark 6:5, 6). However we deal with this issue, we can be sure it doesn’t apply as Warren supposes. God is sovereign over His church; He is the one who causes growth. Warren is making this a responsibility of man.



The secret of exponential growth is believing God for big things – Mat. 9:29; James 5:16


29 Then He touched their eyes, saying, “According to your faith let it be to you.”[12]



16 1Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. sThe effective, 2fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. [13]



Warren’s promise in this point is contingent upon the validity of the concept of “exponential growth.” As we are discovering, the entire premise is wrong and, therefore, this comment is irrelevant. The passages he has provided are particularly instructive here. It is true that our belief in God can/will result in “big things”. Physical healing as part of Messianic prophecy and having our sins forgiven are essential biblical elements. Believing God for a local church growth program is something else entirely.



Exponential Growth begins with exponential thinking – Is. 4:2,3


2 In that day shall the branch of the LORD be beautifula and glorious, and the fruit of the earth shall be excellent and comely for them that are escaped of Israel.  3 And it shall come to pass, that he that is left in Zion, and he that remaineth in Jerusalem, shall be called holy, even every one that is written among the living in Jerusalem:[14]



I am unable to find the connection between Warren’s tenth point and this passage from Isaiah.



When I read a statement like this, I think immediately of Norman Vincent Peale or Robert Schuller. This type of “change reality with your thoughts” is from the charismatic word faith heresy. There is no excuse for a Southern Baptist minister to be dabbling in these issues. Unfortunately, the popularity of his books and programs appear to have numbed the doctrinal discernment of millions of evangelicals. In my view, a statement such as this should set off red alarms immediately.



As if these ten points aren’t enough, Warren then spends a couple of minutes explaining how to utilize exponential thinking. Here are some quotes:



“How do you think exponentially? You simply put a zero behind the number.”



He said God said to him, "you are not thinking big enough - add a zero". Instead of 3000, think of 30,000. He recommends we do this in our events. “God would have to show up...force us to think in ways we've never thought before.”



“exponential thinking keeps you from making the mistake of setting up a system that won't get bigger.” He said the church is “stuck in a shoe that isn't able to get any bigger.” This is due to our faulty thinking.



"Pastors and leaders...you are limiting the growth of your church because you haven't set a goal that forces you to think out of the box and ... do things in new ways." "We may be limiting God's will for our churches." “Faith stretches us...works in the realm of the impossible...whatsoever is not of faith is sin."



Please read these quotes again. These statements are not being made by an Oral Roberts or Benny Hinn; they are uttered by the pastor of the largest church in the Southern Baptist Convention. Where is the accountability? Who is rebuking Warren on his faulty doctrine and man-centered theology? How does this kind of program enjoy such acceptance? I believe the answer is pragmatism. Many pastors are unhappy and even depressed with their smaller congregations. They feel as if preaching the Word expositionally is not interesting enough. They see a Rick Warren take off his socks and put on a Hawaiian shirt and think the power of God is behind it. There is a famine of the Word of God in our land. There is no famine of mega-churches or Rick Warren’s books. And, I fear that those who are trying to subsist on a diet of “purpose-driven” philosophy will find their ears tickled and spiritual strength gone.







--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[1] http://purposedriven.com/content.aspx?id=4903

[2] R.C. Sproul at http://www.glenwoodhillsbiblechurch.org/article.asp?ID=621&CatName=The%20Church

[3] Having admitted I never finished his book, I nonetheless support this statement based on discussions I’ve had with Christians who have read it and can confirm this point.

p Acts 1:14

q Luke 24:53

r Luke 24:30; Acts 2:42; 20:7; [1 Cor. 10:16]

s Acts 5:14

8 NU omits to the church

[4]The New King James Version. 1996, c1982 . Thomas Nelson: Nashville

c Gen. 47:11

d Gen. 17:6; 26:4; 35:11; 46:3; Ex. 1:7; Deut. 26:5; Acts 7:17

[5]The New King James Version. 1996, c1982 . Thomas Nelson: Nashville

m Acts 12:24; Col. 1:6

n John 12:42

[6]The New King James Version. 1996, c1982 . Thomas Nelson: Nashville

[7]The Holy Bible : King James Version. 1995 . Logos Research Systems, Inc.: Oak Harbor, WA

[8]The Holy Bible : King James Version. 1995 . Logos Research Systems, Inc.: Oak Harbor, WA

j Gen. 15:5; 22:17; Ex. 32:13; Deut. 7:7; 10:22; 26:5; 28:62

[9]The New King James Version. 1996, c1982 . Thomas Nelson: Nashville

[10]The Holy Bible : King James Version. 1995 . Logos Research Systems, Inc.: Oak Harbor, WA

y Matt. 16:9–11; Mark 8:17, 18

z Is. 63:17; Mark 3:5; 16:14

[11]The New King James Version. 1996, c1982 . Thomas Nelson: Nashville

[12]The New King James Version. 1996, c1982 . Thomas Nelson: Nashville

1 NU Therefore confess your sins

s Num. 11:2

2 supplication

[13]The New King James Version. 1996, c1982 . Thomas Nelson: Nashville

a beautiful...: Heb. beauty and glory

[14] The Holy Bible : King James Version. 1995 . Logos Research Systems, Inc.: Oak Harbor, WA

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