Gospel Trouble With Rick Warren

More aches in the house of Warren, which most know as Saddleback Church in southern California.  The dust is still settling from Warrengate and the Jonas Brothers concert this year’s Easter Sunday worship service, and he still does not seem to have a basic understanding of what the Gospel is.

Consider this tweet from yesterday:

The Gospel is distorted when REDUCED to a system of beliefs, set of practices, schedule of activities or show of emotions.

Agreed, it is a sad day when we begin to think of the Gospel as something that we do and feel.  Yet, to even suggest that the Gospel can be reduced to that implies that the Gospel is any of those things at all.  Scripture clearly teaches that the Gospel is the work and action of Christ through his atoning sacrifice on the cross.  The Gospel (good news) then is that he did the work for us, he paid the debt for us, and makes the way to heaven for us.  It is his work and not ours.

The Gospel has nothing at all to do with what we do, what we practice, and what we feel.  It does have to do with what we believe, but since our beliefs are not perfect, it does not mean that somehow we are not Christian.  But getting the simple, yet profound, teaching on what the Gospel really is is essential.  The frustration and disgust that the Apostle Paul shared in his letter to the Galatians is that they betrayed the Gospel by changing it from a work of Christ on our behalf.

If the Gospel Is NOT What We Do…

… then the Gospel has to be something else.  Since the Gospel is literally “good news,” it must be declared as any news is declared in a newspaper (for those of you too young to remember what that is just think of it as a paper version of the internet).   Communicating the Gospel requires that we tell people about it, proclaim it, and spread the word concerning it.  It is a story that is not evident by taking a walk in the woods or in service to the homeless.  It must be told.

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written,”How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:14-15, 17; emphasis added)

If the Bible teaches that the work of Christ is good news, and good news is to be shared, then what can we say about this “observation”:

Many have amputed the hands$feet from Christ's Body &kept only a big mouth. "The Kingdom is NOT a matter of talk!" 1Cor4:20

The apparent “amputation” of the hands and feet of the Body of Christ is not only a descrating way to speak of our Lord, but it also further testifies to a distortion of the Gospel.  In the context of the rest of the chapter, 1 Corinthians 4:20 is about the talk of people who would cause harm to the church, and people who do not exhibit fruits that would suggests that they are indeed Christian.  Indeed, even in this chapter Paul emphasizes that it is not what we have done but what we “did not receive” (vs. 7) that matters. 

Warren so often talks about how the Gospel is not about doing, but about loving.  What he forgets is that even loving is “a doing” and so is not actually Gospel.  It is bad news if we consider that God should require us to love perfectly to save us.

A lack of “doing” is indicative of a lack of Gospel.  For those who have been called of God, who are sheep and not goats, “doing” is something that is impossible not to do.  If I have fully, or at least adequately, grasped my utter helplessness to do anything about my own sin and instead hear the Gospel (good news) that Christ has done the work for me and in my place, I cannot help but want to do something to show my gratitude.  I want to do more because I understand how massive a thing it is that Christ died for me when I did not do anything to deserve it.

Hear the good news! Share the Gospel, and always use words.


About Aaron Gardner

Aaron is a counselor and student of the Bible, passionate about sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. He lives in central Indiana with his wife, one-year-old son and their two dogs. View all posts by Aaron Gardner

9 responses to “Gospel Trouble With Rick Warren

  • Frank Turk

    OK: I get what you’re saying — that the Gospel is Christ’s work for sinners. I agree with that insofar as it goes. It’s a pretty Protetsant thing to be that strict about the definition of the Gospel.

    Let’s consider three “other things”:
    [1] The activity in Acts 2 by Peter and the disciples — telling other people this fact that Jesus is both Lord and Christ, died for sin and raised for salvation.
    [2] The activity at the end of Acts 2 where the people who repented and believed were “added to their number” and shared all manner of living together from food to prayer to worship.
    [3] The activity Paul entreats to Timothy and Titus in the letters he writes to them.

    Now, none of these things are Christ working on the cross to finish the work of redemption, right? But in some sense all of these things are “filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body,” as Paul says in Col 1:24.

    My opinion in this is that it is a difficult task to separate the work of Christ from the necessary consequences of the work of Christ. It is very difficult and problematic to separate what Christ has done from the material consequences of what Christ has done.

    In that respect, I think there’s a lot of room to cut Rick Warren some slack. I’m not his apologist or cheerleader — I think he could be a lot more robust and clear about the things he does — but at the same time I’m not sure it’s completely useful to make him into a Gospel-changer because he thinks that a Gospel without real-life consequences is not the Gospel.

  • Richie

    Aaron, do you really believe that Rick does not know what the Gospel is? Seriously? I am not a huge fan either; but…., this is a pretty vigorous slam. Have you approached him with your thoughts before viscerating him publically? I don’t get this idea that just because we have the means, we should start openly slamming folks. Go to him 1st – then go to his elders – then maybe get to this point.

    Do you not think that Folks should Love because of the Gospel – not as the Gospel. We do for folks because of what Jesus accomplished for us. In today’s culture and believe me it is all about engaging the culture – when we show Love with no strings attached (Just as Jesus did on the cross – The Gospel) – is shows a world full of NO Love what the Gospel is and then folks ask questions. Why are you doing this? Why do you care about me? Why are you here? Well…, let me tell ya the Story of Jesus…, Action and Love are the keys to having conversations bro. That is what I think he is trying to say. Not that the act itself is the Gospel – is he really?

  • Aaron

    Well heard and well received from both of you. I find it hard to hear that my critique sounds like I am offing all aspects of good works being part of the Christian life. We definitely need a horse and a cart to carry the Gospel message.

    My concern is that there is a horse and there is a cart, and the cart needs to be behind the horse. The Gospel is the living breathing work of Christ that gives us the very ability to do the good work that God has prepared for us to do (Eph 2). I see it as vital, however, to be sure that these are distinct because if they are not then we risk telling people that they go to heaven based on their work and their effort.

    Richie, I have absolutely approached Warren personally with my concern. We have had exchanges on Twitter and then after listening to my critique he refused to further engage at all and blocked me from even following him.

    It may be a fair perspective to suggest that Warren simply needs to separate law and gospel and make more clear their distinctives. I must say that my passion for this issue is based on the simple fact that I nearly abandoned the church because of hearing this in my church from my pastor, and I wonder how many may be experiencing the same.

  • RICK WARREN GOSPEL TROUBLE « In the hedge with David J

    […] this line of being “doctrinal and sound” I point you to a good post called Gospel Trouble With Rick Warren by Aaron Gardner today at his …a great work… blog. Gardner begins: More aches in the house of […]

  • Orlando

    Have you read anything written by N.T. Wright? May I encourage you to do so; perhaps Justification, for starters. BTW, you have too much time on your hands. 😉

  • thereformedtraveler

    Warren’s Tweet May 4th says, “Schools focus primarily on forming the MIND & intellect.Yet Jesus & Prov.4:23 say”Your HEART controls everything you do” Oh PLEASE Warren!! I believe him to be an enemy of the Gospel. His words (from his heart) are pure contemplative- using all of the ‘magicians trickery’ to deceive and people are falling all over themselves in the name of the lie. Think he uses analytical precision in everything he says and does- being the ‘short robe’ that he is. I for one, and the numbers are dwindling, aren’t they?- wouldn’t defend him in any way shape or form. Saying that I think your article is spot on Aaron.

  • Watcher's Lamp


    Thank you for your post. Rick Warren may cognitively know the what the Gospel is, but he certainly denies the power there of…

    Let’s take a look at some of the fruit of Warren’s ministry:

    * Warren endorses Roman Catholic mystics in his PDL book
    * Warren embraces New Age sympathizer Leonard Sweet and Red Letter Christian Tony Campolo, both by definition, hold heretical positions on a variety of subjects.
    * Warren advocates the removal of church members that will not conform to the PD church growth model which turns a congregation into a crowd for the sake of unbelievers.
    * Warren asked the god of Islam for forgiveness.
    * Warren’s Celebrate Recovery program is a Christianized version of Alcoholics Anonymous, whose founder was steeped in bondage to spiritualism and communed for decades with unclean spirits.
    *Warren’s PEACE plan is communitarianism / religious socialism
    *Warren’s SHAPE program is based on Jungian psychology. Jung practiced
    necromancy, and had daily contact with disembodied spirits, which he credited as the source of much of his writings. Jungian philosophy also impact A-A’s 12 step program.
    *Warren believes that Roman Catholicism is a legitimate expression of Christianity.
    *Warren declared that the future of the world is not secularism, it’s religious pluralism.
    *Rick Warren’s worldly approach to ministry and his famous Scripture twisting, by default, denies the sufficiency of Scriptures.

    By the Biblical standard, any of these issues would conflict with the Biblical standard. Any of these issues would create a heretical position antithetical to the Scriptures and would require rebuke and correction.

    Keep contending

  • Denise

    Cut a false teacher some slack? Are you serious? WHERE is that in Scripture, exactly? Rick Warren doesn’t have the gospel of Jesus Christ. Rick Warren has been proven repeatedly over the years to be a wolf. Frank, I wonder exactly how you would even detect a false teacher among Christians….or would you even care? “Truth in everything” seems to be the rallying cry these days instead of AVOID, Separate, reject a man…not merely parts of a man’s teaching, but reject the entire man if he’s a false teacher as defined according to Scripture. Its amazing how “Evangelicals” will consider biblical doctrine as optional. God doesn’t.

    2Co 11:4 For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough.

    Rom 16:17 I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. 18 For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive.

    2Jn 1:10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, 11 for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works.

    “There are some with whom we should have no fellowship, nay, not so much as to eat bread; for though this conduct looks stern and hard, it is after the mind of Christ, for the apostle spake by inspiration when he said, “If we or an angel from heaven preach to you any other gospel than that ye have received, let him be accursed…
    According to modern efficiency he ought to have said, “Let him be kindly spoken with in private, but pray make no stir. No doubt the thought was original, and we must not question his liberty. Doubtless, he believes the same as we do, only there is some little difference as to terms.”

  • Ken Silva

    “Have you read anything written by N.T. Wright? May I encourage you to do so; perhaps Justification, for starters.”

    I have; he’s heretical denying justification by faith in favor of the bogus and untenable NPP.

    “BTW, you have too much time on your hands.”

    Hmm, and you had time to comment on this; what’s that say about you dude?


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