Tim Challies, Rick Warren, and My Take on the John Piper Interview

Last Friday, I took some time to post my thoughts on John Piper’s interview of Rick Warren.  And I was entirely not surprised by the comments my post received. However, I did appreciate the interaction I received offline with my fellow pastors and with other friends through email, Tim Challies included. Tim shared with me that he was going to share his thoughts in greater detail, which he did yesterday. I encourage you to check it out, though I take a little different approach, as you will see here.

In his post, Challies shared with his readers that I “marveled at the theological agreement between the two men” and used my blogpost as typical of what the blogosphere was positively regarding the interview. I guess you could say that my blogpost was an appreciative response to Piper’s appreciative interview. Obviously, Challies and I interacted with the interview with different perspectives and came away with different conclusions. Having said that, I thought I’d elaborate more on my take of the interview.

First, I do not consider myself a careful observer of all things Rick Warren.  I have read a couple of his books, follow him on Twitter, and occasionally here about what he is doing during the year. I don’t read the watchdog blogs that are obsessed with him, nor do I care to try to correct him every time he says something I disagree with. It is not that I am entirely ambivalent about Warren as much as it is that I have far greater concerns about the issues in my own life that demand far greater attention. The scope of the interview with Warren was limited to his book The Purpose Driven Life, and while that may have not felt to be sufficient material for a thoroughgoing critique, I’m glad Piper stuck with a first-hand source that all of us can evaluate on its own merits.

Second, I believe there are things that Rick Warren does believe doctrinally that can be acknowledged and should be affirmed. I know this is a point of contention for many, namely that Warren believes in “both a and non A at the same time,” but I have neither the exposure to his life nor the substantive evidence of his ministry to prima facia call for incredulity. Piper is the first conservative evangelical that I know who has sought to reach out to Rick Warren and lovingly critique his beliefs in a helpful, gracious way. For Challies and others, this has caused them to ask, “What was Piper thinking?”

On the other hand, I was thinking, “I’m grateful that Piper is sticking his neck out, risking his reputation, and pursuing a relationship with Rick Warren in ways that would edify him, deepen his ministry and in turn have greater impact for the kingdom of God for generations to come.” Piper has done this with others in the past, including C.J. Mahaney and Mark Driscoll, so his intentional (and I would argue strategic) efforts of redemptive bridge-building should catch no one by surprise. Piper is unconcerned about preserving a reputation among some in the Reformed camp, knowing that sitting down for such a friendly conversation had the appearance of dining with the devil.  Nevertheless, Piper came across genuine, fatherly, careful, and yet pointedly direct.

The purpose of Piper’s interview was not to argue every point of difference or disagreement. There are thousands of people who have and will continue to do that with Rick Warren. Some are helpful. Most of them are not.  Piper’s purpose was to find points of doctrinal affirmation and consensus to bring clarify where there has been confusion and correction where there has been misunderstanding. Certainly that effort is to be commended and applauded, and I do not believe that having legitimate concerns about someone requires us to dismiss the person altogether. Like Piper, I believe that God has used Warren tremendously in my lifetime, and though I do not have the same philosophy of ministry or practice that he does, I choose to look for areas, ways, or beliefs that I can affirm as praiseworthy and commendable to others.

Third, I have providentially been meditating on 1 Corinthians 13 at the time of this interview. My fellow pastor, Tom Ascol, has been preaching expositionally through the book of 1 Corinthians, and it just so happens that we were spending two weeks meditating as a congregation on this chapter which says things like, “love does not insist on its own way, is not irritable or resentful . . . love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things.” Paul was a man who had a profound commitment to doctrinal precision and orthodoxy, and yet he said that such a profound commitment without love factors you into nothing. Zero.

The people in Corinth did not believe and act like Christians, and yet Paul introduced his letter by referring to them as “those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints” and proceeds to offer thanksgiving to God for the grace they have received. Such appreciative words of Paul certainly would be brought into the question, “What are you thinking Paul, to speak to affirmingly to those whose beliefs and practices are so ungodly?” I imagine that if bloggers existed in the first century, they would have rebuked Paul for being so gracious and loving to such undeserving people.

I know that people will tell me that I don’t know Rick Warren the way they do.  And they are probably right.  I hear what Rick Warren says, and I’m inclined to believe him, and apparently so does John Piper.  I will say again that neither I, or anyone else I know expressing any level of appreciation or affirmation of what was positively stated in the interview, are throwing a blind eye to the legitimate concerns that have been raised in the past; yet, given that we had the opportunity for Rick Warren to speak for himself on numerous important doctrinal issues, those interested in his doctrinal positions should be grateful.  And I’m glad to find myself in agreement with many of them as well.

As Forrest Gump would say, “That’s all I have to say about that.” You may not agree with my take on the John Piper interview with Rick Warren, but man if I were on the receiving end of things as Rick Warren is right now, I would much rather be reading letters from the apostle Paul than much what I find in the name of “discernment ministries” today.

(For the record, I do NOT consider Challies to be in that camp)
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24 Comments on “Tim Challies, Rick Warren, and My Take on the John Piper Interview”

  1. KJ Says:

    Amen, Tim. I also have a limited view of Warren’s life and ministry, but I was very encouraged by the interview. I think we all should rejoice in this and make efforts similar to Piper’s effort for the good of our brothers.

    Also, it is good to have these words for James continually ringing in our ears (as I have had since teaching through the book), “Do no speak against one another, brethren. He who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge of it….Do not complain, brethren, against one another, so that you yourselves may not be judged; behold the Judge is standing right at the door” (James 4:11; 5:9). I’ve had to repent of a lot of past judgment and looking down my nose at high-profile pastors like Warren.

  2. PJ Says:

    In 2009 Pope Benedict said in a public address that Luther was right, that we are justified by faith alone. Do you believe him? Why or why not?

    I’m guessing you don’t believe him. Why? Because whatever he ‘says’ in public is negated and neutralized a) by his practice and writing which speaks a different message and b) the devil is in the detail, he defines faith in a very unbiblical way.

    Warren is not the pope, nor a heretic, but by way of analogy I suggest to you that we should judge people not merely on what they say but on their actions, their other works etc. which give further light of what they say, and quite frankly it will not do to say I’m just not that familiar with Pope Benedict’s work but he sounds orthodox.

    And yes we should judge ourselves by the same or even higher standard – but as D.A. Carson suggest James 4:11 and 5:9 and such verses are the most abused in Scripture.

    • Jay Beerley Says:

      PJ,
      My point in this is not that I hold Rick Warren in such great esteem, but more about our own hearts.
      Judging by actions and not words? Warren has planted thousands of churches, gives away 91 percent of his income, fights for justice, encourages pastors. I have no idea about personal holiness. But what standard are you holding him up to? And who meets your judgment on words and actions combined in a good way? Seriously, who’s on the list?

      • Tom.H Says:

        Scripture is clear that before we judge others, we are to first remove the beam from our own eye before we attempt to remove the splinter from another’s eye. However, it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t judge others. It is just a matter of a right heart with God before we judge another.
        In the case of Rick Warren it might be true that he does a lot of good, but this is something that can be said about many non-Christians.
        Rick Warren’s books and his pragmatism and some of his other practices are not in keeping with the Reformed doctrine he says he believes. It is as simple as that and I believe there is enough evidence to substantiate this fact.
        I would like nothing better than for Rick Warren to not only acknowledge that what he has been teaching up until this date has been in error and is not only not in keeping with Reformed doctrine, but the Bible itself.
        There is a lot more at stake here than many people seem to realize.
        For those who haven’t as yet seen proof that Rick Warren’s teaching is not in keeping with Reformed doctrine, I would recommend the following.
        http://www.the-highway.com/purpose-driven1_Bennett.html
        http://www.the-highway.com/purpose-driven1_Bennett.html
        http://apprising.org/2008/08/31/rick-warren-guilty-for-endorsing-the-cult-of-guru-richard-foster-and-his-reimagined-gnostic-mysticism/
        If anyone finds things in any of these links that you can prove false concerning Rick Warren, please don’t hesitate to post them. I would never knowingly post anything false and only post these links because I believe the matter is of great importance.

  3. Matt Says:

    Something that stood out to me was a brief favorable mention Warren gave to MacArthur related to something specific he learned from and subsequently used in his preaching. That was a high road moment. I suppose naysayers will assume Warren threw that in because he wanted people like me to notice it…

  4. tom Says:

    Excellent post. Thanks for elaborating your thoughts. I share your perspective on this.

  5. JC Says:

    I’m with you on this. I believe that Dr. Piper’s intentions in this whole thing are summed up in his exhortation towards the end of the interview:

    “You are the most publicly
    influential pastor in the world perhaps…That’s an incredible trust. That’s an incredibly sacred trust…Take the next
    20 years and really gather these hundreds of thousands of pastors who look your way and
    press them down deep.”

    I think he sees the incredible influence that this man has, and wants to positively influence his influence. It’s commendable if you ask me, I mean to risk your “reputation” by associating with someone so despised. But apparently the potential reward is worth the risk for him. I appreciate the effort, and pray that it works, for the sake of the millions of souls that RW has influence over, and for the glory of God!

    • Ben Says:

      Just curious, but couldn’t Piper have wanted to positively influence him in a less public way? Couldn’t he have actually done a more thorough and direct loving critique in a private conversation? The public nature of the interview makes it seem that the purpose was more to convince others of Warren’s value than it was to influence Warren for the future.

      • JC Says:

        I suppose you’re right, he could have. But my guess is that he also felt some obligation to let Warren answer some of his critics. I think it’s obvious that he might have been too easy on him, “softballing” questions and all. But I think the underlying purpose of it all was to exert influence.

        I also think he probably did do a more thorough critique in private conversation. I think he also wanted to convince others of Warren’s value, which, I believe, is why he didn’t focus on all the negative things. But that’s just my opinion. Who knows?

  6. Buck Booker Says:

    Tim,

    I have marveled as of late at how many things get put into the mouth of John Piper. From “Farewell Rob Bell” to Rick Warren, people seem to know more about what Piper meant than Piper himself. Question: Can someone actually interview him and ask him about these things?

    I am in pretty stark disagreement with Warren on a number of issues, But I also disagree with Piper on others (although not as many for sure.) But, as I get a little older, I have learned that you don’t have to make generalizations based on single issues of disagreement or inconsistency.

    How many times have we ourselves made decisions in ministry that were in retrospect contradictory to our own theology? Actually, that’s true every time we sin. I don’t think Piper was trying to take Warren to task for every inconsistency, but just provoke us to understand that Warren himself, like all of us, is a work in progress. Everything he says, just like everything any of us says, should be measured by the Word.

  7. Paul Says:

    Page 58 in RW’s “Purpose Driven” book says that becoming a Christian merely takes a repeating a quiet prayer. This is heresy and not doctrine. Jesus said that unless you repent you will perish (Luke 13:3,5). Having researched much of RW’s interviews, statements and beliefs; I must conclude that he is one of the false prophets that our Lord warned of in Matthew 7:15. The Apostle John commanded not to even greet such a one, let alone interview him, lest you share in his evil deeds (2 John 1:9-11). Rick Warren is the quintessential creep that Jude says are ungodly and crept into the church unnoticed (vs. 4). Jesus himself said that these false prophets will deceive, if possible, even the elect (Matthew 24:24). Have we forgotten all these warning passages of Scripture (Matthew 24:25). “LET NO ONE DECEIVE YOU WITH EMPTY WORDS, FOR BECAUSE OF THESE THINGS THE WRATH OF GOD COMES UPON THE SONS OF DISOBEDIENCE (Ephesians 5:6-12).

    • RAS Says:

      Dear “Paul”,
      The issue you mention in your first sentence is discussed and explained at some length in this video! For shame that you try to use it without addressing that discussion, since this original post is about the video.

  8. Dean Johnson Says:

    I appreciate John Piper and have read and listened to him on many occasions. But his questions to Rick Warren were not the same I would have asked. I get the impression that John was out to convince that Rick Warren is sound and grounded in Scripture, yet many questions that could of been asked were not.
    I compare what Rick Warren says with Scripture, I don’t need John Piper to run interference for me, and I say that respectfully. It is my responsibility to contend for the faith and despite John’s interview with Rick, much of what Rick has written and stated was not confronted. I don’t understand why.

  9. chosenrebel Says:

    Tim, thanks for your post. Irenic and generous as well as thought provoking. You have done the body of Christ a service. I am much closer to your take than Challies but have a great respect for all these men, though my disagreements with Warren are significant. nevertheless, your reference to 1 Cor. 13 is spot on and should help some of the more vociferous among us.

    My own sense is that Warren is much more of a pragmatist than a theologian. His comment that he had “read” all of Jonathan Edwards was shocking, I think even Piper raised an eyebrow on that one. I don’t doubt that he did, just that he did with any deep reflection and meditation. Maybe we all need to read the Wheat and the Tares (Matthew 13), take it to heart, and get back to being faithful in our own community’s to take the gospel to all those who have yet to bow the knee to the only Lord and Savior the world has.

    • RAS Says:

      Regarding your sneering reference to Warren’s comment that he had read all of Edwards, this was not a shock to Piper. Warren had related this same information in his lengthy presentation to Piper’s conference in October. If you will watch that video, you will learn that Warren is a voracious reader and eager student of many substantial authors.

      • chosenrebel Says:

        Brother, I wasn’t sneering. I admire Warren’s commitment to reading. In fact, I have quoted him for years, “Leaders are readers and readers are leaders.” Great quote. And for years, I have read as a regular pattern at least 100 books a year myself. i think he is a good model of someone who is always trying to learn, always exposing himself to others thinking, and always looking to improve as a leader.

        At the same time, the pragmatic bent of his mind is not given, in my opinion, to deep, reflective, meditation on theological conundrums. It’s not how he is wired. It’s not who God has made him to be. That’s all. Tone down the rhetoric brother.

  10. Luther Says:

    I do appreciate Piper setting down with Warren and doing the interview. There is much to disagree with Warren about, there have been volumes written, but it was refreshing to see a Pastor such as Piper give audience to Rick Warren.

    Thanks for the good article

  11. Cyndi Says:

    Rick Warren loves God and is passionate about following him. Enough said.


  12. […] Here are some helpful critiques about the interview. Link […]

  13. Larry Says:

    “Page 58 in RW’s “Purpose Driven” book says that becoming a Christian merely takes a repeating a quiet prayer. This is heresy and not doctrine. Jesus said that unless you repent you will perish (Luke 13:3,5).”

    What about the woman caught in adultery? Jesus asked her, “where are your accusers?” She said that there are none. Jesus then said, “Neither do I.” Then He said,”Go and sin no more.”

    Jesus didn’t tell her that she must repent FIRST and then He will forgive her!


  14. […] on the Piper/Warren interview by Tim Brister and Adrian […]


  15. […] on the Piper/Warren interview by Tim Brister and Adrian […]


  16. […] Tim Challies, Rick Warren, and My Take on the John Piper Interview (Timmy Brister) – Brister blogs on the interview again. This time, he includes Tim […]


  17. […] Tim Challies and Rick Warren:Timmy Brister […]


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