This week, we’re returning to Rick Warren’s evangelical Christian bestseller The Purpose-Driven Life. In this post, we will specifically be looking at what harmful and even dangerous teachings are lurking in Part Two of the book: “You Were Planned for God’s Pleasure”.
According to Warren, pleasing God is the first of five purposes that, well, drive your life. If you thought that my title for this post was uncomfortably suggestive, that’s because this section of the book is, too. I can read about Homo erectus all day with a straight face, but reading about how Rick Warren loves to be intimate with God was too much for me. I gave him the benefit of the doubt, but it became clear when reading that Warren, perhaps subconsciously, uses a bit too much suggestive language when talking about his relationship with his “master”.
8. Planned for God’s Pleasure
Chapter 8 of The Purpose-Driven Life starts about as disturbingly as a book like this can: Warren is detailing for us how much God loved watching, and smiling at, your birth. This will become a theme in this section. God is always watching you, and if what you’re doing pleasures him, he will be smiling.
Soon after painting that lovely picture, Warren tells us, “One of the greatest gifts God has given you is the ability to enjoy pleasure. He wired you with five senses to enjoy life, not just endure it.” I want you to remember that he said this when we reach the chapter on resisting temptation. If God gave us the ability to enjoy pleasure (which often refers to sexual pleasure), why would he turn around and tell us not to use these five senses we have to enjoy life?
9. What Makes God Smile?
You might not have guessed from the title, but Chapter 9 is all about Noah and his flood. It does, of course, tie into Noah pleasuring God. At one point, Warren used a form of the word “pleasure” to describe Noah’s actions toward God five times in two paragraphs. But Warren couldn’t stop with the cringey innuendos; he had to pair them with the reminder that God drowned everyone in the world but Noah.
In the midst of all the drowning, smiling, and pleasing, Warren decided it was time to remind the reader that they have to do everything they do in blind faith. (But don’t worry, you’ll be rewarded by intimacy with God!) Warren quotes Hebrews 11:7: “By faith, Noah built a ship in the middle of dry land. He was warned about something he couldn’t see, and acted on what he was told. . . . As a result, Noah became intimate with God.”
If you’re familiar with this verse, then you’re probably confused because you don’t remember it sounding like this or saying anything about “becoming intimate with God” at all. That’s because the King James Version of Hebrews 11:7 sounds like this: “By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith.”
Every other translation is within a few words of this version, but Warren used the most distorted interpretation available to him so that he could tie it into his theme of being intimate with God. This is but one example of Warren’s constant picking and choosing of translations so that the bible says only what he wants it to say.
Before moving on, Warren summarizes these dangerous self-brainwashing methods:
God doesn’t owe you an explanation or reason for everything he asks you to do. . . . Instant obedience will teach you more about God than a lifetime of Bible discussions. In fact, you will never understand some commands until you obey them first.
I would be remiss as well if I didn’t include the contradiction that Warren brings to our attention concerning God at the end of this chapter: God likes watching us use our talents. Warren says,
You don’t bring glory or pleasure to God by hiding your abilities or by trying to be someone else. You only bring him enjoyment by being you. Anytime you reject any part of yourself, you are rejecting God’s wisdom and sovereignty in creating you.
Well, Rick Warren, my talents include examining scientific evidence that contradict with the bible, reading and debunking apologetic arguments, and writing blog posts on why belief in God is irrational. Does he like watching that? Did he give me those talents with the intention of throwing me in the eternal furnace for using them?
10. The Heart of Worship
You know by now that I found Chapter 9 to be particularly problematic, so here I’ll keep it brief: Chapter 10 is all about surrendering yourself to God. Some of the highlights of this chapter were Warren’s statement that “Retirement is not the goal of a surrendered life, because it competes with God for primary attention of our lives,” his lovely imagery of God “do[ing] his deepest work in you,” and the toxically exclusive idea that “Surrender is not the best way to live; it is the only way to live. Nothing else works.”
11. Becoming Best Friends with God
Chapter 11 is when Warren really starts to drive home the idea that you ought to worship during every last second of the day. So far, he has spent a lot of time going over the concept that worship isn’t just singing worship songs at church, but it should be part of everything you do. It is just a part of your attitude and the way you think; it can even be a constant prayer that can be the rote repetition of a line, like “God is with me.” Warren says “you must force yourself to think about God at different times in your day.”
Even though you are docked points in God’s game of life if you aren’t constantly thinking about pleasuring him, Warren implies that it is selfish to expect anything at all in return. Of course, to me this makes sense—because God doesn’t exist—but wouldn’t you think that if you devote your entire life, all your actions, relationships, and money to someone, that it would be appropriate to, at the very least, get to feel their presence?
12. Developing Your Friendship with God
In Chapter 12, Warren tries to make it sound like a friendship with God can be nuanced, complete with arguing, negotiating, and complaining like a real friendship. Unfortunately, this contradicts so many other things he has said about what it means to have a relationship with your master. Remember when he said that the first step in worshiping is surrendering yourself to God in Chapter 10?
Right away, Warren turns it back around to say that friendship with God is submission. At this point, he’s no longer contradicting what he first said about surrendering, but he is instead being redundant with it. He says that you can only be God’s friend if you unquestioningly accept that “God always acts in your best interest, even when it is painful and you don’t understand it.”
He says, “We don’t normally think of obedience as a characteristic of friendship . . . However, Jesus made it clear that obedience is a condition of intimacy with God.”
Speaking of intimacy, we are then reminded of Warren’s subconscious sexual feelings towards God, with one single page containing phrases like, “David . . . used words like longing, yearning, thirsting, hungering. He craved God,” “Jacob . . . wrestled all night in the dirt with God,” and “‘Wrestling’ is also a passionate activity, and God loves it when we are passionate with him.” Call me old-fashioned, but you don’t usually engage in “passionate wrestling” with someone who’s “just a friend” . . . and even then, it’s a bit weird. But hey, whatever gets you going.
In his typical sadistic fashion, Warren wraps up this chapter by saying that God allows pain in your life if you don’t worship him right, because pain is the “fuel of passion” and it is God’s way of “arousing us from spiritual lethargy.” Of course, if God ignores you, he’s testing you to mature your friendship. But if you ignore him, even for a moment, you shouldn’t be surprised when he turns your life into a living hell. And when he does, you should thank him for it.
13. Worship That Pleases God
Chapter 13 is when we really get into the stipulations of what you must do if you want to make it onto God’s friend list. Remember when I said that Warren treats life like a game that one either wins or loses? This is when he makes it clear that it’s on an impossible difficulty level, but anything less than perfect is still a failure. In Chapter 8, he said that “Worship is as natural as eating or breathing.” But here, he says that your worship must be:
- doctrinally correct
- not influenced by emotions
- not distracted by worship music
- good for God, but not necessarily good for you (where else have we heard this language before?)
- done even when you don’t feel God’s presence
- creative, not using vain repetitions (even thought that’s what Warren said to do in Chapter 11)
- sacrificial (this can include financially)
- practical (using your body, according to Warren)
- understandable to unbelievers (this sounds nice but still hard to achieve)
If I were a Christian trying to take Warren’s advice from this book, I would feel like I had to go back and look at all the rules every time I tried to worship. This would in turn distract me from reading the actual bible by making me study this book instead! Is Warren idolizing his work to his readers over their own sacred scripture?
14. When God Seems Distant
In the final chapter that I read this week, Warren repeats a mantra that he necessarily had to include in this book: that there will be times when you don’t feel God’s presence. Again, in my eyes this is because there is no god, plain and simple. All of the experiences that Warren is encouraging you to have are one-sided, and they begin and end in your head. There’s no one else there, so it would make sense that you might feel like you’re talking to yourself. But of course, he turns this around and tells the reader to persevere because God is taking this opportunity to mature your friendship.
Warren says that you must trust God despite your feelings, because “a friendship based on emotion is shallow indeed.” This makes me wonder, has Warren himself ever been in a truly healthy, flourishing relationship with another human? For the sake of his own well-being, I hope that he knows that friendships are based off emotions—emotions like love, trust, and yes, intimacy. Friendships should be equal, and they should never involve one friend being the master to another who is his slave, and testing her by disappearing whenever he wants to. Anyone who builds their idea of friendship or intimacy from Rick Warren’s teachings in the The Purpose-Driven Life will be severely lacking in the only real relationships they get in their fleeting time on earth: those with other people.
0 thoughts on “The Purpose-Driven Life Part 2: Pleasuring God”
What proof is there that God smiles at us, that God loves us, that God wants a relationship with us or that God desires worship from us?
Other than the Bible, which is the very collection of books that claims these things (possibly – the smile thing is a bit strange), there is nothing that proves these things.
How do we disprove that God isn’t made up? That we don’t just want Hope because it’s dark here and we put these ‘facts’ about God to ourselves and our children because they grant us enough peace to get through the night. I am sorry… but we can’t.
I refuse to build a life on a easily refutable hope, and I can’t force myself to have faith.
How do we disprove that god isn’t made up? If he were for real, we’d not be having this discussion. There’d be no need for religion, for atheism, for anything that god didn’t approve of.
Think, Stepford wives, only we would all be Stepford people, calm and wonderfilled and perfect. God’s image. No arguments there, and you could almost see the puppet strings. Damn don’t that sound creepy
Pleasuring God is a bit of a dodgy title. Pleasing God may be better?
Guess you’ll just have to read it 😜
What a load of crap. Considering “Instant obedience will teach you more about God than a lifetime of Bible discussions” tells you all you need to know. Religion, especially Christianity and its brethren, is all about obedience. And, who gets to decide what you must be obedient to? The religious and secular elites who are running the shit show.
Warren doesn’t once address the key question: why would an all-powerful, all-knowing, and perfect entity need us for anything? A being that needs nothing, wants nothing because it is complete in and of itself needs us? Needs us to worship him? Love him?
Sounds really, really needy to me. Imagine a psychiatric patient who has created a fantasy world populated with people who worship the creator, himself? That person would be in therapy for quite a long time because everyone would acknowledge they were quite mentally ill.
And here we have a religion telling us that we were created to love our creator, who needs nothing, wants for nothing? Does no one else see the contradiction here?
One of many “religious” books that may contribute to the rise of atheism. It also sounds anti-Catholic, in my opinion. Long ago, I decided against reading it. You’ve reinforced that decision.
There are many things worthy of my time. This book is not one. I second Steve’s ‘load of crap’ description.
“God is always watching you, and if what you’re doing pleasures him, he will be smiling.”
That already paints a pretty clear picture, that man has created God in man’s image. It is all make believe.
Thank you for saving me a ton of time in not reading this book 😉 I have been doing a TON of reading on the topic of purpose and have stayed away from the dogmatic ones for the many reasons noted. As someone who believes we all have a “reason” or “purpose” to serve others in life, it’s disappointing that organized religions often dismiss or discount the more Earthly pleasures we get in simple acts of kindness to others.
I’ve been on the wrong end of a narcissistic relationship with a..um… “friend”. There comes a time when I realized it was completely one sided. I gave and gave and gave..money, time, emotion, favors etc. I had to slap myself in the head to wake up from this emotional abuse. Of course, when I called her on it she screamed at me that it was ALL my fault!!!! And I believed her!! OMG..she the master and I the slave. So, what Warren is saying is that God is a pathological narcissist.
Any preacher who touts the whole “god punishes you for not praying to him enough” should be completely discredited.
Why then are the poorest and most destitute places on Earth, such as Africa and Latin America, also the most devoutly religious?
Thank you for this timely, excellent review. Why timely? Well, I met with my Lutheran friends just a few days ago, one of which is the local Lutheran pastor. I asked two questions: “Why does God place the Tree of Life in the garden and then not mention it until he’s scared the two humans might help themselves to a bit of immortality?” and “Why is the tree even there?”
The pastor immediately started scrolling his cell phone. He was looking for one of those apologetics websites. He found one and read off an answer that made absolutely no sense: that the Tree of Life was there as a reward if Adam and Eve passed the test of the “other” tree.
“But when is the “test” over? In a day, two days, a week, a year, never?” It made no sense. The apologists, such as Rick Warren, come up with this stuff that is no more than fantastical interpretations of fantastical narratives.
Looking at his list in Chapter 13, it seems to be designed for Warren to be able to point fingers and say “you’re doing it wrong”, no matter what someone is doing. Because the perfect god that lives in his head could never be to blame for people not getting the promised results from their belief. So he’s got this impossible list of standards that no one can ever meet, and he can always find your “worship” lacking. Heads he wins, tails you lose.
Great Post! When I read a post with valid information and focused logic I file it in “other bookmarks” for future reference. It’s called stealing good copy and I have a story on this subject.
In the 1980s & 1990s I photographed products for Price, Stern & Sloan. Price was Roger Price a comedian famous for his “Droodles.” he did on the Ed Sullvan Show.
P-S-&-S manufatured joke books, gadgets & stick on note pads. I worked closely with their copywriter/art director. One day, dramatically frustrated she gave me a personal assignment: To design and produce a sign to post on her office door.
MAN’S BASIC DESIRES ARE NOT LOVE AND HATE. THEY ARE THE NEED TO CHANGE ANOTHER’S COPY.
I did as she asked and she loved my art. Then I showed her a second door sign. which read: MAN’S BASIC DESIRES ARE NOT LOVE AND HATE. THEY ARE THE NEED TO CHANGE ANOTHER’S ART AND COPY.
Your post has some great lines so I am filing it in my “Swipe File.”
In payment here are a few posts on your subject:
Atheism and the Meaning of Life – Atheist Revolution 1-26-2020.
The Purpose of Life is not Happiness; It’s Usefulness – Darius Foroux 10-3-2016.
Who Cares About Certainty? Debunking Christianity 11-11-2019.
Secular Humanist First, Atheist Second. Atheist Revolution – 4-16-2007.
Life is Meaningless Without God? – The Atheist Experience #483 – July 4, 2009.
Does sound a bit S-M to me, what with wrestling in the dirt with God and all those anger and guilt things going on…Which means all those good Christians are totally into S-M with the biggest whip in the business.