I have to admit that I have problems with mega-churches, and many of their pastors. And it is also the case that I have been critical of Rick Warren's mega-selling "The Purpose Driven Life" as being too individualistic and other-worldly in some aspects of its theological underpinnings. But you can tell a lot about a man from the way he responds to prosperity, and Rick Warren has responded in truly Christian fashion and deserves to be commended for it in the wake of his enormous success in publishing.
In a recent article in U.S. Today (June 5th edition) Tom Krattenmaker chronicles the recent campaigns of Warren against AIDS and poverty especially in Africa and against global warming as well. Though one might think Bush-backing Warren and liberal Christian Bono make strange partners in such campaigns, in fact they are in agreement about the need for the church to respond to these globalizing crises that threaten to destroy a whole continent, and take down other continents as well in the process.
Warren recently told the Philiadelphia Inquirer "The New Testament says the church is the body of Christ, but for the last 100 years, the hands and feet have been amputated, and the church has just been a mouth. And mostly, its been known for what it's against... I'm so tired of Christians being known for what they're against." Amen to that brother. Warren is also tired of partisan spirit that really is a sort of party spirit that does not honor the particularism of the Gospel or its message. As Krattenmaker points out, Warren stresses that he's not for the right wing or the left wing but for the whole bird. Amen to that as well. Just need to make sure the bird one is holistically endorsing is the Gospel bird, and not a turkey.
Warren provides us with a prophetic model that is not politically driven but rather issues driven. Warren does not do political endorsements or jump on party bandwagons. Good for him. He stays focused on the issues and the implications of what he takes to be the NT teaching. This means on the one hand, that in regard to the issues listed above he may seem like a liberal Democrat to some, that is until you hear him talk about abortion, stem cell research and same sex intercourse or marriage. Warren clearly believes in the social Gospel and this leads him to take positions on varying issues on a issue by issue basis, not on the basis of some party loyalty platform or ideology. Good for him.
Warren has always believed that salvation only comes through Christ, but he believes that there needs to be a graciousness in the presenting of the Good News to all. The way I like to put is this--- all are welcome to come to Jesus and his community as they are. The church should be a hospital for sick sinners, not a museum for saints. But no one is welcome to stay as they are, whatever their particular sins. Nor should they expect the church to baptize their sins and call them good.
In his ecumenicity making common cause with people on an issue by issue basis, and in his stress on both the spiritual and the social Gospel, Warren reminds me of that earlier figure of catholic (i.e. uiniversal) spirit--- John Wesley. Wesley use to say, in his letter to a devout Catholic-- "if your heart is as my heart on this issue, give me your hand." I quite agree with this approach. Warren seeks to be broad where the Bible is broad and inclusive and narrow where the Bible is narrow and exclusivistic-- particularly in regard to salvation only coming through Jesus.
Of course this sort of approach will not appeal to all conservative Christians. It will not seem partisan and apologetically driven enough. I however think that Warren has the balance and implications of the Gospel right in this regard. And he deserves to be commended for it. He understands that being obnoxious for Jesus is not what we are called to, however stridently we may oppose the various flaws and sins of our culture. So I say to Rick "Well done good and faithful servant-- carry on in season and out. And don't be discouraged by your cultured and not so cultured detractors. Jesus had the same problem, and responded in the same ways."