What Is Rick Warren Reading?

Rick Warren provided some of us with a lot of fun the past two days on Twitter. He had sent out a message:

“New churches: Buy land as soon as you can but delay building for as long as you can. Cant explain all the reasons here.”

This set off one of the funniest followup memes I have seen called #RickWarrenTips.

Those, however, are not the Warren tweets that I want to discuss. Earlier Warren had fired two out of the blue shots at ‘liberals’. I had just finished my progressive and liberal post at Jesus Creed and so I was really interested.

Here are his two quotes:

Liberal theology cannot sustain a local congregation. It kills churches. In fact, It only survives due to tenured academics.

and

Liberal theology has never created any university. It just sucks the life our of those that were started by Bible believers.

Plenty of people had push-back on the last bit of revisionist history.  I’m not so concerned with the accuracy of his content …my question is what do you think spawned  or sparked it? 

What is Rick Warren reading that even has him thinking about liberals?  
Did he get in an argument with someone?
Is he watch watching something on TV about liberals?
Is he watching Fox News or something?

So I thought it would be fun to throw it out here and see what wild speculations you might have.

 

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62 comments
Patrick Frownfelter
Patrick Frownfelter

Clearly he needs to go to Subverting the Norm and see what "liberal (as I'm sure he would call it that) theology CAN do for the church!

Jacquet
Jacquet

I'm a contemporary and admirer of Hauerwas, not liberal in the religious sense and not a believer in the evangelical sense. Bonhoeffer is a pacifist too and so am I. I love HOMEBREWED ...

koopstacochran
koopstacochran

Polemical tones against liberalism are a part of conservative evangelical DNA, he doesn't have to have been recently reading anything.  "Liberalism" to many evangelicals is almost a synonym for "unbelief," since it often  includes progressive views that move beyond (or they would say "deny") things like "the doctrine of ...." (and you can fill in the blank many times over here)

tanyam
tanyam

While I probably AM a liberal Christian, I kinda agree with Warren. To the extent that liberal churches begin to sound like clubs for do-gooders, I think they become rather redundant. One can do good in the world without God -- so why bother with the church?

 

We just don't have that many examples of theologically robust, God-invested liberal churches. To the extent that Warren picked up on that, I'd agree. But I don't think his brand of evangelicalism is the answer either.

Homebrewed Christianity
Homebrewed Christianity

I was using the term reading loosely - it could include listening or noticing something in culture ;)

Eric G
Eric G

Based on the timing, he was reacting to seeing your post on McKnight's blog. As to what generated the content of his posts, it looks like the typical need of conservatives to maintain a liberal boogeyman against which they must maintain constant vigilance and sharp line drawing, for fear of being thrown under the bus by other conservatives themselves, as others have suggested.

Cory_Townsend
Cory_Townsend

@theBoSanders he was reading your liberal/progressive post. I'm 100% sure of that because I objectively reconstructed history. :)

Sari Graham
Sari Graham

interesting discussions in the followup

Jim Prevatt
Jim Prevatt

I think the press should completely ignore christianists like Warren, Robinson, Santorum, gay hating groups. These dudes love all the attention they can get.

BoEberle
BoEberle

I wish I had the means to send him all of Gary Dorrien's book. Especially the "Liberalism" trilogy. Should be required reading for liberals and conservatives alike. 

ScottJCowan
ScottJCowan

He probably is saying those things because, according to his limited point of view, he is correct. Both of his tweets that you cite talk about the church or university as having a 'life' that liberals can't sustain or suck dry. If he's coming from a conservative perspective, Warren is correct. The foundational beliefs that set up conservativism (interventionism, linguistic representationalism, a constricted modern scientific realism, reductivism, determinism) are challenged by the liberal readings of these same issues. If you are at a conservative university that was once reliant on scriptural authority coming directly from God and liberals begin teaching that miracles can't  happen and that religious experience is a guiding principle—well, then it would suck the life out of what was once there. I'm not saying that that is a necessarily bad thing; but that when an ideology is challenged and altered, something dies. This is probably part of the reason that nostalgia allows us to talk of the 'golden eras' of different disciplines. A conservative mega-church would be challenged by liberal ideals as to what should be considered 'mega'—whose defining the terms? Would that kind of communication, perceived as conflictual, cause conservatives to be challenged about there own self-understanding? 

 

It seems though that asking what source directly sparked those comments from is somewhat too basic a question : it sets up a situation where speculation without evidence is responded to by equally unfounded speculation(i guess that might be what blogs are for somethings though...so i admit that i know that i'm less 'right' than it might sound like i think i am). Not that we will ever be able to investigate a theory without some form of speculation, but the question is posed in what seems to be, just as deterministic a fashion as the comments made by Warren. Why doesn't someone ask him privately or considerately? —Although, probably outside of twitter, because there wouldn't be enough room to explain it all there! Besides, isn't this how most people use twitter anyways?

 

I guess I'm wondering why no one here wants to agree with him more? Liberalism is not something to particularly proud of... its just as big of an obstacle that needs to be hurdled as conservativism. Both liberals and conservatives allow for problematic horizons of view. Isn't the division between them mostly based on early 20th c. foundations of scientific rationality, philosophical categories, and how linguistics function to relate the world and language? Doesn't the dialectical part of a conversation between conservatives and liberals necessarily involve some aspect of someone's epistemology dying or someone admitting a fault?

MattCBarlow
MattCBarlow

@theBoSanders That's just because I have not left a comment yet. ;)

ngilmour
ngilmour

Since I live on both of these worlds daily (I find @Mike Morrell calling me "conservative" when I log on to Facebook, but when I teach my English teachers, I'm the dangerous, vaguely Marxian English professor), I don't think the anxiety is about the people in the pews right now but about the ones who have headed off to college. 

 

If I can attempt an account that takes the anxieties of both mega-churchers and professors into account, it's a situation that's dialectically tense: professors like me know our duty includes, at least, the call to invite students into more complex modes of thought which might bring students to question and even move away from their traditions; and pastors know that their duty includes, at the least, practices that sustain the community of faith beyond those currently raising young children. 

 

The urge to sustain is good, and the urge to critique is good.  So I don't fault Warren for using Twitter the way I do sometimes: to project immediate frustrations out into the digital ether.  Lord knows I see Warren's perceived foes do the same day after day on the same channels (FB, Twitter, and such). 

hellogregory
hellogregory

@theBoSanders (if I was tweeting from my iPhone that would have had a smirking emoji after it)

hellogregory
hellogregory

@theBoSanders we've come a long way with you twitter handle…now if we could just get a picture of your face as your avatar...

S8th
S8th

I was definitely wondering the same thing.

castaway5555
castaway5555

Megachurches need enemies, real or imagined, and since most real enemies don't exist, imagined ones will do just fine. Ever since Darwin suggested an evolutionary understanding of life (what? ya' mean things change?), conservatives have been in full-blown retreat into their citadels, bolstered by an "infallible bible," (whatever that means?), submission to authority (that of the pastor), salvation by profession rather than grace (which makes the saved feel wonderful and superior), the church as haven rather than mission, and mission simply adding to the church through conversion and baptism, pulling folks out of the evil world and granting them the means to go to heaven (sounds faintly Medieval). If read carefully, Warren's blockbuster book has all the evidence we need; in that book, of course, he was in his generous mode, and perhaps he was at the time. But changing times require him to either move more toward a gracious Christianity or a militant one. I suspect, what with Piper and Gang breathing hard, for their coming (to get him), Warren is headed toward the militant side of things. Sort of sad, I think. I held out some hope for him, and Hybels, too, but, so far, the hope diminishes. Long live the "enemy" we love to hate.

ezekieldeal
ezekieldeal

I think the second one spawns out of the massive amounts of students (i'm not saying it's right) that come out of the theological academy with a "shattered" faith. Although I'm in Seminary (and really love it), there is a reason a lot of people call it semetary. Which I actually thinks points more fingers back at the Church than it does seminaries. 

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

 @Jacquet Ummmmmm  - we have a LOT to talk about :p  I have 15 questions based on your 3 sentences. -Bo 

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

 @koopstacochran A) who are you ? 

B) how do you know this stuff?

C) where have you been hiding?   -Bo 

castaway5555
castaway5555

 @tanyam Well, I think God made us so that we could do good without God ... God was smart enough and kind enough to do just that, in part to be sure that God's people would always be humbled by the goodness of others, even when others know another god or no god at all. Why bother with the church? A good question. Sadly, for the church in America, it deteriorated into numbers, and for the Medieval Church, control of the world. This is not even close to what God envisioned. There are plenty of theologically robust liberal churches - check out the work of Diana Butler Bass. And thousands of small congregations that are doing remarkable work. They're not big-foot malls drawing in thousands; they just happen to be the church of Jesus Christ. And lots of pastors who labor in the vineyards of the Lord faithfully, with sound theology and faithful to Scripture. Why bother with the church? I'd like to know more about what you think about this. 

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

 @tanyam I am laughing out loud!   I am probably a liberal (by this definition) and I agree with Warren (if you use his definition - not mine)   -  so that is VERY funny to me :)   -Bo 

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

@Eric G I believe that you are 100% acurate in all that you have said. Can't explain all of the reasons here. -Bo

theBoSanders
theBoSanders

@Cory_Townsend oh I'm very suspicious of that as well!!

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

@BoEberle young scholars: read as much Garry Dorrien as you can. Never quote him. Can't explain all of the reasons here. -Bo

theBoSanders
theBoSanders

@MattCBarlow Well get on over there! people are being far too thoughtful and irenic.

ngilmour
ngilmour

Oops.  When I teach my English classes, not my English teachers.  (Though some of 'em are studying to be just that.)

 

Also, just to expand on that last point (I kind of left it aphoristic), I think Warren knows full well (or at least he should) that his career is unintelligible except in relationship with liberalism (or whatever word folks want to use for it), just as the liberal religious-studies professor should be aware that such a life in the early twenty-first century is always lived in dialectical tension with various sorts of fundamentalisms, conservatisms, and folks against which the teaching of a religious-studies professor makes sense. 

 

And yes, I realize that I wouldn't be the insufferable crank that I am if I didn't have fundamentalists and liberals (or whatever those two groups want to be called these days) to antagonize. ;)

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

 @ngilmour  very interesting account here. I really appreciate your insights and perspective on this one.  -Bo 

theBoSanders
theBoSanders

@hellogregory why are people hating on my urban art avatar? ;p I had a sketch of my mug up there forever ... @joelkuhlin ;)

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

 @S8th something had to have sparked it right?  I mean, a set of comments like that is either pushed by something or is in reaction to something ...   -Bo 

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

 @castaway5555 SO you think that 'liberal' is like a haunting presence on the edges of the evangelical property?  I mean, they don't seem to be much of threat to mega-churches ...  

-Bo 

Toy_Adams
Toy_Adams

@ezekieldeal I loved the last line of this comment. I think that the only faith that a seminary shatters is a naive one that is implanted by churches. Thoughts like inerrancy, literalism, etc. are systems that need to be shattered. So hopeful beyond 'semetary' there will be true resurrection. -toy

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

 @ezekieldeal Interesting.  So maybe he is 'reading' the culture ... it was more of a social commentary... 

 

That would make sense.  It would also explain why it is not rooted in history. It is not informed.  

-Bo 

koopstacochran
koopstacochran

 @BoSanders  @koopstacochran I am a secret Homebrewed Christianity fan!  LoL!  I "know" from experience.  Lots and lots of experience.  I have been "hiding" in the realm of academia, completing my second master's degree (Th.M) at the University of Dayton, but soon I am coming out to play.

tanyam
tanyam

@castaway5555 I am quite familiar with Bass' work, and I have encountered a few institutions resembling what you describe. But mostly I find liberal churches to be dull, somewhat moralistic (just of another sort than the right wing) , and generally devoid of much theological and scriptural reflection. That we can generally "do good" without God is true, but doesn't go far enough. Who was it who said, "God is not interested in improving us, but in transforming us." I find much about liberal mainline churches (where I live) to be moribund and self-congratulatory. I'm glad it's different where you are.

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

 @ngilmour I am allowed to deeply disagree?    

 

When you say "I think Warren knows full well (or at least he should) that his career is unintelligible except in relationship with liberalism (or whatever word folks want to use for it)" 

 

I say ... Ummm What?  I am not sure that HE understands at ALL that he is inextricably tied to ANYthing. 

 

Where are you getting that from????   -Bo 

castaway5555
castaway5555

 @BoSanders  G'morning Bo ... not sure what your reply is saying/asking ... can you say more?

ezekieldeal
ezekieldeal

 @Toy_Adams  Right. I agree. I really hope for an improvement in relations between Seminary and the Church (although I'm sure there are some cases there are healthy ones). I've found seminary to be an amazing experiencing and incredibly liberating in so many ways (especially in courses with Dr. Frethiem at Luther in St. Paul). 

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

 @Toy_Adams  @ezekieldeal Shhhhhh  - if you guys could stop talking so loudly - houses of cards are easy blown over .... 

Can't explain all the reasons here.   -Bo 

tanyam
tanyam

I'd add -- what I'm talking about, I think, is what Douglas John Hall tried to get the liberal church to think about a couple of decades ago-- when he wrote "Thinking the Church" along with "Doing the Church," etc.

ngilmour
ngilmour

 @BoSanders Hence the "at least he should." :)

 

I would hope that someone like Warren, who presumes to be a public voice of American Christianity, would have enough sense of Church history (or at least read enough C.S. Lewis) to know that neither Origen nor Augustine, neither Aquinas nor Calvin ever once wrote a thing about "liberals."  And I would hope that someone who's a public voice of American Christianity would know just how many of his own assumptions (for instance that one has any say in one's own "purpose," much less the "purpose" of the Church) are thoroughly liberal ideas, historically speaking.

 

If he doesn't, then we've got yet another case of people with no historical sense holding microphones.  

 

Also, Bo, you never have to ask permission to disagree with me. :) 

worshipboytom
worshipboytom

 @BoSanders  @castaway5555 There's a whole breed of evangelical  pastors that came through the church growth movement that tends to value church growth/size/health based on numbers/graphs/top ten lists over anything else. I think Rick assumes that every young pastor desires to lead a megachurch, so beware of the liberal who can't make that happen.

castaway5555
castaway5555

 @BoSanders Reality doesn't count. "Liberals," like "Reds" and "Communists" and "agitators" and "secular humanists" are all handy foils against which preachers can fulminate, rousing the troops, taking in the cash, and going home at the end of the day patting themselves on the back for a job well done, defending the kingdom against evildoers and protecting the church against perverts, or something like that. I wonder if he's running scared - is the sun setting on the Warren Empire, as it did for Schuller? 

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

 @castaway5555 Well it doesn't seem like Evangelical Mega-Churches are in any danger from 'liberal' churches.  The Mainline is a 'collapse narrative' and since attendance=success in megachurch land ... why even comment them ?

It just seems odd that he would be concerned about the issue at all.  It is just a straw man?  is there something I don't know about conservative evangelicals and their thinking about 'liberals' ?   

Toy_Adams
Toy_Adams

@ezekieldeal that's beautiful! After one of our pastors did a class on genesis a person said 'so these are to be taken more theologically than literally? Thank goodness'. These are moments that so many ppl long for and never get to receive because of the fear certain pastors have of offending people.

ezekieldeal
ezekieldeal

 @Toy_Adams  Absolutely! One of my professors told us a story once about doing a Sunday School lesson once on Jonah. During the time he talked about Jonah being a story. After everyone left there was this older lady still sitting there almost in tears. When he asked what as wrong she said that she had always wanted to talk about it just being a story, but never thought she could make such a comment in a church. 

Toy_Adams
Toy_Adams

@ezekieldeal I think one of the real issues is that those that complete seminary return to the church with their mDiv and then go back to teaching bankrupt Sunday school lessons. There is a fear from the pastor that actually teaching half of what they learned in seminary will make the congregation uncomfortable. But in a lot of cases it is needed. People are more hungry and thirsty for it than one might think. -toy

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

 @ezekieldeal  @Toy_Adams  Oh that is GREAT to hear! and as one who is getting my degree in order to teach in a seminary to help those who are going to serve in the church ... I am greatly encouraged!  

-Bo