Purpose-Driven Church Movement

What is the gospel according to The Purpose-Driven Church?

By Dr. Paul M. Elliott
The Purpose-Driven "gospel" message is, "Find God and you will find yourself, and you will find your purpose in life."

From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase

This is the fifth in a series of articles about the Purpose-Driven Church movement.


The central "gospel" message of the Purpose-Driven Church movement is this: Find God and you will find yourself, and you will find your purpose in life. This false gospel says nothing about the nature of sin, the consequences of sin, who Jesus is, why He died on the cross, the nature of salvation in Him, the cleansing power of His blood, the need for repentance and confession of sin, or the resurrection of Christ.

Dr. Gary E. Gilley, author of the book, This Little Church Went to Market: Is the Modern Church Reaching Out or Selling Out?, answers our question in a chapter titled "The Gospel According to Rick Warren" -

No one has exemplified the market-driven approach better than Rick Warren, pastor of the huge Saddleback Church in southern California and author of The Purpose-Driven Church and The Purpose-Driven Life. While Warren is open and up-front about his philosophy, strategy and methods, nevertheless things are not always as they appear. For example, "purpose-driven" sounds better than "market-driven" but it is basically the same thing. In his book The Purpose-Driven Life, his opening statement is, "It is not about you"; Warren then writes a whole book about "you". He belittles pop-psychology but repeatedly promotes it throughout the book. He publicly cuts ties with Robert Schuller, but reiterates some of the most odious things Schuller has been teaching for thirty years. He claims commitment to the Scriptures but undermines them at almost every turn. He will tell his followers that he is not tampering with the message but only reengineering the methods, when in fact he has so altered the message that it is no longer recognizable.

This brings us to his most disturbing alteration, the gospel itself. To charge Warren with modifying the gospel is a serious accusation, one that should not be made lightly. What is the evidence for such an indictment? Consider the following:

In the video that accompanies the "40 Days of Purpose", Warren leads his listeners in prayer at the end of the first session. The prayer goes like this:

Dear God, I want to know your purpose for my life. I don't want to base the rest of my life on wrong things. I want to take the first step in preparing for eternity by getting to know you. Jesus Christ, I don't understand how but as much as I know how I want to open up my life to you. Make yourself real to me. And use this series in my life to help me know what you made me for.

Warren goes on to say:

Now if you've just prayed that prayer for the very first time I want to congratulate you. You've just become a part of the family of God.

Warren would be hard-pressed to find biblical backing for this presentation of the gospel. We find nothing here about sin, grace, repentance, the Person of Christ, Calvary, faith, judgment, or the resurrection. This is the ultimate in a mutilated, seeker-sensitive gospel: the seeker comes to Christ in order to find his purpose in life, not to receive forgiveness from sin and the righteousness of God. Then, to pronounce someone a full-fledged member of the family of God because he has prayed such a prayer (based on minimal, if any, understanding of the person and work of Christ), is beyond tragic.

Does Warren do any better in his book, The Purpose-Driven Life? - a little, but not much. Concerning eternity he tells his readers, "If you learn to love and trust God's Son, Jesus, you will be invited to spend the rest of eternity with him. On the other hand, if you reject his life, forgiveness, and salvation, you will spend eternity apart forever" (p. 37). There is just enough truth here to be confusing, but the New Testament never tells us to learn to love and trust Christ in order to be saved. We are told to repent (Acts 17:30) and place our faith in Christ (Eph. 2:8-9), not "learn to love and trust". Just how does the unbeliever go about learning to love and trust Jesus? These are fruits of regeneration, not means to regeneration.

On page 58, Warren gives perhaps his most complete gospel presentation found in The Purpose-Driven Life. There he tells his readers that they must first believe God loves them and has chosen them to have a relationship with his Son who died on the cross for them... Warren writes, "Real life begins by committing yourself completely to Jesus Christ." I would not argue with that [we at TeachingTheWord would argue with that - see below1], but how are we to commit ourselves to Christ? Warren states, "Right now, God is inviting you to live for his glory by fulfilling the purposes he made you for . . . all you need to do is receive and believe.... Will you accept God's offer?" Again, he offers a sample prayer, "I invite you to bow your head and quietly whisper the prayer that will change your eternity, "Jesus, I believe in you and I receive you." He promises, "If you sincerely meant that prayer, congratulations! Welcome to the family of God! You are now ready to discover and start living God's purpose for your life." It is worth noting that this gospel presentation is found on Day 7 (of the 40-day journey). We are to assume that the content of Days 1-6 have led up to this invitation to receive Christ. What Warren believes a sinner needs to know to become part of the family of God has presumably been presented in the first week of the journey. But Warren has said nothing about who Jesus is, why he died on the cross, in what manner he is their Saviour, the cleansing power of the blood of Christ, repentance or confession of sin, the consequences of sin, or again, the resurrection of Christ.

In a biblically illiterate, post-Christian era, it cannot be assumed that the unbeliever has any concept of any of these things. This is especially disturbing in light of Warren's central message: find God and you will find yourself (purpose). When this is undeniably the thesis of The Purpose-Driven Life, and the "Forty Days of Purpose" campaign, the unbeliever would naturally conclude that he is praying a prayer that will enable him to solve the problem of lack of purpose in his life. Where in the Scriptures is the gospel ever presented as Warren presents it?2

Authentic Christianity in Contrast

TeachingTheWord's official doctrinal statement includes this summary of the Bible's teaching on salvation:

Creation and the Fall

The triune God created the universe out of nothing by His spoken word in six literal, contiguous days. The Scriptures teach the recent creation of all things by the direct acts of God, not through processes involving millions or billions of years of struggle and death.

The original creation was perfect. Man was created in the image of God, without sin, but with a free will. Adam and Eve chose to heed the voice of Satan and disobey God's commandment, thus plunging the universe into sin and chaos, and themselves and their descendants into physical and spiritual death, and enmity with God.

All of Adam's descendants inherit a totally depraved nature. They are dead in trespasses and sins, are in bondage to the sin nature, and are under God's curse. As the descendants of Adam, all human beings are sinners both by nature and by choice. Apart from God's gracious intervention, they are destined for eternal separation from God in Hell. All human beings are in need of personal salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ.

Genesis 1:1-3:24; Exodus 20:11; Job 33:4; Psalm 8:6-8; Psalm 33:5-6; Psalm 104:24; Proverbs 30:4; Ecclesiastes 7:29; Ecclesiastes 12:7; Jeremiah 10:12; Jeremiah 32:17; Matthew 10:28; Luke 23:43; John 1:1-3; Acts 17:24; Romans 1:20; Romans 2:14-15; Romans 6:23; Romans 11:36; 1 Corinthians 8:6; Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 1:16; Colossians 3:10; Hebrews 1:1-2; Hebrews 9:27; Hebrews 11:3.


The authentic Christian Gospel is God's declaration that sinners who are under the curse of God through Adam's fall are justified by the grace of God alone, through faith in Jesus Christ alone. Justification is the once-for-all judicial act of God at the conversion of the sinner. In this act God graciously declares the sinner to be righteous - that is, not guilty before His judgment bar, where the standard is perfect holiness. Having been justified by faith, believers are saved from the wrath of God through Christ, who has made peace with God on their behalf.

In salvation, a great legal exchange takes place. The sins of the sinner are imputed to Jesus Christ, who has made full and final atonement for them. They are washed away by the blood of Christ, to be remembered against the sinner no more. At the same time, the perfect all-sufficient righteousness of Christ is imputed to the undeserving sinner. The believing sinner now possesses Christ's righteousness, and need not - indeed cannot - add any saving or keeping righteousness of his own. To attempt to do so would be to deny the sufficiency of Christ.

Scripture declares that faith alone, in Christ alone, is and always has been the instrument of the believer's justification. Old Testament believers placed their faith in the Redeemer who was to come, just as New Testament believers place their faith in the Redeemer who has come.

Saving faith is absolutely naked faith; it is empty-handed belief in the person and work of Christ to save sinners. This faith is itself the gift of God, and is not of works, so that no one can boast that he added one iota to the righteousness of Christ. This faith is given to the sinner by the gracious act of God the Holy Spirit. The believer's salvation is absolutely secure.

God through Christ offers salvation freely and legitimately to all men. He says, "Look to Me, and be saved, all you ends of the earth" - "I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why should you die..?" - "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" - "He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him" - "Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved" - "Whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely."

Isaiah 45:21-22; Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Isaiah 55:1-6; Isaiah 61:10; Jeremiah 23:6; Ezekiel 33:11; Daniel 9:24-26; Zechariah 9:9; Matthew 11:28; Mark 10:45; John 1:12; John 3:1-36; John 6:37; John 6:44-45 & 65; John 10:28-29; Romans 10:13; John 3:18; Acts 10:43; Acts 13:38-39; Romans 3:22-28; Romans 4:1-8; Romans 5:1-20; Romans 6:23; Romans 8:28-39; 1 Corinthians 1:30-31; 1 Corinthians 15:21-23; 2 Corinthians 5:16-21; Galatians 3:1-13; Ephesians 1:1-2:10; Ephesians 5:2; Philippians 1:29; Philippians 2:6-9; Philippians 3:9; 1 Timothy 2:5-6; 2 Timothy 2:19; Titus 3:5-11; Hebrews 10:10-39; Revelation 19:5-8; Revelation 22:17.

The Life of the Believer

The Scriptures know nothing of a "faith" in Christ that is a mere formula of words and not the result of the regenerating work of God. Genuine saving faith is God-given faith. It is impossible for the natural man to believe the Gospel. Belief does not originate in the sinful heart of man by his own will, but by the work of God.

Therefore, the one who truly believes on Christ is God's workmanship from beginning to end. The believer has been created in Christ Jesus before the foundation of the world, to do the good works which God prepared beforehand for him to do, after he has been justified by faith alone.

If a sinner has truly believed, exercising God-given faith in Christ and not a counterfeit, then the desire to live a changed life in obedience to God's commands will follow as surely as day follows night. A changed life is the evidence of saving faith. Believers do not become perfect people, but they do now have the desire, ambition, and motivation to please God, which is brought about by the Holy Spirit who takes up residence within each believer at conversion. The changed life - the believer's sanctification by the work of the Holy Spirit - does not justify the believer in the sight of God. The sanctification of the believer is the result, not the cause, of his salvation.

John 17:17-19; Romans 6:1-23; Romans 7:13-25; Romans 8:13-14; Romans. 12:1-2; 2 Corinthians 3:18; 2 Corinthians 7:1; Galatians 5:16-26; Ephesians 3:16-19; Ephesians 4:15-16; Colossians 1:10-11; Colossians 1:28; Colossians 2:1-10; Colossians 4:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24; 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14; 2 Timothy 2:19; Titus 3:5; James 2:17-26; 2 Peter 3:18; 1 John 1:5-10; 1 John 5:1-5.




1. Real life does not begin with our commitment to Christ, but by the regenerating work of God the Holy Spirit (John 1:12-13). We're not suggesting that Dr. Gilley does not believe this, but we think he yielded this point far too easily, perhaps in an effort to give Warren the benefit of the doubt.

2. Gary E. Gilley, This Little Church Went to Market: Is the Modern Church Reaching Out or Selling Out? (Darlington, United Kingdom: Evangelical Press, revised and updated edition, 2005), pages 105-107.


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