Review: The Purpose Driven Life

So I'm slightly over ten years behind the rest of the world, but I have finally read The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren.  This is probably the biggest selling Christian book ever (after the Bible of course) and Warren is Pastor of one of the biggest churches in America.

The book is designed as a 40 day discipleship devotional and is structured around 5 purposes:

  • You were planned for God's pleasure
  • You were formed for God's family
  • You were created to become like Christ
  • You were shaped for serving God
  • You were made for mission
For various reasons it has been criticised and Warren has often been lumped in with other megachurch pastors who have watered down the gospel.  I think this is probably unfair.  It's worth listening to John Piper interview Rick Warren to get a feel for where Warren is coming from.  For myself, from reading what he has written and listening to this interview, he seems a solid evangelical pastor doing good work for the Lord.

So, some observations about the book.  First, despite how it sold, it is a discipleship book not an evangelistic book.  Give something else to your non-Christian friends!  Warren says in his interview with Piper that he wrote it for discipleship.  But second, as a discipleship book it challenged me and encouraged me and helped me think about my Christian life.  Warren has a great skill in communicating his message.  It's not that he keeps it simple.  Actually a lot of what he says is quite doctrinally rich.  However, he can capture his point very clearly and precisely and it really helps in driving the points down.  Essentially each chapter/day has one point which he spends a few pages explaining.

It may sound like the book is some sort of Christian self-improvement manual, but I think that would to be to misread it.  Warren's focus (day 1 makes it very clear as does purpose 1) is that we are about God and his glory, not our own.  This God-centredness is very helpful.

Warren's approach is entirely topical.  He quotes the Bible a lot, but there isn't exactly explanation of the texts.  The texts are given to make the point.  To help this he uses lots of translations.  He has a justification for this at the back of the book, which is helpful (essentially: use different translations to make us see it afresh), but at times I longed for more engagement with the text and its context and at times I wasn't over-convinced by the translations.

So would I encourage others to read this?  Some people yes.  It's solidly evangelical and well written.  It would take some people deeper in their walk with God.  If I'm honest though, I think I would be more likely to encourage people to daily Bible reading with good notes, e.g. Explore.  That way they are really getting stuck into God's word.  However, if someone wanted something different for 40 days, well it may not be too bad a place to go.

I would also encourage Christian writers and preachers to have a look at it.  I think one of the reasons it sold so many copies is that the way Warren communicates is a way people can follow and understand.  I think a lot of us could learn from that!


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