Spirit-Led or Purpose-Driven? Part 3
Softening God's Word
by Berit Kjos, December or January, 2003
(Paul, please put links to the first 2 parts at the top of the side bar): Part 1 and Part 2
As you saw in Part 2, churches are being filled with people who think they trust the Biblical God but know little about the heavenly King they profess to worship. Since the hearts of these unregenerate "believers" have not been changed by the Holy Spirit, they look for churches that match the world they love. And today's church leaders stand ready to accommodate their demands. To make postmodern "Christians" feel at home -- and to satisfy the "felt needs" of curious seekers -- vast networks of churches and pastors are exploring new ways of "doing church." Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, is leading the way.
Light sermons and contemporary music have helped bridge the gap between the church and the world. More troubling are the new adaptations of the Bible. But they fit our changing times. After all, no one can really understand God's Word unless the Holy Spirit reveals it to them. [see 1 Cor 2:9-16]. The natural solution to this barrier is to simplify the Bible so that everyone, Christian or not, can relate to it.
It's not surprising that Pastor Warren quotes passages from
The Message(a paraphrased "version" of the Bible by Eugene Peterson) over ninety times.Many of those simplified passages alter both the words and the meaning of the Scriptures. But they fit the points Pastor Warren is trying to make. So do other paraphrased Bibles that he uses.
Please compare Today's English Version's interpretation of Isaiah 26:3 with the corresponding passages in three generally accepted Bible translations: the King James Version (KJV), the New King James Version (NKJV) and the New International Version (NIV). While I don't personally use the NIV, the three translations illustrate the gap between standard translations and modern paraphrases. Today's English Version's (TEV) seems to fit Pastor Warren's need here -- perhaps because it uses the word "purpose:"
KJV: "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee." Is 26:3
NKJV: "You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You." Is 26:3
NIV: "You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you." Is 26:3
TEV: "You, LORD, give perfect peace to those who keep their purpose firm and put their trust in you." Is 26:3 (page 32)
"Knowing your purpose focuses your life," he assures us. "It concentrates your effort and energy on what's important. You become effective by being selective."[1, page 32]
But the early Hebrew documents promised peace to those "whose minds were stayed on" God, not to those who "kept their purpose firm." Think about it: Wouldn't God's actual Word be a more reliable focus for our lives? Won't He lead us when, by His Word and Spirit, we keep our minds stayed on Him? Doesn't His Word suggest we be led, not driven, by our wonderful Shepherd?
Pastor Warren might agree, since he encourages us to memorize and meditate on God's Word. But he suggests that we select Bible verses out of his book which begins and ends with quotes from The Message
.On page 325, he explains why:
"...we often miss the full impact of familiar Bible verses, not because of poor translating, but simply because they have become so familiar! We think we know what a verse says because we have read it or heard it so many times. Then when we find it quoted in a book, we skim over it and miss the full meaning. Therefore I have deliberately used paraphrases in order to help you see God's truth in new, fresh ways.... [emphasis in the original]
"Also, since the verse divisions and number were not included in the Bible until 1560 A.D., I haven't always quoted the entire verse, but rather focused on the phrase that was appropriate. My model for this is Jesus and how he and the apostles quoted the Old Testament. They often just quoted a phrase to make a point." [1, page 325]
His first argument doesn't match reality. Those who are truly "born again" treasure God's Word as it is written. The more familiar it becomes, the more precious it is! He brings the words we have "hidden in our heart" to our awareness day and night as we need it for comfort, strength and joy in Him. "Your words were found, and I ate them," said Jeremiah, "and Your word was to me the joy and rejoicing of my heart; for I am called by Your name, O Lord..." Jeremiah 15:16
Second, are we free to attribute the authority of the actual Scriptures to short sound bytes of paraphrased passages in order to validate our own points? Yes, Jesus, who was Himself the Living Word, had the absolute authority to speak His own message as He willed. But we are not God! That's why He warns us repeatedly not to alter or add to His holy Word in any way.
"If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book," He tells us in the Book of Revelation ( 22:18-19), "and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life...."
Those are strong words. That's why many postmodern leaders consider them intolerant and exclude them from their teaching. But God considers the accuracy of His Word so vital to our walk with Him that He repeated this warning several times throughout the Bible.
"You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it," He told us through Moses in Deuteronomy 4:1-2. And in Proverbs 30:5-6, He warned: "Every word of God is pure; He is a shield to those who put their trust in Him. Do not add to His words, lest He rebuke you, and you be found a liar."
Yet, man's incessant quest for "new, fresh ways" has always made us vulnerable to temptation. From the beginning, Satan has offered both pleasure and wisdom to those who would rephrase or revise God's timeless Word -- blending lies with truth that hide the deception. Back in the garden, it led to Eve's disobedience and the alienation of humanity. Through the Middle Ages, it led to horrendous heresies and cruel persecution of those who took their stand on God's unchanging Word. In our times, the rise of pragmatism and postmodernity has led to another round of revisions. And with the postmodern rejection of unchanging absolutes, there is no end in sight.
See how The Message has altered the meaning of God's Word in the following passages.
Though the first two references are not mentioned in the Purpose Driven Life, their precious familiarity helps us discern the contrast and realize how human additions and deletions distort His truths. The third reference is the last "Bible" verse Pastor Warren quotes in his book. Notice its new tone and attitude:
KJV: "Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name." Matt. 6:9
NKJV: "Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name." Matt. 6:9
NIV: ”Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name." Matt. 6:9
Message: "Our Father in heaven, reveal who you are." Matt. 6:9
KJV: "my Father is greater than I." John 14:28
NKJV: "My Father is greater than I." John 14:28
NIV: “... the Father is greater than I." John 14:28
Message: "The Father is the goal and purpose of my life." John 14:28
KJV: "Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power...." Rev 4:11
NKJV: “You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power....” Rev 4:11
NIV: “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power...." Rev 4:11
Message: "Worthy, Oh Master! Yes, our God! Take the glory! the honor! the power!..." [1, page 319]
KJV: "For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace." Romans 8:6
NKJV: "For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace." Romans 8:6
NIV: "The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace." Romans 8:6
Message: "Obsession with self in these matters is a dead end; attention to God leads us out into the open, into a spacious, free life." [1, page 18]
Ponder the last section. To be "carnally minded" means far more than "obsession with self." It involves the spiritual blindness and death of a person who lives and thinks according to his own capricious human nature -- separated from God's grace and Spirit. He may claim to be a Christian, but his finite mind cannot grasp God's truths, heart or will. A simpler, modified Bible, stripped of its deeper and harder truths, doesn't help. God never intended that the Bible should be understood apart from His supernatural work in the hearts and minds of His chosen people. [Matt 13:13; Luke 8:10; Jer 5:21; Acts 26:18]
The other parallel follows. To be "spiritually minded" means that, through the Holy Spirit, the believer's mind has been opened to understand Scriptures. God's life-changing Truth has renewed his heart and enabled him to know and love God. It has given him the joy and endurance needed to follow the Shepherd -- not along that spacious highway that draws the crowds -- but on the narrow unpopular way which draws us ever closer to Him. Matt 7:13-14
Since the Bible is the foundation of our faith, we had better follow its clear and timeless guidelines. They alone enable us to maintain the purity and accuracy of His Word even as we translate it into all the world's different languages. In its totality, the Bible reveals the nature of God, the nature of man -- both in Christ and apart from Him. Made alive by His Spirit, it reveals His guidelines for our lives, His promises of each day's challenges, His hope for eternity. It is the foundation of our faith and the standard for our lives.
But Pastor Warren sees a slightly different foundation. As in the Purpose-Driven Church, he his format shows us five purposes:
1. You were planned for God's pleasure.
2. You were formed for God's family.
3. You were created to become like Christ.
4. You were shaped for serving God.
5. You were made for a mission. [1, page 7]
Those statements are all true, but they are incomplete as guidelines for all of life's challenges. Later he tells us:
"Knowing your purpose simplifies your life. It defines what you do and what you don't do. Your purpose becomes the standard you use to evaluate which activities are essential and which aren't. You simply ask, 'Does this activity help me fulfill one of God's purposes for my life?'
"Without a clear purpose, you have no foundation on which you base decisions, allocate your time, and use your resources."[1, page 31]
What does Pastor Warren mean by "a clear purpose?" A blend of his five stated purposes?
Neither the five purposes, nor any other single purpose, can replace Jesus Christ, the Living Word, as the "foundation on which you base decision, allocate your time and use resources." Christ's Life in us -- speaking through His Word revealed to us -- is our supreme, unrivaled foundation and guide. The Living Word remains "a lamp to my feet and a light to my path" no matter where His chosen purposes or unseen paths might take you and me for the duration of our lives on earth.
Part 1 - Spirit-Led or Purpose-Driven?
Part 2 - Widening the gate to the Kingdom
Next: Part 4 - The Spirit of Worship
1. Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002). See "Driven or Led?"