In the 1970s and ‘80s gospel singer Amy Grant became a big star in Christian music. She sold millions of albums and became more successful (and famous) than any faith-based singer since George Beverly Shea. Church choir directors and youth leaders across the country held her up to young people as a model of Christian artistry. She won Grammy Awards for Best Contemporary Gospel Performance and a Dove Award for Gospel Artist of the Year. Amy Grant was hot. She was so hot that she crossed over.
Miss Grant shocked and outraged many of her Christian fans in the ‘80s by using her success to become the first Christian artist to transition to a successful pop music career. While she kept her Christian musical roots by releasing new gospel albums over the years, she is no longer admired in Christian circles as she once was - particularly after her 1999 divorce from Christian-musician Gary Chapman, and her remarriage to country-music singer Vince Gill in 2000.
As a singer, myself, I admire Miss Grant's talent. Her voice has great beauty, and she has done much good with it. She has also done very well - something no Christian should begrudge to an artist who works hard to use her gifts. But Miss Grant's crossover career should be a cautionary tale to those tempted to use "Christian success" as a springboard into mainstream culture, music, politics, etc. Christian stardom is a rarified environment. If you use it to cross over, Christian "fans" who once put you on a pedestal will never regard you in the same way again. As the old song says, they'll have "lost that lovin' feelin'". (You could ask Amy Grant.)
I make these observations not to criticize Miss Grant who is, by all accounts, a fine Christian and a decent person. Divorce is not a good thing, but it is not the sole measure of a life. It can happen to people who subsequently do much good with their lives. (Conversely, some real stinkers have never been divorced.) I cite Amy Grant's story because another Christian star is ready to cross over. That hot property is mega-church guru and best-selling author Rick Warren.
The Rev. Warren is senior pastor of the 22,000-member Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, CA. His best-seller, "The Purpose-driven Life" - the biggest-selling hardback book in history (over 20 million copies) - is studied and treated with near-Scriptural reverence in many evangelical churches. Saddleback Church maintains a worldwide network of over 40,000 churches, and has trained over 300,000 pastors at its leadership conferences. Rick Warren basically has built his own denomination. Millions of Christians think he can do no wrong. Time Magazine named him one of the twenty-five most influential evangelicals in the country, and six hundred senior pastors placed him second only to Billy Graham as the person having the greatest influence on church affairs in the country. He has appeared on Larry King Live and Fox News. A Fox program was entitled, "Can Rick Warren Change the World?" (8/19/06). Rick Warren is hotter than the pope.
When you're hot, you're hot. Right now Rick Warren is the man every politician wants to consult, wants to be seen with. He has the Answers. After delivering the invocation for a 2004 inaugural gala, he met with 15 senators who wanted to hear both his advice and the details of his plans to tackle worldwide poverty, disease, and ignorance.
So many problems to be solved - so little time. I don't mean to make light of the problems - only of the adolescent idea that one man has the wisdom, the power and the resources to solve them. It simply can't be. Nobody is that smart or has a staff that good. I'm not the only one saying so. In an article of August 20, 2006, (1) Sandy Simpson (writing for Deception in the Church) said, "Rick Warren does not have a mandate from God to change the world. Christians have a mandate to preach the Gospel and disciple all nations, being light and salt to the world. We do NOT have a mandate to fix the problems of the world... nor should any Christian make that boast."
But such voices of caution are far out on the fringes of the Warren phenomenon. In recent months Rick Warren has taken the first steps toward crossing over to mainstream secular politics. It was just a matter of time. The only question was which problems he would solve first. Would he announce a plan to stop the annual 800,000+ abortions in the USA and the 10 million annual abortions, worldwide? Would he exert his influence to preserve traditional marriage? Or launch a movement for a massive improvement in education for American children?
None of these turned out to be Rick Warren's "crossover" issues. Instead, he chose the safe, politically correct issues of global warming and AIDS - both very high on the liberal list of "world problems". Selecting them virtually guarantees that Dr. Warren will cross over to very high levels of mainstream liberal acceptance. He will bask in paeans of praise for his "social responsibility" and his demonstrations of "faith in action". No doubt, many of his Saddleback disciples (and numerous admirers from afar) will follow him over. They might think the Rev. Rick will change liberalism, but they will be mistaken. It will change him.
Rick Warren will find out that the crossover which wins him acclaim from the mainstream culture will cause the scales to fall from the eyes of many who thought he was a new messiah with all the answers - just as Amy Grant's crossover showed her fans that she had feet of clay and a thirst for a buck that was no different from theirs.
Rick Warren chose from a tantalizing menu of crossover issues, but he chose poorly. Christians with half a brain know that global warming science is not "settled", no matter how many scare-politicians (like Al Gore) declare that it is. Scientists don't even agree that we are in a "warming era", or on what is causing it (if it is a warm period), or on what we can do about it (if we are causing it), or if it will necessarily be bad for us. Christians will also see that big shots like Rick Warren don't plan to ride bicycles, lose their jobs, or sit in cold houses to "save the planet".
They will also see that of all the social issues Rick Warren might have chosen, HIV-AIDS is one of the most controversial because the disease is largely preventable by altered human behavior. As a minister of the Gospel, Dr. Warren knows that hearts changed by Christ's power can produce changed lives. But his recent worldwide AIDS conference featured liberal politicians like Barak Obama. (Has anyone asked what skill-set or specialized knowledge the senator brings to the table on this issue?) Liberals' approach to AIDS will almost certainly make scant reference to the Gospel and its effect on the human behaviors causing this terrible scourge.
Rick Warren might think he is using liberal politicians to cross over to mainstream influence. But they hope to use him to gain respectability among Christians who have been Warren-adherents. In the end, when "The Rev" crosses over those followers will see him in a new light. His ministry might continue on, but it will never be the same. "That lovin' feelin'" will be gone.
(1) "Can Rick Warren Change the World"; Sandy Simpson, August 20, 2006. http://www.deceptioninthechurch.com/psalm73.html