Last week's Time Magazine featured Rick Warren with the title "Rick Warren – The Purpose Driven Pastor – America's most powerful religious leader takes on the world." In addition to this introduction, Rich Warren was scheduled to hold a forum with both candidates – John McCain and Barack Obama on Saturday, August, 16, 2008 featured in it entirety on some TV stations. The Evangelicals can be very proud of his accomplishments.
For the readers of this column who are not familiar with Rev. Rick Warren, I want to mention that his book The Purpose Driven Life sold over 30 million copies and The Purpose Driven Church has sold over 1 million copies. These books are translated into more than 50 languages. He is the pastor of the Saddleback Church in California, which currently has over 15,000 members and he has trained over 500,000 ministers.
This is not the first time that an evangelical has appeared on the front page of newspapers. I still remember when Time Magazine announced the arrival of a newborn in the seat of power. President Jimmy Carter claimed that he had a newborn (or born again) experience. Soon after that, charismatics such as Jimmy Baker and Jim Swiggart made the front page of many newspapers. At the same time Jerry Falwell's "Moral Majority" appeared and Pat Robertson's TV station started to broadcast on daily basis.
Right now, Rick Warren's picture, notes, tapes, and videos appear everywhere. He is interviewed often and gives advice nationally and internationally. The subtitle of the article in Time almost gives him a messianic title – America's most powerful religious leader takes on the world. Warren is theologically and politically astute enough to be aware of the messianic temptation, yet he feels strongly that the church is the only institution that can take care of the problems that the world is facing – structurally, economically, morally, etc. (I was in one meeting in which one of the speakers mentioned that Rick Warren was writing a book entitled The Purpose Driven World and for a split second I believed it. Warren is writing a book which is due to be published in the fall entitled The Purpose of Christmas.)
To test his international proposals, Rick Warren started to work in Rwanda. This is a wonderful idea. The country is in dire straits and it needs all the help that it can get. Warren uses the mnemonic device "PEACE" to summarize his approach. It stands for plant or partner with churches, equip leaders, assist the poor, comfort the sick, and educate the next generation. After a number of years some goals have been accomplished, but the evaluation has been hard. It is a learning experience and some experts find that the accomplishments and successes are slow in coming. Nations are very different than churches and the processes are more complicated. Together with the praises that Rick Warren received he finds out that there are people who want him to fail and there have been some harsh evaluations of his work in some of the major newspapers.
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In addition to the small scale activities in the church, there have been other attempts by highly successful Christians in the USA. In the beginning of the 21st century, Bruce Wilkinson wrote a book entitled The Prayer of Jabez. This book sold over 9 million copies and Wilkinson started to work with the nation of Swaziland. He had some grandiose ideas about improving the agriculture, the health and the infrastructure of these countries. All of these came to an abrupt stop in the fall of 2006 when there was a major disagreement between one of the royal princes and Wilkinson.
Despite the criticism, one hopes, prays and wishes Rick Warren well for the sake of the people who need the help, for the sake of the church and for the sake of the nations that need to move forward.