Rick Warren's Conundrum (What if . . .)

Mega-church pastor, best-selling author, and evangelical icon, Rev. Rick Warren wrote the foreword to a book authored by Rabbi David J. Wolpe titled, Why Faith Matter (2008). Rev. Warren had this to say of Rabbi Wolpe,

This beautiful book is a gift to all of us. So much of what is published today about faith just rehashes warmed-over clich├ęs and feels out of touch with reality. In contrast, every page of this special volume has the smell of authenticity on it. . . . 

The closer I get to David Wolpe, the more I am impressed by this man of faith. As an author, religious teacher, professor, cancer victim, and television commentator, his unique contribution of experiences has given him a credible platform from which he presents the case that faith in God truly matters at this critical time in our world. 

Regardless of where you are in your own personal faith journey, I’m certain that his profound insights in this book will stimulate your thinking and even touch your soul about the reality of God in fresh and surprising ways.

This foreword by Warren is proudly advertised on the book’s front cover as a selling point: “Foreword by Rick Warren, author of The Purpose-Driven Life.”   

Of course, Rabbi Wolpe’s “faith in God” is not “faith in Jesus” which Warren believes is essential for salvation. In 2012 Warren was interviewed by ABC’s Jake Tapper and was asked if he believed that Jesus is the only way to heaven. Warren responded,

I do believe that. I believe that because Jesus said it. See, I don’t set myself as an authority. Jesus said I am the way. He didn’t say I’m one of the ways, he said I ‘m the way. I’m the truth. And I’m the way. I’m betting my life that Jesus wasn’t a liar.”

Next, Tapper observed that Warren was involved in a lot of Interfaith dialogue with friends of other faiths. He asked Warren,

Why would a benevolent God tell those friends of yours who are not evangelical Christians I’m sorry you don’t get to go to heaven?

Here’s how Warren sidestepped the question,

I don't think any of us deserve to go to heaven. I don't think any -- I think the only way any of us get into heaven is God's grace. Most of us think, well, if my good works are higher than my bad works than I'm going to kind of make it in.

And most of us want -- have enough works to get -- good works to get into heaven, but enough bad works to be fun. But the bottom line is God doesn't grade on a curve. People say, well, I'm better than so-and-so. You probably are. In fact, I have no doubt many non-believers are better than me in certain moral issues.

They probably are more -- have integrity or something like that. I'm not getting to heaven on my integrity. I'm not getting to heaven on my goodness. I'm getting to heaven on what I believe Jesus said is grace. And the fact is it's available to everybody.

Tapper was gracious and let it ride, refusing to press Warren to actually answer the question. Tapper then shifted to a lighter subject saying: “On Facebook we were asked to ask you do dogs go to heaven?”

I would have loved for Warren to have actually attempted to answer the question about his friends not making it to heaven. I would love to know how Warren can say what he says about Rabbi Wolpe, yet still believe that Rabbi Wolpe will be denied entrance to heaven?

The basic problem, as I see it, lies in how evangelical Christians like Warren understand Christian salvation. For most evangelicals like Warren salvation is primarily perceived as a legal, juridical transaction between the believer and God resulting in the forgiveness of sins and the assurance of heaven.

What if, instead of the way that view it now, evangelical Christians like Warren thought of salvation in terms of “healing” and “wholeness” and “liberation," as salvation is, in fact, primarily depicted in the Gospels?

What if evangelical Christians thought of salvation as a reclaiming of original blessing, rather than forgiveness for original sin?

What if evangelical Christians experienced salvation as a process of growth in love, rather than as a reward for believing a particular doctrine about Jesus?

Then Christians like Warren might actually experience the extravagance of a divine grace that reaches every person, not just those who conform to their belief system.

Then Christians like Warren would realize that they have already been forgiven, and have always been loved with an eternal love. Instead of worrying about believing the right things (and getting other people to believe the right things) in order to secure forgiveness and go to heaven, they could glory in a radical, unconditional forgiveness already theirs, accept their friends of other faiths as truly their sisters and brothers, and spend the rest of their days talking about how good God is.

Then Christians like Warren would not have to say one thing in the foreword of a book whose author is clearly his friend, and something completely different to his vast fan base who regard the author as an unbeliever destined for hell. 


  1. You grew up in the southern baptist tradition. A southern baptist minister. What if Ricks (big assumption here based upon my understanding of the theology in question ) basis is true...Gods grace is for all but we as individuals must accept that grace...make a concious choice to believe..

  2. I am new to the progressive christianity movement...it is thought provocing in social justice and truly following the words of Christ from the new testament....the progressive movement respects all beliefs...except the traditional beliefs which they seem to denounce hands down as being flat out narrow minded and wrong....I do not understand. ..

  3. It is interesting tp me that I grew up a southern baptists ministers son. In the tradition that is so condemned today as a fundamentalist. As I reached adulthood my rejection of the belief was in that of all the denominations including Catholicism we disagreed in the minutia...and that my southern baptist dad thought everyone who was not a southern baptist was not a believer...the progressive movement seems to be the same....if you are as not as enlightened as I then God help you...

  4. I rejected the thought that you had to believe exactly in the minutia as a southern baptist. What I found as an adult was that Catholic's Lutheran's Presbyterian's Coventers Methodists all believed very similarly in the denominations cores...even eastern orthodoxy is not that different in one central area. We have to make a choice to believe

  5. A lot of arguments between the lines in all of those

  6. The self righteousness of the fundamentals is only matched by those of the progressives. :(

    1. Ben, because I am critical of fundamentalist/conservative Christain beliefs and practices does not mean I condemn them or exclude them from the family of God. Here is a major difference between progressive and conservative versions of Christian faith. I accept my conservative sisters and brothers as God's daughters and sons regardless of how much I disagree with them and criticize them. But I hear some of what you are saying. I struggle with the difference between being a reformer and engaging in prophetic speech and when that crosses the line into condemnation. I don't claim to be Jesus, but Jesus both dined with Pharisees and critiqued them quite harshly. Apparently he felt that loving them involved critical denunciation of some of their beliefs and actions. My first two degrees were from conservative schools, so I understand conservatives, since I use to be one. I don't put conservatives in hell the way conservatives so often do with me. They are my family regardless of how much I disagree with them.

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