President-elect Barack Obama recently made what many consider to be a controversial choice to say the invocation at his inauguration. His choice was the very popular pastor and author Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, CA. You might have heard of the guy, he wrote a book entitled “The Purpose Driven Life”.
During the election Warren interviewed President-elect Obama and his opponent Senator John McCain at Warren’s church in what was called the “Saddleback Civic Forum”. The candidates sat down at Warren’s mega-huge church, they were asked questions by Warren and the audience was able to sit and listen.
Warren is known for his feel-good approach to life and his motivational book. He’s also a big contributor to a number of humanitarian efforts, including the fight against HIV/AIDS. Sounds like a pretty decent guy. So why is everyone all worked up about the President-elect’s decision to ask him to say the invocation on inauguration day?
Warren holds some positions some loud spoken members of the world consider wrong. For example, Warren considers the estate of marriage to exist between one man and one woman, so he’s opposed to homosexual marriage. He also believes that God makes each person unique and special and that every person has a right to life and has openly opposed abortion and a woman’s “right” to choose to terminate her child’s life.
For some others though, the decision to place Warren in a spotlight is even more troubling than because of his opposition to gay rights and abortion. Warren’s reputation as a pastor is the feel-good type. He’s going to make you feel better about yourself listening to him and if you read his book you’ll learn all of the things that you can do in life to make your situation better. These others I’m talking about are concerned that Warren represents Christianity as something it’s not.
Warren’s theology centers on what you can do for yourself. God has little purpose in Warren’s idea of what makes a Christian. For Warren, a Christian belongs to a church and a church is a social gathering for a community of people – who together can overcome anything. Ultimately the church exists to take care of the mess of life, so they work to cure diseases like HIV/AIDS, eradicate poverty and hunger and all those other things that make life less than bountiful. That’s the bottom line for Warren. For him, being a Christian is about having the good life, and your purpose here is to work at getting to that point.
There’s a whole lot of “YOU” in Warren’s idea of “church” and very little Jesus. It’s no wonder than that Rick Warren is such a success. After all, who doesn’t like hearing about themselves? I know I do! When you listen to Warren you’re sucked in because Warren wants to talk about you, just like any self-help genius would.
You don’t get very far, though, do you? It doesn’t take long before you drop the ball and mess up your picture perfect world. You either forget something or something – maybe even yourself, and through simple neglect you fail and fumble. Let’s not even get started on those things you do on purpose when no one is looking. You know what you do in the darkness of your room when you’re all alone, or what you think in the depths of your mind. We all sin daily and much. As hard as we try we just don’t have the abundant life we want, do we?
Thanks be to God the Lord hasn’t left it up to us. God realizes that despite our efforts we’re not going to give ourselves the abundant life. We just can’t! So in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ, He decided to earn salvation for all of us so that we might rejoice in the abundant life. Through the waters of Holy Baptism God has cleansed us from all unrighteousness so that in Him there is no such thing as disease or poverty – in Him there is only blessedness. True happiness is found in the Cross of Christ, where Jesus died and won all of these blessed gifts for you.
That’s not what Rick Warren preaches though, and that is perhaps even more disturbing to Christians then his opposition to gay rights and abortion is to the rest of the world. Rick Warren delivering the invocation on inauguration day makes Christianity look bad! It makes Christianity look like it’s all about you and what you can do for yourself, when in reality it’s all about Jesus and what He has already done for you!
In Jesus Name. Amen.