But I mentioned in that post that I liked Rick Warren.
In the intervening days, it's become clear that a lot of people don't like Rick Warren and for many different reasons.
I disagree with Warren on some things.
But for the past twenty years, I've been able to be a fan of Warren without being a fan of everything he says or does. Why?
1. He's a shrewd, insightful analyst of culture and human nature. Back in the early 90s, I listened to many of his sermons on tape. Theologically, there are often things I wish weren't missing in Warren's preaching; but there's also a lot of substance.
2. He's a brilliant communicator. Like the best communicators, Warren has an enviable capacity for distilling big ideas and truths in memorable phrases.
3. He's a fabulous leader. Warren understands the art and science of leadership.
Part of that can be attributed, probably, to the example he had in a father who was a pastor. Because pastors can't coerce those they lead, they, along with other not-for-profit sector leaders, are called upon to exercise leadership in its purest form. They must lead through persuasion and influence, hopefully undergirded by guidance sought from God through prayer. Pastors who try to coerce never amount to much as leaders. On the other hand, pastors who refuse to lead end up in the same boat. Warren no doubt observed both good and bad examples of leadership in his dad.
On top of that, Warren has been a student of leadership. One of his tutors, for example, was the leadership guru, the late Peter Drucker.
I've learned a lot about leadership from Warren. His monthly "Leadership Lifters" audiotapes back in the 90s, brought greater clarity to my thinking as a leader. Leaders in all fields would benefit from what Warren shared in them.
4. He understands the function, the purpose, of the Church. As the body of Jesus Christ in the world, the Church, especially the individual congregation, is commissioned to "make disciples" for Christ. The word disciple means student or follower. Belief in Christ isn't meant to be a stagnant, dusty idea stowed away in our brains, like a poem memorized for an elementary school play. The follower of Christ is meant to be a lifelong student of the Christ-way of life, following Christ to discover new ways to love God, love neighbor, share Christ with others, serve others in Jesus' Name, and to personally continue growing in our relationship with the God.
Warren explains this as well as anyone and has done so most memorably in two major books: The Purpose Driven Church (1995), in which he outlined a strategy by which churches can help people in the process of growing as disciples, and The Purpose Driven Life (2002), where he helps people answer, from a Christian perspective, what our purpose for living is.
As a Lutheran Christian, I have problems with some of what Warren has to say in these books. I don't think that we're driven, for one thing. I believe that we're called by a God Who, through the Holy Spirit, woos us, persuades us. This same God also frees us from the monkeys on our backs that often drive us. The Christian is liberated from the demands of sinful world in order to live as truly human beings.
I also, not surprisingly, disagree with Warren when it comes to his understanding of baptism. He sees it as a rite in which persons who have reached "the age of accountability" make a public commitment to follow Christ. Such commitments are great, of course; we Lutherans do the same thing in the Affirmation of Baptism (Confirmation, which usually happens around age 14) and in our weekly invitations to worshipers to confess their faith in such formulas as the Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creed. But, I believe, these are only our responses to what Christ has already done for us, first from cross and empty tomb and secondly, in Baptism, which is God's act of claiming us as children of God. That's why we Lutherans--and most Christians in the world--present infants for Baptism. It isn't that children can't turn away from God or the covenant of Baptism. They do and God gives that freedom to the baptized. But God will never renege on the claim He made on us in the waters of Baptism.
Yet, I find more that I agree with in Warren's writings on discipleship than I find disagreeable. That's why in my former parish, we became involved in reading and digging into The Purpose Driven Life as a congregation.
5. Warren has done much good to combat poverty and AIDs around the world. His work in Africa shames those who like to talk about combating injustice and promoting peace. Warren has been engaged in those tough, demanding pursuits.
There are also other areas in which I disagree with Warren. I won't go into those here.
I think that President-elect Obama was right when, in defending his decision to invite Warren to give the invocation at the Inauguration:
"We're not going to agree on every single issue, but what we have to do is be able to create an atmosphere where we can disagree without being disagreeable, and then focus on those things that we hold in common."Those who portray Warren as a demon for his positions on homosexuality or a sellout for praying for the new president in January aren't paying attention to the whole person. His positions--theological and political--aren't driven by hatred. Nor, in being part of the Obama inauguration, is he endorsing abortion as a form of birth control.
His critics could learn a little tolerance.