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The Purpose Driven Life- An Apologist's Review- Part 1: God's Purpose

Book Review- The Purpose Driven Life

The Purpose Driven Life (hardbackKindleaudio book) by Rick Warren is a book that I have meant to review for quite some time now. I had heard about it when it first came out in the early 2000s and had heard both raving reviews and scathing critiques. It was not until my pastor at the time did a sermon series on it that it really caught my attention. Over the years I have referred to it here and there in my blog posts, and I believe that the time has come for me to give it a full chapter-by-chapter review from the perspective of a defender of the Christian faith. I will include some of my initial impressions from years ago and reflections on its content that have bounced around in my mind from the last several years.

There is so much content in each chapter that should be included in my usual summary format, so because The Purpose Driven Life is broken into forty chapters and six sections, I have decided to break up this review into six parts to be posted over the next six weeks. I will present the usual chapter-by-chapter summary in each section then offer my thoughts about it. I will be sure to include links to the other parts to keep continuity and help you navigate the whole review once all parts are published.

  • Part 1: Created For God's Purpose
  • Part 2: Created For God's Pleasure (Worship)
  • Part 3: Created For God's Family (Fellowship)
  • Part 4: Created To Become Like Christ (Discipleship)
  • Part 5: Created To Serve God (Ministry)
  • Part 6: Created For A Mission (Evangelism)

  • Part 1- What On Earth Am I Here For?

    Quote from Rick Warren's "The Purpose Driven Life": "The easiest way to discover the purpose of an invention is to ask the creator of it. The same is true for discovering your life's purpose: Ask God."

    Chapter 1- It All Starts With God

    Warren begins his examination of the purposes for our lives at the very foundational question: how do we determine what our purpose is? Warren explains that it is nonsensical for someone to look to themselves to determine their purpose. Just like we would not ask an invention what its purpose is, we should not ask ourselves what our purpose is. Rather, just as we would ask the invention's creator what its purpose is, we should ask our Creator (God) what our purpose is.

    It is also nonsensical to simply guess or claim ignorance about our objective purpose. If someone was given an invention that had never been seen before, it would behoove the user to consult the instruction manual (inspired or written by the invention's creator) to discover its purpose and proper usage. The same goes for us; we need to consult the instruction manual (the Bible) inspired by our Creator to discover our purpose and the proper usage for our lives.

    Chapter 2- You Are Not An Accident

    Now, not every person is convinced that our lives have objective purposes; they take the position that no objective purpose exists and that they are free to make up their purposes as they go. In order to address this challenge, Warren appeals to the design of our universe and the design of our planet for advanced civilization to indicate that they were were designed by a Designer and that that Designer created them with the end goal of creating humans for His cosmic plans. (For those who wish to investigate this evidence in detail, I recommend reading two books by astrophysicist Dr. Hugh Ross: "Why The Universe Is The Way It Is" and "Improbable Planet: How Earth Became Humanity's Home".) This scientific evidence demonstrates that humans are not here by accident.

    Warren also zooms in on the purposeful creation, from the view of humanity in general to individual humans in particular. Warren explains that God is sovereign over the entire context of how each and every human comes to be. Everything from their physical traits to the way they were conceived to their natural abilities were under His guidance by His knowledge and His omnipotence for His purposes. Everything that we, as individuals, are was guided by God. God even anticipated other individuals' sinful and careless free choices and actions. So, nothing about our lives is accidental. By His omniscience God had a purpose for our lives; by His omnipotence He created us for that purpose; but it is our free choice whether or not we will fulfill that purpose or not (the whole reason Warren wrote this book is because we each have this free choice, and he gives us reasons to make the choice to align our lives with God's purposes- more on this in Chapter 7). (If the reader is curious about the interaction between God's sovereignty and man's free will, I highly recommend the book "Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach" by Kenneth Keathley.) The Creator created us, and His purpose for us exists independent of what we desire or believe. This purpose is objective; it is the purpose of our lives whether we believe it or not or whether we accept it or not.

    Chapter 3- What Drives Your Life?

    If we are to let God's objective purposes drive our lives, we must discover what is currently driving our lives and remove those driving factors. Warren observes that many people are driven by guilt, anger, fear, materialism, and/or the need for approval. None of those driving factors will lead to ultimate fulfillment, and all either lead to a dead end or a vicious, never-ending cycle. However, when we allow objective purpose to drive, our lives become meaningful, simplified, focused, motivated, and prepared for eternity.

    Objective purpose gives our spent time meaning in that what we do with our time has correspondence to the Creator's cosmic purpose for His creation (us) and that time spent is not in conflict with those purposes. Objective purpose also simplifies and focuses our lives by filtering out activities that do not lead to the achievement of the Creator's cosmic purpose. Objective purpose motivates our lives by giving us the knowledge and security of an eternal legacy that is shaped by our life experiences and our choices to use them for God.

    Chapter 4- Made to Last Forever

    Building upon the concept of eternity. Warren points out that humans are obsessed with living longer and even achieving immortality in some way. The reason that humans have this desire is because the Creator has designed us with the desire for more than what this life and creation can afford us. This life is full of suffering and evil, and humans want that suffering and evil to have purpose. We also want to be able to escape the evil and suffering to realize this objective purpose. To deny such a desire (not only for ourselves but for others as well) is to deny our humanity and even deny any claim to objective morality.

    It is only with an understanding of what "eternity" is, compared to our several decades of life in this creation, that we can begin to be prepared to focus our lives on the Creator's objective purposes. This life is merely a "blink of the eye" compared to eternity. So, the amount of time that evil and suffering are present will pale in comparison to the amount of time that they will be absent. The actions and decisions made with our time that correspond to the Creator's purposes will have an eternal legacy, while those that are in conflict will not. And to begin this journey of aligning our time, decisions, and behaviors to the Creator's objective purposes, we must begin our relationship with Jesus Christ, accepting that we are sinful and are in need of His forgiveness and redemption.

    In this chapter, Warren makes it clear that what is to come in the rest of the book is not intended to communicate or present the Gospel, but rather that it assumes the reader understands the Gospel, believes it is true, and has surrendered their life to Christ. If anyone gets further into the book and thinks that Warren has taken a "self-help" turn or is presenting a different gospel that focuses on the sinful self, they need to refer back to this chapter to recall that Warren believes that the purposes he is about to describe are not subjectively grounded in our sinful desires but objectively grounded in the unchanging nature of our loving Creator and Savior.

    Chapter 5: See Life From God's View

    The Bible describes this life in three different ways: as a test, as a trust, and as a temporary assignment. Warren explains that most of life's experiences are due to God testing the character of His children. These tests are not because God doesn't know, rather it is to develop our character to be more like Him. One of the big tests is how we will act in the times when we cannot feel God (the challenge of God's seeming hiddenness in life). When we realize that life is full of tests which are designed to develop our character, we see even life's trivial experiences as purposeful. It is our choice as to whether or not we will respond to life's situations in ways that will allow God's purposes for them to be realized in our lives or not.

    This life also represents a trust from God. God has trusted to us everything in our lives from our natural talents to those people around us, from the resources offered to us to the opportunities to use them. None of what we have is ours, but rather it belongs to God; He has merely entrusted us with what we have to be used for His objective purposes not our subjective desires. When we understand this reality and accept its responsibility, we begin to use what has been given to us more responsibly and understand that what God gave us was not for some arbitrary reason; it was to be used for God's purposes. The fact that we must choose how we will use what God has entrusted to us also tests and builds our character. This means that no matter how useless and/or gratuitous evil and suffering in our (and others') lives appear, they are not. If evil and suffering are wasted, it is because we have chosen not to use them for God's objective purposes. Ultimately, the responsibility for such "gratuitous" evil and suffering lies on our shoulders not God's.

    Chapter 6: Life Is A Temporary Assignment

    Everyone understands that this life does not last forever. We will eventually die, and this life will be over. This reality means that there is only so much time for each individual to accomplish the purposes for which God created them. In light of this truth, many of life's distractions (such as the "pursuit of happiness" and constantly being entertained) are seen as just that: distractions. Distractions take us down paths that will lead to either a dead end or an endless loop, both of which take up precious time but never bring us closer to fulfilling our objective purposes.

    To help reduce our desire for these distractions, God has wired us to never be truly fulfilled by the distractions of life. There does come a time in which we will recognize the dead ends and endless loops that the distractions bring, and we will search for more; we will search for objective meaning and objective purpose to use our time and resources towards accomplishing. Warren is not saying that material goods or fame are bad or evil in themselves, but that they do not serve as ends in themselves. Prosperity is temporary, and we should never make the mistake of thinking that that is God's purpose for us. Those who have prosperity do because it can be used for God's objective purposes. Prosperity is a means to God's ends. We have only so much of it and so much time to use it. Just like this life, prosperity is temporary, whereas God's purposes are permanent.

    Chapter 7: The Reason For Everything

    Warren concludes this first section of the book by explaining that ultimately, everything that happens is for the general purpose of God's glory- no matter how bad things are, the world that God has created and placed us in is the best world to get to the best possible world (remember, this world and life are only temporary). Warren explains that everything in nature gives God glory because it was designed to do just that. Warren uses the example of ants. Ants bring God glory by being ants and fulfilling their purpose in the ecosystem. However, humans, because we have the ability to freely choose to love something more than God (sin), can fail to bring God glory. While God has created us with certain passions and talents, we have the ability to choose to not use them for God's objective purposes.

    This is not to say that God is not sovereign over our choices; through His omniscience, He factored in every individual's free choices (including their obedience or disobedience) when He created this universe and when He created each individual in this universe, all so that His perfect will will be accomplished without fail (refer back to Chapter 2 for more on this). Warren's call to the Christian is to choose to use what God has given them to bring God glory. He then outlines the remainder the book and study. He will discuss the five more-specific objective purposes that God created us for that bring Him glory:
    • Bringing the Creator Pleasure (Worship)
    • Loving Other Believers (Fellowship)
    • Becoming Like Christ (Discipleship)
    • Serving Others (Ministry)
    • Telling Others About Christ (Evangelism)

    Introduction: Created For A Purpose (My Thoughts for the Apologist)

    In this first section of The Purpose Driven Life, Warren makes the case that humans were created for a purpose. Along with numerous passages of Scripture, he uses a few different familiar arguments from the fine-tuning of our universe and the design of our planet to defend this position. He is very clear that purpose is objective and that in order to discover our purpose, we cannot look to ourselves. The fact that he uses apologetic arguments and goes into the philosophy of purpose grabbed my attention right away. As someone who focuses heavily on philosophical foundations and logical connections between claims, I greatly appreciated how Warren chose to articulate his philosophical foundation and make the case for that foundation.

    The intended audience of the book is the Christian, so this first section is not meant to be a full defense of God's existence. It is meant to be a defense of objective purpose in the Christian's life and a defense of the idea that God uses every aspect of our lives to accomplish that objective purpose. As a defender of the Christian worldview, the fact that Warren claims that all experiences in our lives (including evil and suffering) have a purpose immediately got my mind thinking about the problem of evil: This book could be indispensable as not just a practical book on the Christian life but an unexpected apologetics book dealing with one of the most persuasive (though unsound) arguments against God's existence. No doubt this first section really sets up a defender of the Christian worldview with high expectations that Warren is about to present a theology of suffering thus providing additional tools and resources to address challenges to the truth of Christianity.

    Next week, we will examine the first purpose that Warren presents: that we are created to worship God.

    Continue on with the review (new links will appear as the parts publish):

  • Part 1: Created For God's Purpose
  • Part 2: Created For God's Pleasure (Worship)
  • Part 3: Created For God's Family (Fellowship)
  • Part 4: Created To Become Like Christ (Discipleship)
  • Part 5: Created To Serve God (Ministry)
  • Part 6: Created For A Mission (Evangelism)