Our church just began Rick Warren’s “Forty Days of Community”. My first impressions of the program are not very good.
As a theologian, I believe that fidelity to God’s word is paramount. For that reason I teach using an expositional methodology. The 40 Days of Community is a topical study that purposely attempts to reach common everyday folk.
Regardless of whether a person is teaching topically or expositionally, fidelity to the scriptures and core Biblical teachings and doctrines is not optional.
Unfortunately, this program plays fast and loose with scripture in its attempt to support the topic of community. Warren makes and supports his points using a plethora of Bible translations and paraphrases. Many times those verses are ripped out of context and are made to support ideas and points that they can’t support if they were read in context.
I must confess I have seen this use of scripture before but not by mainline evangelicals. Instead this is very similar to the way that cultists twist scripture to support their peculiar doctrines. I call it “Biblical slight of hand” and sadly Warren’s program engages in it.
The 40 Days of Community begins with a dangerous ‘Biblical slight of hand’. This occurs in week one of the program in the “What Matters Most” section of the small group study.
Warren kicks off his study by quoting Galatians 5:6 from the Contemporary English Version. Here is how Warren quotes it, “If you are a follower of Christ Jesus…all that matters is your faith that makes you love others.”
First off, Warren has taken this passage out of context and left a key element of the verse out in order to make his point. By taking it out of context he now has given himself two choices for answering the question “What Matters Most”. He could emphasize faith or he could emphasize love. However, if he were being faithful to what the scripture actually teaches he could ONLY emphasize faith. Why? Because that is what the passage teaches.
The emphasis of the entire book of Galatians is salvation by Faith. It is written against legalistic Judiazers who were attacking the Christian gospel message of the free forgiveness of sins based on faith alone and not works. These Judiazers were saying that you weren’t really a Christian unless you also kept the law. Paul soundly defeats that teaching and shows that we are saved by Faith alone.
By ripping Galatians 5:6 out of context and picking love instead of faith as “what matters most”; Warren is not being faithful to scripture.
When you read the passage in context this becomes very obvious.
Here’s Galatians 5:6 from the NASB, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love.”
Notice that when add back in the words about circumcision it alerts the reader to the context of faith verses works. The passage emphasizes the importance of faith and then makes it clear that faith works through love.”
Rather than staying faithful to God’s word, warren chooses Love as “what matters most” and as a result begins his entire program emphasizing the wrong thing. What difference does it make? A huge one indeed!
By emphasizing Love and not faith, Warren is turning Christianity into a ‘works based religion’. A religion where you had better make darn sure you are ‘loving enough’ or God will not be pleased with you. Don’t believe me?
Warren even makes that point in the study video. In the discussion on the five radical statements about love., statement number 3 says “Nothing I believe will matter.” In discussing this point Warren says, “It takes more than faith to please God.”
Read that again, “It takes more than faith to please God.”
This is NOT the message of the Bible nor the Gospel! Scripture clearly teaches that we are saved by faith alone through grace alone on account of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice for our sins on the cross. Romans 2:9 – 3:28, Galatians 3:1-14, Eph 2:8-10, Phil 3:1-9
Furthermore, it is NOT love that makes us a Christian community, it is our common faith in Jesus Christ, that He is God’s Son who died for our sins and the sins of the world, that unites us and makes us into the Body of Christ. Our faith then expresses itself through love to our neighbors and fellow believers.
The major weakness of week one of the 40 days of community is that Warren’s fast and loose handling of the scripture can easily confuse a person into believing that we are not saved by faith alone but instead have to ‘love’ in order to be saved.
This is a confusion of law and gospel. But, scripture clearly teaches that faith alone makes us pleasing to God.
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