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"Self-Help" that Says "It's Not About You"!
Dr. Orville Boyd Jenkins
A review of the book by Rick Warren
The Purpose Driven Life (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  Zondervan, 2002. 319p.)

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This book has been a best seller for about three, or is it four, years now, and is still on the New York Best Sellers list!  (Number three as I write this in September 2006.)  The New York Times one-sentence description reads "The meaning of life through God."  This has become the most widely sold book of current time, if I understood correctly.  It has been translated into languages all around the world.  Even Fidel Castro personally wrote to request a copy, and Rick gave him an autographed copy.

I have heard Warren himself laughingly comment that he thinks it is ironic that his book is sold in the "Self-Help" sections of popular bookstores, when the first line of the book states "It's not about you!" This book is simple, understandable (actually, a little too simple at times, becoming simplistic), and expresses some basic foundational principles developed around the Five Purposes of Life.  The first chapter is: "What on Earth am I Here For?"

Changed Lives
This book has changed lives, families and churches in the last few years.  The book became even more famous in the public forum a couple of years ago when a robber on drugs kidnapped a young woman in Atlanta, while on the run from the police and FBI after a robbery.  When he was holed up with her in her own apartment, she read portions of the book to him, and told him how it had turned her life around.

He became attentive, and expressed interest in this book. He became calm and asked her to tell him more.  Through his discussions with her over the message of the book, the robber-kidnapper finally decided to let her go and turn himself in.

Multiple Reads
I rarely read a book twice.  I maintain a rigorous reading schedule, three books a week, with specific categories for each month, plus lots of leeway for books I just discover in any of my wide-ranging interests.  But Warren's book got a full second read, a few months later, and lots of interim references, in both personal and group use.

Reading this book, then rereading it, was a surprisingly fulfilling experience.  Warren is profound in his simplicity, bringing to life old truths we all know, or ought to know, but in a new bright, direct way to challenge me to repentance and focus.  I was only vaguely familiar with Saddleback Church, and the Purpose Driven books, but was very in tune with what I found there.

I did not agree with all Rick presented, which gives me some comfort.  I always like to see where I disagree with an author, as well as where I agree and what he contributes to me.  I found that the themes seemed sound and consistent with what I have gleaned so far from the scriptures and my experiences of grace in Africa.

I have read it through two times, and read portions of it many times.  I have led prayer and discussion sessions on the book and its topics.  You can get this at Wal-Mart, Sam's club and most book stores, as well as on Amazon.com.

Social Insights
The book reveals much cultural analysis and social insights into the current society in the USA.  Warren's thoughtful reflections are not ranting, condemnatory and judgemental.  Rather he takes an approach of sympathetic understanding toward the social forces affecting every American, including those who press faith in Christ.

I was impressed with the level tone, and attitude of hope he projects in the way he expresses his message.  Because of his approach of presenting a message of hope from the Bible, he has come under fire from various fundamentalist and ultra-conservative sources that are disturbed by any message that differs in the slightest jot or tittle from their prescribed line.

Wasted Energy
I can't understand why some people feel it necessary to crusade against every effort they didn't start, or have some concerns or disagreements with.  I have seen a couple of websites that are specifically set up to counter the efforts Purpose-Driven Church and similar approaches.  Why don't these guys just get on with their own calling and expansion of the kingdom instead of fighting trends that others seem to find positive.

I don't like everything Rick Warren says either.  Should I?  I actually disagree with his simplistic, rule-book approach to the scriptures on some topics.  In order to get some scriptures to fit his topics, I have seen he sometimes uses them out of context, or applies them in a way I feel is not related to the intended meaning in their original context.

Okay, so Rick Warren is actually human!  He never claimed otherwise.  In fact, this book is all about admitting your humanity and seeking forgiveness and reconciliation where these are needed -- with God and with other humans.

But I also see he has grasped some deep principles, which I also resonate with, and feel are in keeping with the spirit of the scriptures.  I could improve several chapters of his book, myself.  But why should I?  I have my own calling -- I am responsible to God to get that done.

I have read Rick's book twice, parts of it several times.  I have it very marked up -- positive and negative!!  I have led prayer sessions and implementation programs for the Purpose-Driven Church.  Rick has seen a need and met it with a vigour and fervour, as well as a sweet spirit, that is mis-represented by some of his critics.

Rick criticizes no church or pastor.  Everything I have read of him or heard him say is focused on encouraging pastors and members to deepen their life, grasp their call and allow the Spirit to fill them with insights and gifting!  How can we knock that!?

Cultural Focus
Warren helped me become more aware of America, serving as a good contribution to my cultural orientation to this foreign country.  I have gained some perspectives with which to approach ministry outreach during the four years I was once again living in the US.  His suggestions gave me some confidence in the value of my contribution in this country.

In future years when I once again live on that side of the ocean, I expect what I learned during those four years, from Warren and others, will be helpful in reorienting myself towards the situation, needs and possible ways I can make a meaningful contribution to the community where I will live in North America.

Alternative Formats
Videotapes and other materials are also available. The topics of each chapter are also formatted for weekly reading and discussion groups, with focus activities and discussion questions.  Each of these books is organized on a 7-lessons pattern, with each week's topic correlating to each day's reading in the original book's format.  The book was originally organized for a 40-day reading cycle over a 7-week period.

Resources and Followup
You will see various churches, of all denominations in most countries around the world, announcing that they are observing this "Forty Days of Purpose" as a church-wide emphasis.  Most churches conduct the study on a home-group basis.  Some of these small groups continue studying the topics in greater detail through the weekly topic studies which offer more opportunity for background reading and discussion, and a better opportunity for community participation.

Some churches have even re-organized so that their home groups are the primary locus of their Bible study, discipleship studies and member care.  Resources on all these are available in resources from Saddleback and PurposeDriven.Com.

See related articles on this site:
Prayer Meditations based on The Purpose Driven Life
Concerns with the Lighthouse Lambast:  A Response to an Attack on Major Christian Mission Movements

See The Purpose Driven Life on Amazon.com.
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First written and posted on Thoughts and Resources 11 September 2006
A verison of this review also posted on Amazon.com on 11 September 2006

Copyright © 2006 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use.  Other rights reserved.

Email:  orville@jenkins.nu
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