Sunday, August 23, 2009

A challenge to Rick Warren

Challenging Rick Warren... is it possible? So I asked myself.

The pastor from Saddleback Church, California tweeted today saying Tweet! Tweet! (not exactly, follow link to read). Though I would just as soon pass over his tweet amidst a rapid stream of tweets I follow in a day, something about what he said has to be challenged.

But I want to say something here about the guy before I unpack my challenge. I'm a fan of Rick Warren. I benefited from his book The Purpose Driven Life and I believe God is using this man mightily to advance His kingdom. For those who aren't familiar with this guy, he's the man who delivered invocation at Barack Obama's inauguration. So I just want to say that I respect this man and what he aims to achieve as my brother in Christ.

Having said that here's the challenge to Rick Warren. More than 27,000 people were following his Twitter feed as he said in one of his tweets, "Everytime u hold ur tongue when attacked or misrepresented your spiritual power grows. Humility gives u authority."

I could almost see the folks who nodded along with Rick's statement. My brothers and sisters in Christ who buy into this seemingly harmless piece of advice. But of course, they would say, that's what Jesus himself would have done! How do I know? Look, Rick gave the evidence in Matthew 27:12: When [Jesus] was accused by the chief priests and the elders, he gave no answer.

I get a shiver down my spine whenever a verse is plucked from the Bible and emblazoned with a be-all and end-all finality. The attitude that slaps the slogan "thus saith the Lord so nothing more needs to be said about it" on top of every Bible verse taken out of context to support our own agenda or misreading of the Bible.

However I don't believe that's what's in this man's heart. Still Rick holds Matthew 27:12 as one of the examples for Christians to keep their silence when, as he put it, "attacked or misrepresented". Let's say we give Rick the benefit of the doubt. What happens then when another verse from the Gospels is quoted where Jesus did speak out when he was attacked or misrepresented? Like the time when the Pharisees accused Jesus of breaking the law of the Sabbath in the beginning of Luke 6, or the time when Jesus answered those who tried to trap him by what he said in Mark 12:13-17?

In light of these and many other verses in the Bible that demonstrate the exact opposite of what Rick teaches, would you think Jesus himself was misrepresented when Rick say "Everytime u hold ur tongue when attacked or misrepresented your spiritual power grows" and tag Jesus' signature on the dotted line?

There's literally more to a Bible verse than being read in isolation. And it's called context. Ripped off of its context, I could make any Bible verse say whatever I want it to mean!

You read the paragraph, not just the verse. You take stock of the relevant material above and below. Since the context frames the verse and gives it specific meaning, you let it tell you what's going on (Stand To Reason). Things would clear up if only Rick Warren starts his reading of Matthew 27 at the very beginning... from verse 1 where it says: Early in the morning, all the chief priests and the elders of the people came to the decision to put Jesus to death.

With the context in view, we now understand the real reason why Jesus was silent on this occasion. He must have known that the chief priests and the elders already had their minds made up to kill him. Doesn't that make much more sense now? In fact that also coincides with what Jesus taught his disciples earlier when he said: Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces (Matthew 7:6). Obviously Jesus thought it unwise to defend himself when attacked by a bunch of goons who weren't seeking to listen to the truth in the first place!

Therefore I believe Rick Warren was seriously mistaken when he paints an inaccurate picture of humility. The Bible urges us to speak out for the truth whenever there is a willing audience:

But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander (1 Peter 3:15-16).

Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone (Colossians 4:5-6).

There is no reason for followers of Christ to carry on a sort of victim mentality tradition whenever persecution enters the picture of evangelism. I understand where Rick Warren is coming from. He is teaching humility but he only painted half of the picture. Unlike Rick's encouragement to hold your tongue everytime so your spiritual juice overflows, it takes true spiritual discernment to know when to respond and when to be quiet. And Jesus is the best teacher to learn that from.

Here's your take-home message: Never read a Bible verse. At least read a paragraph.

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Friday, August 07, 2009

Says who #10

"Some want to live within the sound of church or chapel bell; I want to run a rescue shop within a yard of hell."
- Charles Studd, English cricketer and Christian missionary