On March 9th, Saddleback church posted to their Twitter feed, “Jesus never let his theology get in the way of his ministry.”
It was subsequently deleted on March 31st following many adverse comments and retweets that were made by outraged Christians like myself. Theology is the study of God, so if Jesus is God in the flesh, then who better to teach about God, then Jesus himself?
I was shocked to say the least that Saddleback would make such a ludicrous statement. Then again, I shouldn’t be so surprised considering the source. Rick Warren, founder of Saddleback Church wrote in his book, The Purpose Driven Life, “This is the essence of witnessing – simply sharing your personal experiences regarding the Lord.” He claims that we aren’t expected to “prove the truth” as lawyers prove a court case. He further claims that “your personal story is more effective than a sermon, because unbelievers see pastors as professional salesmen, but see you as a ‘satisfied customer,’ so they give you more credibility” (p.336). So apparently, churches need to provide a shopper’s survey so we can tell about our “customer experience.” Then those pesky pastors will have something to validate that unbelievers should “buy” what they are “selling.”
Warren also articulates, “Many people who won’t accept the authority of the bible will listen to a humble, personal story. That is why on six different occasions Paul used his testimony to share the gospel instead of quoting scripture” (pg. 337). The bible proves the first statement to be untrue. “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead” (Luke 16:31). The second statement, which is in reference to Paul’s time in Jerusalem (Acts 22-26), gives a horrifyingly wrong understanding of Paul’s ministry.
A great example of how Paul conducted his ministry is found in Acts 17. While in Thessalonica, Paul and Silas went to the synagogue of the Jews. It says, “And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead” (Acts 17:2-3). Take notice of what this passage is saying: as was his custom, reasoned from the scriptures, proving it necessary for Christ to rise from the dead. Meanwhile, Warren claims we aren’t expected to “prove the truth” or use scripture to witness. What a disturbing statement to make in face of the countless martyrs that have spilled their blood throughout history, who lived in accordance with Paul’s example.
Here are more examples of Paul using scripture for his ministry. Acts 17:11, “Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” In Acts 17:24-31, Paul preached from the Scriptures to the Men of Athens, to prove that there was a creator. In Acts 18:19, Paul returned to Antioch and “reasoned with the Jews.” In Acts 19:8, “he entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God.” Contrary to what Warren teaches, Paul was using theology to “prove the truth” to the unbelieving Jews throughout the book of Acts. Jesus used theology as well. In fact, if Jesus truly is incarnate, then He was automatically engaging in theology.
God did not tell us to hide the gospel behind a “personal story” that would be more relatable to unbelievers. He said, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation (Mark 16:15). Does “proclaim the gospel” mean that we should present it in different ways because they may not accept what the bible teaches? Proclaim means “to declare” and the gospel is the “good news,” which is found all throughout the Bible. So how can we proclaim the good news without scripture? We can’t! In order to tell about God, we must know God, and we know Him through His Word.
So why has theology become such a bad word? What has happened to that age-old children’s song, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine” that we sang as children? When did we become so afraid that the Bible will only scare people away? Paul preached the Word boldly because he was not ashamed of the gospel (Romans 1:16). We also should proclaim boldly, the teaching of the scriptures, and not be afraid that it will only drive people farther away from it.
Christians should have confidence in the power and sufficiency of God’s Word (1st Timothy 3:16). “For the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit” (Hebrews 4:12).
Warren should contemplate long and hard on Jesus’ assurance that “man does not live off of bread alone, but off of every word that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD” (Matthew 4:4, Deuteronomy 8:3). This should compel Warren and Saddleback Church to sing out God’s Word in proclamation, “let it shine, let it shine, let it shine!”