The book was designed to help people who have no sense of purpose of life to find purpose and meaning in life.
In page 9 it reads, "This is more than a book; it is a guide to a 40-day spiritual journey that will enable you to discover the answer to life's most important question: What on earth am I here for? By the end of this journey you will know God's purpose for your life and will understand the big picture - how all the pieces of your life fit together. Having this perspective will reduce your stress, simplify your decisions, increase your satisfaction, and more important, prepare you for eternity."
There are forty chapters in this book which the author strongly urges readers to read for the period of forty days. In fact, he urges readers to sign a covenant at the start to do it. And why forty days? Because the author attaches a spiritual significance to forty days.
Still in page 9, "The Bible is clear that God considers 40 days a spiritually significant time period. Whenever God wanted to prepare someone for his purpose, he took 40 days." Then he alleges examples of this. And he says, "The next 40 days will transform your life."
The book is divided into 6 parts:
- What On Earth Am I Here For? - 7 studies for 7 days.
- Purpose # 1: You Were Planned for God's Pleasure - 7 studies for 7 days.
- Purpose # 2: You Were Formed for God's Family - 7 studies for 7 days.
- Purpose # 3: You Were Created to Become Like Christ - 7 studies for 7 days.
- Purpose # 4: You Were Shaped for Serving God - 7 studies for 7 days
- Purpose # 5: You Were Made for a Mission - 5 studies for 5 days.
There are many things in the book that are commendable. But I want particularly to mention five.
- The book points out the necessity of divine revelation as oppose to human speculation.
"Fortunately, there is an alternative to speculation about the meaning and purpose of life. It's revelation. We can turn to what God has revealed about life in His Word.... To discover your purpose in life you must turn to God's Word, not the world's wisdom. You must build your life on eternal truths, not pop psychology, success-motivation, or inspirational stories." (page 20)
As to whether the book itself is faithful to teachings of the Bible is something that needs to be examined. But it does point out, at least, the necessity of divine revelation as oppose to human speculation.
- The book also starts with a right premise that true meaning in life can only be found when we understand that we were made by God for God.
"If you want to know why you were placed on this planet, you must begin with God." (page 17) "In the same way, you cannot arrive at your life's purpose by starting with a focus on yourself. You must begin with God, your Creator. You exist only because He wills that you exist. You were made by God and for God - and until you understand that, life will never make sense. It is only in God that we discover our origin, our identity, our meaning, our purpose, our significance, and our destiny. Every other path leads to a dead end." (page 18)
This is something that the Shorter Catechism in the 17th century has emphasized - "What is the chief end of God? To glorify God and to enjoy Him forever." Well, seeing this emphasis in a book written in the 21st century is a very welcome changed. Not many books today have that emphasis.
- The book also refreshingly distances itself from the health, wealth, and prosperity gospel
"Many Christians misinterpret Jesus' promise of the 'abundant life' to mean perfect health, a comfortable lifestyle, constant happiness, full realization of your dreams, and instant relief from problems through faith and prayer. In a word, they expect the Christian life to be easy. They expect heaven on earth.... This self-absorbed perspective treats God as a genie who simply exists to serve you in your selfish pursuits of personal fulfillment. But God is not your servant, and if you fall for the idea that life is suppose to be easy, ether you will become severely disillusioned or you will live in denial of reality.... Never forget that life is not about you! You exist for God's purposes, not vice versa." (page 173)
Now that is a very welcomed emphasis for churches immersed with the health, wealth, and prosperity gospel. Jesus Christ is our King. His agenda, nor ours, is the reason why we exists and live for.
- The book also puts a healthy emphasis on holiness of life.
The book emphasizes that God is not so much concern about our happiness and comfort in this life. His primary concern for us is holiness of life and likeness to Jesus.
Although the book does not provide a working biblical theology of holiness of life, but its emphasis on holiness is refreshing.
- The book has a healthy emphasis on the importance of the local church.
Although the book does not give the readers instruction as to what the marks of a true church are, its emphasis on the local church is very strong. Believers are exhorted to join a local church. They are urged to value the ministry of the local church.
In an age where evangelicals are almost embarrassed to mention to those whom they are evangelizing the importance of joining a local church, the emphasis of this book is a healthy one.
Some problematic portions.
First, the one major problem with the book is not so much what it says but what it does not say.
A half truth presented as if it were the whole truth becomes an untruth.
Rick Warren's book promises that if you go through its 40 lessons for forty days, then you will be equipped with what you really need to know to prepare you for eternity. This is clear from the page 34 of his book.
However, the book does not put emphasis at all about what we really need to know to be right with God. It does not clearly speak about our dreadful condition in the state of sin and under the wrath of God. It does clearly speak and puts emphasis upon who Christ is, why He had to die, and how Christ and the benefits of His works can be ours, through repentance and faith. It does not speak of the righteousness of Christ as the only righteousness we need to be right with God. It does not speak of the sacrifice of Christ as the only sacrifice we need to atone for all of our sins. It does not speak of justification by faith alone in Christ alone. None of these are emphasized at all.
And although there are a few statements sprinkled here and there concerning some of those things, no emphasis is really put on those central and heart issues of the gospel. Readers are not really confronted with those vital issues.
Now this is inexcusable in the light of the emphasis of the word of God - Rom, Gal, Col, Phil.
Moreover, this is inexcusable since the book promises to give us what we really need to know to prepare us for eternity. People think that is all they will have to know when in fact they still do not know the heart and central issue of the gospel.
Is the problem of meaninglessness and purposelessness in life a real problem? Yes. And the Bible recognizes that and addresses that problem particularly in the book of Ecclesiastes.
But is meaninglessness and purposelessness in life man's greatest problem? No. It is a problem but it is not the greatest problem. The greatest problem is man's dreadful condition of in the state of sin and under God's wrath. And it is this problem that the gospel particularly addresses - Rom 1:17-18
For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, "BUT THE RIGHTEOUS man SHALL LIVE BY FAITH." For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness...
Therefore, since the book's diagnosis of man's greatest problem is not precise, the remedies it offers it not also precise.
Thus the book does not emphasize on the righteousness of Christ, the atonement of Christ, the priestly work of Christ, union with Christ. Why? Because the book defines man's need not in terms of man's dreadful condition in the state of sin and under the wrath of God but only in terms of meaninglessness and purposelessness in life. In fact, the book does not mention even once the wrath of God.
God has given us the message of the gospel to address man's greatest problem of sin and being under the wrath of God. But if we do not agree with God's diagnosis as to what is man's greatest problem, then we might still be force to somehow use the gospel message, but not to deal with what God's says is man's greatest problem but with some other problem we think is really man's greatest problem. And in trying to do that, we end up not rightly using the gospel. This was true of the health, wealth, and prosperity gospel. Ministers tried to make the gospel message meet this felt need. In doing that they end up wrongly using the gospel. Now the felt need is meaningless in life. And the gospel message is remade to fit that need. But what ministers should do is make people understand their biggest and greatest need - deliverance from sin and the wrath of God. Then and only then will the gospel message really be rightly offered as God's remedy to this biggest and greatest problem.
The gospel is offensive to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles. And only to those who are called by God, those who are being saved is the gospel the wisdom of God and the power of God - (1 Cor 1).
However, many Roman Catholics who have read that book do not really feel the offense of the gospel. They can read that book, feel that the book has strengthened his faith, and still continue in the errors of the Roman Catholic Church, and his works of righteousness. There are Roman Catholics who are commending the book but still do not see the need to repent of their erroneous beliefs and leave the apostate church of Rome.
Now this should not surprise us. Because one of those who endorsed the book is Billy Graham whose policy is to say to Roman Catholics who attend to his crusades to go back to the church and be good Catholics.
Without a clear presentation of the gospel, the writer invites the reader to pray the sinner's prayer. (Pg 58-59)
That is horrendous. And since the reader should move to the next chapter the next day as part of the covenant agreement with the author, then the one who prayed should assume that all he needs after saying that prayer is to grow spiritually.
That is not how the Lord Jesus nor the apostles did the work of evangelism. And that is not how the great Reformers and Evangelist in the past did the work. Only Finney started that method in the later 19th century.
A Berean spirit is found in Acts 17:11
- Eph 1:11 "Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are at Ephesus and who are faithful in Christ Jesus: " - The writer refers to this passage in page 20 without any sensitivity and regard to the context. Thus he quotes it as if it were spoken to all human beings without distinction, and not just to those who have come to faith in Christ and therefore, indicate that they are God's elect. What is even worse, the writer does not even quote a good and dependable translation but an outrageous paraphrase that completely changed the meaning of the passage. In page 20, "The Bible says, 'It is in Christ that we find out who we really are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eyes on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone."
- John 4:23 "But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. " - The writer refers to this passage in page 103. But note the paraphrase that he uses: "That's the kind of people the Father is out looking for; those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in their worship" . And this passage is used to support this comment: "There is no 'one-size-fits-all" approach to worship and friendship with God. One thing is certain. You don't bring glory to God by trying to be someone he never intended you to be. God wants you to be yourself..."
Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.
But the book does not encourage this attitude. In fact, the references of the Bible quoted in the book are not even given in the pages were they are quoted. They are only footnoted and tacked away in the last pages of the book.
And one does not have to be a genius to figure out why the writer has done this. He quotes passages of Scriptures without due regard to the context of it. And he uses translations and even very loose paraphrases that would suit his own purpose - not what the passage is really saying.
In other words, if you will have the Berean attitude, of seeing for yourself what the Scriptures is really saying, you will have serious problems and questions about Rick Warren's book. You will end up frustrated rather than blessed.
And this has become such a serious problem to some that those who seminars using this book does not encourage those who attend to bring their own bibles! But I thought the writer says that our belief must be founded upon the rock of God's word! That's confusing!
Its not a book worth-reading for Christians. A more biblical and helpful titles are - "Right with God," "Ultimate Questions," "All of Grace," "God's way of Peace," etc. Those books are safer guides and more biblical in their emphasis.
But its no good also to overreact. It would not be sin to read such book. Its could still be of some good than something garbage.
Discernment is still the key. But better still the best way to counter error is to proclaim the truth.