As we post this article to ColumbiaFAVs.com, it just so happens that Warren Mayer – we'll use full names in this article to avoid "confusing our Warrens" – is driving around the streets of Columbia, with three used copies of Pastor Rick Warren's undeniably-influential "The Purpose-Drive Life" on the back floorboard of his pickup truck, hopeful that perhaps one of the guys he meets with during the course of a normal week will agree to give this 2002 devotional book a shot. Maybe handing someone their very own free copy will seal the deal: "Hey, this really helped me. Why not give this guy some of your time?"
In the 10 years since this book was published by Zondervan, its impact on modern evangelical thinking can hardly be overstated. While statistics do not tell the entire story, of course, some of the raw facts surrounding this particular effort are indeed breathtaking:
- simultaneously hit number one on all four major bestseller lists, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today and Publishers Weekly
- listed on The New York Times bestseller list for a record 114 weeks
- bestselling book for 2003 and 2004
- sales of more than 30 million copies
Nowadays, in addition to recommending the book to others, we both subscribe to Rick Warren's Daily Hope as one of a handful of daily devotionals that we find helpful. But an online daily devotional is only scratching the upper surface of a collection of "Purpose-Driven" Christian resources that all tend to boil down to the very simple idea that accepting Jesus Christ as Lord ought to make a difference in how we relate to the world around us and how we choose those things to which we will dedicate our lives.
In the New Testament, the book of James makes the "outrageous" pronouncement that faith without works is dead (James 2:20); Rick Warren's book landed on both of our souls such that we could almost "see" him nodding his head vigorously in agreement with this verse, and then following up with a plain English, no-nonsense call to allow our faith in Christ – in concert with and through cooperation with His Holy Spirit – to manifest itself with the marks of true conversion, namely "changed lives."
The New Testament is chock-full of accounts of men and women being dramatically and radically transformed by their encounters with the Son of God, why shouldn't this phenomena be taking place in the 21st century? Obviously, Rick Warren is of the opinion that it should.
For Warren Mayer, the overall effect of reading "The Purpose-Driven Life" was to take biblical concepts that had been drummed into his head since childhood – and completely disregarded – and "finally put wheels on them." Coming out of a decades-long addiction to drugs and alcohol, not to mention a hardcore atheism, there were several questions that needed to be answered, many biblical truths that had to face down an entrenched "So what?" response, and a host of other objections that had to be swept away for faith in Jesus to make sense in the head and a difference in the heart.
We are both well aware that Rick Warren has taken all sorts of criticism in the 10 years since this groundbreaking book was published. It's astonishing (to us, anyway) to consider that even though this book had been foundational to Warren Mayer's own recovery and subsequent life of faith, the years went by and the criticisms piled up to such an extent that the temptation was huge to begin harboring something of a dismissive attitude toward Rick Warren: "Oh, sure, that stuff is all fine and well for those just starting out in their walk with Christ, but we've grown beyond that now." While we might never have voiced this sentiment out loud, heart attitudes such as this were beginning to seep into our thinking, sad to say.
All of that changed forever with our attendance at the 2010 Desiring God National Conference in Minneapolis, where – due to circumstances seemingly "engineered" to keep Rick Warren from delivering his message in person – we both were treated to an hour-long message that was piped into the main auditorium of the Minneapolis Convention Center via live videostream.
His presentation on that particular day, "The Battle for Your Mind," caused both of us to immediately repent of having ever hardened our hearts against a man who, in point of fact, had played an instrumental role in bringing us both to faith in Christ and to the singular conviction that "saying we are Christians" is a far cry from actually living like one, dedicating our time, talent and treasure to the only Kingdom that will ultimately matter.
If you spend even just a few minutes watching Rick Warren speak, you, too, are likely to be blown away by his command not only of Scripture, but of common sense, coupled with a heart that deeply cares about the quality of life we live – Christian and non-Christian alike – while we're "still in the flesh."
As we both work part-time in ministry for our local church, there are (of course) dozens and dozens of titles that we reach for whenever we are talking to someone and "entering into their story," as they say. Many people express a need to rid themselves of an addictive habit, some have legitimate questions about the inerrancy of Scripture, others just need a bit more wisdom when it comes to raising their kids in the faith. As we think through someone else's story along with their previous history of faith (or non-faith), we might easily reach for titles by John Piper, Tim Keller, Paul Tripp, Erwin Lutzer, Mark Driscoll and so forth. We are grateful to be so deeply blessed by the sheer volume and availability of faithful pastors and authors.
Still, whenever anyone asks, for example, the "What difference does it make?" or "Why am I bothering to stay sober?" questions, we consistently seek out Rick Warren's amazingly successful and accessible volume to help people anchor a faith that might otherwise to them seem "ethereal" or "other-worldly," rooting it in solid, biblical, put-one-foot-in-front-of-the-other thinking. Hot off the presses or 10 years old, this book continues to have a lifelong impact in the hearts ands minds of those genuinely seeking answers to these timeless questions.