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Rick Warren Is a Bridge-Builder, Even With Muslims

Rick and Kay Warren at the PEACE Center

photo via The Orange County Register

It wasn’t long ago that I wrote a response to critics claiming that Rick Warren endorses “Chrislam.” My frustration then remains my frustration now, namely, that people will follow their first impulse, believe whatever comes up in Google, and assume the worst in the name of discernment, which is ironic since real discernment is about digging for truth instead of believing a first report.

The latest debacle surrounds a partnership between Saddleback Church and the Muslim community of Orange County, as reported by Jim Hinch in the Orange County Register. There are people who are constant critics of Rick and I fully expect, with any major news story, they will highlight minor points and twist them to fit their preconceived idea about Rick as the pseudo-evangelical heretic. God will handle such critics in His own way and time, as He sees fit.

I’m more concerned about the evangelical leaders who, because of those outspoken and overly-harsh critics, will be questioned by their church members every time they quote Rick or refer to him in some way. After the sermon, someone will ask the Pastor, “Are you sure you want to be following a guy who… supports Islam? promotes ‘Chrislam?’ embraces higher mysticism? etc.” To you, who courageously lead your churches and love Pastor Rick, I want to share some clarity.

Theologically, there are two points that surface repeatedly among questioners. One surrounds the verbiage that Christians and Muslims worship the “same God.” This is a rather poor choice in terminology, but the misunderstanding is understandable. What Saddleback really affirms is that both Christians and Muslims are monotheists – that we both worship one God, and that the deities of which we both speak share many similarities. Neither the Christian leaders, nor the Muslim leaders involved in the discussion have ever affirmed that Jehovah and Allah are the “same God.”

So “we both worship one God” is easily interpreted as “we worship the same God” but wrongly so. There is simply an affirmation that both Christians and Muslims are monotheists. Pastor Warren and Saddleback still affirm, without reservation, that Jesus Christ is the One and only Savior of the world. But the point of the discussion between the two groups wasn’t to point out differences but to point out similarities, not for the purpose of highlighting sameness between the two religions, but rather the ability for the two religions to tackle issues, side-by-side.

You may disagree with this approach. You might feel that Christians shouldn’t work alongside Muslims, even with differences clearly stated, to accomplish common goals. Disagreeing with this approach is acceptable, branding Rick Warren as a false teacher is not. Disagree with Pastor Rick’s methodology if you wish, but don’t misrepresent his theology, which is clearly Christocentric.

The second point with which people have had questions pertains to an agreement between Saddleback and the Muslim community that “we will not try to convert one another.” Leaders have questioned, does Rick not believe in the necessity of evangelism and the Great Commission? Does he not see conversion to the faith as necessary for entrance into eternal life with Christ?

Again, based on Rick’s track record of having spent over thirty years building a church that constantly shares the gospel (the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and salvation in Him alone by grace alone through faith alone), continually baptizes far more new believers than their critics, and having sponsored the planting of churches around the globe, I would assume the benefit of the doubt might be extended to him. But since the question has been raised, let it be understood that Rick Warren unequivocally espouses the necessity of evangelism to the life of Christianity, to the vitality of the church, and to the gathering of all nations to Jesus Christ.

It is the method of evangelism that becomes the important issue. Saddleback is merely challenging Christians to state the truth of their faith, share their story, and demonstrate the love of Jesus. Out of this kind of living, without any manipulative or coercive tactics, people of any non-Christian background will be enticed to ask more questions. Not once has Rick encouraged Christians to hide their faith or obscure the specific nature of their salvation experience. On the contrary, Saddleback regularly trains thousands of individual believers in how to share their faith while believing that the gospel, in an of itself, can be entrusted to a sovereign God to draw and save those who are willing to seek and ask.

In other words, we don’t have to “get people to convert.” Our obligation, according to the Great Commission, is to go and tell all the nations about the gospel of Jesus Christ, leaving the results entirely in the hands of the Holy Spirit. The Great Commission is not about getting people to exchange one religion for another. It’s about sharing the story in both word and deed and demonstrating the irresistible, life-changing power of Jesus Christ.

Any time a leader like Rick Warren steps outside of the comfortable bubble of our evangelical tribe to extend a hand of friendship to a people with such different beliefs, the rest of us feel a little shaky, perhaps even a little afraid of what might happen if we totally opened our hearts and arms to those on “the other side.” Our sense of hoping to preserve the safe distance between us and them is, perhaps, the greater problem in this story. Jesus once challenged an entire generation of Jewish leaders to consider forsaking their legalistic safety zone to embrace prostitutes, tax collectors, and Samaritans. Maybe He’s still challenging us today…

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  • Mbanks2

    I have long thought and said that many Christians have an attitude that repels people from the gospel, instead of causing people to embrace it. Actions speak so much louder than words. Im not an expert on Muslims, or Christianity for that matter. But Im pretty sure that Christians are called to share the gospel with everyone, and furthermore, they are called to love thy neighbor. Its a sad day that Christians condemn a man for doing what God told him (and them, for that matter) to do.

    • http://brandonacox.com Brandon A. Cox

      That’s a good way to put it!

  • http://twitter.com/Batt4Christ Michael Battenfield

    Brandon – in a world that is rife with those who DO equate all religions (demented universalism?), and when we Christians live in a dark world that IS going to search for reasons and ways to break down God’s people, we have to be careful HOW we say things.  

    There is no doubt that we MUST reach out to Muslims (and Hindus, Buddhists, etc.) – as God’s commission IS to carry the Gospel to all the World – into all Nations (that is people groups, not literal countries).  We do need to pursue new means of opening doors to the Gospel, and that often must begin with the opening of our hearts.

    But again, words have meanings, and perception is reality for many.  I will admit, I was quick to jump the gun when I read that statement – even sending out a tweet with a link.  I have now sent out a tweet to this entry of yours to balance.  Thank you for trying to shed some light and clarity on what was easily perceived as something quite bad.

    • http://brandonacox.com Brandon A. Cox

      Michael, thanks for your feedback. It’s a reminder of how careful we must be, even with the smallest of words, in a theological discussion. Precision is important.

  • Chris Martin

    Thank you Brandon so much for giving clarity to a muddied up debacle. I am  tempted to point fingers but the Holy Spirit constrains me as I want so  much to lash out at those who jump to conclusions without discernment or as you say, their failure in giving a man like Pastor Rick Warren the benefit of the doubt. Having attended Saddleback Church since 2001, I can vouch for all of your observations about Pastor Rick Warren. The motto his father essentially passed on to him even as Elijah passed his mantle to Elisha, was to “win one more for Jesus” indeed, it was practically on his Dad’s dying breath as he went on to be with his Savior, Jesus Christ. Even on major Christian web sites the gavel’s of judgment and innuendo fly and Rick Warren is tried and “executed”… pray for Pastor Rick… he’s a good man and in good standing in the sight of God our Savior, Jesus Christ. For the remainder of his life, I am confident Pastor Rick will be “winning one more for Jesus”….

    • Larrymooresaddleback

      Thanks for your reply Chris. I remember when some questioned Rick about his choice to choose Dr Oz to help set up a diet/health program for the church. There was much worry and debate over that.

      • http://brandonacox.com Brandon A. Cox

        Larry, I wrote a similar response to that issue that is found on the Daniel Plan website. It doesn’t take much.

    • http://brandonacox.com Brandon A. Cox

      You’re right, Chris. I remember that story well, and it’s a defining story for Rick’s sense of mission.

  • http://twitter.com/tho_as tho_as

    According to the Register, Rick’s neighbor says about Rick,  “”He calls me his Muslim brother,” Barakat said. “It all started with a friendship.””.   The perceived mistake in the mission Rick has taken is that Islam is a religion, and should be accepted as a religion.  It may be if the world’s most evil movements could also be considered religions, such as communism, Marxism, who have no god.  Islam is the same there, for their god does not exist.  Does Rick and others who support this outreach really believe this can turn into anything other than the Christian’s loving their neighbor and if I may say, as some believe, their enemies?

    Think about this.  Islam was begun by a man, Mohammad, who had ulterior motives.   Mohammad’s motive for beginning his movement was that he did not like the other religions around his time.  Mohammad spread his belief with lies, coercion and the sword.  If his god was real and he was a true prophet, why would this religion be spread in that way?  Would the god Christians believe in teach this way of evangelizing?  So, with this in mind, why would anyone accept Islam as a true religion?  No real god, violence used in evangelizing as a norm, and started by a man who did not believe in god except the one he invented.

    I say Islam is not a religion, it is a belief that fosters sedition.  Islam never met a government it liked and lived under it’s governance.  Islam is geared to implement Sharia Law in any nation it’s people live in.  As Muslim numbers multiply, so does the representation in the nations government through democratic means.  This is Islam’s goal, to rule.

  • David Borjon

    Thank you for clarification and the response to the OC Register’s article. I hope and pray that those that point a finger and are quick to murmer take the same tine to read this response and gather facts instead of innuendos.

    Blessings,
    Dave B.

  • Alan Bennett

    Let me be the first to say I readily admit to having great admiration and respect for Rick Warren. Nor do I think I could walk one hour and in his shoes. However, there is a significant point that everyone seems to be missing in all this. The best way for me to describe my point, is to ask the following question: Why does Saddleback have its no drinking of wine policy or that married men should not be alone with women who are not their spouse policy?  Is it not there to protect the reputation of the ministry and in the end the repetition of Christ and His Kingdom?  Like it or not, Rick is not the average guy. Because of his fame, he has a greater responsibility to the Kingdom of God. Perception is reality to the majority, but more than this, even the apostle Peter lost faith when he saw Jesus not defending himself on the way to the cross. If Peter can lose faith, is it not reasonable to think that Rick’s sheep can also lose faith in his position based on circumstantial evidence? If a man is married for 30 years and his wife suspects him of infidelity will he not need to defend himself? He cannot simply state that I’ve been faithful for the last 30 years why would you question me now. If Rick is going to shepherd the sheep of Saddleback, he needs to reassure them as often as is necessary. Regardless of where the rumors come from and who is making the accusations, he needs to come out and speak the truth and make his position crystal clear 1000 times a day if that’s what is required.

    • http://brandonacox.com Brandon A. Cox

      Alan, I agree, and If you’ll keep an eye on ChristianPost.com, you’ll see an interview in which Rick clears the air in bold, precise terms. I’ll post thelink here once the story is live.

  • Lisa Merry

    Bless you Brandon! May God continually lift you up and I praise Him for your gifted writing! Pastor Rick has been my Pastor for 20 years…and at his very core all he cares about is winning souls to Christ…next caring for the underserved in our world. as Jesus would. He will reach out the hand and love of Christ to any human being, regardless of religion, sex, faith or culture. He is a man of great integrity combined with huge compassion and amazing intellect. I am so thankful to God every day for bringing me to Saddleback where I could change my life to be more like Christ and to have opportunities to sreve Him and the world around me. I admire Rick’s ability to live for an audience of One…and ignore his critics.

    • http://brandonacox.com Brandon A. Cox

      Amen Lisa!

  • 1230 Mark

    Wow!!!!! Brandon your writting is exceptional. Keep it up

    • http://brandonacox.com Brandon A. Cox

      Thanks Mark!

  • Duane

    Why doesn’t Pastor Rick put out a statement himself like you just did.

    • http://brandonacox.com Brandon A. Cox

      Duane, he did: http://www.brandonacox.com/culture/an-interview-with-rick-warren-on-muslims-evangelism-and-missions/