Is The Purpose Driven Life the Evangelical Catechism?
David Drury & John Drury
When everyday people today hear the word “Catechism” far too many grow confused looks on their faces as they recall musty mainline ministers droning about theology. Some may think of Catholic school nuns rapping their knuckles with rulers for getting out of line. Some parents feel it is the right thing to do to put their kids through a catechism class, but know that it will not be a significant experience because it certainly wasn’t for them. Nearly all people think of something that is very, very old, and written by dead men who never played videogames or talked on cell phones, so how relevant would it be for today?
Compare that reputation with that of the book The Purpose Driven Life. The overwhelming popularity of Rick Warren’s
book and its Church Campaign-in-a-box counterpart “40 Days of Purpose” have
caught like wildfire across the church.
So why put these two reputations
side-by-side? What does the Purpose Driven Life have to do with Catechism? We suggest that The Purpose Driven Life is a functional attempt to catechize the
ADVANCING THE EVANGELICAL UNDERSTANDING OF THE BIBLE
For years people have bemoaned the fact that
evangelicals seem to be less and less educated about the Bible.
BUT CERTAINLY NOT A BIBLE STUDY
A UNIFYING DOCTRINE AMONG EVANGELICALS
Few evangelicals have found much to argue with in the Purpose Driven Life. Most people praise how basic it all is. He’s just laid out the stuff most every evangelical pastor has been trying to get the people to get for years. Now they’re getting it. Rather than a controversial edgy epistle that pushes our buttons, Warren’s work gives us a slow spiritual back rub – working out the kinks that so many church people are knotted up over. So just like the great catechisms of the past, it is not one person’s idiosyncratic take on the Christian faith, but rather an expression of a larger Christian community’s basic belief system.
INTER-GENERATIONAL IN APPLICATION
It’s intergenerational – and thus catches up the adults on things they didn’t learn for all these years without an evangelical catechism. Since most adult evangelicals can’t tell you very clearly what they believe, this alone has been the revolutionary effect of the movement. Once 80% or more of your church reads the same book and discusses it in small groups that becomes what they all believe by default in the lack of other basic belief teaching (read: catechism). It’s hard to find a church where the lasting effect of the campaign hasn’t been a laity who speaks in “purpose driven language.” So, akin to other significant catechisms, the Purpose Driven Life results in a particular lingo which becomes the identity marker for a particular Christian community.
A STRUCTURE FOR LIFE AND BELIEF
It’s structured around 5 core principles called purposes. They don’t add up to a flower acronym, but the five purposes of Worship, Fellowship, Discipleship, Ministry, Mission have a definite structure and systematized flow to them. It’s hard to find any Saddleback message, material or ministry without the 5 purposes somehow intertwined in the ideas. These principles have truly become purposes to them and the churches they influence. With any Catechism, this should happen – people are truly indoctrinated. Indoctrinization is simply the process of instilling doctrine in people—getting doctrine “in” them, literally. Perhaps The Purpose Driven Life is doctrine now: irrefutable beliefs of most Evangelical Christians. So following the pattern of previous catechisms, Saddleback’s five purposes provide an easy-to-learn doctrinal short hand.
40 DAYS OF CATECHISM?
We’re pretty sure that had Rick Warren, Saddleback and Zondervan promoted “The 40 Days of Catechism” that it would have tanked with an evangelical mainstream whose prevailing value is cultural relevance. But in effect that’s what it has become for many evangelicals. And it’s a good thing. It’s about time a wave of focus on the things that matter most swept across our churches. So often our evangelical currents flow to the fringe. Although the Purpose Driven Life as a catechism does functionally draw a line between evangelicals and non-evangelicals, within the evangelical community it primarily unifies rather than divides. At the least it gives evangelicals a starting point from which to continue clarifying our communal identity and purpose. Perhaps the purpose God had in mind with this tidal wave is even greater than the five we’ve memorized.
But before you consider
John Drury is a young theologian who lives in
David Drury is a pastor & writer living in