Much has been in the news lately about Rick Warren being slated to deliver next week’s presidential inaugural invocation. As a result, interest in Pastor Warren’s best selling book The Purpose Driven Life is no doubt on the rise among Christians who may have not read the book when it debuted in 2002.
What is the Catholic view of this popular non-Catholic book? I’ve found two vantage points: one advising Catholics to avoid it altogether; the other suggesting that it can be advantageous provided there is Catholic pastoral guidance.
Don’t Go There
Catholic Answers’ This Rock magazine published a critique titled “Wrong Turn: The Purpose-Driven Life Gives Bad Directions” in its December 2005 issue. Written by Ronald J. Rychlak and Kyle Duncan, the article explains:
Warren is no anti-Catholic bigot. He accepts that Catholics are true believers, and he cites monks and nuns (including Mother Teresa) as Christian examples. …Nevertheless, Catholics should be aware that there are dangers on the Purpose-Driven road.
The article then points out several problems with The Purpose-Driven Life’s content, including Warren’s view of scripture, salvation, liturgy, sacraments and ecclesiology. The critique concludes with this advice to Catholics under the subhead “Don’t Go There”:
Whatever helpful personal encouragement Warren’s teaching might offer, the use of his books in any catechetical setting is a serious mistake. They are misleading and potentially profoundly confusing to poorly catechized Catholics. Moreover, while seeming to be ecumenical in approach, they actually undermine true ecumenism because they gloss over serious theological problems. …Catholics who follow the Purpose-Driven template are driving blind, and the road they follow is more likely to lead away from the Church than to a deeper practice of their faith.
More Agreement Than Disagreement
A second perspective on Warren’s book comes from Father Joseph M. Champlin, who penned a book called A Catholic Perspective on The Purpose Driven Life, published in 2006. The opening chapter begins:
Roman Catholic teaching and practice coincide with some parts of Pastor Rick Warren’s message in his book The Purpose Driven Life and clash with other points. There is, however, more agreement than disagreement. (p. 13)
Throughout the book, Father Champlin compares and contrasts the points in Warren’s book and Catholic teaching, to “affirm and enrich parts where the two seemingly coincide” and “explain and clarify points where the two apparently clash” (p. 13).
Having read Warren’s book when I was still a Protestant, I am finding Father Champlin’s book quite helpful (I’m about half way through its 106 pages). I think he does a fine job guiding Catholics who have read or are reading Warren’s book. In his Introduction, he explains that his book is ideally read alongside Warren’s:
For the most effective use of this study guide, I would suggest following Pastor Warren’s day-to-day approach for a particular section, then, after completing that portion, read the corresponding chapter in my book.
Although I’m not reading it in his recommended manner, I am finding it to be a worthwhile resource. Father Champlin is addressing the problem identified by the writers of the This Rock article: that poorly catechized Catholics could be confused and led astray by Warren’s book.
Catholic Writers May Be Better for You
If you are Catholic and are considering reading Rick Warren’s The Purpose-Driven Life, do so with caution and certainly with guidance. Father Champlin’s A Catholic Perspective on The Purpose-Driven Life is a highly recommended companion to Warren’s work.
However, instead of reading The Purpose-Driven Life, you may want to consider reading similar spiritual-growth books penned by Catholics. Matthew Kelly is one such writer, and you may find his books such as Perpetual Motivation, The Rhythm of Life, Rediscovering Catholicism, or Perfectly Yourself more enriching than any Protestant book.
Opportunity for Dialogue
Knowing how popular Rick Warren’s The Purpose-Driven Life has been over the past several years, I think that Catholics need to make themselves aware of the book’s messages in order to effectively dialogue with non-Catholic Christians.
Father Champlin’s work offers meaningful summaries of Warren’s points, and it provides appropriate Catholic insight, including references to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, scripture and noteworthy Catholic writers.
So, even if you never plan to read Warren’s book, Champlin’s A Catholic Perspective would be one way to equip yourself to charitably dialogue with those who have read The Purpose-Driven Life — and help show them that God’s plan for us all involves being part of the one, holy, Catholic and apostolic church that Jesus established.