Tucker's Reviews > The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here for?

The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren
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's review
Dec 30, 2007

it was ok
bookshelves: finished
Recommended for: Christians
Read in December, 2007

"God made you so he could love you" (p. 24), Warren tells us, and the purpose that drives our lives should be loving God in return. "Worship is as natural as eating or breathing. If we fail to worship God, we always find a substitute, even if it ends up being ourselves. The reason God made us with this desire is that he desires worshipers!" (p. 64)

This worldview quickly becomes incoherent. Consider these two statements, made side-by-side: "You are free to choose what you surrender to, but you are not free from the consequences of that choice. E. Stanley Jones said, 'If you don't surrender to Christ, you surrender to chaos.'" (p. 82) The first sentence is a scientific worldview. Actions have consequences that should, at least in principle, be predictable. The second sentence says that our actions have consequences that are chaotic, meaning unpredictable. Being bound to consequences and surrendering to chaos are two quite different things (unless one has some quantum physics approach that reconciles them).

In Warren's worldview, people are pawns who unknowingly carry out a plan that is beyond their comprehension. "Most amazing, God decided how you would be born...They [your parents] had the DNA God wanted to make you...Many children are unplanned by their parents, but they are not unplanned by God. God's purpose took into account human error, and even sin." (p. 23) Such an absolutist stance against free will is difficult to maintain. For example, if God creates everything about us, then God must have created heterosexual attraction, as he assumes here: "You can be attracted or even aroused without choosing to sin by lusting. Many people, especially Christian men, feel guilty that their God-given hormones are working. When they automatically notice an attractive woman, they assume it is lust and feel ashamed and condemned. But attraction is not lust until you begin to dwell on it." (p. 205) Warren does not comment on the question of whether God created homosexual attraction, which would also logically follow if God creates everything.

Warren says, "Of course, sincerity alone is not enough [in worship]; you can be sincerely wrong." (p. 102) However, he shows no recognition of his own fallibility, nor even that a single sentence he has written in this book might be wrong. Assuming Biblical inerrancy, he advises: "Determine to first ask, 'What does the Bible say?' when making decisions. Resolve that when God says to do something, you will trust God's Word and do it whether or not it makes sense or you feel like doing it." (p. 187) But this is unacceptable behavior for anyone--even a Jew, Christian, or Muslim--who does not believe that the Bible and human interpretation of it is infallible. If someone is willing to do things that do not make sense even to himself and he refuses to analyze them, it is unclear how he is supposed to avoid being "sincerely wrong."

He occasionally uses weird, violent metaphors for faith:
- "You must move against it [fear] with the weapons of faith and love." (p. 29)
- "If you don't have any Bible verses memorized, you've got no bullets in your gun!" (p. 215)
- "Lane Adams once compared the process of spiritual growth to the strategy the Allies used in World War II to liberate islands in the South Pacific....Our pre-conversion experience is Jesus saying, 'Behold I stand at the door and bomb!' (p. 218)
I guess this answers the popular rhetorical witticism "Who would Jesus bomb?"

To be fair, he did not intend this book as philosophy. The first half of the book assumes belief in God, in the immortality of the soul, and in the Christian version of the Bible. The second half of the book goads committed Christians to join churches to strengthen their faith. Readers who want this material will get what they paid for. But skeptics and outsiders will not be persuaded of anything.
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Comments (showing 1-7 of 7) (7 new)

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David Sarkies I would hardly call myself a sceptic or outsider, but I found that this book was incredibly lacking. Interesting quote you made at the beginning - it makes God sound like he suffers from low self-esteem as he created as to worship him. If God is God, he should be confident in himself and would not need to have his confidence reinforced by people created to worship him. Great review.

message 2: by Kerr (new)

Kerr Taylor This review reminds me of the quote by Judge Learned Hand: "I would not give a Whit for simplicity on this side of complexity but I would give my right arm for simplicity on the far side of complexity." The reviewer gives his complaints against Warren's argument but gives no alternatives to supplant those complaints. His review is awash with the "simple" but without deep thought: his arguments never made it through the complexities and rumble around in his brain. As Einstein had said: "anyone can have knowledge but only the wise have understanding." Understanding would have produced a framework worthy of comparison. The reviewer fails in this standard.

Tucker I read and reviewed this book eight years ago. I remember taking careful notes, so I still stand by what I wrote then. I will talk a little about what I wrote, but I will not waste my time referring back to a book that I no longer possess and found quite unuseful.

It is not my self-appointed job in the review to give "alternatives," still less to "produce a framework worthy of comparison." The author is selling a 334-page book with a framework; I only posted six paragraphs to social media responding to the book. I cannot produce a philosophical framework in six paragraphs that can compare to what someone else can do in a hundred times that amount of space, especially if my paragraphs are constrained to responding to someone else's view with which I disagree. If I were writing my own philosophical statement, it wouldn't be a review of Warren's book.

There may well have been "complexities" in this book that eluded me. However, according to what I wrote in my review eight years ago, I identified some complexities that eluded Warren. To recap: He contradicts himself about the level of determinism in our universe, and he does not acknowledge or unpack those contradictions. Even if his statements are correct, he is philosophically sloppy by not explaining to the reader how his apparently contradictory statements can all be true. Furthermore, he advises people to believe and act on the Bible "whether or not it makes sense" to them, which, in my opinion, is dangerous advice, and I found it ironic that he recognized that it is possible for someone (else!) to be sincere in their error but did not acknowledge that he himself (!) might be in error in his beliefs. Lastly, some of his violent metaphors for faith turned me off. I don't know if they are "true," or how one would judge objectively if a metaphor is good, but I did not care for them.

Whatever the purpose of this book, it did not speak to me. I understand that it spoke to a lot of other people. It is likely that I am not part of the target audience.

If you would like me to recommend some alternatives, here are some to which I gave 5 stars:

- The Belief Instinct: The Psychology of Souls, Destiny, and the Meaning of Life
- Anatheism: Returning to God After God
- On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You're Not
- Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason, and the Gap Between Us and Them
- Your Mythic Journey: Finding Meaning in Your Life Through Writing and Storytelling
- Maiden King
- Where Are We?: Inner Life of America's Jews
- The Humans

message 4: by Kerr (new)

Kerr Taylor "Thank you for your response to my own. With references now in place the reader can better understand your point of view. One finds when discussing religion and politics (or any controversial subject) it is helpful to know the philosophical foundation from which an author or reviewer writes: we all have bias and to know what they are helps greatly. That said, I stand by my first series of comments, with this clarification: A reviewer has every right to keep his or her comments mired in the land of the simple: a junior high perspective. As one progresses, he or she will want to summarize the subject to which he speaks. For instance, in order of priority what are the 5 most important points Warren makes in his book on purpose and your thoughts on each? If you pass this test (most do not) we have made it to high school. Now, go to college by adding your own counterpoints and create a philosophical framework, or if that takes too much thought (or courage), then summarize your favorite from the list of resources you mention In your updated review. Your framework should meet the same test as above: in order of priority what are the 5 most important philosophical points within the alternative framework you propose. This provides a side by side comparison that the reader may use and decide which position he or she believes has more merit. Now, you have provided the reader a feast and not merely an appetizer. You are now in college. Graduate school is next!"

Tucker Let's back up. Your profile indicates you joined Goodreads just a few days ago and haven't yet posted any reviews of your own. Welcome to this corner of the Internet.

I finished graduate school over a decade ago. Now I work full-time. I read two books per week and I use this website to track them and post my thoughts. (See the 900 or so books that I have catalogued here.) Not everything I post to the Internet is structured as a formal and complete essay, for various reasons. First, I do not have spare time in my busy adult life to produce that kind of work on a regular basis. I can only make time to share brief thoughts that others might find useful. Sometimes I can do more, but I can't guarantee it. (To reiterate more pointedly: If I don't write elaborate works of art in every comment box on social media, it's not because I have a preadolescent perspective on life and literature, but because I don't have time to roll out more complexity in the given remark.) Second, if I do find time to churn out that kind of work, it might be smart of me to pursue "coin" in return (monetization, prestige, or academic credit), meaning that my best, most thorough work might be submitted elsewhere rather than posted here for no compensation. Third, while some books inspire me to write detailed responses for the sheer passion of it, other books do not. (Warren's book is one that did not inspire passion in me.) Fourth, many readers expect short reviews on sites like this. At 660 words, my review is already longer than what a newspaper would ordinarily publish. You might be the first person who has ever complained that my reviews aren't long enough. Furthermore, last I knew, Goodreads has a character limit that cuts off reviews at about 3500 words, so it would be self-defeating of me to write anything longer than that because the system would force me to trim it.

I read two books per week because I want to. There is no reason for me to spend time writing two theses per week if I don't feel called to write them, no one wants to read them, and I am not getting paid. If my review is brief, it is because I had nothing else valuable to say in moment or did not have time to express everything else that was on my mind. Someone else's vague complaint that I ought to have written additional extensive high-quality work with strong, clear arguments will not magically create time for me to develop such a body of literature. If I am asked a targeted question about a book that is still on my shelf or fresh in my mind, I might be able to help answer that question, but I can't do much with a vague directive to write more and write better because I am doing the best I can with the time that is available to me. I am not a student in your classroom and you aren't in a position to assign work to me. I am reading, writing, and living at full capacity.

I read and write a great deal of philosophy in particular. The ideas that I consider important and interesting have little overlap with Warren's approach, so a review of his book would not be an appropriate or intelligible place for me to insert a five-paragraph essay about my personal philosophy of life. If I were to copy/paste the "My Philosophy" template argument into the review of every book I post here, that would be self-serving and it would be redundant work.

I will not return to Warren's book to engage it further. I didn't care for it eight years ago, and I don't even have a copy anymore. I remember reading it between calls while I was volunteering overnight at an emergency hotline during the Christmas season, so I squeezed the book into available minutes in my day (night, rather), but I did not build extra hours around it. More to the point, I am able to sit and crank out hours of philosophical work only when I am self-motivated for the love of the subject matter or when I am being compensated in some way; I will not go through the effort of re-reading a book and re-writing a review simply because a stranger on the Internet tells me I have a junior-high intellect. I have credentials and capabilities, I am not insecure about them, and I have the emotional intelligence not to waste my time trying to prove them as a reflex action in response to insult.

If you think it is important that Goodreads reviews be in the format you proposed, I encourage you to begin by posting one such review of your own here. We should all share whatever we have to give that is meaningful and valuable.

message 6: by Kerr (new)

Kerr Taylor I appreciate your position and you clearly are an intelligent person. My comments are directed toward the work product of that intelligence. I stand by them and wish you the best,

message 7: by Kerr (new)

Kerr Taylor I appreciate your position and you clearly are an intelligent person. My comments are directed toward the work product of that intelligence. I stand by them and wish you the best,

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