LifeWay, Rick Warren, and the Son of God

~~LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention and Southern Baptist Pastor Rick Warren have teamed up with the New Age Catholics Mark Burnett and Roma Downey to produce “Son of God: The Life of Jesus in You.” This is a six-session “Bible study” for small groups.  As a Southern Baptist who is concerned about the direction of the Southern Baptist Convention and LifeWay (wholly owned and controlled by the SBC), I want to write an in-depth critique of this resource.First, let me share an underlying concern with small group “Bible study” as it is most often seen today. Can we really call it Bible study when a participant would not have to bring a Bible? The Scriptures used are printed in the student’s book, devoid of context and often used out of context (as you will soon see). The contemporary small-group is a study of a celebrity pastor or teacher’s work. Only by a wild stretch of the imagination could the participant leave the session saying they had engaged in Bible study. The small-group Bible study is the equivalent of medical school students playing a game of Operation or engineers building a bridge using Legos.  In years past, the church had small groups that would meet and study Christian authors, but it was called it a book circle. Bible study was when people brought their Bible and studied the Bible for content. This kind of study is almost non-existent in the purpose-driven, growth-oriented church. Rather, the “Discipleship Pastor” will scurry from one publisher to another looking for the coolest six-week topical study to throw to their small-group leaders, whose function is to push play on the DVD and ask the pre-arranged questions. (Need proof? Click here to see page 4, which contains “A Note to Small-Group Hosts.”) Personally, I simply don’t have time nor interest in such shallow “discipleship.” No wonder the average church member (and probably the above-average church member) couldn’t pass a basic Bible-knowledge quiz.The subtitle of the series, The Life of Jesus in You, foretells the basic premise of the study:  YOU.  The resource takes the baptism, temptation, suffering, death, resurrection, and ministry as a springboard to talk about YOU.  Once again, the narcissism of the church-growth movement displays its ugly head.Bible TranslationMy first issue is the use of the Biblical translations. There are ten translations shown in the copyright page—• New International Version - NIV 2011• New Living Translation – NLT 2005• New King James Version – NKJV 1982• The Contemporary English Version – CEV 1995• The Living Bible – TLB 1971• Today’s English Version – TEV 1976• God’s Word – GW 1995• The Message – MSG 2002• The Amplified Bible – AMP 1965• The New Jerusalem Bible – NJB – 1990Any pastor, author, or book publisher who uses 10 versions of the Bible in his sermon, book, or resource is seeking a rendering of the Word that fits his agenda. There is simply no legitimate reason to use 10 versions of Scripture in honest Bible study.  Furthermore, the versions used by this particular resource are almost all paraphrases and untrustworthy for honest Biblical study.Also at issue in this resource is the fact that messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention have repeatedly and unequivocally rejected the New International Version which is the default version for this resource. Not only have messengers to the convention rejected the NIV, but they have asked LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention not to use the NIV. In the Son of God resource and in many others, the administration and trustees of LifeWay have continually rejected the will of the convention in this matter.Rejection of the gender-neutral NIV was clearly stated by messengers to the SBC in 1997, 2002, and 2011.  The 2011 resolution encouraged pastors to make their congregations aware of translation errors of the 2011 NIV, requested LifeWay not to sell the NIV in its bookstores (it still does), and stated “profound disappointment” with Biblica (the new name of the International Bible Society, who translated the work) and Zondervan, which publishes the NIV.  The 2002 SBC resolution was aimed at what was then called Today’s New International Version (TNIV). The TNIV was incorporated into the 2011 version with the “Today’s” designation dropped but the bulk of the material included. The NIV you purchase today is the TNIV of 2002.  In the 2002 resolution, “agencies, boards, and publishing arms of the Southern Baptist Convention” were asked to “refrain from using this translation” in publications.LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention needs a conservative resurgence, but that is a topic for another day.Why was Jesus baptized?The LifeWay resource begins by asking a legitimate question, “Why was Jesus baptized?” After all, He had no sin. From a legitimate question, Rick Warren then simply makes stuff up.  He states that, “Jesus’ baptism was His way of identifying with sinful humanity…in His baptism, Jesus was showing us a way to live” (pg. 8).  Is this really why Jesus was baptized? Is there any Scriptural evidence that Jesus was ‘identifying with sinful humanity” in baptism, and “showing us a way to live?” Is it even theologically correct for the sinless Son of God to “identify with sinful humanity?” After all, He became flesh outside of human conception in order to be human without being connected to “sinful humanity.” Does Jesus use the Bill Clinton, “I feel your pain” slogan?The reason for Jesus’ baptism is stated in Scripture: “to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15). While a good Bible study would search the Scriptures to find insight into what that means, Warren simply makes a declaration that Jesus’ baptism was to identify with sinful humanity. It is beyond me how such identification with sinful humanity is a fulfilment of righteousness.Movie ClipEach session of the study includes a movie clip from The Son of God movie. In session 1, John the Baptist (complete with dreadlocks, because this was the hairstyle of ancient Jewish Levites?), had a slo-mo baptism complete with freaky background music and Jesus’ instruction to John, “What you are doing is right, baptize me.”  Warren introduced the clip by saying that “When Jesus publically obeyed the Father in baptism, the Father publically affirmed Jesus as Son.” While he may not have meant this to sound like the old adoptionist heresy, the “if/then” nature of the statement brings it close. Warren continues to say that the Father affirmed Jesus as “my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” But then Warren states, “Do you know the Father says the same three things about you when you identify with him in baptism?  You are my son or daughter, I love you, I’m proud of you.”  It is beyond inappropriate, in my opinion, to take the declaration of God toward Jesus and adopt it for ourselves and anyone who will be baptized. Narcissism rules.  In fact, John tells us that the sign of the Spirit was the indicator that Jesus was the Messiah (John 1:32-33). The declaration of the Father is something that we simply cannot adopt for ourselves and then distribute at-will to anyone who will be baptized (unless we are comfortable declaring ourselves to be the Messiah).Also troublesome to me is Warren’s question, “Do you want God to be pleased with you? Then you need to take the simple step of obedience and be baptized.”  This statement gives the impression that favor with God results from obedience in Baptism, which Warren says, “is not an option” (pg. 9). Without some clarification, a young believer could easily get into a works-based righteousness. Warren backed up his “baptism is not an option” teaching by quoting 1 John 2:3, “We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands” (NIV). If one studies 1 John, they would find out that 1 John 2:3 (nor anything in the entire epistle) is remotely about baptism.Warren’s final word about baptism is that it says you are not just a believer, “you’re also a belonger” (pg. 10).  His use of Scripture for this teaching is one that is common in purpose-driven churches, and one that should raise a red flag in the mind of any reader. The Scripture quoted looks exactly like this—“For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body…Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.”  1 Corinthians 12:13, 27, NIV.Did you notice the subtlety? Between verses 13 and 27 are 13 skipped verses, each glossed over by an ellipses.  As read in the LIfeWay literature, one would see that Baptism makes you a belonger, proven by the fact that, “we were all baptized…now you are the body.” Skipped is the fact that the passage is not about water baptism at all, and that verse 27 begins a new paragraph, and that the context is not about our belonging but about spiritual gifts and assignments.More to comeI will be evaluating the remaining sessions of this small-group study resources in days to come. Stay tuned!

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