The Purpose Driven, Seeker-Sensitive Gospel

straight outta context

The purpose-driven, seeker-sensitive gospel, also known as the “attractional” church model has become practically the norm in Christianity.  Generally, most Christians have accepted this as the only way to “do church.”

So what is it?  This church model starts with the idea that traditional church practices such as the faithful preaching of the Bible, the sacraments, music, etc… are unattractive and can’t bring in new people, so the church must implement exciting new ideas, music, and fun to get new people through the doors.  Once people show up for the attractions and entertainment, they’ll eventually hear the gospel and “accept Jesus into their hearts” (or something to that effect).

Robert Schuller (1926-2015) is probably the man most responsible for establishing the Attractional, Seeker-Friendly, Purpose-Driven church model.  Schuller removed many of the “negative” aspects of Christianity like Christ dying on the cross to atone for our sin, hell, God’s anger and God’s wrath; and replaced it with the positive thinking philosophy he borrowed directly from his mentor, Norman Vincent Peale (1898-1993).

In a 2002 Christianity Today article, Kay Warren, Rick’s wife is quoted saying, “He (speaking of Schuller) had a profound influence on Rick.”

During his last year in seminary, he and Kay drove west to visit Robert Schuller’s Institute for Church Growth. “We had a very stony ride out to the conference,” she says, because such nontraditional ministry scared her to death. Schuller, though, won them over. “He had a profound influence on Rick,” Kay says. “We were captivated by his positive appeal to nonbelievers. I never looked back.” Imitating Schuller, Warren walked the (then unincorporated but fast-growing) town of Lake Forest, asking what kept people from going to church. He recruited a Bible study group that met at the Warrens’ condominium; its members helped stamp and address letters to 15,000 households. “At last!” the letter began. “A new church for those who’ve given up on traditional church services!” More than 200 people showed up for an Easter service at Laguna Hills High School. Watching them stream in, Warren marveled, “This is really going to work!”—Christianity Today http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2002/012/1.42.html

One of the biggest problems with the purpose-driven message is that it’s a watered-down, unclear and neutered message. This “Christianity” is man centered and focused on meeting the “felt needs” of people, but the true Gospel message is about how Christ gave His life as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. He didn’t die on the cross to give us purpose or make us successful.

On a fundamental level, Robert Schuller believed that modern people didn’t care about salvation from sin anymore, because of this he thought that the church should reach them by appealing to the things that do matter to them; things like purpose, self-esteem, and earthly success and happiness.

“The church must develop a theology for mission. I don’t think it’s done that. I accept John [3:16] as a good one if people have a fear of hell. Maybe they have, but I find a lot of secular people haven’t. At what point can I find a button to push so that I can reach them? I think their desire for self-esteem is that button.”— Robert Schuller interviewed in Christianity Today, Aug. 10,1984

“I don’t think anything has been done in the name of Christ and under the banner of Christianity that has proven more destructive to human personality and hence counterproductive to the evangelistic enterprise than the unchristian, uncouth strategy of attempting to make people aware of their lost and sinful condition.”— Robert Schuller “Dr. Schuller Comments,” (letter to the editor), Christianity Today, October 5, 1984, pp. 12-13

After Schuller established the Crystal Cathedral and his T.V. Show “The Hour of Power” he acquired a couple of young pastors whom he trained.  Bill Hybels and Rick Warren.  Both of these men learned about growing a church directly from Schuller when they were starting their new churches, Willow Creek Church (Hybels) and Saddleback Church (Warren).

One of the biggest problems with the purpose-driven message is that it’s a watered-down, unclear and neutered message. This “Christianity” is man centered and focused on meeting the “felt needs” of people, but the true Gospel message is about how Christ gave His life as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. He didn’t die on the cross to give us purpose or make us successful.

In 40 Days of Purpose, Rick Warren’s video series, Rick offers this prayer for unbelievers to repeat.

“Dear God I want to know your purpose for my life.  I don’t want to waste the rest of my life on wrong things.  Today I take the first step in preparing for eternity by getting to know you.  Jesus Christ, I don’t understand it all but as much as I know how I want to open up my life to you.  I ask you to come into my life and make yourself real to me and use this series in my life to help me know what you made me for.  Thank you.  Amen.”

Warren goes on to say…

“Now if you just prayed that prayer for the very first time, I wanna congratulate you.  You’ve just become a part of the family of God!”

The problem with this “prayer” is that it doesn’t address the person’s sinful condition, repentance from their sin, faith in Jesus Christ alone to atone for that sin, and then leads them to believe that they are now “a part of the family of God!”  This is confusing and destructive.

In Warren’s book The Purpose-Driven Life he offers this “gospel presentation” on pages 58-59.

“First, believe.  Believe God loves you and made you for his purposes.  Believe you’re not an accident.  Believe you were made to last forever.  Believe God has chosen you to have a relationship with Jesus, who died on the cross for you.  Believe that no matter what you’ve done, God wants to forgive you.  Second, receive.  Receive Jesus into your life as your Lord and Savior.  Receive his forgiveness for your sins.  Receive His Spirit, who will give you the power to fulfill your life purpose.  The Bible says, “Whoever accepts and trusts the Son gets in on everything, life complete and forever!” (John [3:36]a)  Wherever you are reading this, I invite you to bow your head and quietly whisper the prayer that will change your eternity: “Jesus, I believe in you and I receive you.”  Go ahead.
If you sincerely meant that prayer, congratulations!  Welcome to the family of God!  You are now ready to discover and start living God’s purpose for your life.”

Now while this presentation does include some very key aspects of the Gospel such as belief, eternal life, a relationship with Jesus, forgiveness, sin, and the Lordship of Jesus, it is missing essential elements.  For example, repentance and self-denial (Luke [9:23]-24).  Also missing is the eternal consequences of sin, and why Jesus died on the cross.  I think we see the main theme of his book on display when Warren says “Receive His Spirit, who will give you the power to fulfill your life purpose.”  Not only does this statement ignore the purposes of the Holy Spirit to convict of sin, righteousness, judgment, and to point the believer to Christ (John 16:7-14), but it’s focused on man and his purpose rather than God and His purposes.

Another massive problem with the attractional, seeker-sensitive, purpose-driven church is the constant emphasis on leadership. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, given the majority of the philosophy behind this church model is not based on the Bible-it’s based on business principles. The non-Christian business guru  Peter Drucker (1909-2005) has probably had more influence on this idea of the church than any single pastor. Read: Peter Drucker’s Mega-Church Legacy. Both Hybels and Warren refer to Drucker as their primary mentor. Here’s a quote from Bill Hybels book “Courageous Leadership” that clearly portrays his near-idolatry of leadership:

“I believe that the great tragedy of the church in our time has been its failure to recognize the importance of the spiritual gift of leadership. It appears to me that only a fraction of pastors worldwide are exercising the spiritual gift of leadership, organizing the church around it, and deploying church members through it. The results, in terms of church growth and worldwide spiritual impact, are staggering.”— Bill Hybels

Did you catch that? “It appears to me that only a fraction of pastors worldwide are exercising the spiritual gift of leadership, organizing the church around it, and deploying church members through it.”  According to Hybels, the main focus for pastors is leadership.  The church should be organized around leadership, not Christ, and the church members should be going through it (whatever that means) not repenting, being edified, evangelizing, and practicing all of the one another’s commanded in scripture.  It seems as though LEADERSHIP is Mr. Hybels god, not Jesus Christ.

In summary, the purpose-driven, seeker-sensitive, attractional church model and it’s gospel are unbiblical.  Nowhere in scripture do we see the idea of changing the church to suit the world promoted.  Scripture does, however, condemn the idea that Christians should look more like the world (Romans 12:2 &  James 4:4).  Our Savior has a bride that is pure and spotless, His Church, The Body of Christ (1 Cor [12:12]-14).    Scripture does teach that there will be tares in amongst the wheat, tares that the enemy has sown (Matt 13), but it never says that the tares should be invited in and catered to.  Rather we should practice biblical church discipline to ensure the safety and holiness of the church (Matthew [18:15]-20).  If we truly want to see the lost saved, then we need to disciple the believers in the church (Matt [28:19]) to go and preach to the lost (Mark [16:15]) outside of the church and compel them to come into the invisible church (Luke [14:23]) (salvation), not the visible church (the building.)

The following video from Elliot Nesch, is probably the most careful and comprehensive examination of the mega-church model available on the internet. This is three hours of very important material; every Christian should watch this (and then watch it again!):