By Elliott Nesch
Recently, an article from the Orange County Register was published entitled “Rick Warren builds bridge to Muslims.” I reported on the article via our blog. Since then, Warren has responded to many of the allegations in the article and a representative from his church, Johnny Montgomery, has also contacted me. For the sake of truth and fairness, so as not to be lumped into the category of irresponsible bloggers, I wish to publish Warren’s response as well as list my remaining concerns.
The original article in the OCR stated:
The Rev. Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest and one of America’s most influential Christian leaders, has embarked on an effort to heal divisions between evangelical Christians and Muslims by partnering with Southern California mosques and proposing a set of theological principles that includes acknowledging that Christians and Muslims worship the same God. (Online Source)
In the comments section of the same article, Warren wrote (GFM Note: this comment has since been removed):
I deeply love my Muslim neighbors but this article contains multiple errors – factually and theologically that neither our dear friends in the Muslim Community nor the Christians at Saddleback Church would agree with.” (Online Source)
Jim Hinch, the author of the article, responded to Warren’s comment saying:
I’m sorry Rev. Warren feels the story contains errors but the story was based on interviews and documents and it was thoroughly fact-checked…I discussed all of its major points with Tom Holladay, an associate senior pastor at Saddleback. I checked with other sources quoted in the story this morning and they said they did not see any errors. While reporting this story I asked to speak to Rev. Warren directly but was told he was too busy for an interview. If any facts need to be corrected I hope representatives from Saddleback will get in touch with me.” (Online Source)
There appears to be a major mix-up within the business management infrastructure of the Saddleback megachurch. Warren made a statement in response to the supposed errors of the article. The statement said Saddleback did not enter into a partnership with any local mosque, did not agree not to evangelize Muslims and did not enter into any theological agreement with Muslims. (Online Source) However, there is clear evidence to demonstrate otherwise. We will look at these allegations one by one.
Did Saddleback Enter into a Partnership with Any Local Mosque?
Unless “partnership” has a redefined special meaning, Saddleback has indeed partnered with a local mosque contrary to Warren’s statement. A more recent OCR article notes:
In a Feb. 10 interview with the Register, Tom Holladay, associate senior pastor at Saddleback, described the outreach to Muslims as a multipronged effort that includes sharing meals at mosques during religious holidays and working together with Muslims on joint community service projects.
Holladay said the purpose of the effort was not to convert Muslims but rather “to work together to serve the community.” Asked if the effort was done with Warren’s knowledge and approval, Holladay replied, “Of course it has his approval.” (Online Source)
The very definition of partnership is “working together” and this is what Saddleback is doing with Muslims to serve the community. Not only are they working together with mosques “not to connvert them” but to serve the community, and this also had Warren’s approval.
This is consistent with Warren’s P.E.A.C.E. Plan and previous statements to Islamic groups. On July 4th, 2009, Rick Warren spoke to a crowd of some 8,000 Muslim Americans at the 46th annual Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) convention in Washington D.C. Warren told them,
I will tell you that I am not interested in interfaith dialogue. I am interested in interfaith projects. There is a big difference.” (Online Source)
Does the King’s Way Document Exist?
The document, titled “King’s Way,” co-authored by Abraham Meulenberg, a Saddleback pastor in charge of interfaith outreach, and Jihad Turk, director of religious affairs of the Islamic Center of Southern California, was presented at a December dinner at Saddleback attended by 300 Christians and Muslims.
The Islamic Center of Southern California, the website for Turk’s mosque, published a blog post entitled “ICSC Co-authors Historic Interfaith Document” that “demonstrates the new theological position of Saddleback.” It featured a photo of Turk and Meulenberg addressing the Saddleback audience beneath a projection on a screen with the heading “King’s Way” as “a path to end the 1,400 years of misunderstanding between Muslims and Christians.” Shortly after the publication of theOCR article, both the blog post and the photo were removed. Replaced on the page was new content irrelevant to Saddleback Church. (Online Source) Perhaps this is what Warren is referring to when he says, “the bloggers began looking for a loophole, or even a ‘cover-up.’” Cover-up or not, it is certainly peculiar that this blog post and photo would be removed in conjunction with the release of the OCR article which contradicts Warren’s public statements. (Online Source)
The actual King’s Way document states:
I. WHO: we believe in ONE GOD:
1. GOD IS ONE (Mark 12:29; Muhammed, 47:19)
2. GOD IS THE CREATOR (Genesis 1:1 Al Shura, 42:11)
3. GOD IS DIFFERENT FROM THE WORLD (1 Timothy 6:16; Al An’am 6:103) . . .
1. Become friends – common ground (Matthew 5:47; Al Ma-edah 5:82)
2. Build peace – common word (Matthew 5:17, 7:24 & 11:28-30; Al Ma-edah 5:46 & Al-Hadeed 57:27)
3. Share the Blessings of God with others/Serve the world together – common good (1 John 3:17; Al Ma-edah 5:48)
Again, this resembles Warren’s own endorsement of A Common Word, which states:
“Islam and Christianity not only share the same Divine Origin and the same Abrahamic heritage, but the same two greatest commandments.” (Online Source)
Warren’s signature appeared on the response letter which borrowed Allah’s title “All-Merciful One” and referred to Muhammad as a prophet. (Online Source)
Was Saddleback Staff Aware of King’s Way?
Whether you call the King’s Way document a “theological agreement” or not, the document does exist and at least three staff members of Saddleback, in addition to church members, were aware of such a document prior to this OCR article’s publication, though Warren stated otherwise. Warren has stated:
Neither I, nor my staff, had ever seen such a document UNTIL the article mentioned it. It wasn’t created or even seen by us. … Saddleback church as a church was not involved. (Online Source)
Again, Rick Warren stated that he and Saddleback staff had no knowledge of the “King’s Way” document. He said:
The fact is, the Bible study discussion paper was never even seen by anyone on Saddleback’s Leadership Team (40 pastors,) Saddleback’s Pastor’s Management Team (14 pastors), Saddleback’s Trustees (6 business leaders), or Saddleback’s Elders (7 pastors).” (Online Source)
Yet the testimony that Rick Warren links to in his response says just the opposite. Warren writes, “If you’d like to read what our Muslim friend said, click here to read it.” (Online Source) Warren takes us to a post written by Jihad Turk, co-author of King’s Way, who says:
When I was approached almost two years ago by Saddleback pastor Abraham Meulenberg who expressed interest in exploring ways that we can bring our communities together in friendship, I welcomed the initiative…
So, over the past couple of years, Saddleback Church through King’s Way has participated in a number of events with several local Muslim communities. I was invited to give a presentation at Saddleback Church alongside pastor Meulenberg.” (Online Source)
At least Saddleback staff pastor Abraham Meulenberg knew about King’s Way along with at least part of the church’s involvement in several events over a period of two years. Apparently, Tom Holloday, associate senior pastor at Saddleback, was aware of King’s Way because reporter Jim Hinch fact-checked the original OCR article with him. According to Hinch, Holloday was also at the dinner in December of 2011 when King’s Way was presented. (Online Source)
Additionally, David Chrzan, Warren’s chief of staff, told Jim Hinch and a Register editor “that the story was factually correct except in its statement that Warren believes Christians and Muslims worship the same God.” Rather, Chrzan said that it would be more accurate to state that Christians and Muslims both believe in one God. Apparently, Chrzan asked that the OCR to publish a correction to the article but later withdrew the request. (Online Source)
So far, obviously David Chrzan, Tom Holloday and Abraham Meulenberg, all members of Saddleback staff, all knew about King’s Way prior to the article being published. What is going on here? The blatant inconsistencies with Warren’s testimony in comparison to those of his own church members continue.
Did Saddleback Agree Not to Evangelize with Muslims?
Rick Warren says:
“It erroneously reported that we had agreed to not evangelize with Muslims. That is false.” (Online Source)
Warren says that the goal of such Muslim-Christian relationships is to make the gospel known to all people. Warren wrote:
“I am commanded by my Savior to share the Good News with all people everywhere, all the time, in every way possible! Anyone who’s heard me teach knows that my heart beats for bringing others to Jesus.” (Online Source)
Jihad Turk, King’s Way co-author, had emphasized that Muslims agreed to participate in the Saddleback outreach effort because members of both faiths agreed:
“Our purpose is not to convert one another but rather to work on ways to make the world a better place by breaking down walls of misunderstanding.” (Online Source)
It sounds like Turk’s understanding was that Saddleback agreed not to evangelize Muslims.
This would be consistent with Warren’s practice as well. Warren says he has the gift of evangelism, but does he utilize this gift? Again, Warren spoke to 8,000 Muslim Americans at the 46th annual Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and he said nothing about the Gospel of Jesus Christ at this great opportunity. He spoke much about “interfaith projects” though. Also, as Warren recalls the early days of building his church, he talked about going door to door, not with the Gospel but with the following pitch:
My name is Rick Warren. I’m not here to sell you anything, I’m not here to convert you, I’m not here to witness to you. I just want to ask you three or four questions. Question number one: Are you an active member of a local church – of any kind of religion – synagogue, mosque, whatever?” If they said yes, I said, “Great, God bless you, keep going,” and I politely excused myself and went to the next home.” (Online Source)
Regardless of whether or not Warren knew about King’s Way or not is beside the point. Warren’s information consistently contradicts those of his own staff and others. This King’s Way confusion is just a symptom of a greater sickness. It is in direct alignment with Warren’s personal conduct in the past of bringing about a “Second Reformation” based upon philanthropical efforts in cooperation with the world for global peace. Whether or not Warren was directly involved with King’s Way is also not the issue. This is the fruit of Warren’s Purpose Driven paradigm.
Why should we care? Because he is the author of The Purpose Driven Life (the bestselling hardback in American history, with over 30 million copies sold worldwide), builder of the Purpose Driven Network (a global alliance of pastors from 162 countries and hundreds of denominations who have been trained to be purpose driven churches), and founder of Pastors.com (a bi-weekly newsletter that is sent to more than 100,000 pastors and ministry leaders). When Warren’s influence reaches as far and wide as it does and when Warren is doing what he is doing in the name of Christ, we must keep a close watch on his conduct. And this is a great compromise of the Gospel. We must preach salvation by repentance and faith in Christ crucified who died and rose again for the forgiveness of sin.
GFM Note: While there has been much discussion as to the clarity of the language in question as it relates to Muslims and Christians believing in the same God, or believing in one God, we believe there is another distinction that needs to be made that is often overlooked. Both sides have clearly acknowledged that neither believe in the same God. We believe most understand this by now. However, what Rick Warren and many of his defenders have overlooked, and have yet to respond to, is the fact that Rick Warren has not yet distanced himself from the fact that by stating Muslims believe in one God, although it is a different God, is not the same as proclaiming that the Muslim god is in fact not a god at all, it is a false god. Therefor, in stating that Muslims and Christians believe there is one God, though our God is different, leaves the door open that the Muslim god is actually another God, which is completely false. There is no other God beside the God of the Christian and Jewish Bible. Eluding to a different Muslim god is tantamount to stating that indeed another god exists, which is completely false.
Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God;