There has been plenty of excitement about the forum being held tomorrow at Saddleback Church, which will bring presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain to the stage of possibly America’s most-influential evangelical. That would be Rick Warren, author of “The Purpose-Driven Life,” which I think is the most popular book not known as the Bible. Rob Eshman, editor of The Jewish Journal, calls this “a victory for the good guys in the cultural wars.”
“That’s right,” Rob writes. “After years of watching the debate over faith and values in America play out with all the finesse of MTV’s ‘Celebrity Deathmatch,’ we will now get to see what happens when a thoughtful adult takes over from the goofballs, windbags, con artists and media whores who have led most of the battles until now.”
Rob has been impressed with Warren since at least June 2006, when he heard the Southern Baptist speak during Shabbat services at Sinai Temple. Warren had been invited to share his secret to church growth. In a quarter century, Saddleback had grown from him, his wife and another couple to some 22,000 weekly worshipers. (Seriously, the Lake Forest campus is size of a community college.) And he was happy to spread this gospel to his Jewish brothers—that’s how he addressed Rob—and sisters:
Warren managed to speak for the entire evening without once mentioning Jesus—a testament to his savvy message-tailoring. But make no mistake, the driving purpose of an evangelical church is to evangelize, and it is Warren’s devotion to spreading the words of the Christian Bible that drive his ministry.
Good for him and his flock—and not so bad for us either. His teachings apply to 95 percent of all people, regardless of religious belief. As he put it to a group of rabbis at a conference last year—using a metaphor that might be described as a Paulian slip: “Eat the fish and throw away the bones.”
Warren told Wolfson his interest is in helping all houses of worship, not in converting Jews. He said there are more than enough Christian souls to deal with for starters.
That’s what Rob wrote in his column the following week. And those words incited a lot of anger among his fundamentalist brethren. But we all know you can’t trust a Jew, or a journalist, and the only authority on what Warren said was the editor of The Jewish Journal.
So, sarcasm aside, the pastor’s words were in doubt.
The Web Guy, however, just dug up what we thought didn’t exist. (I don’t ask him how he does what he does.) Click here to listen to Warren’s talk at Sinai.
“When they hear the audio,” he said, “ruh roh.”
My opinion, as an evangelical Christian, is that Warren saw an opportunity to build a bridge with the Jewish community and he took advantage of it. It’s ridiculous to think that, from the fundamentalist perspective, a Christian can only talk with a Jew about Jesus. What is the harm if Rick Warren helps synagogues increase their membership to 90 percent of the surrounding Jewish community? Keeping these people out of synagogues isn’t leading them to the pews at Saddleback or First Assembly of God or West L.A. Korean Church.
Warren was doing a mitzvah, and I’m sure he did it with the mindset that he’d be rewarded for it sooner than in the afterlife. Clearly now he has proven himself to be more of a political player than we would have ever guessed when President Bush ran for re-election.
As Shawn Landres, CEO and Director of Research for Jewish Jumpstart, told Rob:
“Rick Warren is this new generation. This is not the Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson generation. This is the generation of evangelical leaders who want to engage with American political culture, who want to reach out. James Dobson and Robertson and Falwell preached to their choirs, and they could move mountains when they got their choirs excited. But Warren is playing for the middle. He’s trying to recapture the center.”