On the best selling Bible self-help book ever.
I don’t usually review Bible study self-help books, but Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life, is so influential it deserves a post of its own.
The book was on the New York Times bestseller list for almost two years. It sold 32 million copies within its first decade. Fifty million copies had been sold in more than 85 languages by 2020. A survey of Christian leaders in 2005 asked which books were most influential in their lives and ministries. The Purpose Driven Life was the most frequent response (Wiki).
The book has an intriguing side story. Captive (2005), a docudrama, tells the story of Ashley Smith, who was held hostage in her apartment by Brian Nichols. Smith told reporters that during this time she read chapter 33 of The Purpose Driven Life to Nichols, which she says led Nichols to release her. After this story was on CNN, Warren’s book became Amazon’s number 2 best-seller.*
I imagine Warren’s book has helped some people live happier lives, which is more than one can say for most books. Nevertheless, I don’t like it very much, and I’ll tell you why. Some reasons are shared with other Bible-based self-help books. Others are unique to Warren.
Warren says his is not a self-help book.
The Bible says, “Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self.” This is not a self-help book. It is about becoming what God created you to be. (p 23)
By the way, don’t go looking for this quote in your Bible (Matthew 16:25). Warren quotes from a number of beginner Bibles. The Message Bible, quoted here, is a highly idiomatic “simplistic translation,” as Wikipedia calls it. I’m not sure this is all bad, for it makes scripture more accessible to some. Still, the reader should be aware.
How do you know what God created you to be? The answer depends on God’s revelation (p 24). Trouble is, lots of people aren’t going to have a revelation. Others are going to convince themselves they have, but it will be the wrong one, driven by greed, lust, guilt, or fear. Most will probably choose the socially approved one, the revelation the church deems proper, such as live a Godly life, whatever that means exactly.
Revelation just isn’t an answer, and Warren knows it. His real answer is to look at your skills and talents, and examine the situation God has put you in—that is, your life. Balance the two. Ok, but that’s not terribly helpful.