Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)


This book will help you understand why you are alive and God's amazing plan for you - both here and now, and for eternity. Rick Warren will guide you through a personal 40-day spiritual journey that will transform your answer to life's most important question: What on earth am I here for?

The blurb obviously worked.

I first read the famous 40-day Bible-study to discover one's purpose in life after purchasing it from the late lamented Matamata Christian Bookshop in March 2004, and duly gave it the stipulated 40 days in which to prove itself.

By the end, I'd found it to be a keen advocate for Christian culture in the early 21st century, which is perhaps a little at loggerheads with its repeated criticisms of that very same thing. Several chapters fit in a line about how so many Christians today have got it wrong.

For many people, worship is just a synonym for music. They say, "At our church we have the worship first, and then the teaching." This is a big misunderstanding. [p.65]

Surely any popular definition of a word is correct?

Today many equate being emotionally moved by music as being moved by the Spirit, but these are not the same. [p.102]

Christians often differ on the most appropriate or authentic way to express praise to God, but these arguments usually just reflect personality and background differences. [p.102]

Sadly, many Christians use the church but don't love it. [p.132]

Many Sunday school classes and small groups are stuck in superficiality and have no clue as to what it's like to experience genuine fellowship. [p.139]

Today many assume that spiritual maturity is measured by the amount of biblical information and doctrine you know. [p.183]

In one of his most misunderstood statements Jesus said, "I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings."{Luke 16:9 NIV} Jesus did not mean for you to "buy" friends with money. [p.302]

Boy, I'm glad I'm not one of those bozos. Hang on, is anybody?

If this world-weary tone didn't already make for reluctant enough consideration, I also found the prose's habit of swapping between the first, second and third person to feel a bit pre-judgemental on occasion too.

Your unspoken life metaphor influences your life more than you realize. [p.42]

If you have ever said, "I didn't get anything out of worship today," you worshiped for the wrong reason. [p.66]

The mature follower of Jesus stops asking, "Who's going to meet my needs?" and starts asking, "Whose needs can I meet?" Do you ever ask that question? [p.231 - emphases in original]

To all excuses God will respond, "Sorry, wrong answer. I created, saved, and called you and commanded you to live a life of service. What part did you not understand?" [p.232 - emphasis in original]

Unity is the soul of fellowship. Destroy it, and you rip the heart out of Christ's Body. [p.160]

All right, that was a hypothetical 'you', wasn't it?

So rereading this book again over seven years later, I was curious to discover if any developments in my own faith would become evident in my reactions to it.

For example, last time I began it with a reading partner in order to daily discuss each chapter's contents. These days I know I've become quite solitary, so this time it's been just me and God.

Also, this time I've read it all out loud. I do that sometimes with books.

One thing that hasn't changed though is that, both times through, I've found sections of the book to be quite challenging, comforting, encouraging, and inspiring.

In many religions, the people considered to be the most spiritually mature and holy are those who isolate themselves from others in mountaintop monasteries, uninfected by contact with other people. But this is a gross misunderstanding. Spiritual maturity is not a solitary, individual pursuit! You cannot grow to Christlikeness in isolation. You must be around other people and interact with them. You need to be a part of a church and community. [p.176]

Pain is the fuel of passion - it energizes us with an intensity to change that we don't normally possess. C. S. Lewis said, "Pain is God's megaphone." It is God's way of arousing us from spiritual lethargy. Your problems are not punishment; they are wake-up calls from a loving God. [p.98]

God gives us different passions so that everything he wants done in the world will get done. [p.293]

In fact, there have been several sections that I have marked this time with an approving asterisk, to return to again later. This demonstrates one thing about my reading style which has increased over the past seven years - my tendency to make notes.

Don't just read this book. Interact with it. Underline it. Write your own thoughts in the margins. Make it your book. Personalize it! [p.10]

Whew! This time I didn't start scribbling until I'd got a few chapters in, and found that there were already notes in there, apparently from my younger self, and one other unknown individual.

Unfortunately, I'm afraid that all those positive asterisks are easily outnumbered by my recent disapproving crosses and astounded exclamation marks.

Basically, the key change here is that while I think all of my notes last time had been to mark points that I'd found helpful, this time I was more often highlighting fails.

Mainly because, these days, I actually check-out and read all the Bible references.

That's no small order with this book, containing as it does maybe 1,200 of them. (source: the ever helpful back cover again)

Granted, many of them are the same quotations (eg. chapter 17 cites Romans 12:5 three times in succession), and I didn't always have access to the correct translation, but I found this was all a really good opportunity to practice finding my way about in the good book. Well, around the last quarter of it anyway, as the majority of quotes seemed to come from the New Testament. A few of them turned out to not be Bible references after all, as of course is the way with most endnotes.

However, these endnotes are also where I found the book's arguments to repeatedly collapse. The instances in which its citations are out of context, unsupportive of the point being made, open to interpretation, or just plain erroneous, are too disappointingly numerous to catalogue in full here, but I will offer a few examples:

Out of context:

If perfection was a requirement for friendship with God, we would never be able to be his friends. Fortunately, because of God's grace, Jesus is still the "friend of sinners."1 [p.92-93]

The endnote there refers to Jesus' critical words in Matthew 11:19, which I'll quote from the NIV:

The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and "sinners".' But wisdom is proved right by her actions.''

Uh, those hypothetical people meant those things as insults, right?

You may have been unaware that God holds you responsible for the unbelievers who live around you. The Bible says, "You must warn them so they may live. If you don't speak out to warn the wicked to stop their evil ways, they will die in their sin. But I will hold you responsible for their death." [p.283]

Actually that's God addressing Ezekiel about the Israelites to whom he is to prophesy. (Ezekiel 3:18 NCV)

Unsupportive of the point being made:

God's Word is the spiritual nourishment you must have to fulfil your purpose. The Bible is called our milk, bread, solid food, and sweet desert.7 [p. 186]

That endnote cites four verses, which I'll quote here again from the NIV:

Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation,

- 1 Peter 2:2

Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'"

- Matthew 4:4

I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready.

- 1 Corinthians 3:2

How sweet are your words to my taste,
sweeter than honey to my mouth!

- Psalm 119:103

The Bible says that all people, not just believers, possess part of the image of God; that is why murder and abortion are wrong.2 [p.172]

The endnotes, again taken from the NIV:

This is the account of Noah.
Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God.

- Genesis 6:9

For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother's womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place.
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,
your eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me
were written in your book
before one of them came to be.

- Psalm 139:13-16

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God's likeness.

- James 3:9

Whew - maybe they should have just gone with that final one? I think that first quote must be a typo, and indeed there are a few others of those to be found too. (eg. chapter 35 endnote 22 is actually Hebrews 4:15, not verse 1, but I digress)

Open to interpretation:

His faith was strong in the midst of pain: "God may kill me, but still I will trust him." [p.112]

The actual quote - from Job 13:15 in the CEV - has its own footnote containing an alternative translation: Or "God will surely kill me; I have lost all hope."

Jesus regarded this recognition of our need as being "poor in spirit." It's the number one attitude he blesses. [p.273]

To clarify, in the cited Bible reference (Matthew 5:3), the "poor in spirit" beatitude is indeed the first one to be stated.

Your mission is so significant that Jesus repeated it five times, in five different ways, in five different books of the Bible. [p.282]

That's the great commission being discussed there, which I thought was just one event, related by several different authors.

Jacob was a manipulator who spent his life scheming and then running from the consequences. One night he wrestled with God and said, "I'm not letting go until you bless me." God said, "All right," but then he grabbed Jacob's thigh and dislocated his hip. What is the significance of that?

God touched Jacob's strength (the thigh muscle is the strongest in the body) and turned it into a weakness. From that day forward, Jacob walked with a limp so he could never run away again.

It's only implied that the wrestler was God, who actually dislocated Jacob's hip before he was asked for the blessing, not in response to it. (Genesis 32:24-32, actually not referenced in this book) I don't know where the thoughts in that final sentence come from. I'll file that in the same folder as page 71's intriguing It took Noah 120 years to build the ark. (which has no reference either)

Which segues into…


That is why on six different occasions Paul used his testimony to share the gospel instead of quoting Scripture. [p.291]

The corresponding endnote cites Acts 22 to 26 to support this, within which Paul only uses his testimony twice.

In the author's defence, he does seem at least partially aware of some of the risk he's running:

I have footnoted over a thousand Scriptures used in this book for you to study in their context. Please read appendix 3, which explains why this book uses so many different translations and paraphrases. To keep these chapters to a size for daily reading, I was unable to explain the fascinating context of most of the verses used. But the Bible is intended to be studied by paragraphs, chapters, and even entire books. [p.307]

Also, part of that very appendix states:

My model for this is Jesus and how he and the apostles quoted the Old Testament. They often just quoted a phrase to make a point. [p.325]

Good words.

However, maybe it's just me, but I do come with the presumption that citations of scripture in a Christian book are made to support the prose, rather than a combination of that and further reading.

And then, I'm sorry, there are all the problems that I had with the book's own text, at least some of which I had last time too.

Self-evident contradictions:

Worship must be based on the truth of Scripture, not our opinions about God. [p.101]

Decide that regardless of culture, tradition, reason, or emotion, you choose the Bible as your final authority. [p.187]

We don't realize how truly unique each of us is. [p.244]

DNA molecules can unite in an infinite number of ways. The number is 10 to the 2,400,000,000th power. [p.244]

I once heard the suggestion that you develop your life purpose statement based on what you would like other people to say about you at your funeral. Imagine your perfect eulogy, then build your statement on that. Frankly, that's a bad plan. [p.317]
There is no greater epitaph than that statement! Imagine it chiseled on your tombstone: That you served God's purpose in your generation. My prayer is that people will be able to say that about me when I die. [p.318]

And finally, a few statements that I'm afraid I just flatly disagreed with:

Surrendered people obey God's word, even if it doesn't make sense. [p.80]

Every possible emotion is catalogued in the Psalms. [p.94]

What had Jesus been doing for thirty years that gave God so much pleasure? The Bible says nothing about those hidden years except for a single phrase in Luke 2:51… [p.96]

Children only think of themselves; grown-ups think of others. [p.299]

You haven't really studied the Bible unless you've written your thoughts down on paper or computer. [p.189]

In summary, I think The Purpose Driven Life is well worth reading, considering, and healthily disagreeing with where appropriate. Pacing it over 40 days is certainly a good idea if planning to validate all those quotes!

So, finally, after 40 days, twice, with over seven years in-between, just what is my purpose in life?

Still working on it. In fact, in some ways I think I feel more alive not knowing.


Available here.

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2 comment(s):

At 9:39 pm, Anonymous Sverige said...

'A Purpose Driven Life,' will certainly make you ponder and reflect on the life you're leading. From the very beginning of the book, I found myself drawn into his beliefs. People often question, 'What in the world are we on this Earth for?' or 'What is our purpose?' 'Does life make sense?' Of course, no one alive knows the true answer. It is in our own belief system.

At 4:03 pm, Blogger Steve Goble said...

Thanks Sverige!

My own belief system does has room for the possibility that a person can know the purpose of their life, if indeed there is one. However I do question such a person's certainty, because I think there is no conclusive way to check whether they are correct. :)



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