Rick Warren was interviewed a couple of months ago by Christianity Today 57/3 (April 2013). I especially appreciated his response to two questions.
More resources are expended on evangelism in America than in almost any other nation. Yet surveys say the country is becoming less Christian. What’s your take?
Cultural Christianity is dying. Genuine Christianity is not. The number of cultural Christians is going down because they never really were Christian in the first place. They don’t have to pretend by going to church anymore.
I don’t trust all the surveys out there. Newsweek did a cover on the decline of Christian America based on a Pew survey that said the number of Protestants has dropped precipitously. That’s an old term. It’s like saying I’m a Pilgrim. Nobody calls themselves a Pilgrim or a Puritan anymore. So the number of Pilgrims and the number of Puritans have dropped precipitously in America! That’s a straw man.
Of course Protestantism has dropped. The only people who might still call themselves Protestants are the liberal Protestant churches—the ones that have died the most.
Pastors across the board seem much less influential in the larger culture than they were a generation ago. What happened?
My generation fell in love with the parachurch. My generation and the generation before me built all the great parachurch organizations: Focus on the Family, Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, Wycliffe, Campus Crusade, InterVarsity, Young Life, Youth for Christ, and so on.
The reason why the church doesn’t have greater impact is because the smartest brains and the most money have gone outside the church. If you go to a missions conference at any Christian college, go out and look. There won’t be a single local church organization. It will all be parachurch—100 percent.
In his response to the claim that Christianity is declining, he appropriately distinguishes between cultural Christianity and genuine Christianity. The former is dying, notes Warren, but not the latter. Warren addresses the fact that we live in a post-Christian day. One of the implications is that those who are genuine Christians will be more easily discerned. Christianity is not something one can simply slip into culturally. This creates wonderful opportunities for ministries of the gospel.
Warren also makes a strong statement about the parachurch and how his and the previous generation were enamored with it at the expense of the church. It is not that he concludes the parachurch is bad or wrong. But when it became the primary focus in parallel, or even in opposition to the church, it was not only deleterious to the church, it was unbiblical and contrary to God’s plan for the redeemed. Those ministries are para, they are to come alongside and support the primary ministry of the church. It is the church that the Lord Jesus Christ has promised to build (Matt. 16:18). I am encouraged by the younger generation’s commitment to life and ministry in and through the local church.
Discussing Warren and his ministry often result in varied responses. Though I may not agree with all he says or does (neither would I expect him to agree with me on everything either, or that anyone else would agree with me on everything, for that matter), Warren has been faithful to the Lord and been used by the Lord. He has been committed to the Scriptures, to the church, and to proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ through outreach and evangelism. Those are good things!