John Piper Interviews Rick Warren on Doctrine — And Thoughts on the Significance of Their Relationship

The video of John Piper interviewing Rick Warren is now online. Here’s some of what John Piper had to say about it at the Desiring God blog:

The nature of the interview is mainly doctrinal. I read Rick’s The Purpose Driven Life with great care. I brought 20 pages of quotes and questions to the interview. You will hear me quote the book dozens of times. With these quotes as a starting point I dig into Rick’s mind and heart on all the issues listed below (with the times that they begin on the video).

My aim in this interview is to bring out and clarify what Rick Warren believes about these biblical doctrines. In doing this my hope is that the thousands of pastors and lay people who look to Rick for inspiration and wisdom will see the profound place that doctrine has in his mind and heart.

I had the privilege of being there when the video was shot out at Saddleback earlier this month. I was very impressed with Rick Warren’s answers. I think Piper is right: Doctrine plays a large role in Warren’s mind and heart, and he is doctrinally solid. Piper asked him about everything from repentance to the sovereignty of God to election to the gospel to total depravity to hell. Warren gave clear and thorough and biblical answers to all of Piper’s questions — answers that we would agree with here at Desiring God.

The one place he was a bit sketchy was on the new heavens and new earth, but I think that’s just because Piper’s question there may not have been clear and he wasn’t sure what was being asked.

Obviously, there has been a lot of controversy over Piper inviting Warren to the Desiring God National Conference last fall. One of the main reasons is that Warren’s methodology doesn’t seem to be doctrinal at all, but rather pragmatic. Here’s what Piper had to say about that in the post introducing the video:

Rick is not known for being a doctrinal preacher. One reason for this is his intention to be theologically sound and practically helpful without using doctrinal or theological terms in his public ministry. Inside of Saddleback there is a greater intentionality about building biblical and theological categories into the people’s minds and hearts.

Near the end of the interview, with great respect and appreciation for the stewardship of influence that Rick carries, I exhort him and pray for him that God will make the final chapter of his ministry a deepening one, that leaves a legacy of biblical and doctrinal truth more explicitly and firmly in the minds and hearts of the generations that will follow him.

Piper’s exhortation here is excellent, and points to, I think, the broader importance of Piper and Warren’s relationship. I would argue that not only do Warren and Saddleback perhaps have something to learn from Piper, but that Piper and our church have something to learn from Warren as well.

Here’s what I mean.

As Piper shows in the interview, there is a solid doctrinal foundation underneath Warren’s ministry. But, as Piper exhorts him at the end and summarizes in that quote above, he can perhaps do a better job in making this explicit and fleshing it out. The practical emphasis of Warren’s ministry, in fact, would be even better served by making the doctrinal foundations more explicit, because doctrine is the foundation of practice. (Piper shows very effectively how this works in his biography of William Wilberforce. Briefly, the connection is that doctrine fuels the joy that drives practice.)

This provides a wider lessen, perhaps, to all those in the evangelical church who care deeply about the practical while giving less emphasis to the theological. The message that doctrine grounds and fuels effective practice says: your emphasis on the practical is a great thing, and you don’t need to become less action-oriented; rather, let yourselves become more action-oriented by kindling a love for doctrine and allowing that doctrine to have its joyful, action-producing effect in your lives and churches.

(If I can, I will post a message I gave here last fall at a Desiring God staff devotional that talks about how this works out in more detail; the message is called “Why Sound Doctrine Grounds and Leads to Effective Action: What Rick Warren Should Have Said at the Desiring God Conference.” The title, by the way, is not a critique of Warren’s message — I found it very helpful; what I try to do in the message is show in more detail exactly how and why doctrine leads to practice, and the biblical texts that show this to be the case.)

So that’s what I think Warren and the highly practical and leadership-oriented segment of the evangelical church can perhaps learn from Piper.

Now, on the other side, I think that Piper, our church, and the more doctrinally-oriented segment of evangelicalism could learn something from Warren’s emphasis on the practical, and from the importance he gives to biblical leadership. I think the mistake we make is that sometimes we focus on the doctrinal to the expense of the practical. It’s not that we reject practice or don’t care about it — we do. But sometimes we don’t place as much importance on, for example, learning how to do it well. We can neglect learning about things like leadership and organizational effectiveness and other such things, and I think this hinders the growth of our people and fails to serve them as well as we perhaps could.

So to this segment of the evangelical church, I think people like Warren show us that we need to pay greater attention to letting these doctrines have their ultimate ends in the service of others and the glory of God. We don’t need to be less doctrinal. No way. But perhaps we need to be intentional in learning about the practical. And with the doctrinal foundations we already have in place, the practical side will be all the more effective because it will be built on top of a solid theological foundation. This, further, will serve doctrine because when people and organizations are well led and organized, more people will hear and come to the greater joy in God that comes from understanding the theology of the Bible in a deeper way.

In one sense, it is the purpose of this blog to bring both of these goals together by equipping Christians theologically and practically. Or, another way to put it is that the purpose of this blog is to equip Christians in good works. And to be effective in good works, we need to understand both the theological and practical dimensions of life.

That’s why I blog on things from how to set up your desk to why we should be creative and competent in fighting global poverty to the six things Christ accomplished by his death. Productivity and leadership are really about good works. As Christians, we are to abound and excel in good works (1 Corinthians 15:58; Ephesians 2:10), and to do this best we need to grow in our knowledge and understanding of how to be effective in all areas of life (including the mundane things like setting up your desk), and we need to do this on a solid, exciting, worship-fueling theological foundation.

The main point here is that we don’t have to choose between deep thinking and effective practical action. Instead, they drive one another: thinking hard about truth motivates and directs wise, effective practical action for good. We should think theologically about the practical for the sake of love. The Piper-Warren interview models this well, and gives both the more practically oriented and the more doctrinally oriented something to think about.

One final thought on the video: The best part of the video is the very end, where Warren talks about stewarding the influence that God has given him. His humility and concern for God’s glory and the good of God’s people really shines through at that point, in my view. If you don’t watch any other part of the video, I’d make sure to watch that. This section starts at 1:28:10.

Here’s the breakdown of the rest of the topics in the video and where they begin:

3:29  The glory of God.
7:16  David Wells and the weight of God’s reality.
9:00  Would you write the book the same today?
12:00 The sovereignty of God.
18:47 How do you speak of God’s sovereignty in the presence of tragedy?
22:01 How do all things work for bad for those who reject Christ?
24:14 Do you hedge on Larry King?
27:00 Unconditional election.
30:18 The importance of eternity.
34:42 How do you conceive of eternity: in heaven, on earth?
38:53 What is the Gospel?
42:00 What did Jesus achieve on the cross?
43:40 Repentance.
50:50 Why don’t you call yourself a Calvinist?
53:09 Propitiation.
54:39 Prevenient grace.
1:00:01 Total depravity.
1:03:00 Hell.
1:09:10 Eternal destiny of those who never heard.
1:12:40 The extent of the atonement.
1:17:00 Do unbelievers always do the devil’s bidding?
1:18:40 Your view of the Bible.
1:22:40 Expository preaching and doctrinal depth.
1:28:10 Rick Warren’s sacred trust.

  • staffaction

    Great post, Matt. Once again, I am glad for having found your blog – I believe you fulfill the mission of your blog very well and are a positive influence on many in doing so.

  • Loren Pinilis

    Just finished watching this – and you were right, the last part on stewardship was amazing.

    I must confess that the balance between doctrine and practice is something that frustrates me. I’ve heard sermons/lessons criticized for being too practical and not having enough doctrine. I’ve heard others criticized for being too heavy on practical application.
    On the one hand, part of me wants to say to these criticizers: “Relax, not every sermon/lesson has to be a perfect encapsulation of the entire Bible.”
    But on the other hand, I see _loads_ of confusion (which I’m glad Piper is clearing up) over Warren’s book which many have confused of not having the right balance between practice and doctrine.
    And you make a good point that properly balancing the two is the best way to serve the body.

    As I’ve thought about this, I think the best way to remedy the situation is just to, as often as possible, _explicitly_ state the link between doctrine and practice.

  • Aaron


    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. Can’t wait for your book to come out, and am praying for your writing!

  • http://TheseWordsMinistry Chris Nelson

    Wow. It was obvious that once this wolf, Warren, was let in that he was going to devour and he has. Now Piper is selling his stuff under Rob Bell’s and Donald Millers at Saddleback and the conference Christian book writers are drooling to have Warren endorse their latest book. This is going as planned, very sad.

  • Jeri Tanner

    “The one place he was a bit sketchy was on the new heavens and new earth, but I think that’s just because Piper’s question there may not have been clear and he wasn’t sure what was being asked.”

    My memory is that Warren said he had not studied it.