the Jesus-driven life

The lesson that I relearned from reading Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics II/1 and IV/1 this semester is that we need to start with Jesus, because if we don’t then he might not fit.

A few weeks ago Rick Warren was on a special Thanksgiving edition of Meet the Press, and near the end of the interview David Gregory asked him to answer the question from page 35 of the Purpose-Driven Life: “What is the driving force of your life?”

Rick said that his purpose was to “know and love God, as a Christian of course, through his Son, Jesus Christ, to grow spiritually in maturity, to serve God with all my heart and to share his love with the whole world.”

Then Gregory asked about those who fail.  “What if you know your purpose but are struggling to live up to that purpose?  It’s one thing to say ‘this is my purpose.  But are you really living up to it?’”

This seemed to be an open invitation to share how only Jesus can forgive our sin, but Rick inexplicably sidetracked himself into a pep talk about finding the right job.  He said that “Studies show that 70% of Americans are in the wrong job.  They’re in a job that they hate, that they’re not wired to do.  We believe God actually shapes each individual for a purpose.  Some are made to be oceanographers, some to be reporters, accountants, and others to teach school.”  Rick then told us how to find the job that is right for us by asking the alliterated question:  what do we find to be fulfilling and fruitful?

Gregory closed the interview with the obligatory Thanksgiving question, “What are you thankful for this thanksgiving?”  Here Rick did much better, saying first that he was thankful for “My relationship to Christ, my salvation and forgiveness, my eternal life in heaven” (although he’s been told, he seems to have dug in his heels on heaven!).

I understand Rick’s desire not to offend his audience—something which was noticeable several times in the interview and was even mentioned by Lisa Miller in her Newsweek column this week—but I’ve learned from Barth that it’s not good enough to say that I love God through Jesus, because, of course, I’m a Christian.  The average person might easily respond that is fine for you, but I happen to love God through Mohammed or whatever Richard Gere is into.  And so the whole point about Jesus is lost.

Here’s my point:  as you have opportunity to share the gospel this Christmas, make sure that you start and end with Jesus.  Don’t begin with a generic God or meaning of life and then show how Jesus helps you to find these.  Listeners may be impressed that Jesus works for you, but they might surmise that other paths work just as well.  Make sure that you begin and end with Jesus.  Jesus is not merely the Christian way to know God.  He is God.  Jesus is not merely the Christian slant on how to have a happy life.  He is life.  Start with Jesus, because if you start anywhere else, he might not fit.







11 responses to “the Jesus-driven life”

  1. Jonathan Shelley

    But, according to Barth, is it even necessary for us to share the Gospel at all, since God’s mighty “Yes” overwhelms our meek “No”? Sure, Warren is teaching a natural theology (according to Barth’s definition) but what difference does it make if we all end up singing in the choir in the end?

  2. mikewittmer


    Now you’re bringing up the stuff that I don’t like about Barth. C’mon man, it’s Christmas!

  3. This was my exact critique of selmanovic’s new book in, you know, the paper you were supposed to read in order to change my grade that is still in limbo ( 🙂 )

    anyway selmanovic’s title is “it’s really all about God” to which Barth would response with a slap and a finger-point: “no it is not really all about god…it’s really all about Jesus!”. Selmanovic claims to be a chrisitian and a director of a chrisitab faith community yet offers a general vanilla ‘god’ and opposed to the exclusive Jesus Christ.( incidentally he refers to ‘Jesus’ sans messianic designation…a deliberate play me thinks.)

    Great post and great reminder to give people Jesus from start to finish.


  4. Btw I pecked this out on my iPhone. Sorry for the typos… 😦

  5. Jonathan Shelley


    That’s the best part about the Church Dogmatics – you can take the parts you like and ignore the rest, just like the Bible. But why wouldn’t you like Barth’s universalism? Everyone goes to heaven in the end… what’s wrong with that?

    Wait – you still have to write a reference for me. I take it all back!

  6. Adam F.

    Jonathan – Are you applying for a job? If so, I wish you the best.

  7. Layman Speaks


    Way back in 1996 I met Rick Warren and his executive pastor brother-inlaw at Saddleback Church. I found him very charismatic and engaging. I was at the church for the Saddleback conference on church growth. I liked Rick Warren and I liked his church. Here was my concern then and it remains to this day: What about the offence of the cross?

    On one hand Pastor Warren preaches a gospel that includes the offence of the cross but then on the other he seems to do anything he can to hide, reduce or obscure that offence. Read the ‘Purpose Driven Life” and obscurity is everywhere. (Hint: very likely a book that becomes an all time best seller will obscure the offense of the cross.)

    My point is simply to say that I agree with you Mike. The only hope for mankind is the gospel of Jesus Christ as recorded in Holy Scripture. While there is much we can and should do to be winsome and inoffensive as the people of Jesus, the gospel and it’s Jesus will be hated- we have His word on it.


  8. To the selmanovic junkies in the crowd – I heard him at the Parliament of World Religions in Australia two weeks ago where in the context of other religions he said “The Good news is not good news unless God is discovered in the other” (religions). To which I say “What was Jesus thinking? Didn’t he get the memo? The joys of emergent thought could have saved Jesus from the cross altogether if only he had known…”
    What a disaster that the emergents have been accepted as followers of Jesus in any way. They are cultic in every way I can think of.

  9. mikewittmer


    Thanks for weighing in from Australia! I just starting skimming his book tonight (thanks for the loaner, Jeremy!), and I thought how naive it is for some to claim that this is some new way of thinking (as if there hasn’t always been religious pluralists). What I will never understand is how Christians and their leaders who really have to know better get taken in by his message.

  10. Jonathan Shelley


    Alas, no – I don’t even get to teach Sunday school these days. Mike is helping in my latest attempts to get into a PhD program. I appreciate the well wishes nevertheless.

  11. Thanks Mike. The Parliament was amazing – a target rich environment for missionaries like our team. We shared the Gospel with people from all over the world and virtually dozens of different religions. The Lord opened so many doors – it was a great time.
    I think Selmanovic crowd should give credit to the first pluralists perhaps in the Bible. I believe Jeremiah described them well when those open minded Jews of old brought in the Baals and Moloch and the rest into the Holy of Holies. Worked out well didn’t it? Too bad narrow minded Jeremiah didn’t catch the wave of what had rolled into Israel… If only he had seen the “gospel” in the “other” of those who were slaughtering their children – why the world would have been as one even back then.
    Sorry satire alert went off. I must stop now.
    Lord bless yall

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