Mega-church pastor, best-selling author, and evangelical icon, Rev. Rick Warren wrote the foreword to a 2008 book authored by Rabbi David J. Wolpe titled, Why Faith Matters. Rev. Warren had this to say about Rabbi Wolpe,
The closer I get to David Wolpe, the more I am impressed by this man of faith. … his unique contribution of experiences has given him a credible platform from which he presents the case that faith in God truly matters … .
Regardless of where you are in your own personal faith journey, I’m certain that his profound insights in this book will stimulate your thinking and even touch your soul about the reality of God in fresh and surprising ways.
Of course, Rabbi Wolpe’s “faith in God” is not faith in Jesus, which Warren holds as essential for salvation.
In 2012, Mr. Warren was interviewed by ABC’s Jake Tapper, who asked if he believed that Jesus is the only way to heaven. Warren responded,
I do believe that. I believe that because Jesus said it. See, I don’t set myself as an authority. Jesus said “I am the way.” He didn’t say I’m one of the ways; he said “I am the way. I’m the truth. And I’m the way.” I’m betting my life that Jesus wasn’t a liar.
Tapper next observed that Warren was involved in a lot of Interfaith dialogue with friends of other faiths. He asked Warren,
Why would a benevolent God tell those friends of yours who are not evangelical Christians, “I’m sorry you don’t get to go to heaven?”
Here’s how Warren sidestepped that vital question:
I don’t think any of us deserve to go to heaven. I don’t think any—I think the only way any of us get into heaven is God’s grace. … I’m not getting to heaven on my integrity. I’m not getting to heaven on my goodness. I’m getting to heaven on what I believe Jesus said is grace.
I would love for Warren to have actually attempted to answer the question about his friends not making it to heaven. I would like to have known how exactly he could say what he did about Rabbi Wolpe, yet still believe that Rabbi Wolpe will be denied entrance into heaven?
The basic problem, as I see it, lies in how evangelical Christians like Warren understand Christian salvation.
What if, instead of the way they view it now, evangelical Christians thought of salvation in terms of “healing” and “wholeness” and “liberation”—as salvation is, in fact, primarily depicted in the Gospels?
What if evangelical Christians thought of salvation as the reclaiming of original blessings, rather than as forgiveness for original sin?
What if salvation was experienced as a process of growth in love, rather than as a reward for believing a particular doctrine about Jesus?
Then Christians like Warren might actually experience the extravagance of a divine grace that reaches every person, not just those who conform to their own belief systems.
Then Christians like Warren would realize that they have already been forgiven, and have always been loved with an eternal love. Instead of worrying about believing the right things (and getting other people to believe the right things) in order to secure forgiveness and go to heaven, they could revel in a radical, unconditional forgiveness already theirs, accept their friends of other faiths as truly their sisters and brothers, and spend the rest of their days talking about how good God is, instead of how punitive.
Then Christians like Warren would not have to say one thing in the foreword of a book whose author is clearly his friend, and something completely different to his vast fan base who regard the author as an unbeliever destined for hell.
Chuck Queen is a Baptist minister and the author of Being a Progressive Christian (is not) for Dummies (nor for know-it-alls): An Evolution of Faith. Chuck blogs at A Fresh Perspective, and is also a contributor to the blog Faith Forward.