Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Saddleback Lessons Unabridged

I recently posted a rather sarcastic blog on Rick Warren and Saddleback Community Church entitled 15 Things I Learned at Saddleback. In the comments section of this blog I was taken to task by self proclaimed apologist for Rick Warren, Richard Abanes. He is a former Creative Arts Director, minister and member of Saddleback. Richard brought up some valid points about my cynical attempt to paint Saddleback with a not so pleasant brush. He said that I pulled bits and pieces from happenings at Saddleback with no context just to make Saddleback look bad.

Richard, I felt that the actual facts did a sufficient job of making Saddleback look bad, as did your comments. However, you had a legitimate point about some of my post. In an effort to be pithy I may have unintentionally tarnished the accuracy and details of these events and for this I am sorry. I would like to write a few sentences to clarify any misunderstandings of that blog.

I highly recommend reading the previous post (15 Things I learned at Saddleback) and its comments before reading the rest of this blog.

#1 When some friends and I visited Saddleback for the first time we wore shorts and sandals thinking we might blend in better. We entered the main sanctuary a few minutes before the service began and sat about two-thirds of the way up on the left side. As soon as we were seated a man standing on the stage walked down, introduced himself as the Associate Pastor, and asked, “How has your trip to California been so far?” I thought it was a very astute question so I asked how he knew we were visiting. His response was, “I can always tell the people from out of town by their Bibles.” I am sorry but I do not remember his name. My point had nothing to do with the holiness or lack thereof of taking your Bible to church. My point was, we were singled out because we carried to church the one book God gave us to learn everything we need to live Godly lives, to church.

#2 The comment about 25 translations was indeed a sarcastic jab. One of my issues with Rick Warren is that instead of using exposition of a text he seemingly tries to find a translation that will make the text say what he wants it to say. I have heard Rick’s reasoning for using so many translations. There is no need to refer me to it.

#3 No reflection on Saddleback Church whatsoever, but I found it comically interesting that at a junior high concert in one of Saddleback’s tents a group of 13 year olds approached the stage and asked the band if they could turn it down. This could have happened at any concert. I just didn’t believe until then that 13 year olds thought music could get to loud. Richard you are correct, the Bible does not talk about decibals. Btw, I have no birth date on my profile -- I am 33 years old.

#4 I believe “The Living Years” comment speaks for itself, but for Richard’s sake I will explain. I can see no justification for secular music in a church. Aside from it being a little too performance-focused I happen to like most of the music I have heard at Saddleback.

#6 After a service at Saddleback we were told we could not only watch the baptisms outside, but that we could also be baptized! We approached a woman under a canopy and asked her what we would need to do to be baptized. We were told to check the box marked, "I believe in Jesus" and would be given a shirt, shorts and towel to be baptized in. We asked if we needed to go through any classes, or talk with someone. “No, all you need to do is check the box marked I believe in Jesus.” This story ties into my Zaccheus comment, which was quite vague so I will explain (see #8).

#7 On the baptism issue Michael Spencer along with others have done a sufficent job of pointing out the error in this in the comments section.

#8 The above baptism scene took place after a sermon on Zacchaeus. In this sermon we were told that when Jesus called Zacchaeus’ name, it was the first time Zacchaeus had heard his name called in years (eisogesis), therefore affirming to Zacchaeus that Jesus would accept him as he is. My point was that I believe Saddleback teaches a Gospel of affirmation not transformation. Christ did not affirm Zacchaeus. Christ wanted Zacchaeus to “die” and be “reborn.” Never in one visit to Saddleback have I heard sin, repentance and confession of sin mentioned in a Gospel presentation. I am not saying it doesn’t happen. I just haven’t heard it. My experience has been quite the opposite in fact. The overriding theme has been “accept Jesus”, but I have never really heard what that means.

#9 I did not intend to imply that a Pastor was divorced at Saddleback. It was not a Pastor who spoke. This comment referred to a man who was the guest speaker at a weekend focused on single adults.

#10 The testimony of a woman standing in the baptistery played over the screens in the sanctuary. Rick Warren asked, “ _________ why are you getting baptized today?” The woman replied, “In 1995 I was as close to God as I have ever been. Then my baby daughter died. I am here being baptized today so I can see my baby in heaven.” That was it...not 5 or 10 minutes -- just that. I assume, but could be wrong, that the testimonies are screened before being broadcast to a few thousand people.

#11 I do not care how much Saddleback spent on its children’s facility. I was just making an observation that if you spend 25 million on a building you can do some really cool things to it. I love the building, and hope someday we could use some of the ideas for ours.

#12 Flower arranging is not a spiritual gift, it is a talent, and neither is recycling. No explanation should be needed.

I am no expert on Saddleback, so I suggest reading Richard’s comments. He gives great insight into Saddleback.

(some names have been removed to protect the guilty)

9 comments:

Jason E. Robertson said...

Read more at http://www.challies.com/archives/001273.php

Bret Capranica said...

Thanks for the unabridged version - more revealing and damaging than the original post. I think the sarcasm of the first post helped most of us to nervously laugh, when our hearts were really ready to burst. If all of us who have visited Saddleback on a number of occasions were to begin recording what we have seen and heard, Mr. Abanes would have little time to sleep, posting his elonged challenges. On second thought, if we did start blogging from our visits to Saddleback, perhaps then we might be able to expose the verbal gymnastics they play.
(http://fide-o.blogspot.com/2005/07/seeker-gymnastics.html)

Come to think of it, I propose a Fide-O field trip to Saddleback with blogs to follow? Any of you pups up for it?

Tim Wirth said...

Im in for as road trip just name the date I'll bring a notebook. Im in Modesto
Hey Travis thanks for your post your blog is really nice.
And hey your not really a Christian blogger until you've been attacked by Warrens excuesoligist Richard Abanes.
Thats ok though God uses Richard to get all this true information on Saddleback out though.
Thanks for your part in this to Richard it really helps shed the light.
Tim Wirth

Jonathan Moorhead said...

Scott, it is eerie how similar your account of Saddleback is with mine. My first reaction to the crowd filing in was, “No one is carrying a Bible!”

I suppose my second reaction was to all of the booths set up outside for every disorder you can think of. After enquiry into who could lead such a group, I was told that I could! I could have been a Mormon for all they knew.

Third, and as you mentioned, there was no doctrinal content in the message whatsoever. Of course, I think the whole service was tailored for an ADHD ridden crowd because things changed every 5 minutes – song, devotional, skit, song, testimony, devotional, skit, song, go home.

I was so offended that I had to write one of those James 3:1 responses on the institutional research cards they hand out. I received a prompt email from a pastor that said he normally doesn’t respond to cards like mine, but he claimed to prove the validity of Saddleback based upon how many people they baptized every Sunday. As you have noted, their standard for candidates for baptisms is hardly more than a test for breathing, a pulse, and the belief in some deity.

Jason E. Robertson said...

Jonathan, nice to have another SEC fan around! Go LSU.

ColinM said...

An apology:

I referred to you generally ('y'all' as we say in Texas) as FIDO in a response I posted to Richard Abanes for destroying my post on "15 Things...". Kinda misses the entire point of your name...
C

Fred Butler said...

I also appreciate the additional insights, and as Brett pointed out, it makes the situation at Saddleback appear to be worse.
Is it me, or has Richard Abanes become the "hitman" for Rick Warren against anyone who would dare raise criticisms against him?
I could understand maybe posting some clarifying comments on a blog where maybe you think Rick has been misunderstood, or even truly slandered, but I believe this is another of a handful of blogs where I see his comments ripping into the author of a post critical of Warren. It is not just a few paragraphs, but long, diatribe like responses. I just find that odd.

Fred
Hip and Thigh

rabanes said...

Dear Scott,

I appreciated your unabridged version. Allow me to post my final thoughts.

#1 As soon as we were seated a man standing on the stage walked down, introduced himself as the Associate Pastor, and asked, “How has your trip to California been so far?” I thought it was a very astute question so I asked how he knew we were visiting. His response was, “I can always tell the people from out of town by their Bibles.” I am sorry but I do not remember his name. My point had nothing to do with the holiness or lack thereof of taking your Bible to church. My point was, we were singled out because we carried to church the one book God gave us to learn everything we need to live Godly lives, to church.
ABANES: But I wonder why you did not find it equally significant that this pastor actually took the time and effort to leave the stage, walk up to you, and greet you because he thought perhaps you were guests. Instead of focusing on that gesture of Christian love and a welcoming spirit, instead, to found it more important to negatively mention his Bible comment—as if THAT was actually the significant aspect of the story. It is not. As I mentioned, nowhere do we find some biblical command: "And thou shalt carry a Bible to church." Believe me, I have been in plenty of churches where every single person had a ten-pound, marked-up Bible, but not a SINGLE person came up to me to say "Hi."

#2 The comment about 25 translations was indeed a sarcastic jab. One of my issues with Rick Warren is that instead of using exposition of a text he seemingly tries to find a translation that will make the text say what he wants it to say. I have heard Rick’s reasoning for using so many translations. There is no need to refer me to it.
ABANES: Fair enough. But let's draw a distinction between: Expository preaching (which is not necessarily the end-all-be-all of preaching) and Rick's admittedly questionable use of some verses at sporadic times (and as someone who has heard Rick preach for 10 years, it is NOT as bad at all as people are making it sound).

#3 No reflection on Saddleback Church whatsoever, but I found it comically interesting that at a junior high concert in one of Saddleback’s tents a group of 13 year olds approached the stage and asked the band if they could turn it down. This could have happened at any concert. I just didn’t believe until then that 13 year olds thought music could get to loud. Richard you are correct, the Bible does not talk about decibals. Btw, I have no birth date on my profile -- I am 33 years old.
ABANES: Fair enough.

#4 I can see no justification for secular music in a church.
ABANES: Ok, but that is just your opinion. As long as we understand that, I have no argument with you holding that opinion. All I would say is that some secular songs do indeed have some very poignant and can be used to compliment a message.

#6 After a service at Saddleback we were told we could not only watch the baptisms outside, but that we could also be baptized! We approached a woman under a canopy and asked her what we would need to do to be baptized. We were told to check the box marked, "I believe in Jesus" and would be given a shirt, shorts and towel to be baptized in. We asked if we needed to go through any classes, or talk with someone. “No, all you need to do is check the box marked I believe in Jesus.”
ABANES: Hmm. Yeah, I can see this as problematic. I'll check into this a bit more closely, Thanks for the observation.

#8 The above baptism scene took place after a sermon on Zacchaeus. In this sermon we were told that when Jesus called Zacchaeus’ name, it was the first time Zacchaeus had heard his name called in years (eisogesis), therefore affirming to Zacchaeus that Jesus would accept him as he is. My point was that I believe Saddleback teaches a Gospel of affirmation not transformation.
ABANES: This is ABSOLUTELY false. Transformation of lives is what is paramount to Warren, leadership, and Saddleback. Affirmation is certainly not mutually exclusive to transformation, but transformation is the goal, hope, and prayer. Warren, as I quote in my book, states: " “My model is not anything but following Jesus,” He further explains. “My goal when I preach is not to inform; it is to transform.” In a May 2000 interview, in fact, he also declared: "Saddleback is not a story of numbers. It’s the story of individual lives changed one at a time. Every number represents a real person transformed by the power of Jesus Christ. Rick Warren (May 3, 2000, interview, Baptist Press). Oddly, because Warren has used the very word YOU used, he has been accused of being a New Ager!!! So we have people on your side condemning him for NOT transforming people, then people from another side saying Warren IS talking about transforming people and that is wrong, too.

#9 I did not intend to imply that a Pastor was divorced at Saddleback. It was not a Pastor who spoke. This comment referred to a man who was the guest speaker at a weekend focused on single adults.
ABANES: Thanks for the clarification.

#10 The testimony of a woman standing in the baptistery played over the screens in the sanctuary. Rick Warren asked, “ _________ why are you getting baptized today?” The woman replied, “In 1995 I was as close to God as I have ever been. Then my baby daughter died. I am here being baptized today so I can see my baby in heaven.”
ABANES: Ok, I can see how this is bothersome, but I am not sure you can put as much weight on it as you are putting on it. We have a woman, standing in a baptistry, getting ready to be baptized, and she is asked a question by Rick Warren, live on a 50ft screen. Well, gee, I suppose she answered imperfectly, wrapping up in her faith the fact that she was also now going to be able to see her baby again. Wow. Instead of basing your views on this one woman's off-the-cuff (and clearly emotional) answer, you might want to check out what Saddleback teaches about baptism, Christ, the afterlife, and salvation by grace alone through faith alone. Just a thought.

#11 I do not care how much Saddleback spent on its children’s facility.
ABNAES: FIne, but the open ended way you posted, made it seem as if something was wrong with spending that money. It was an open-ended comment that left readers thinking something negative.

#12 Flower arranging is not a spiritual gift, it is a talent, and neither is recycling. No explanation should be needed.
ABNAES: You miss the point I made. And I suppose, technically speaking (and I mean seriously technically), you are correct. But so what? I mean, really, what is the big deal? You and others act as if saying flower arranging is a gift is tantamount to saying there is no trinity. I just think there is a lot of straining at gnats going on, while weightier matters are being neglected. (Matthew 23: 23-24).

Just my two cents. And interestingly, just because I happen to think Warren's an ok guy and others have made mistakes about Saddlback, I have been accused of serving "my father" the devil and worshiping Warren, and not loving the true God of the Bible. Isn't this getting a bit extreme????

RAbanes

charles in montana said...

#11 It is wrong.
It would have been better that Saddlback spent that money on the poor and those in need, then on a big church to show off.