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November 29th, 2012
12:40 PM ET

Short Takes: Gauging the impact of 'Purpose Driven Life,' 10 years on

This month marks the 10th anniversary of the best-selling hardback book in American history: Rick Warren's "The Purpose Driven Life."

We reached out to scholars, religion experts and Warren's wife, Kay, to ask about the book's impact after a decade.

Here's what they told us:

Kay Warren is an author, speaker and co-founder of Saddleback Church.

I knew when I was reading the unfinished manuscript of “The Purpose Driven Life” that I was holding a treasure in my hands, but I was clueless as to how deeply the book would strike a nerve in the souls of millions of people around the globe.

I never go anywhere anymore without someone telling me how reading “The Purpose Driven Life” saved their life, their marriage, their daughter, their mother, father, etc.; gave them meaning and hope; answered some of their most baffling questions; restored their faith; and much more. I’ve heard these words from presidents and prisoners, stock brokers and drug dealers, average Joes and Janes, celebrities at the pinnacle of success, atheists and priests, skeptics and true believers, those near the end of life and those fresh with the promise of youth.

I’ve heard it from pastors in the isolated mountains separating Thailand and Burma, and in the halls of power in Washington - all walks of life, all occupations, on nearly every continent, and all races, genders, and creeds. It seems that no matter who you are, if you pick up this book it will have something profound to say to you.

I never get tired of hearing the stories of changed lives. Each one thrills me and reminds me again of how grateful I am that Rick spent six months of blood, sweat and tears and penned these simple yet soul-satisfying words.

David Kinnaman, president of Barna Group and author of "unChristian" and "You Lost Me."

Our research at Barna Group shows that "Purpose Driven Life" quickly elevated pastor Rick Warren onto the national stage. In our polling in 2005, pastors named Warren's breakout best-seller as the book most influential in their ministry. The success of the book, among other things, has led to significant influence for Rick Warren among clergy: 94% of Protestant leaders in the nation know of the Southern California leader and one-quarter of these leaders believe he is the most influential faith leader today.

The book was, of course, a huge consumer phenomenon, and our research showed that one-quarter of all American adults - and nearly two-thirds of evangelicals - had read the book by the middle of 2005. Still, it is interesting that despite the publishing success, the book did not catapult Warren into broad, sweeping national awareness. At the height of the book's prominence, 83% of Americans had never heard of Warren.

This does not seem to be some fault of his, but it showed that "Purpose Driven Life" was something of a "niche" phenomenon, a hugely successful enterprise that deeply affected one segment of the nation's population - i.e. evangelical Christians - but did not necessarily translate much beyond that segment. In fact, among non-Christians, nearly 9 out of 10 had never heard of Rick Warren.

One of the interesting side notes often overlooked was the fact that "Purpose Driven Church," Warren's book before "Purpose Driven Life," was very successful in creating connections with Protestant leaders. This gave the follow-up book, which was intended for laity, an incredible groundswell of support, embodied in the 40 Days of Purpose groups that many pastors led for their churches. In some ways, it was a get-out-the-vote-type effort by the original social network - local churches.

Mara Einstein, author of "Compassion, Inc.: How Corporate America Blurs the Line Between What We Buy, Who We Are and Those We Help."

I bought "Purpose Driven Life" at the height of its popularity. When I got it home and began reading, I was surprised by the overtly Christian language. Being Jewish, I found that rather shocking. How did this get on the best-seller list?

Later, when I wrote "Brands of Faith: Marketing religion in a commercial age," I learned the answer to that question: "Purpose Driven Life" is the text for a church course called 40 Days of Purpose. Entire congregations signed up to participate in the course, which was launched simultaneously in more than 1500 churches in October 2002.

The book was broadly distributed through these churches, where congregants who participated in the course received a significant discount on the book - leading to the 500,000-copy initial print run selling out quickly. Since then, thousands of churches have taken the course and millions of copies have been sold.

From this come two long-term effects: Churches are seen as valuable distribution channels for products (think politics or Mel Gibson’s "Passion of the Christ"), and “purpose-driven” has become part of the marketing lexicon to describe brands that give back while creating profits.

These effects are significant, but not for me. I returned the book to Barnes & Noble.

Michael Cromartie, vice president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington.

The huge success of "The Purpose Driven Life" surprised everyone - including Rick Warren.

There are many reasons for its success, but here is one of them: Its message that every person has dignity because they are made in the image of God means that every life has a purpose. God has a special calling for everyone. Yes, there have been many other books that make this same point. But Warren pressed home the point again and again in almost every chapter. In a world where so many feel their lives are filled with meaninglessness, insignificance, anomie and uncertainty, his message that every person’s work and life has unique value struck a chord.

More impressively, the success of the book did not go to his head. Instead, Rick and his wife, Kay, used the proceeds of the book to advance their concerns for those suffering around the world, especially those suffering from AIDS in Africa. They give generously of their time, their energy and their resources. They “reverse tithe” by giving away nine-tenths of their income to charity and to their favorite ministries. Their generosity and compassion are boundless and a sterling example for all of us, especially when preachers of the “prosperity gospel” are too much in our midst.

In a time when the message of grace, forgiveness and redemption offered by the Christian faith is too often lost in the more temporal concerns of our various political disputes, Rick Warren has worked diligently to make sure the most important ultimate issues are not confused and blurred by lesser ones.

Anthea Butler, professor of religious studies at the University of Pennsylvania and author of "Women in the Church of God in Christ: Making a Sanctified World."

The success of "The Purpose Driven Life" in Rwanda is a provocative sidebar to the popularity of Rick Warren’s book. In a partnership with Rwandan President Paul Kagame, Warren has promoted his book since 2005 throughout the country, and Warren is part of Kagame’s Presidential Council advisory board. Stating that he wanted to turn Rwanda into a “purpose driven country,” Warren has held numerous rallies in Rwanda, and considers Rwanda to be his “second home.”

Warren’s relationship with Kagame is interesting, given Rwanda’s troubled history and the Rwandan genocide. Kagame was wary of religious leadership, but "The Purpose Driven Life" presented him with an alternative blueprint for change, without a traditional religious structure.

Warren’s participation in Rwanda is not much different from the 19th-century ministers who were sent to Africa to “Christianize” African people. Instead of the Bible, "The Purpose Driven Life" is now the text that changes the nation.

While their partnership may create unease in some circles, Kagame and Warren’s alliance has important implications for how Christianity is shared not only as a belief, but a capitalistic endeavor. While it still too early to say if Warren’s popular tome has indelibly changed the nation, it is an interesting coda to Rwanda’s troubled history.

The opinions in this post are solely those of the authors.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Books • Leaders • Opinion • Pastors

soundoff (153 Responses)
  1. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Very easy to bask in the Southern Cal beach and preach. Try going to the inner cities and live the purposeful life 😉

    November 30, 2012 at 10:37 pm |
  2. kindness

    This is my experience... Thank you.

    MY personal testimony.
    A thought to consider without an ego response

    I Accepted Jesus christ as my lord and saviour. You never know how soon is too late. Transcend the worldly illusion of enslavement.
    The world denounces truth....

    Accepting Jesus Christ (for me) resulted in something like seeng a new colour. You will see it .....but will not be able to clearly explain it to anyone else..... Its meant to be that way to transend any selfism within you.

    Also... much the world arranges "surrounding dark matter into something to be debated" in such a way that protects/inflates the ego.

    The key is be present and transcend our own desire to physically see evidence. We don't know anyways by defending our own perception of dark matter.

    Currently.... most of us are constructing our own path that suits our sin lifestyle. Were all sinners. Knowing that we are is often an issue. But both christians and non are sinners. Even once we are saved by christs merciful grace we will still experience adversity to mold us to adhering to the truth.
    We will slip... But not fall of the ship ...carrying us onward to perfection in christs grace.

    We don't like to Let go and let god. We want control to some degree. This is what Jesus asks us to do. "Follow me".
    It's the hardest thing to do... but is done by letting the truth of scripture lead you (redemptive revelation)... as I said .

    Try reading corinthians and see if it makes sense to you. Try it without a pre conceived notion of it being a fairy tale.
    See the truth...
    do we do what it says in todays society... is it relevant... so many have not recently read and only hinge their philosophy on what they have heard from some other person...which may have been full of arogance pride or vanity..

    Look closely at the economy ponzi, look at how society idolizes Lust , greed , envy, sloth, pride of life, desire for knowledge, desire for power, desire for revencge,gluttony with food etc .

    Trancsend the temporal world.

    Just think if you can find any truth you can take with you ....in any of these things. When you die your riches go to someone who will spend away your life..... You will be forgotten.... history will repeat iteslf.... the greatest minds knowledge fade or are eventually plagerzed..... your good deeds will be forgotten and only give you a fleeting temporary reward . your learned teachings are forgotten or mutated..... your gold is transfered back to the rullers that rule you through deception. Your grave will grow over . This is truth .

    Trancsend your egoism and free yourself from this dominion of satan. Understand you are a sinner and part of the collective problem of this worldly matrix... Repent.... Repent means knowing (to change) The Holy spirit (within) will convict you beyond what you think you can do by yourself. Grace is given to those who renounce the world. That are" in" the world but not "of " the world.

    Evidence follows faith. Faith does not follow evidence..... Faith ....above reason in Jesus Christ.

    Faith comes by Reading or Hearing the word of god from the bible . Ask Jesus in faith for dicernment and start reading the new testament... You will be shocked when you lay down your preconceived notions and ....see and hear truth ... see how christ sets an example ... feel the truth....

    Read Ecclesiastes. Read romans or corinthians.

    You cant trancend your own egoism by adapting a world philosophy to suit your needs. Seek the truth in Christ.

    Sell all your cleverness and purchase true bewilderment. You don't get what you want ....you get what you are by faith above reason in christ.

    I promise this has been the truth for me. In Jesus christ .

    Think of what you really have to lose. ...your ego?

    Break the Matrix of illusion that holds your senses captive.

    once you do . you too will have the wisdom of God that comes only through the Holy Spirit. Saved By grace through Faith. Just like seeing a new colour.... can't explain it to a transient caught in the matrix of worldly deception.
    You will also see how the world suppresses this information and distorts it

    You're all smart people . I tell the truth. Its hard to think out of the box when earthly thinking is the box.
    I'ts a personal free experience you can do it free anytime . Don't wait till you are about to die.. START PUTTING YOUR TREASURES WHERE THEY REALLY MATTER >
    Its awsome and It's just between you and Jesus

    my testimony

    Romans 10:9

    "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved

    Last eve I passed beside a blacksmith’s door,
    And heard the anvil ring the vesper chime;
    The, looking in, I saw upon the floor
    Old hammers, worn with beating years of time.
    “How many anvils have you had,” said I,
    “To wear and batter all these hammers so?”
    “Just one,” said he, and then with twinkling eye,
    “The anvil wears the hammers out, you know.”
    And so, thought I, the anvil of God’s Word,
    For ages skeptic blows have beat upon;
    Yet, though the noise of falling blows was heard,
    The anvil is unharmed – the hammers gone.

    Truth is..exclusive

    November 30, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
  3. laststonecarver

    Omnipotent – all powerful
    Omniscient – all knowledgeable
    Omnipresent – everywhere
    I think she can handle any situation without human intervention. She must have street cred by now.

    November 30, 2012 at 3:53 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      Than it is all her fault and she should quit blaming us for her mistakes.

      November 30, 2012 at 8:41 pm |
  4. jill

    We can't know for sure because he won't release his 609's. I'd say it's a reduction.

    November 30, 2012 at 2:37 pm |
  5. TeaPatriot

    Yaay! Missisippi uses procedural maneuvers to shut down the only ab0rt1on clinic in its state. This should be a model for all pro-life activists in the country.

    November 30, 2012 at 8:21 am |
    • the AnViL

      once again – ignorant people attempting to secularize their ignorant theological ideals.... and it's no surprise –

      mississippi -> Only 61.6 percent of adults in the region have a high school diploma, compared to 80.4 percent nationwide. Adults in Mississippi have the highest rate of low literacy in the nation, with 30 percent scoring as "Level 1" on the National Assessment of Adult Literacy conducted by the U.S. Department of Education in 2003. Level 1 literacy is generally defined as less than fifth-grade reading and comprehension skills.

      November 30, 2012 at 2:03 pm |
  6. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things.

    November 30, 2012 at 7:01 am |
    • Chadism can create delusions.

      Avert your eyes.

      November 30, 2012 at 7:30 am |
    • TrollAlert

      "Ronald Regonzo" who degenerates to:
      "Salvatore" degenerates to:
      "Douglas" degenerates to:
      "truth be told" degenerates to:
      "Thinker23" degenerates to:
      "Atheism is not healthy ..." degenerates to:
      "another repentant sinner" degenerates to:
      "Dodney Rangerfield" degenerates to:
      "tina" degenerates to:
      "captain america" degenerates to:
      "Atheist Hunter" degenerates to:
      "Anybody know how to read? " degenerates to:
      "just sayin" degenerates to:
      "ImLook'nUp" degenerates to:
      "Kindness" degenerates to:
      "Chad" degenerates to
      "Bob" degenerates to
      "nope" degenerates to:
      "2357" degenerates to:
      "WOW" degenerates to:
      "fred" degenerates to:
      "!" degenerates to:
      "John 3:16" degenerates to:
      "pervert alert" is the degenerate.

      This troll is not a christian

      November 30, 2012 at 8:46 am |
    • Jesus

      Prayer does not; you are such a LIAR. You have NO proof it changes anything! A great example of prayer proven not to work is the Christians in jail because prayer didn't work and their children died. For example: Susan Grady, who relied on prayer to heal her son. Nine-year-old Aaron Grady died and Susan Grady was arrested.

      An article in the Journal of Pediatrics examined the deaths of 172 children from families who relied upon faith healing from 1975 to 1995. They concluded that four out of five ill children, who died under the care of faith healers or being left to prayer only, would most likely have survived if they had received medical care.

      The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs.

      November 30, 2012 at 8:52 am |
  7. Bootyfunk

    rick warren = h.omphobe hate monger

    November 30, 2012 at 3:52 am |
    • lol??

      Jesus is about family. Demobocracy is about Sodom and Gomorrah. Majority rules.

      December 1, 2012 at 10:05 am |
  8. tallulah13

    I think that the biggest impact was that Rick Warren made a LOT of money. I suspect that this was his most important goal when writing the thing.

    November 30, 2012 at 2:02 am |
  9. Akira

    I sincerely hope that all who bought Mara Einstein's book returned it to Barnes and Noble, also.
    How dumb to not realize that a book written by a Christian Minister would have Christian references in it. Duh.
    Way to go, Einstein.

    November 29, 2012 at 10:14 pm |
  10. Joheva Gira

    The book sucked. It was simplistic and retarded. Just Like Americans.

    November 29, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
  11. LouAZ

    Long-haired preachers come out every night
    To tell you what's wrong and what's right
    But when asked about something to eat
    They will answer in voices so sweet
    You will eat bye and bye,
    In that glorious land above the sky.
    Work and pray, live on hay,
    You'll get pie in the sky when you die

    November 29, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
  12. us_1776

    .
    There is no Sky Fairy.

    Get over it.

    .

    November 29, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
    • VanHagar

      I think every Christian, Muslim, Jew etc. would agree with that statement.

      November 29, 2012 at 7:44 pm |
  13. patch vader

    Ms Einstein: Either you cheated Barnes and Noble by reading the book and consuming the intellectual property without paying for it, or you are commenting on a book that you have not read. Which is it?

    November 29, 2012 at 5:34 pm |
  14. ProperVillain

    I read it years ago, it wasn't that good. A whole lot of fluff and armchair psychology self help mumbo jumbo. You won't find your "purpose" in a book. Go out and live your life. Your time is better spent with friends, loved ones and whatever else you choose to pursue rather than reading through some book and filling out "work sheets" with a wide eyed group of people desperate for someone to give them answers that they should be finding for themselves...

    November 29, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
  15. Reality

    Only for the Warrens:

    The Apostles' Creed 2012: (updated by yours truly and based on the studies of historians and theologians of the past 200 years)

    Should I believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
    and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
    human-created, spirit state of bliss called heaven??

    I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
    preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
    named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish
    girl named Mary. (Some say he was a mamzer.)

    Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by
    the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under Pontius Pilate,

    He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
    a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of
    Jerusalem.

    Said Jesus' story was embellished and "mythicized" by
    many semi-fiction writers. A descent into Hell, a bodily resurrection
    and ascension stories were promulgated to compete with the
    Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
    grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/Christianity
    and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals
    called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus.

    Amen
    (references used are available upon request)

    November 29, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
    • Horus

      Also of note: as far back as the 4th century CE, Roman Catholic Theologians questioned the seemingly revisioned life of Jesus, and knew that a word was mistranslated to imply Jesus was born a vi.rgin rather than by a woman of child bearing years – yet they allowed that error to remain.

      Christians have also been unable to explain how Jesus was from a town that didn't exist during his time. The site of Nazareth has been excavated by Catholic "Archeologists" for decades yet no evidence of a town, or even village exists from Jesus' time.

      November 29, 2012 at 3:48 pm |
    • Honey Badger Dont Care

      Not to mention why Joseph would have had to go to the home of his ancestors to perform a census that there is no record of. And by the way, the Romans were very good at keeping records at that time, especialy of a census.

      November 29, 2012 at 4:17 pm |
  16. Rick Warren

    Hang on. I'm coming out soon.

    November 29, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
    • Honey Badger Dont Care

      Seems like they all do evenually.

      November 29, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
  17. Bootyfunk

    Rick Warren is a hate monger and h.omophobe. he fights to keep loving g.ay couples from marrying.

    Rick Warren: The issue to me, I'm not opposed to that as much as I'm opposed to redefinition of a 5,000 year definition of marriage. I'm opposed to having a brother and sister being together and calling that marriage. I'm opposed to an older guy marrying a child and calling that marriage. I'm opposed to one guy having multiple wives and calling that marriage.
    Steven Waldman: Do you think, though, that they are equivalent to having gays getting married?
    Rick Warren: Oh, I do.

    me and my fiance are straight against hate. rick warren and all these religion h.omophobes need to go away. the bible says to kill g.ays. disgusting.

    November 29, 2012 at 3:15 pm |
    • lol??

      You definitely have your boots on the ground.

      December 1, 2012 at 10:13 am |
  18. Horus

    Why is it so hard for people to believe that they can live a rewarding and purposeful life without the bindings of religious doctrines? I've never really believed in any god, yet I live a good life and find purpose and meaning without invoking any god.

    November 29, 2012 at 3:13 pm |
    • Saraswati

      I think its hard for most of us to imagine people living in a radically psychologically different way than we do. For instance, you could turn this question around and ask why it's so hard for many to imagine that some can only be happy if they are living with religious beliefs?

      November 29, 2012 at 3:16 pm |
    • Christianity is a form of mental illness- FACT

      (1) Hallucinations – the person has invisible friends who (s)he insists are real, and to whom (s)he speaks daily, even though nobody can actually see or hear
      these friends.

      (2) Delusions – the patient believes that the invisible friends have magical powers to make them rich, cure cancer, bring about world peace, and will do so eventually if asked.

      (3) Denial/Inability to learn – though the requests for world peace remain unanswered, even after hundreds of years, the patients persist with the praying behaviour, each time expecting different results.

      (4) Inability to distinguish fantasy from reality – the beliefs are contingent upon ancient mythology being accepted as historical fact.

      (5) Paranoia – the belief that anyone who does not share their supernatural concept of reality is "evil," "the devil," "an agent of Satan".

      (6) Emotional abuse – ­ religious concepts such as sin, hell, cause feelings of guilt, shame, fear, and other types of emotional "baggage" which can scar the
      psyche for life.

      (7) Violence – many patients insist that others should share in their delusions, even to the extent of using violence.

      November 29, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
    • Horus

      @Sara – that's not exactly "turning the question around". And It's not hard for me to imagine, or even understand why people are happy and complacent with religious doctrines – life is easier that way. Everything is all wrapped up in a creed and you believe some diety is guiding and protecting you and that your "thinking self" or "soul" will continue forever in some euphoric place with all the like-minded good people you've known. What's not to love about that fantasy? I get the mystic attraction; just not the ignorance of reality when true reflection and rational thought are (supposedly) applied.

      November 29, 2012 at 3:35 pm |
    • Christianity is a form of mental illness- FACT

      To be a christian is to be of an unsound mind. This alos applies to any person who believe mythical creatures and magical beings are real.

      November 30, 2012 at 10:59 am |
  19. Akira

    Two stories in two days about Rick Warren?
    Does CNN have a financial piece of Warren's book?

    November 29, 2012 at 3:11 pm |
  20. William Demuth

    I hope you all realize that Mein Kampf Was a HUGE best seller.

    Mao ALSO had a certain little red book.

    The book in question, like the others mentioned are just opiates for simple minded people, or badges of belonging inherent in cult based oppresive communities.

    Muammar Gaddafi's green book is still the all time best seller in Libya!!

    November 29, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.