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What Is the Message in “The Message”?

There are now over 300 versions of the Bible that have appeared since 1881 when Drs. Westcott and Hort took the corrupted Alexandrian Texts and produced a new Greek New Testament. One of the latest, if not the latest, is The Message (The Bible in Contemporary Language), or in contemptible language, depending upon your point of view.

The Message is the holy book, or “holey” book, of the Purpose Driven Church movement. Dr. Rick Warren references The Message 83 times in his book The Purpose Driven Life, and it is referenced a majority over other newer translations in a new capsule-sized edition of The Purpose Driven Life titled What on Earth Am I Here For?, just published by Rupert Murdoch through Zondervan Publishing.

Rupert Murdoch, who owns and/or controls dozens of publishing and media concerns, has showcased Dr. Warren in almost every metropolis and hamlet in over 200 nations. The more popular that Dr. Warren and the PDC become, the more money Rupert makes, and the more money Rupert makes, the more money Dr. Warren has to spread the “saving” message of the new contemporary gospel. Without Rupert, Dr. Warren would probably be a modestly successful, liberal, social gospel pastor in a local Saddleback setting.

Dr. Theodore Letis, author of The Ecclesiastical Text, and professor at Concordia University, summed up his opinion of the PDC movement thusly:

He [Warren] decided he wanted to be a winner instead of a loser, and so in a Mephistopheles manner, he suddenly became successful—the way all mega-churches become successful—by appealing to the American middle class angst with the suave of affirmation. He has taken Wayne Dyer’s pop-psychology/New Age Hippie cosmology (see Dyer’s book and VERY popular PBS video/DVD TV series: Power of Intention: Learning to Co-Create Your World Your Way), given it a dumbed-down, evangelical spin, and like Dyer (an academic drop-out from the field of Philosophy), he has become a very successful—and I suspect—a very wealthy man.

[Warren] has gutted the Christian faith of all its content, thus maximizing his capacity to appeal to ALL religious backgrounds, as well as the “unchurched” who possess sizable incomes, but sadly, with no place to direct it. He has learned what has driven the corporate world in the United States for years: make people feel good, and they will keep coming back for strokes (i.e., your product). The entire project is superbly endemic to American middle-class religious folk who want religion to make them feel good about themselves, without traditional religious trappings. It is nothing more, nor anything less, than American corporate-world, motivational seminar religion. It is the perfect formula for success, which is what rather pathetic Mr. Warren was after all along.

Look—no pastor wants to be a loser—hence, this Warren success stuff is going to appeal to a certain kind of pastor. Those with their nose in Scripture, Church history, and theology will see this for what it is. The other kind of pastor—and you KNOW who you are—will be on board in a heartbeat.

Always keep in mind that the early believers gave their lives for religious language—homoousios, rather than homoiousios. Of the same essence versus “like” the same essence (Christ being one with the Father as God).

ANYONE who wants to gut the Christian faith of her vocabulary for the sake of Church growth is not a shepherd but a cheap hireling. …

There you are, my good friends, again, my unvarnished, unsugar-coated telling of the truth, a rarer and rarer phenomenon in the world today.

In a March 2004 article, I presented the seven principal aspects of the PDC movement, and the one that I will try to enlarge upon in this commentary is the Purpose Driven Bibles. To me, this is the most obvious and dangerous concern related to the PDC movement.

In order to replace the New Testament type church with a new PDC contemporary operation, everything related to service and worship must be replaced. The music, the dress, Sunday school, assembly times, number of assemblies, decor, seating, and even the room assignments, must change. Not every church that does the PDL “40 Days in the Wilderness” program advances to a full PDC format, but the most adaptable switch for PDL disciples is to change their Bibles.

In The Purpose Driven Life, which by now has sold over 20 million copies (and added a few more million bucks to Rupert Murdoch’s bank account) Dr. Warren references 15 versions of the Bibles, with The Message being one of the favorites (83 references). In the latest PDL booklet, The Message is referenced more than any of the new versions.

Dr. Warren has advised PDC advocates to switch to new versions, and it is obvious that The Message is becoming the “word” of the Purpose Driven Church. Other than Bill McCartney, founder and president of Promise Keepers, and Bill Hybels, pastor of Willow Creek, only a few nominal ecclesiastics and unknown entertainers dared to endorse it. However, not so with Dr. Rick Warren. With Dr. Warren recommending The Message through his books to 70,000 pastors and 20 million-plus church members, The Message is rapidly winning the popularity polls with the seekers and suckers alike.

The storyteller of The Message, Dr. Eugene H. Peterson, obviously used the Alexandrian Texts instead of the Received Text as a base for his latest essay about what he believes about God and His message. We can know this from 1 John 4:1–3 alone. And, according to the questionable endorsements, “The Message is the easiest of all the new translations to understand; it is the most accurate; it captures the real meaning of the original messages of the writers of the Old and New Testaments.” John 1:1 is a biblical test verse for a translation’s accuracy and credibility:

In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

There are no verse numbers in The Message, on purpose, so it will be more difficult to check and compare scripture. But the first five lines in The Message on John were comparative, so I read: “The Word was first, the Word present to God, God present to the Word, The Word was God, in readiness for God from day one.” Will someone write and tell me what this means? It is evident the Dr. Peterson didn’t know what it meant.

Next I wondered what The Message had done to such passages as the Beatitudes, so I read from Matthew 5:

  • 5: Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
  • 6: Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled …
  • 8: Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.

Next, I turned to the seemingly comparative paraphrases in The Message and read:

  • 5: You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.
  • 6: You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat …
  • 8: You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.

Other than endorsing narcissism and pantheism, I get no meaning from Dr. Peterson’s interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount. Otherwise, I must appropriate these paraphrase meanderings to the mouthing of an inebriated priest who has lingered a little too long at the Benedictine bottle.

It is one thing to dumb down church members with vernacular translations, but quite another to make Jesus Christ sound like the village idiot, saying things that He never said. I personally would not want to answer at the Judgment Seat for editing or rewriting what Jesus said. I, for one, think Jesus knew what He wanted to say, and said it.

Dr. Eugene Peterson, as reported in Christianity Today (December 23, 2002), stated when asked if he considered The Message God’s Word:

… In a congregation where somebody uses it in the Scripture reading, it makes me uneasy. … I would never recommend it to be used as, “hear the Word of God from The Message.” It surprises me how many do. … I like to hear those more formal languages in the pulpit. … I did the Beatitudes in about 10 minutes.

We respect Dr. Peterson for saying that he does not use his own contemporary paraphrase; that it should not be considered the Word of God; and that it should not be used in formal worship service. Yet Dr. Rick Warren and thousands of others will quote from The Message and say, “God says here. …”

In the third chapter of Ephesians, Paul references the mystery of the church that Jesus Christ gave to him by revelation, but near the end of the chapter The Message adds these words to those of the apostle, “And so here I am, preaching and writing about things that are way over my head. …” In my brief study of The Message, I noticed several places where the prophet or apostle, who is supposed to be writing as the Holy Spirit dictated, actually doubts that what he is writing is true.

At my first thumbing through the New Testament section of The Message and finding some parts rather disturbing, I flipped to the Old Testament, and without even turning one page, my eyes fell on Jeremiah 2, which corresponded to verses 23–24, in the KJV:

How canst thou say, I am not polluted, I have not gone after Baalim? see thy way in the valley, know what thou hast done: thou are a swift dromedary traversing her ways: A wild ass used to the wilderness, thou snuffeth up the wind at her pleasure; in her occasion who can turn her away? all they that seek her will not weary themselves, in her month they shall find her.

Now read these same verses from The Message:

How dare you tell me, “I’m not stained by sin. I’ve never chased after the Baal sex gods!” Well, look at the tracks you’ve left behind in the valley. How do you account for what is written in the desert dust—tracks of a camel in heat, running this way and that, tracks of a wild donkey in rut, sniffing the wind for the slightest scent of sex. Who could possibly corral her! On the hunt for sex, sex, and more sex—insatiable, indiscriminate, promiscuous.

The gutter language in parts of The Message I would think would be offensive to many adults, much less teenagers. Maybe this is the way some of the unchurched, or even the churched, talk today, but I do not think this is the way that Christians should communicate.

Let your speech be always with grace … (Colossians 4:16).

Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth … (Ephesians 4:29).

There is a way, as indicated in the King James Version, that we can express God’s displeasure with an immoral personal relationship between a man and a woman without using contemporary three-letter and four-letter words.

As with The Message, I personally think that all non-literal, paraphrased modern versions should be labeled and promoted as commentaries, not Bibles. However, I would be less than honest if I did not report that parts of The Message were better than some of the other paraphrased versions. Of course, some were worse. The same thing would be true of The Purpose Driven Life and the entire ministry of Dr. Rick Warren who uses and recommends The Message. Anything that sells, and especially new Christian programs and movements, have to be based on tenets that appear biblically productive. A totally bad product or program will not be accepted or bought by anyone.

Let us suppose that a salesman came to your door with a huge box of freshly baked cookies. The cookies are beautiful and smell delicious. As you appear interested, the salesman offers to sell you enough for the whole church for only $1,000. (This is approximately what the PDL programs cost each church.)

You say, “But what are the dark spots in the cookies?”

The salesman responds, “Oh, the cookies are made out of the finest flour, sugars, and spices available. However, 20 percent of the cookie’s volume is cow manure.”

You say, “But how will the church members eat those cookies with the manure in them?”

The salesman answers, “No problem. Just tell them to spit out the dark spots of the cow manure and eat the rest of the cookie.”

The reader will probably conclude that this is a terrible example, which it is. But what about the 70,000 pastors who have disseminated copies of The Purpose Driven Life to their memberships that encourage replacing the Authorized Version Bibles with The Message? Have they no responsibility?

As I stated in my March 2004 article, “Who Is Driving the Purpose Driven Church?”, church-based spiritual movements, some good and some not so good, sweep though Christendom from time to time. Some pass in due course without any lasting effect and some like the Charismatic movement leave behind continuing evidence, but the majority of the church establishments move on without change. The Purpose Driven Church movement, however, is the most inclusive paradigm shift in Christendom since the Protestant Reformation.

Will the new church growth movement that generally gets its energy from the Purpose Driven Church and Mr. Murdoch’s billions really make Jesus Christ more acceptable to the world’s unchurched? Or will the doctrineless church majority and the unchurched who are seeking a bloodless-redemption religion join together to bring in the false church of Mr. Antichrist? Is it possible that we are on the brink of the great falling away that is referenced in 2 Thessalonians 2? These are questions that may be answered very soon.

(Excerpted from the March 2005 Prophetic Observer by Noah W. Hutchings)

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