Calvary Chapel and Purpose Driven

by Roger Oakland

Since Rick Warren’s best selling Purpose Driven book and other related products were pulled from Calvary Distribution, [1] a number of people have contacted me asking for an explanation. My answer has been quite simple - contact someone at Calvary Distribution and ask them for the answer.

While I do speak at many different Calvary Chapels throughout the USA and around the world, I am not involved in the decisions that the leaders of Calvary Chapel make. Basically, I am a missionary to the world, based in southern California, affiliated with the Calvary Chapel movement. The ministry of Understand The Times is a discernment ministry, and I am dedicated to warning people about current trends within Christianity which lead believers and non believers away from the truth of God’s Word. Other than warning people, there is not much else I can do.

My Background

I consider Pastor Chuck Smith to be my own pastor, and I attend Calvary Costa Mesa when I am in southern California. I have been familiar with the Calvary Chapel movement since June of 1981 when I was first invited as a guest speaker at Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa. Since 1988 the ministry of Understand The Times has been affiliated with Calvary Chapel movement and I have spoken at hundreds of churches and conferences by invitation of Calvary Chapel pastors worldwide

Therefore, my 25 years of experience within the Calvary Chapel movement has provided the opportunity for me to be able to make observations about the Calvary Chapel movement. While this movement is made up of individuals who have various ideas (some are even supportive of Purpose Driven), the leader, Pastor Chuck Smith has made it clear on several occasions that he does not agree with the direction the Purpose Driven movement is headed.

Over the past year or so, it should have been obvious to anyone listening to messages by Pastor Chuck Smith, Sr. that he has expressed serious concerns about the Purpose Driven church growth movement. On numerous occasions he made the point that the Calvary way, was not the Purpose Driven way. He made it clear that healthy church growth should be centered on the teaching of the Word of God and not on methods derived by human effort. From the beginning of the Calvary Chapel movement, Chuck has emphasized being “spirit led” rather than being motivated by a humanistic agenda put in place by church growth experts.

Further, pastors who attended the nation-wide Calvary Chapel Pastor’s Conferences held at Murrieta, California in either 2005 or 2006 would have heard Pastor Chuck explain in detail that Calvary Chapel pastors are not to be “Purpose Driven”. While there were some in attendance who were leaning towards Purpose Driven methods, Pastor Chuck emphasized Calvary Chapel was not going in that direction.

Distribution of “Purpose Driven” at Calvary Distribution

Based on what I have just stated, it was surprising to me that Calvary Distribution ever distributed Rick Warren’s “Purpose Driven” books and associated products in the first place. The fact that a decision was made to remove these materials from Calvary Distribution seemed logical based on my knowledge of what Calvary Chapel stands for and what Rick Warren’s “Purpose Driven” church growth philosophy represents.

As I stated in the introduction of this commentary, although I have no authority to make comments on behalf of Chuck Smith, Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa, or Calvary Distribution, I am willing to go on record and make comments regarding my perspective on why I believe Calvary Distribution pulled the Rick Warren materials. Following are four of my reasons:

1. Eschatology

The Calvary Chapel view of the future compared to the “Purpose Driven” view of the future is as different as day and night. One of the distinctives of the Calvary movement is a focus on the imminent return of Jesus Christ. Pastor Chuck has always been known for an emphasis on warning Christians to be alert and ready for the return of Jesus. He teaches that the Kingdom of God will be established only when Jesus Christ returns to this planet. He also emphasizes that the time period before the return of Jesus here on earth will be “as it was in the days of Noah.” [2] From this perspective, the world actually gets worse and worse, not better and better.

Rick Warren’s view of the present and the future is different from Chuck Smith’s. Warren encourages his followers to ignore Bible prophecy and spend their time and energy on the here and now, in order to establish a man made social plan (P.E.A.C.E. Plan) that will make planet earth a better place for everyone. With regards to the importance of Bible prophecy, Rick Warren has stated:

When the disciples wanted to talk about prophecy, Jesus quickly switched the conversation to evangelism. He wanted them to concentrate on their mission to the world. He said in essence, "The details of my return are none of your business. What is your business is the mission I have given you. Focus on that!"


Speculating on the exact timing of Christ's return is futile, because Jesus said, "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father." Since Jesus said he didn't know the day or hour, why should you try to figure it out" What we do know for sure is this: Jesus will not return until everyone God wants to hear the Good News has heard it. Jesus said, "The Good News about God's kingdom will be preached in all the world, to every nation. Then the end will come." If you want Jesus to come back sooner, focus on fulfilling your mission, not figuring out prophecy. [3]

Further, Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven P.E.A.C.E. Plan is part of a plan that is intended to establish the Kingdom of God here on earth before Jesus returns. This Kingdom depends on human effort. He is willing to work with governments (Rwanda [4]), political leaders (King of Jordan [5]), the United Nations (Inter-religious gatherings [6]) and even the Roman Catholic Church [7].

In April of 2005, Rick Warren, speaking to 25,000 in attendance at Anaheim Stadium, encouraged his Purpose Driven supporters to partner with him to usher in the Kingdom of God on planet earth, right now. Quoting from his speech:

I stand before you confidently right now and say to you that God is going to use you to change the world. Some will say, “That's impossible,” but I heard that line 25 years ago, and God took seven people and started Saddleback Church. Now we have a new vision and a whole lot more people to start with. The great evangelist Dwight L. Moody said, “The world has yet to see what God can do with a man fully consecrated to him.” I'm looking at a stadium full of people who are telling God they will do whatever it takes to establish God's Kingdom 'on earth as it is in heaven. [8]

It is important to understand that this type of teaching that Rick Warren heavily promotes is very similar to New Age teachings that say the endtimes, according to the book of Revelation, does not have to happen if enough people come together, realize their unity with each other and with God, and strive towards global peace.

2. The Emerging Church

Pastor Chuck has been very outspoken regarding his concerns about the Emerging Church. In fact in May of 2006, he sent out a letter to all Calvary Chapel pastors stating that no Calvary Chapel pastor heading down the Emerging Church road movement would be permitted to use the name of Calvary Chapel. [9] In this statement he wrote:

We have great problems with the use of icons to give them (Emerging Church) a sense of God or the presence of God. If they want to have a tie with the historicity of the church, why not go back to the church in Acts, which seems to devoid of incense, candles, robes etc., but was filled with the Spirit. [10]

The letter was not only sent out to Calvary pastors to clarify the Calvary Chapel position, it was also followed up by action. Several Calvary Chapels that were once on the list of Calvary Chapel Fellowships have been removed from the list.

On the other hand, it can be documented that Rick Warren’s view of the Emergent Church is different than Chuck Smith’s view. Warren has endorsed the Emerging Church movement. He wrote a foreword for a book written by Dan Kimball titled The Emerging Church: Vintage Christianity for New Generations (Kimball is a leader in the movement). Warren stated:

This book is a wonderful, detailed example of what a purpose-driven church can look like in a postmodern world.  My friend Dan Kimball writes passionately, with a deep desire to reach the emerging generation and culture. While my book The Purpose-Driven Church explained what the church is called to do, Dan’s book explains how to do it with the cultural creatives who think and feel in postmodern terms. You need to pay attention to him because times are changing. [11]

Warren’s comments are self-explanatory. For an overview of the ideas promoted by Dan Kimball that characterize the Emerging Church (also known as “Vintage Christianity”) it would be helpful to read a previous commentary I have written posted at .

3. Contemplative Prayer and Christian Mysticism

The primary distinctive of the Calvary Chapel movement has always been based on the systematic teaching of the Word of God. This is clearly what Pastor Chuck has emphasized and continues to emphasize. While there have been those in the movement in the past who have moved away from the Word of God towards the promotion of experiences in God’s name, Pastor Chuck has made it clear, this will not be tolerated.

For example, the Calvary Chapel-Vineyard split occurred over this very issue in 1982. At this time Pastor Chuck warned of moving towards an experienced-based Christianity that leads followers into dangerous spiritual territory.  

Further, Pastor Chuck in his Parson to Parson letter [12] to pastors mentioned his concern with contemplative practices and Eastern mysticism that is an earmark of the Emerging Church. In his statement he asked the question:

Should we look to Eastern religions with their practices or meditation through Yoga and special breathing techniques or repeating a mantra to hear God speak to us? If this is needed to enhance our communication with God, why do you suppose that God did not give us implicit instructions in the Scriptures to give us methods to hear His voice? [13]

Rick Warren has clearly indicated that he is willing to investigate the ideas and methods being promoted for spiritual reformation and transformation that have eastern religious roots. These include the beliefs promoted by the proponents of contemplative prayer and other mystical techniques that are supposed to get the participant “closer to God.”

Ray Yungen, in his book A Time of Departing documents Warren’s views in detail. I would suggest that readers of this commentary read a chapter from A Time of Departing titled “America’s Pastor” [14] in order to see the connection between the Purpose Driven world-view and the contemplative prayer agenda.

One of the major leaders of contemplative prayer is Richard Foster, the founder of Renovare. Rick Warren spoke very clearly of his admiration for Richard Foster’s spirituality in his first book, Purpose Driven Church when he stated that the “spiritual formation movement” (of which he named Foster as a key player) was needed and vital to the church. Lighthouse Trails Publishing has documented many instances where Saddleback pastors and staff have shown their strong support for the practice of contemplative prayer. [15]

It would seem to me that “Purpose Driven” mixed together with a touch of mysticism could be considered a recipe for spiritual disaster. That is especially true in these days when so many Christians are willing to embrace eastern mystical practices like “yoga” and other methods to pursue a state of silence or quietness in order to get into an altered state of consciousness. This is not the message that Pastor Chuck Smith or Calvary Distribution would want to promote.

4. Church Growth Philosophy

The Calvary Chapel movement has been under the scrutiny of church growth experts from the beginning. Some have suggested it was the music that caused Calvary Chapel to grow. Others said it was the way Pastor Chuck dressed. Some claimed the movement grew because of the Word For Today radio programs. One church growth expert claimed the reason Chuck Smith and the Calvary Chapel movement was so successful was because of his “good radio voice.”

Pastor Chuck, when asked why the movement has grown always has given the credit to the Holy Spirit. He has stated on numerous occasions that it is not by human effort or cleverly designed plans dependent of church growth experts.

On the other hand, Rick Warren’s church growth plan has been carefully designed and orchestrated. Purpose Driven is part of a much bigger church growth plan, one that can be traced back to Peter Drucker. [16]

Further, it is no secret that Purpose Driven is a cousin of Robert Schuller’s “possibility thinking” and Bill Hybel’s “seeker-friendly” approach. [17] Warren did not stumble on his success plan for growth by chance. He has a number of advisors besides Drucker who also have a plan to “win the world” by “whatever means it takes.” We will discuss this in a future article.


Why did Calvary Distribution remove Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven books and related materials from their distribution? I believe these four reasons I have discussed are reasonable and a valid answer to that question:

Christianity has always been made up of strong leaders who take different positions. In this case we see two well-known contemporary leaders going in two different directions.

I also know that many Calvary Chapel pastors approved the decision and applauded Calvary Distribution when the Rick Warren materials were no longer being distributed.

Because there are some Calvary pastors who strongly disagree with this decision, it is very possible that in the future there will be a split of the Calvary Chapel movement. The pressures on young pastors today to conform to the current trends for the sake of having a successful big church are ever increasing.

In my view, the stand Pastor Chuck Smith made to stay with the Word of God and warn the flock about the imminent return of Jesus was biblical and the correct decision. I personally believe that those who go down the road of Purpose Driven will become less and less discerning regarding the end times scenario that is currently unfolding, which clearly reveals that Jesus may be soon returning.

I also believe that it won’t be very long before Rick Warren and his Purpose Driven theology will join hands with Roman Catholicism so that together they may work toward their common goal of ushering in the “Kingdom of God.”

As long as God gives me breath, I will keep you informed.

Roger Oakland


[2] Matthew 24:37

[3] Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life, pg 286, 286 emphasis mine





[8] emphasis added


[10] Ibid.

[11] Dan Kimball, The Emerging Church: Vintage Christianity for the New Generation, Zondervan, 2003, page 7 emphasis mine


[13] Ibid.

[14] Ray Yungen, Time of Departing:How Ancient Mystical Practices are Uniting Christians with the World’s Religions, 2nd Edition, 2006, Lighthouse Trails Publishing, Silverton, OR, pages 142-170



[17] Ibid.