Rick Warren: A Public Educator Worthy of Honor

by John Mark Reynolds [author, academic]

Rick Warren is a sensible man who represents the center of American Christianity. Christian ideas and culture are part of the genetic makeup of our nation and appealing to them is vital to tapping into the American story. President-elect Obama was smart to pick Warren, and Pastor Warren was right to accept.

Opponents of the pick on the far left are marginalizing themselves, but don’t realize it since they have such a limited circle of friends. Charity demands that we recall that much of our education has been too narrow. We don’t understand sophisticated religious points of view, because we are not exposed to them. When combined with a natural tendency to justify what we want, even when it is wrong, a prophetic voice like Warren’s makes many of the pundit class uncomfortable.

Rick Warren refuses to bow to the thoughtless assumptions of the American right or the American left. He flays the comfortable in both camps, but too much of the left is unused to having the morality of their positions questioned. They have insulated themselves from it.

The traditional Christian is, on the other hand, bombarded by media and educational messages opposed to his point of view. He has no trouble seeing that there are sensible people on the other side and interesting arguments that need consideration. It is impossible for a man like Warren to forget, even for a moment, that much of the leadership class despises him.

President-elect Obama understands the cultural prejudices and blind spots of his class, because his biography has always made him a bit of an outsider to that class. He knows most Americans are religious, most religious are Christians, and most Christians sympathize with Warren’s views, even if they don’t agree with him on every theological detail.

The Warren pick shows Obama is not trapped in the bubble that has so marginalized the left in this nation. Much of the left has never read an argument for Christianity by a sophisticated philosopher such as Alvin Plantinga. They don’t understand why a rational person might read the Bible a source for moral guidance. Many are never exposed to secular arguments supporting social conservative positions.

Some of us who talk for a living delude ourselves into thinking we are the nation’s intellectuals, but too often our intellectual activities amount to sophisticated justifications for comfortable, but selfish lives. Reading the right books, watching the right films, and going to the right schools, is useless if it does not make us better men and women. The temptation is to become elegant hedonists.

After all, if you want charity, you would be better off going to your local fundamentalist church than a university. You might get a sermon with your soup in the church, but professors and pundits are not noted for their generosity. There would be no sermon or soup from us! Barack Obama understood the need for intellectual activity to be tied to a life of service.

He found this integration in church. Church exposed him to another group of intellectuals: people who take their reading seriously enough to sacrifice when they are persuaded by it. Rick Warren has lifted more people out of poverty than most of his critics have met.

I have a good friend who was a member of Pastor Warren’s church. His life was transformed and improved by this experience. Secular Orange County youth culture was hedonistic and anti-intellectual. My friend was saved from this by church. He became motivated to study philosophy and was taught selfless citizenship. He is preparing for graduate studies at a major secular university.

There are thousands like him in Orange County.

While their neighbors are watching television, they will attend concerts and classes at Warren’s churches. Thousands will read the Bible with care, attend lectures by university professors at Warren’s church, sing ancient hymns this Christmas, and think through an oration every Sunday. Members will connect all of this robust intellectual activity to actual behavior and change. They will sacrifice for the good of mankind.

These members of Warren’s church will read more, give more to the poor, become better spouses, and better neighbors as a result of his ministry.

Their lives are integrated: head, heart, and hand. Warren urges his congregation to think, read, and act, and so is a much better role model for the life of the mind than most of us.

Despite their disagreements on a few issues, President-elect Obama sees that he has more in common with Warren than with some of Warren’s narrow minded critics.

Pastor Warren is right to oppose the further erosion of traditional marriage. He is right to ask God to bless our land and our new president. His opponents would do well to examine their own works and see if they are in a position to judge this decent man. ExileStreet

copyright 2008 John Mark Reynolds

John Mark Reynolds is the founder and director of the Torrey Honors Institute and Associate Professor of Philosophy at Biola University.His personal website can be found at www.johnmarkreynolds.com and his blog can be found at http://scriptoriumdaily.com.

One Response to “Rick Warren: A Public Educator Worthy of Honor”

  1. greg Says:

    Wow, I lost track of the generalizations and assumptions you make in this article by the third paragraph. You might want to try and base your arguments in reality and with some level of factual proof of your claims.

    Marginalized the left? Were you on the moon the past few months. The left just eviscerated the right across the board in national and state elections. There is not a SINGLE republican congressman left in New England.

    You have written a thoroughly cheerleader piece.

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