Picking on Rick Warren’s theology of the two kingdoms is like shooting ducks on a pond. For that matter, picking on Rick Warren’s theology of anything is like shooting ducks on a pond, but I thought that his recent comments to a Muslim group make for a simple lesson on properly distinguishing God’s left hand rule from his right hand rule. Many of our readers are new to this blessed enterprise of promoting and learning the Lutheran Confessions and so I also thought this might be a good introductory lesson to this difficult Bible doctrine of the left and right hand kingdoms.
Rick Warren was speaking to the Muslim Public Affairs Council national convention on Saturday and told them that he loves Muslims. He also told them he loves people of other religions, Democrats, and gays. There is nothing wrong with this statement. I myself love Muslims, Democrats and gays. The problem is the context in which he said it.
Rick Warren is a pastor. His job is to preach the Gospel. He is to be a tool of God as He rules in His right hand kingdom of the Gospel. When speaking to the Muslim Public Affairs Council, Rick Warren is speaking of left hand kingdom matters. If he were there to be a preacher he would have convicted those Muslims of their sin and then preached faith in Jesus Christ into their hearts. This is not what he did. They did not invite him there to preach. That is the problem.
When Rick Warren says he loves Muslims and gays, it will be mistaken as the Christian Gospel because after all, he is a Christian preacher. This message will be misunderstood. Now we do love all sinners, even our brothers in Christ who sin (i.e. each of us) but our message to sinners always has to be twofold. It has to be both law and gospel. If it is just the gospel (“I love Muslims and gays”) the Christian faith will be mistaken as a faith of love, tolerance, and moral relativism. Saying that God loves Muslims and gays without first saying that Islam and homosexuality are pagan and sinful, is speaking a dangerous half truth.
The problem began when Rick Warren accepted the opportunity to speak to the Muslim group. Rick Warren has become a spiritual superstar and this has brought him such invitations. (By the way, it is crucial to note that the likes of John the Baptist, St. Paul and even our Lord himself, never attained the status of spiritual superstar. Jesus came close, as did Luther, but once people actually listened to what they were saying, the raving crowds disappeared. One of the main reasons Rick Warren has become a superstar is because of his softer, culturally relevant and untrue, watering down of the Gospel.) Because of his theological confusion of such issues as the two kingdoms, Rick Warren is constantly misrepresenting the Gospel. He is a preacher. Preachers convict sinners of their sin and where there is repentance, heal that sin with the good news that Jesus Christ has paid fully for that sin. When those two messages (law and gospel) are not spoken in tandem there is confusion.
The church’s God-given job is to rebuke sin and forgive it where there is repentance. The government’s God-given job is to keep the temporal peace by establishing civic laws and punishing those who do not obey. When these two are mixed, as when a preacher is asked to speak to a civic group on civic matters, doctrinal confusion often follows.
This is not the only example of Warren mixing the two kingdoms. Last month he made some ridiculous comments about Syria that irritated those who are truly fighting for a just government in that country. Click here for more details. You can also click here or here for more detail on his speech last Saturday.
Does this mean that the Christian preacher has no role in the left hand kingdom? Not necessarily. I actually do not mind that Rick Warren has been chosen to give the invocation for the upcoming presidential inaugural. At least Rick Warren is on record opposing same sex marriage and when asked directly, he will confess that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the life. In some ways, it is better having him say the prayer than a pagan or a liberal protesant.
However, when it comes to such invitations to speak in the left hand kingdom, he should just say “Thank you very much, I will use this opportunity to ask God’s blessing upon our president in the name of the only one through whom God answers prayer, Jesus Christ” and then he should leave it at that. No more comment. No more back seat political driving. No more amateur hour on world diplomacy. That confuses the pure Gospel that he is supposed to defend and proclaim.
One last comment. A primary reason our synod is drifting away from the pure Gospel is because so many of our bishops, pastors and district staffers are reading and promoting the undisciplined theology of Rick Warren and others. There was a brother pastor down the road from us, who I respect personally (but not so much doctrinally), who just a few years ago led his entire congregation through Rick Warren’s forty days of purpose. This is an epidemic in our synod. Brothers, please encourage your pastors to read and promote the Lutheran Confessions and to stay away from the harmful teachings of Rick Warren and others.
I hope this helps some of you who are newer to this confessional endeavor. I also hope you other pastors and educated laymen out there will use the comment section of this post to offer some internet resources for our Brothers to delve further into this matter. Also, where you can clarify or correct anything I have written, please have at it. As Rick Warren has demonstrated, this is a doctrine that can easily be misunderstood.