The Purpose Driven Life—Did Rick Warren Get it Right?

Rick Warren’s book is getting a lot of attention lately. He reduces the meaning of life to these five “purposes:” worship, ministry, evangelism, fellowship, and discipleship. Don’t get me wrong, these five are certainly high priorities in the Christian life. But I believe that there is a higher purpose that is more biblically mandated, from which Warren’s ideas certainly flow.

It seems to me that our “purpose” is tied directly to our being created in the image of God. Look at Genesis 1:26-28, especially these three aspects of our “purpose:” “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him” (we were created by God to relate to God); “male and female He created them” (we were created to be in relationship with fellow humans); “Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth, subdue it; and rule...” (we were created to create ourselves—God gave us the raw materials of the earth to subdue, to rule, to take care of).

So, our purpose can be simply stated as this: To glorify God as His image-bearers. When we allow ourselves to reflect God’s image more and more through the Holy Spirit’s sanctifying work, we ourselves become more and more glorious. We were meant for glory! (Not our own glory, but a derived glory, as we fulfill our purpose as God’s image-bearers.)

God is teaching me how to live this out—and it looks like this…

In the Beginning: We were created in God’s image, which is defined in Genesis in terms of relationship (1) with God, (2) with each other, and (3) with the creation. As Adam and Eve reflected the glory of God as His image, they were glorious themselves. But the Fall has marred and tarnished that glorious image. It has created a rift in the relationship with God; it has caused hostilities in our relationship with others; it has caused our work to be a burden and we have warped work for our prideful gain. We are no longer glorious—in place of glorifying God, we seek to glorify ourselves.

Christ Was the Perfect Image of God: “He (Christ) is the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15). He fulfilled in his pure humanity what we could not because of our fallenness. When we place our trust in Him, we receive from him the ability to begin living out the meaning of life—the image of God is restored to us as we become Christ-like.

Our Christian Lives Today: How are we to live our lives? “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Cor 10:31). The Westminster Catechism got it right: “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” This is our purpose in life. This is what Christian discipleship is all about—seeking out the means toward living out the purpose of life!

Personally, I’m seeking to live this out in the following ways: (1) worshiping God in deeper relationship, (2) loving fellow human beings in shalom peace, and (3) being a good steward in and of the creation and being proactive in making cultural change. Each day I’m discovering in new ways that a personal walk with God is a walk that glorifies God in all three of these aspects of being created in His image. And this is not a rewardless endeavor, for "we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit" (2 Cor. 3:18).

In the Future: Our discipleship process in this life is preparing us for the future God has for us. All the good, bad, and ugly things that happens in our lives are being used by God for our good so that he can bring about his purpose for our lives. “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). What is God’s purpose for us? What is the good God makes all things work together toward happening? It is this: God wants us to “be conformed to the likeness of his Son” (v. 29). What does that mean? Look at verse 30! We will finally and ultimately fufill our purpose in life: to be “glorified.” It is our destiny to finally and ultimately fulfill what we have been experiencing in part in our present experience: we will be fully human, fully the image of God.

The “purpose driven life” is to shine forth as the image of God!

See a helpful chart on the image of God in man.


Brother Maynard said...

Excellent post, Bob, on a theme I love. Ignoring Rick Warren entirely, I think you explain this one well. Let me press the point a little further yet and and observe that to be the image of God is to be missional.

In ancient times, a conquering king might place a statue of himself in a conquered city to express the fact that he ruled that city even though he was not physically present there. In 1979 such a statue was found bearing the words "image" and "likeness" used synonymously in an inscription on the statue... the first time these two words were found in this form outside the book of Genesis. These are the same words in Genesis, "image" (selem) and "likeness" (demut) which are used as a hendiadys and not as separate thoughts like we often hear the terms explained.

The upshot is that people were put here to express God's rule over his creation. When we did that poorly, he sent his Son to demonstrate to us how he wanted it done.

So yes, your point is spot-on... we exist to glorify God by living out our purpose of expressing his rule in his creation. To express his rule, we must demonstrate what he is like, as Jesus showed us how to do. Our purpose is indeed tied to our role as the Image.

I say that it is to be missional, but we could also say that being the image of God means to live out the sermon on the mount.

Gratia Vobis et Pax,

Bob Robinson said...

Thanks for the insight, Brother Maynard (by the way, did you see that your movie won my final four greatest comedy movies?

I actually wrote a thesis on this in seminary in 1993. The proper understanding of the image of God even pre-dates the 1979 archeological discovery. A great article (if you can get your hands on it) dates back to the 1968 Tyndale Bulletin (pp. 53-103). D.J.A. Clines' Tyndale Old Testament Lecture is recorded there, entitled "The Image of God in Man."

In it, he goes over the history of the theological views on the imago Dei, then speaks to the issue of the plural in Gen 1:26.

But the greatest thing in the paper is the history of the "image of God in the Ancient Middle East." Here’s some excerpts:

"the figure of the king...was regarded at certain times in certain places as the life-long incarnation of the god...the king's words and acts are expressions of the god indwelling him."
The Egyptian texts we have show that "it is the king who is the image of God, not humankind generally. The image of the god is associated very closely with rulerhood. The king as image of the god is his representative. The king has been created by the god to be his image."
"...as so often, old Testament belief lays under tribute other ancient thought and freely borrows anything that is not incompatible with faith in Yahweh..."
"Whereas in the rest of the Ancient Near East the image of God was limited to the king, in Israel it was regarded as characteristic of mankind in general, without distinction between king and commoner, man and woman, or Israelite or non-Israelite.”
“Likewise in Genesis 1 the concept of man’s rulership is connected in the strongest possible way with the idea of the image…‘let them have dominion…fill the earth and subdue it…’ (Gen 1:26-27).”
“Man is not created in God’s image, since God has no image of his own, but as God’s image, or rather to be God’s image…he is the visible corporeal representative of the invisible, bodiless, God; he is the representative rather than the representation.”
“In Christ, man sees what manhood was meant to be. In the Old Testament all men are the image of God; in the New, where Christ is the one true image, men are image of God in so far as they are like Christ. The image is fully realized only through obedience to Christ; this is how man, the image of God, who is already man, already the image of God, can become fully man, fully the image of God.”

Bud Brown said...

It is my understanding of the imago dei that humans are the visible evidence of God's dominion over the creation. The ANE kings would erect images of themselves at the borders of their lands to indicate to all who entered who the sovereign was.

Further, that dominion was extended to the humans in the creation ordinances in the commands to "fill", "have dominion" and "subdue" the earth.

From the first chapters of Genesis we find that God was establishing a theocratic kingdom of earth that would be ruled in his behalf by his creatures. Thus, the imago dei not only signals that God is the sovereign of this realm, it also is evidence that are his co-rulers!

DLW said...

thankyou Bob for directing me to this post. I enjoyed it very much, but think that it does not contradict my point that we can define when we initially become human beings by when we recognize ourselves in the other, with the first way we do that "naturally" being by the human form.


Scot McKnight said...

Bob, right down the alley for me.
I'm writing a book right now, A Weekend called Grace, and the central concern is that there is no gospel if we don't begin with God's beginning: namely, that humans are made as Eikons of God.

The purpose of the gospel is to restore Eikons. Christ came to restore Eikons as the perfect Eikon.

The Good Friday Only Gospel (G-Fog) teaches us that we are sinners, we need to be forgiven, and all this so we can go to heaven. This is not what the gospel is, though it includes this.

Scot McKnight said...

Now here' the important thing for me: to be an Eikon of God is to love God and love others. Adam and Eve were in union with God and in communion with one another. The Fall cracks the Eikon, destroying union and communion.

The previous work of mine, the Jesus Creed, attempted to show that Jesus saw the spiritually formed person as the one who loved God and who loved others (both, not just one or the other). The gospel restores Eikons so humans can love God and love others.

What do you think Bob?

Scot McKnight said...

Brother Maynard,
Good thoughts, but I'd like to take up one issue.
The "imago Dei" issue is complex, but I'm not sure that "govern" is the central idea. Here's what I mean. Far too many have asked, "What is the image of God?" and they've answered it by asking "What distinguishes humans from animals?" Which leads to superiority complexes (good ones, no doubt).

But I think this misses the boat: what we should ask instead is this: "What did God do?" "What is God like?' in Genesis 1-3? My suggestion is, along the lines of Dorothy Sayers in her marvelous Mind of the Maker, is "God creates." Instead of asking what makes us different from the rest of creation, we need to ask what makes us "like God." And that can be found in creativity and relatability and resting and naming.


Bob Robinson said...

Scot (that sounds strange to me…I want to call you “Dr. McKnight”),

Maybe you can help me out. I am trying to get a handle on the imago Dei. The best treatment I’ve seen so far is from Michael Wittmer (see my review of his book here).

He says that the imago Dei is three-fold: Our relationship with God, with other humans AND with the creation ( see a chart based on his book here). I found this helpful, and in line with what I said above in these comments—that the imago Dei must have something to do with humanity’s dominion over the creation.

However, like you, I wondered why Jesus’ “Great Commandment” (or as you call it, “The Jesus Creed”) only included the first two. Love God, love others.

What’s your take on the “Cultural Mandate”?

Scot McKnight said...

I like Wittmer's idea, and I'll be reading his book "Heaven is a Place on Earth" shortly, and I see something there in the notion that the "eikon" connects with God, others, and earth. I'll give this more thought... but for now...

"Eikon" is something that, as humans, connects to God. We are Eikons "of God." For me, the key is to figure out what is being said about God and to know that we reflect God.

The responsibility of being made in God's Eikon is that, just as God governs and nurtures Creation, so humans, because they are Eikons, are to do the same. If Wittmer is saying that, then I tip my cap to him.

Still, and again I've not yet read Wittmer, Eikon refers to our "God-likeness".

This is such a good idea ... to connect our Eikonic nature with God and then through that to Creation.

Bob Robinson said...

In what ways is Jesus the Eikon of God? How is our Eikon-ishness redeemed THROUGH our being "in Christ?"

How do we keep our understanding the Eikon theology in a way that super-spiritualizes it to the point of edging towards Gnosticism (this is Wittmer's biggest point--that we define the Image of God so spiritually that we demean the materialness of our human nature-"Heaven is a Place on Earth" is about the fact that we are not made for heavenly existence but for earthly existence.

Brother Maynard said...

Bob, thanks for the heads-up that this discussion was still going on. I do feel kinda out of my element over here hangin' with the scholar dudes! Hey, I never even finished my Master's. (maybe someday)

That said, Scot (et al) thanks for your further thoughts here. Perhaps "govern" isn't the best representation of this concept... I wouldn't want to imply that I'm summing up the whole of it. As you say it's a complex issue of which I may grasp one or two facets but perhaps never the whole thing. Allow me to suggest two further thoughts:

1. Another serious problem with the way this subject is sometimes approached is the one which says, "Since we are created in the image of God, what does that tell us about God" ...by which I mean that we use anthropology to inform our theology. Bad footing, that.

2. A thought occured to me this evening in the midst of an entirely unrelated conversation... mankind in the image of God... the representation of God... the fingerprints of God... a kind of cosmic "Kilroy was here." Or rather, "God was here." In this case, the mark of his presence and activity in the world is not some mere graffiti on a wall somplace where he wanted to leave his mark, but something that is active and living. Just like him. God still is here.

I agree that a/the central question here is "What is God like?" - it's also the central challenge. If we as the image are the "representation" of God, then our role is to express his character.

I think I like the word "representation" a bit better... still weak perhaps, but maybe also a bit vague in a good way. "Govern" could fall within its semantic range, but doesn't have to. I don't think that govern, strictly speaking is entirely accurate... perhaps because we aren't really capable of governing as God governs.

I said 2 thoughts but I think I threw in an extra one. Or two.

Bob, I owe most of any insight into the linguistics around "image and likeness" to Gus Konkel — I got it in class, but it's published in Didaskalia which touches on the text and the archaeology bit, but then goes on to talk more about male/female as the image, a slightly different context than the one in which I became familiar with it, iirc. This take on the image of course predates the archaeological find, but unless I'm mistaken, the find was the first evidence of these words used synonymously in this fashion, which supports the view... so it's important to support this reading.

Oh, and I'm glad to see "my movie" doing so well in your take of top comedy movies. Actually, they told me it was a documentary during filming (not to be confused with a 'rocumentary').

Bob Robinson said...

Brother Maynard,
I like what you said about using anthropology to inform our theology. That can help, since we are so much more familiar with ourselves (and since we are created in the imago Dei, then it can bring some insights, since the "Kilroy was Here" thing is true) BUT (!) this is precarious since we are depraved and our abilities to discern what is noble in the human character has proved to be less-than-accurate!

I would like to get ahold Konkel's thesis. As I wrote above, D.J.A. Clines' Tyndale Old Testament Lecture spells out the "representation" idea pretty well.

I'd suggest to you Michael Wittmer's Heaven is a Place on Earth and I am going to read McKnight's Jesus Creed as well.

Mike Wittmer said...


I agree with your assessment of the Purpose Driven Life. I explain it this way: like most evangelicals, Rick begins at the end of the story, with redemption, and asks the question, "I'm saved, what is the meaning of my Christian life?" See p. 306, where he says that following the Great Commandment and the Great Commission will make you a great Christian. This focus leads him to a truncated view of life, reducing it to 5 things, which, especially as he defines them, are things we do because we are Christian. But if you start at the beginning of the story, with creation, and ask, "I'm image of God, what is the meaning of my human life?", then you get a much broader purpose of life, which as you mentioned, is to love God, serve others, and cultivate the earth. These purposes are broad enough to encapsulate Warren's five "spiritual" purposes, with room leftover to include the 99% of our life which are not acts of piety.

Scot: I think we are saying the same thing. Certainly our imago Dei is primarily about a relationship we have to God, but it also has implications for our relation to others and the earth. By the way, I enjoyed you very much when you spoke in our GRTS chapel the other week. I was waiting to thank you when I realized I had to run to class (the speaker went too long!).

Scot McKnight said...

Great conversation. I'm not sure how many realize the significant implications Wittmer knows when he says we have "to begin at the beginning" (OK, that a chapter in this work I'm doing, but still his idea is close). And I agree completely. In fact, beginning where Warren begins leads to a "Good Friday Only Gospel" (Jesus came to earth to die for my sins so I could go to be where he is) -- but beginning with Wittmer, which I do, leads to a much more comprehensive gospel.
Mike Wittmer: I'm sure we agree. I just need to get some time to read your book, which I got at GRTS and was put on to it by Peter Osborn.
It was great to be at GRTS, and glad to see that school that shaped me so much.

Brother Maynard said...


Bob, in addition to the link above, see also this one on the archaeological find. I rather suspect that you'll find more from Clines on the representation position; what I got from Konkel is mainly the linguistic portion, the headlines, and the fact that there is now archaeology to support this particular interpretation. I tend to trust his translations from the original languages, particularly in the OT. When he read the Bible aloud in class, new students would sometimes look at each other and try to figure out what translation he was reading, until someone would eventually fill them in: his usual practice was to read from the original language and translate "on the fly" in class - you couldn't tell he was doing it until after you knew.

Concerning the whole subject of
- "Good Friday Only Gospel"
- beginning with the end
- anthropology-informed-theology
I think these are different facets of the same general subject... the notion that if you were the only sinner on the planet, God would still send Jesus to die for your sins so that you wouldn't have to go to Hell. (Apparently you're worth it.)

Sounds humanistic to me, and not in tune with the general theme of Ezekiel 36:22-32 which suggests that not everything good that God does for us is because of us... it's not for our sakes that he does this. It doesn't align with the song in Revelation 5 where the phrase for God leaps out to say that we were purchased by Christ for God and for no other reason. Certainly not because we're inherently good or we deserve it or even because the Imageo Dei must be redeemed and not perish (this would necesitate universalism).

When we attempt to wear the Imageo Dei as a badge of honour, we simply think too much of ourselves.

Mike, I like your points about starting at the beginning with creation and allowing that to fuel how we see our purpose... so our purpose is bound to why we exist at all rather than only to why we are "saved." I suppose this also allows for the view that salvation (as an event) is a milestone on the continuum of fulfilling your purpose, rather than the end or the beginning.

Bob Robinson said...

Mike and Scot,

Thanks so much for continuing this discussion! It is helping me SOO MUCH! I am seeking to articulate the gospel in a new way for a new generation in a new postmodern age; and it seems to me that getting away from the G-FOG (Good Friday Only Gospel) is a key to that. We need to start at the beginning.


Bob Robinson said...

Brother Maynard,

Thanks again for your thoughtful comments (and for that link!)

I think you're correct in saying, "it's not for our sakes that he does this. It doesn't align with the song in Revelation 5 where the phrase for God leaps out to say that we were purchased by Christ for God and for no other reason."

But I wonder if I agree with your next thought: "Certainly not because we're inherently good or we deserve it or even because the Imageo Dei must be redeemed and not perish...when we attempt to wear the Imageo Dei as a badge of honour, we simply think too much of ourselves."

I think that the Gospel needs to be rethought and re-articulated from the beginning of the story instead of from the middle. What I mean is this: We were created to be glorious; our inherent nature is glory (that is what the image of God is--the reflection of God's glory). Our inherent nature is not found in Genesis 3 (the Fall), but in Genesis 1 (the imago Dei).

God's intention is to redeem us back to that original inherent value in us--not ultimately for our own glory , but for the glory we reflect (as you said--"for God's sake").

I think that the gospel we've heard for a long time starts with "you are bad...you need to change." It starts with our depravity. But that is not what the Bible seems to say--not when we start at the beginning. It seems to say: you were created good; you turned bad (but that's not the "real you," that's not what you are meant to be); And God will make you good again.

The imago Dei, therefore IS a badge of honour--for when we reflect the image of God, we are indeed GLORIOUS!

Isn't that what Romans 8:28-30 tells us? It's God's "purpose" to move us toward our destiny--that is, to be "glorified." In other words, to reflect God's glory as perfected images of God again...

...Because that is who we are inherently.

Brother Maynard said...


Maybe it's the nuance, which I don't always hit the first try!

- inherently good? not in our current state.
- deserve it? no, this would imply we earned it.
- Imageo Dei must be redeemed? Here I mean that if the Imageo Dei as it continues to exist in fallen man requires that God save us, then you have to accept universalism (which I don't).

wrt the "badge of honour" and inherent nature, here's where we get into careful nuance. Yes, our originally-designed state is Ge.1, pre-fall... but we're born into a fallen state. While we were designed for intimate relationship with God, this doesn't make us inherently good ("Why do you call me good? Only God is good." - Jesus).

Let me take another tack on it... even if we retain the Imageo Dei in a fallen state, we must understand what that does and does not mean. The image has no value apart from that of which it is an image... it isn't the mirror or the reflection, but the original that holds the innate value. The only inherent value we have is the ability to reflect or represent God; this value is not so much innate to us as it is given to us by God.

So what I'm saying is basically that man has no value apart from that which comes from God. What this means is that we don't have a value that God is obliged to redeem - but he takes pleasure in redeeming us because it brings him glory.

I don't think our inherent nature is glory, but the ability to reflect it... so it's not innate in us, we only reflect what comes from God, back to God.

I agree with the proper start of the Gospel - you were created for relationship with God, to bring glory to God... but in your fallen state you can't. But here's the good news, there's a way to get back on track with your eternal purpose.

We could probably go round and round on innate vs. inherent and by design vs. our current condition... unfortunately I fear that if we push the discussion too much farther we'll be talking about TULIPs and my Calvinistic tendencies, which is generally something I try to avoid as it's too hot a topic for EC-blogdom (and we're accepting of one another anyway, right?).

T = Total Depravity, which means there's nothing in me that's worthy of Christ's death. From there we'd slip into
U = Unconditional Election because there's nothing I did to bring about my own salvation (because I can't, I'm totally depraved). Then we might even drift into
L = Limited Atonement, just because we're in the neighbourhood, and after that we might be tempted to wrap up the last two points for good measure... and this is probably just a whole bigger can of worms than we meant to open up here.

Besides, After going 'round these issues, I don't expect we're much apart. I guess we'd probably end up trying to summarize the Imageo Dei, which is obviously not an easy task. Here's my attempt:

The Imageo Dei is man's ability to represent God.

In part this is intentionally vague - 'represent' could include 'reflect his glory' or many other aspect that we've ascribed to the Imageo Dei. The way I've provisionally defined it here, it leaves room for us to do it relatively well or to do it very badly. It is an ability which allows us to be of value as that ability is exercised, but the value comes only from the God we represent. Saying it this way is perhaps weak because it implies that our value comes from the action of representing God, which isn't quite what I mean, it's more the ability to represent God.

Did I make it clearer or muddier? Further thoughts?

Bob Robinson said...

Mike, Brother Maynard, and Scot (and anybody else that can help!):

I am currently writing a 6 or 7 part story of the gospel (kind of like a post-modern version of the "Four Spiritual Laws"). It is my intention to provide the CCO (the college ministry I will be working for starting this Summer) with a new evangelistic tool.

It is a work in progress, and is based exactly on the discussion in this thread.

Please (if you have time) read what I have so far and critique it!

The first few installments are here:

Vern Hyndman said...

Hey, where's the presentation?

Bob, glossed over the original thread, and want to make a comment on the original premise.

What Warren says in PDL is not mutually exclusive to what you're saying. And I agree we're made in the image of God. But being "made in the image of God" is a statement of being, while not answering the question Warren so adeptly answers of "why". Whether he gets it right is debatable, but I will say that I don’t think he’s gotten it wrong.

Warren's book is not for everyone. I don't believe it is wrong on any account, and covers the basics much like CS Lewis' Mere Christianity. It is not nearly enough, and those who finish the book might well decide to become and emergent.

I have heard criticism that PDL suggests a Christianity that is far too individualized, and while I agree he does not focus on community the way an emergent might, he does not discourage this kind of community.

PDL is a vehicle that is currently providing positive growth for neophytes… we use it effectively in prison. Warren’s gift is coherence and connection. There’s room for more books, and the quintessential emergent one is missing right now, although McLaren’s stuff does it for me.

Bob, I'm eagerly anticipating anything you write.

Bob Robinson said...

The gospel presentation I'm working on can be seen by clicking on the link below:



Philologus said...


Excellent post! I think it's very interesting that many of the things you have posted and expressed about the image of God and how that is worked out has been taught by Catholics for centuries. hmmm...BTW I'm not a Catholic but have studied much of their writings and love the writings of the early Church fathers. I look forward to reading more of your thoughts about this subject.


Luke Chan said...

I just want to say that Rick simplify quite a lot of heavy stuff into simple language that the ordinary person - Christian and Non-christian can understand and apply this truths into practical steps. So I want to thank God for Rick.

Purpose in life essay said...

well post, i was looking the same for my purpose in life essay help.

Purpose in Life Essay

UK said...

The premise of this book is a simple one: a 40 day journey of exploration and inner contemplation as to how to life one's life led by author Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Valley Church. The book is written in simple language that almost anybody can understand, and as a result, the pages turn at an alarming rate. However, despite the short read, the book does make clever use of Christian doctrine combined with strategic implementation with Bible passages to provide moral guidelines to the Christian life. Warren's five main points of loving God, loving others, evangelization, fellowship, and discipleship are umbrellaed under the notion that we were all created to serve God, and therefore, all have a purpose.