An Interview with Bob DeWaay: “Redefining Christianity: Understanding the ‘Purpose Driven’ Movement”

by: Jeff  Fuller

I recently had the priviledge of interviewing Bob DeWaay, Senior Pastor of Twin City Fellowship and author of the book “Redefining Christianity: Understanding the ‘Purpose Driven’ Movement” which was released earlier this year.

Bob DeWaay was a chemical engineering student when he was apprehended by the gospel of Christ in 1971. In the fall of that year he transferred to North Central Bible College and graduated in 1974. Bob and his wife then joined a Christian community that practiced “innovative” spirituality including exorcism/inner healing techniques, new prophetic revelations, heavy handed shepherding and other aberrations. Leaving that community in 1980, Bob began the process of careful, verse-by-verse Bible study and teaching, searching out answers to the errors he had experienced first hand. This Bible study led to the conviction that the Bible teaches God’s sovereign grace, not man-centered techniques.

Bob began publishing Critical Issues Commentary in 1992. This bi-monthly commentary’s mission is to address important, contemporary issues in church and society from a Biblical perspective, thereby helping its readers distinguish truth from error and apply the truth in practical ways in their lives. The Critical Issues Commentary radio ministry shares this mission.

Bob graduated from Bethel Seminary in 1999 with a Masters of Arts in Theological Studies degree. He is the senior pastor of Twin City Fellowship in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He and his wife Diane have been married for 30 years and have two children and two grandchildren.

ReformedEvangelist – Thank you for taking the time to allow us to interview you. Your biography says that earlier in your Christian life you were part of a Community that focused on healing techniques, prophetic revelations and the like. All we have to do is walk into a Christian bookstore or turn on a television to see the growing popularity in those things. What influenced your change from practicing the popular “self-help gospel” to becoming a preacher of a biblical gospel message?

Pastor DeWaay – God sovereignly opened my eyes to the truth through His Word. He also providentially allowed me to see, in my frustration, that people were not actually being changed by the popular inner healing and deliverance techniques we were using in the late 1970’s. There were some solid Christian people in our group, but I noticed that they were that way because of their conversion through the gospel, not because of these techniques. The people who were actually changing into more Christ-likeness were not the ones who were subjecting themselves to the various healing techniques. I came to see that it is the gospel and God’s Word that change people, not processes dreamed up by spiritual innovators. Thankfully, I had a good Biblical education before I got involved in these ministries so I knew what to go back to.

ReformedEvangelist – As reformed evangelists, we commonly contribute the change in gospel preaching methodology to Charles Finney. In “Redefining Christianity”, you talk about some of the key figures who helped shape this modern movement. Who are they?

Pastor DeWaay – The most important one of all is Charles Finney. Finney moved evangelism and evangelicalism as a movement away from the reformed perspective of men like Jonathan Edwards. Finney taught that revival was not a work of God, but merely the result of the right use of means. As I say in the conclusion of my book, Rick Warren claims to have “invented” revival and Finney was the first to suggest that such a thing was possible.

Finney is also responsible for introducing the false doctrine of human ability into evangelical movement. Finney’s view on human ability was so radical that in comparison, Wesley sounds nearly reformed. For example, I used this citation of Wesley in an article on means of grace: “And in the mean time, the sure and general rule for all who groan for the salvation of God is this, — whenever opportunity serves, use all the means which God has ordained; for who knows in which God will meet thee with the grace that bringeth salvation?” With Finney, a man-centered approach based on human ability that had little place for God’s grace became the norm. I grant that few subsequent American evangelists were as radical as Finney was. Nevertheless, Finney paved the way for a pragmatic approach that finds justification in results in terms of numbers of people who make “decisions.”

Another key figure was Donald McGavran who invented the modern church growth movement. Rick Warren cites McGavran as an early key influence in his ministry. McGavran was the first to take sociological, psychological, and anthropological studies of man and integrate them into a scientific approach to church growth. He claimed that people became Christian for sociological, not theological reasons. He was the founder of the Institute of Church Growth at Fuller Seminary. C. Peter Wagner was McGavran’s successor and disciple. Much modern church growth theory originates from this institute.

Another key person is Robert Schuller. Schuller popularized church growth thinking and founded the Robert H. Schuller Institute for Successful Church Leadership. Students of this Institute included Rick Warren and Bill Hybels.

ReformedEvangelist – Historically, heresies resurface repeatedly. What are some theological heresies that were once common in church history that are now prevalent in this modern movement?

Pastor DeWaay – The Pelagian heresy is the first that comes to mind. The afore mentioned Charles Finney’s doctrine was Pelagian. This involves a denial of the doctrine of human depravity and human inability. Though Rick Warren downplays the importance of doctrine and likely would not publicly defend Pelagius, he makes statements that could only make sense from a Pelagian perspective. I often reference this statement by Warren: “It is my deep conviction that anybody can be won to Christ if you discover the key to his or her heart. . . . It may take some time to identify it. But the most likely place to start is with the person’s felt needs.” Clearly, this is predicated on a doctrine of human ability. The idea that sinners are so in bondage to their own sin and only God’s grace could rescue them is absent from this “felt need” approach.

Another heresy that is being brought back is the institution of religious oaths that were common in Monasticism. I have a chapter about this in my book where I compare Warren’s “covenants” (I show that the terms “covenant” and “oath” are used interchangeably in the Bible) to the type of religious oaths that Luther rejected at the time of the Reformation. These oaths are sinful and based on a person’s own confidence in his abilities. They are forbidden in the Bible and have no power to make a person a higher order Christian or deliver anyone from sin.

Another heresy that is being brought back by a popular movement today (The Emergent Church) is the use of icons and religious objects as a means of drawing near to God. This approach denies that words are capable of conveying meaning cross culturally (even denying the validity of propositional statements) and therefore replaces clear gospel proclamation with icons and subjective religious experiences.

ReformedEvangelist – In “Redefining Christianity”, you discuss the Purpose Driven Movement and how it has changed, not just the method but also the message of the gospel. I know that when we are on the streets witnessing to people, for instance Mormons, we find that we are often using many of the same words and phrases, however, they have different meanings for them. It makes it very difficult to witness to people when we use a word like grace and it means something different to them. What are some examples of common biblical words that have lost their meanings in this new modern gospel message?

Pastor DeWaay – The best examples of this are Warren’s five purposes for the church: worship, fellowship, discipleship, ministry and evangelism. They are all redefined. For Warren worship means music that entertains the unregenerate; fellowship means getting together with the unregenerate to study Warren’s materials, discipleship is his SHAPE program which is the study of “self” not denying self as the Bible defines discipleship, ministry is serving Warren’s PEACE plan which has nothing to do with the great commission and evangelism is doing marketing surveys of worldly minded people to find out what they want and then designing a program to attract them. This entire process of redefining is designed to erase the distinctions between the church and the world and create a version of Christianity that the world loves.

ReformedEvangelist – Another common issue we face when witnessing is the difficulty in finding “lost” people to witness to. How has this modern gospel blurred the distinction between believers and unbelievers?

Pastor DeWaay – It has blurred the distinction by promoting “decisions” rather than conversions and then creating a version of church that will work without any supernatural work of grace. The decisions are induced by suggesting that people will find their purpose or some other benefit that sounds appealing by making a decision to be a Christian. Once the decision is made, they are put into a process that is designed by professional management teams to get them committed to serving the church. Everything about this process will work without regeneration. In the Purpose Driven version of it, Rick Warren even states that his key program, the PEACE plan will work with non-Christians. What this means is that many thousands of people are being given false assurance. They made a decision; they are doing religious works, so they assume all is well. The Law has not been preached to show them their sin, the wrath of God against sin has not been declared, and the blood atonement is something they have never heard about. However, they think they are Christian. This is a very serious situation.

ReformedEvangelist – As evangelists, pastors are often basing our performance by the number of decisions for Christ people have made. Why is church growth so important to church leaders?

Pastor DeWaay – The evangelical movement has created a culture in which the size and growth of a church is the gauge of the success of one’s pastoral career. Statistics are sited about the “failure” of many churches to grow. The solution that is offered is the church growth movement that is based on the faulty premise that people can be enticed into becoming Christian if we just design a church that appeals to them in their unregenerate state. If we preached for conversions, the only people we would reach are those who go through the narrow gate and walk the narrow path. This saved remnant does not look impressive enough to satisfy the contemporary evangelical culture.

ReformedEvangelist – With getting decisions for Christ in mind… How is this not a good gauge for ministry effectiveness? Furthermore, is this even a Biblical concept?

Pastor DeWaay – We have a number of street evangelists who attend our church. One of them came back with a story that illustrates this. They were out preaching the gospel to people on a weekend as many were coming out of bars and other entertainment establishments. Some street workers from another church came by and asked how many people they had saved. They wanted to compare numbers. The number counters claimed they had thousands of converts. So our people decided to watch them work. A person would come out of a bar on the way to his car, and these workers would ask him, “Do you want to go to heaven when you die?” The person would say, “Yes.” They then said, “Good, what you need to do is pray this prayer after us.” They would have him say the words, and send him on his way assured of heaven. The only “decision” he really made was that he would like to go to heaven.

No, making a “decision for Christ” is not Biblical. It is a role reversal. It is as if the sinner is the judge determining whether Jesus was worthy to be served and Jesus is in the defendant’s role, being judged. I wrote an article about this for Critical Issues Commentary called “The Demise of Gospel Preaching in Modern Evangelicalism.” I explain in some depth what is wrong with this approach.

I am not saying that the universal call of the gospel cannot be presented as a decision. For example, we can show people their sinful condition through the Law, explain the person and work of Christ, and proclaim the reality of God’s certain judgment against sin and that all who spurn the gospel will end up in hell. The decision is to either repent and believe the gospel or reject it and go one’s way hoping that none of this is true. But of course, if they do repent, it is not because of merely deciding to become Christian, but because God’s Holy Spirit convicted them of sin, righteousness and judgment, and God pierced them to the heart, and graciously granted repentance. But in this version, the sinner is facing the reality of God’s judgment, not making a decision about God’s worthiness to be served or to receive some temporal benefits like finding purpose. Nor is such a sinner being given assurance and hope based on his own will power or act of making a decision, but on the finished work of Christ and His atonement for sins received by faith.

ReformedEvangelist – As a pastor, why do you think that many others are opposed to standing on the Gospel and the preaching of a message that would call sinners to repentance and those who claim to be Christians to a life of holiness?

Pastor DeWaay – That this is happening would be unbelievable if it were not happening before our eyes. I have pastors literally angry with me for suggesting that we should get back to gospel preaching and Bible teaching so that the lost will be converted and the converted sanctified. What makes them so angry is that I am pointing out that the pop programs of the seeker movement are not Biblical. They claim that they do preach the gospel, though the evidence shows they are not. They claim they have not compromised but are merely using the latest techniques to help people go from being “unchurched” to “churched.” They somehow equate using discernment and theological debate to correct error to being a “Pharisee.” So many have replaced Biblical virtues with the one “virtue” the modern culture advocates — tolerance.

Another factor is that once someone has invested in something, like the Purpose Driven movement, they tend to want to protect their investment. If they were to admit it was a bad one, they would be admitting they wasted their time and effort and misled the church. But, as I found out myself 25 years ago, it is better to admit you have been wrong and get back to what the Bible teaches than to press on in error just because one has invested some years and much effort into going a certain direction. If a great many pastors do not repent of watering down the church and her message in order to please potential religious consumers, our evangelical movement will become the “modernists” of the 21st century. If so, we need to pray for God to raise up a new movement as He did then so that there will be a powerful gospel witness.

ReformedEvangelist – Again, thank you for this interview. Your book “Redefining Christianity” specifically deals with the Purpose Driven Church, are the titles “emergent church”, “postmodern” and “seeker-sensative” the same thing? If not, are you planning future books to address those topics that are facing the Church?

Pastor DeWaay – Purpose Driven is one version of “seeker-sensitive.” It happens to be the most popular one at the moment. I do not plan to write another book on the seeker movement, because what I write about this one would apply in many ways to the others. However, “emergent church” and “postmodern” are different issues altogether. I have an idea about how to address both of those in a book. I also have an idea for a book that explains what a confessing, gospel centric church looks like. Whether these ideas are executed depend on God’s future providential workings that I cannot predict. At the moment, our local church is in the process of changing buildings and this move is not leaving enough time to execute a book project.



About Jian Ming Zhong

In short, I am a five point calvinist, amillennial, post-trib rapture, paeudobaptistic (not for salvation), classical cessationism , and covenantal. I embrace Reformed Theology and subscribe to the WCF 1647. I do not break fellowship with anyone who holds to the essentials of the faith (i.e., the Trinity, the Deity of Christ, Jesus' Physical Resurrection, Virgin Birth, Salvation by Grace through Faith alone, Monotheism, and the Gospel being the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus) but does not affirm Calvinist Theology in the non-essentials. I strongly believe that God's grace and mercy are so extensive that within the Christian community there is a wide range of beliefs and as long as the essentials are not violated, then anyone who holds to those essentials but differs in the non-essentials is my brother or sister in Christ. Romans 11:36 "For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To whom be Glory forever. Amen!"
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