So here are my thoughts.
On the one hand (I sound like an economist), Rick Warren has some pretty squirrelly beliefs and has made some very questionable alliances. In his laudable fervor to help people, he has glossed over some pretty important doctrinal lines. For example, in an interview with USA Today in 2005, we see this:
Warren is part of the ultra-conservative Southern Baptist Convention, and all his senior staff sign on to the SBC's doctrines, such as the literal and infallible Bible and exclusion of women as senior pastors. Yet Warren's pastor-training programs welcome Catholics, Methodists, Mormons, Jews and ordained women.
"I'm not going to get into a debate over the non-essentials. I won't try to change other denominations. Why be divisive?" he asks, citing as his model Billy Graham, "a statesman for Christ ministering across barriers."
Pragmatism can be a dangerous thing and runs smack into the prohibition against being unequally yoked with unbelievers ( 2 Cor 6: 14), a category that Jews and Mormons certainly fall into. When a Jew denies that Jesus is the Christ, when a mormon thinks that God was once a man and that men can become gods, those are not “non-essentials”. This is not a quibble about how often to have congregational meetings. This is being in side by side fellowship with unbelievers. So that is troubling.
On the other hand, there is a danger and unhealthiness in Reformed people gathering with other Reformed people to hear from the same Reformed speakers over and over again. It is easy to get trapped in the Reformed ghetto which can lead to insularity, pride and even error. For far too many of my brothers, the height of the Christian life is to go to the right conferences with the right speakers, almost as if these conferences are like a pilgrimage to sit at the feet of holy men. The hallowed ground of Reformed theology stands guarded by the hosts of the White Horse Inn (well not Ken Jones, as a Baptist he is not really Reformed) brandishing flaming swords and woe to the theologian that crosses them. For some people on the Reformed fringe, who don’t like Piper anyway for a variety of reasons, this is just perfect ammo to show they were right about him all along.
I did appreciate what Piper had to say in the video, that he wants to find out what makes Rick Warren tick. He has concerns about some of his positions. We can fold our arms and scowl at the Rick Warren’s of the world or we can engage them and challenge them and find out “what makes them tick”. Rather than be critical, Piper is inviting a brother to speak for himself.
Would I have invited Rick Warren to speak? Well, even though I disagree with him on lots of stuff I assume he is a brother in Christ. I don’t know that we are given leave to muzzle our brothers because we disagree with them. Now if you consider him a heretic and a false teacher, that is a different issue. I don’t know that I put Warren in the same category as a Benny Hinn or Joel Osteen. I frankly haven’t read enough of his material.
It still makes me twitchy. Warren’s methodology represents a lot of what I find most disagreeable in evangelicalism. That is not really important. I am not going to the D.G. conference (or any other conferences for that matter), I don’t think John Piper is infallible and no one cares what I think. It is very interesting and more than a little sad to watch the reaction of some people to this tempest in a teapot. For many people, this invitation smacks of a wholesale acceptance of Rick Warren’s theology and his practices. The reactions range from caution to outrage to essentially disfellowshipping Piper. Lots of overheated rhetoric “I will never buy one of his books again!” and stuff like that permeates the blogosphere and social media.
Let’s all try to keep perspective here. The Desiring God conference is not on par with the Jerusalem council. John Piper is not the pope. Rick Warren for all of his flaws, real and imagined, is not the man of perdition. We certainly have more important issues in the church than who is or is not invited to a conference in Minnesota.