Two trains of thought that were rattling around in the wilderness of my brain collided today and I thought I would share what came out of the wreckage.
Train #1 involves Rick Warren, his book The Purpose Driven Life, and the subject of repentance. One of the knocks on Rick and the book, from the critics standpoint has been that it doesn't deal with repentance, therefore it doesn't proclaim the whole gospel. Of course, this is a knock on his entire ministry - his critics say he is a "feel-good-culturally-relevant-but-biblically-soft" preacher.
His defenders say au contrair - he does preach repentance and he does care about things like theology. One of his defenders has said that Warren believes that repentance is a change of mind, but it doesn't stop there, it moves into behavior. He does preach on sin and disobedience and our need for us to turn away from sin and turn to God. In other words, it sounds like he is preaching the typical evangelical view of repentance, and maybe even a stronger view than the typical evangelical.
Since I haven't finished reading the book, I don't want to try to comment on it, but I would recommend Tim Challies review of the book. At least as far as the book goes, Tim suggests that a Biblical doctrine of repentance is not found there. Maybe something else happens at the church, but repentance isn't talked about in the book.
The second train running in my head came from Calvin's commentary on Genesis 8:21. I am preaching this passage this Sunday and was reading Calvin's comments on the phrase: "the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth." There is one line that struck a chord with me on this -
Philosophers, by transferring to habit, what God here ascribes to nature, betray their own ignorance.Although this doesn't address the subject of repentance directly, the indirect hit is spot on. Here is what I mean.
The typical evangelical view of sin is that it is a behavior. Those who have a stronger view of sin would call it an attitude that underlies behavior. This may be where Warren is coming from and if that is the case, then he is certainly no worse, and maybe even better, than many evangelicals in their preaching on sin and repentance.
However, Calvin gets at something we have lost in our day - sin is not a matter of habits (either attitudinal or behavioral) it is a matter of nature. Therefore, true Biblical repentance involves a change of nature, not just a change of mind, behavior, attitude, or habits.
Therein lies the rub - we can't change our nature any more than the leopard can change his spots. A change of nature can only come through the supernatural work of regeneration. Seen in this way, repentance is a gift of grace, not a mere decision to change your mind/attitude/behavior/habits.
But, you argue, Warren and evangelicals are dealing with repentance on the human level. We can't see what is going on in the heart of man, we can't see if God is working in someone's heart or not. All we can see is the outward evidences of the inward reality. In that case, we are looking for the evidences of true repentance (i.e. regeneration - a change of nature). Isn't a change of mind/attitude/behavior/habit the outward evidence of the inward reality of regeneration? And if that's the case isn't Mr. Jollyblogger just playing word games with us here?
For the sake of argument I will agree that changes of mind/attitude/behavior/habit are outward evidences of the inward reality of repentance. John the Baptist tells those who come for baptism to bring forth fruits in keeping with repentance. Certainly changes of mind/attitude/behavior/habit qualify as fruits of repentance.
However, it is equally true that one can change all of those things without a reference to the person of Christ. In the common gospel message that is preached today, Christ is portrayed as a means to an end. Come to Christ and you can have eternal life, come to Christ and you can have an abundant life, come to Christ and find purpose in life, come to Christ and find yada, yada, yada, and so on and so forth.
In such an environment people are willing to change whatever they need to change to get what they want. The question is this "is it Christ they want, or His benefits." We live in a self-esteem kind of world, where we are told to love ourselves and esteem ourselves and "learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all." So, when someone hears a gospel message that only focuses on God's love, that sounds great. "Wow -God loves me as much as I love myself - that's my kind of God - sure I'll accept Him." You could apply the same reasoning with topics such as purpose, the desire for an abundant life, the desire to not burn in hell, etc.. Almost anyone is willing to change any part of their lives in order to avoid an undesirable outcome.
So, the question is, "is modern evangelical repentance a turning from sin to Christ, or is it a turning from one lifestyle to another lifestyle which gives me more of what I want in life."
The fact is that Christ can never be a means to an end - Christ Himself is an end in and of Himself. Our message needs to be "come to Christ and you will have Christ."
In his book, Seeking the Face of God, Gary Thomas points out that we often fight sin with more sin. For example, maybe we know an alcoholic, and we appeal to him to turn away from his alcoholism because he could lose his job and his reputation. Both of those appeals are appeals to fight sin with more sin. In saying that he could lose his job we are appealing to his love of mammon, and in appealing to his reputation we are appealing to his love of self or fear of man. And we may even say that Christ can help you do this. Christ can be an agent in helping you feed your love of mammon and preserve your love of self. Examples like this could be multiplied but the thing to notice is that this isn't biblical repentance. This is turning from one sin to a more socially acceptable sin.
The old Puritans and Jonathan Edwards got it right in these matters. Rather than merely accepting "decisions" for Christ or looking at changes in behavior, they looked for a change of nature as evidence of repentance. For example, consider Edwards Religious Affections, or Matthew Mead's, The Almost Christian Discovered. Both are extensive inquiriers into the nature of true conversion and repentance. Someone may argue that those authors went overboard, but the fact is that they took repentance far more seriously than we are wont to do in our day.
In all fairness, we probably shouldn't be picking on Rick Warren in this matter. As I said, even though Purpose Driven Life doesn't give good information on repentance, for all I know he may be preaching a stronger view of repentance at his church than the typical evangelical. The problem is not so much with Rick Warren, as it is in evangelicalism at large. A low view of repentance is pervasive in evangelicalism and the only way to recover this is to join Calvin in agreeing with God and ascribing to nature that which many ascribe to habit.