When you find yourself featured, in a 10-day span, not just on the cover of Time magazine and in a story by one of The Wall Street Journal's best reporters, but everywhere else in the national media, you might be forgiven for losing at least a little of your sense of personal balance. So it may be one of the best measures of the kind of person Rick Warren is that when you sit down with him-the afternoon after he hosted Barack Obama and John McCain right there on his own platform-he seems so ordinary.
So my questions of Rick Warren were about his frustrations, in the context of all this media frenzy, at still being ordinary-at not being able to get his message across. What, for example, did he wish fellow evangelicals understood about him that they don't? What does he wish the secular media would get right that they don't?
"Let me give you a list," he responded-and actually started to compile one.
"But at the top of that list?" I interrupted.
For evangelicals, he said, it's the tendency to think "if you're big then you must be a megachurch-and all megachurches are shallow." Warren gets almost defensive: "The truth is that most evangelicals couldn't join Saddleback because they wouldn't be willing to sign our [four-part] membership covenant." Saddleback people are committed, Warren argues. They show that commitment in their missionary involvement, with almost 8,000 of them being personally involved in overseas activity during the last four years. They show their commitment in personal Bible study, following "Bible study methods I teach on Sunday mornings . . . and systematically leading them to a level of maturity."
"Do they understand biblical worldview thinking," I ask, "or are they like George Barna's 92 percent of all evangelicals who don't have a clue what that means?"
"Barna might be true," Warren concedes-and then gets energized again: "But it certainly wouldn't be true of Saddleback Church. Not at all." Warren said he'd take any 500 people from Saddleback "and they'd know more Scripture and more worldview" than any 500 people from any evangelical church he knows of anywhere. Then Warren applied our discussion to the previous evening's forum: "I wanted to say this last night . . . I wanted to say that you may be able to use the lingo, but that doesn't mean you have the worldview. Just because a politician can throw 'Jesus' around or 'salvation' or say 'saved,' doesn't mean he has a worldview on life, on marriage, on finances, on what's a just war, on truth. There were so many questions last night that I wanted to do follow up on-it was killing me." Warren reminded me that his own rules for the forum-asking exactly the same questions of both candidates-tended to preclude follow-up questions.
"One of the questions I didn't get answered was, 'Is there a right and wrong-what is your source of right and wrong?' That was on my list. 'What's your standard of authority-what's your truth-what's your incontrovertible truth?'"
And what frustrating misconceptions by his secular observers would Warren like to correct?
At the top of that list-and Warren said there is a list-is "that the expansion of the evangelical agenda doesn't mean a rejection of what we've held all along."
Many in the mainstream media-including the Aug. 18 Time cover story-have made it a point in recent months to speculate that evangelicals are replacing "sin issues" like abortion and homosexual marriage with more trendy challenges. Warren shows his irritation at such either-or positioning. "If I believe that life begins at conception, which I do believe because of Psalm 139, I'm not going to walk away from that for [the issues of] poverty, disease, and illiteracy. And if I do believe that God has created a man and a woman-and as I told Larry King in his interview with me, if you hold up two bodies and they obviously fit-I want the secularist to know that just because we're adding other issues does not mean that we're walking away from the biblical truth and the moral positions we've held all these past years on marriage, the homosexual agenda, and related issues."
To that end, Warren was forthright in including the "sin issues" in his questioning of the candidates. But sometimes even a big megaphone can leave you feeling a little ordinary. Rick Warren doesn't whine. He just keeps saying affably what it is that he really means.
If you have a question or comment for Joel Belz, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.