Report and commentary on Pew Forum interview with Pastor Rick Warren
by Peter Menkin
Rick Warren, the pastor of Saddleback Church in Orange County, California is an evangelist. He is a one of a kind superpower in the evangelical Church world, and sought after for his thoughts, observations and comments by a host of prominent members of the press in the United States. In an interview conducted under the auspices of the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life a published transcript of an interview with Pastor Rick appeared in mid November. Speaker: Rick Warren, Pastor, Saddleback Church, Lake Forest, California. Moderator: Michael Cromartie, Vice President, Ethics and Public Policy Center.
This news report and commentary on the interview takes a section of that lengthy interview, focusing on Pastor Rick’s comments on religion in the United States and world itself today. These are some of his thoughts as presented in the interview.
Pastor Rick says:
The last 50 years has seen the greatest redistribution of a religion ever in the history of the world. There is nothing even to compare to it. For instance, at the beginning of the 20th century, in 1900, 71 percent of all, quote, "Christians" lived in Europe - 71 percent. By 2000 that percentage had declined to 28 percent. Only 28 percent claimed to be Christian, and I'm sure it's far smaller than that who actually even go to a church.
This well known commentator and clergyman makes many large remarks of informed interest. As an author, and as a Pastor, his fame is known. Moderator Michael Cromartie of the Pew Forum introduces him this way in the interview: “So my introduction will be short because you're here because you know of Rick's work and reputation. Some of you may not know that Rick's book, The Purpose Driven Life, is the best-selling nonfiction book in American history - I think over 30 million copies.”
An indication of the size of the scope of Pastor Rick’s ministery is offered when he says of a future “stopover” outside the United States:
I'm on a stopover to a couple of different places. We're going into Paris. Many of you know that we have a network. I've trained over 400,000 pastors in 162 countries. I've been doing that for 30 years. Most of those years nobody knew I was doing it, but we were in 162 countries, 400,000 pastors, and then not including business leaders, government leaders.
A spokesman, as it were, for evangelicals, he offers this broad observation of the world of Christendom in the 21st Century:
…Christianity was exploding in Africa, Asia and Latin America. If you want to know the future of evangelicalism, it is in those continents. To give you an example, in 1900 there were only 10 million Christians in all of Africa - 10 percent of the population. Today there are 360 million Christians in Africa, over half the population. That is a complete turnaround on a continent that's never, ever been seen or done in history.
You may be surprised to know that there are more Christians in China than there are in America, by far - by far. There are more Presbyterians in Ghana than there are in Scotland, where they came out of with John Knox. There are more Baptists in Nagaland, a state in India, than there are in the South here in America. There are more Anglicans in either Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Nigeria - any of these - than in England. There are 2 million Anglicans in England. There are 17 million Anglicans in Nigeria.
Big thinking, mega church leader, Pastor Rick knows who he is and is glad to be the leader of his own Church, Saddleback, about which he offers:
Today Saddleback is a 120-acre campus. It looks like a college. We typically will have 25,000 people on the weekend. I have over 100,000 names on a church roll. You need to understand I grew up in a little town in Northern California during Haight-Ashbury, and in the town I was in we had 500 people, so my church is like 1,000 times bigger than the town I grew up in. I could be a mayor.
I actually know my valley far more than any politician will ever know them because I've spent 30 years there. This will be my 30th anniversary year. I've been listening to them, talking to them, praying with them, walking through the weddings and the funerals and the proms and all those different divorces and different things like that.
As we go about excerpting this remarkable interview that includes discussion by a number of noted journalists who talk with the Pastor, there is little doubt that Pastor Rick is larger than life. One of my favorite quotes shows how the evangelical work he does is on the world stage, and apparently it is for he tells the Pew Forum:
I'm actually taking Tony Blair down there with me to check on our P.E.A.C.E. plan progress in a number of different places, in Rwanda and others.
He is a man of vision sought by other men:
I've been given this subject of the future of evangelicals, and I'll tell you - here it is in a sentence: I don't know. Nobody can predict the future. In fact, vision is not the ability to predict the future vision; it's the ability to see the opportunity in the current situation and jump on it. That's vision.
In his hopefulness, in his optimism, in his American vision of a world and his own country, Pastor Rick exemplifies the maxim that the universe is a place of progressive movement forward in light of God, that we have a promise of contemporary progress that appears to be without hitches or delays of any kind of length. Is this hyperbole and unfair to the man and his vision. Perhaps not, for though he may consider such delays in man’s future, the overwhelming vision and message he offers seems to smack of a kind of prosperity. It is prosperity of faith, prosperity of promise, and prosperity of attention to this dynamic and charismatic individual. So the interview reveals, and the Pew Forum interview is a good one on faith as it is played out in Religion & Public Life.
This long quote from the interview ends this article, for it better illustrates how positive this man is about religion in the world and Christianity as it plays its part in the Public Life. For he paints a formidable figure of a face of overwhelming numbers and influence by religion:
In a way, an evident way, he says the new world of America and the Old World of Europe are fading away:
The Church of England is a misnomer. It is now the Church of Africa. I have been involved in the ordination of many of those Anglican leaders. They have spread all over. Last Sunday there were more Christians who went to church in China than all of Europe combined. That is a fundamental shift. If you want to know the future of Christianity, it is the developing world. It's Africa, it's Latin America, and it's Asia.
In fact, there are about 15,000 missionaries now working in England from Brazil, China, Korea, other countries that you used to think, well, those would receive missionaries. In fact, Brazil sends out far more missionaries than either Great Britain or Canada combined. So that's a fundamental shift.
That's all I'm going to say about the future of evangelicalism. It ain't here. Okay? It isn't Europe. Now, I will say this: The world is becoming more religious. There are 600 million Buddhists. There are 800 million Hindus. There are 1. billion Muslims. And there are 2.3 billion Christians.
That means the actual number of secularists outside of Europe and Manhattan is quite small. It really is quite small, and we don't understand it. We're in this little bubble that we think most people don't have a faith. Well, you need to get a life and get around the world because most people have some kind of faith.
There is the unmistakable sense that the world and mankind itself is a purpose driven combination. He makes clear where he as evangelist stands when he says with apparent passion, “…[Y]ou need to get a life and get around the world because most people have some kind of faith.”
A remarkable man, Pastor Rick Warren is interesting and newsworthy, bigger than life.
Towards the end of the interview, he tells the others, “Thank you, guys. (Applause.) Thank you. If you ever come out to Orange County, give me a ring. I know every place to eat under five bucks. I'll treat you to a real gourmet meal.”