Steven Waldman Interviews Rick Warren

Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church and author of "The Purpose of Christmas," spoke with Beliefnet Editor-in-Chief Steven Waldman at the offices of our partner, The Wall Street Journal.

Beliefnet did a very interesting survey with about 5,000 of its own users after the election, especially evangelicals who voted for McCain and evangelicals who voted for Obama. As you might suspect there’s some stark differences between the two groups. One of the most interesting is that for McCain evangelicals, when asked to rank issues of importance they put abortion and gay marriage at the top and the Obama evangelicals put it lower down. The McCain evangelicals listed reducing poverty as 13th out of 14. So what’s your message to them?

Huh. Wow. That’s interesting. Well, that’s my whole job. I’ve got to reawaken what I call the 19th century evangelicalism. Evangelicals were historically the social change leaders in our society, as you know you’re a historian. It was evangelicals who led the abolition of slavery. It was pastors who led the abolitionists. It was evangelicals who led the women’s right to vote. It was evangelicals who led the issue against child labor laws. All of these major issues.

What actually happened is a historical thing – there was a split. Historically evangelicals and mainline Protestants were all in one group. Along about the beginning of the 20th century there were some protestant theologians who started using the term “social gospel.” What they meant by that was you don’t really need to care about Jesus’ personal salvation any more. You don’t really have to care about redemption, the cross, repentance. All we need to do is redeem the social structures of society and if we make those social structures better then the world will be a better place.


Really, Steve, in many ways it was just Marxism in Christian clothing. It was in vogue at that time. If we redeem society, then man would automatically get better. It didn’t deal with the heart. So they said we don’t need this personal religion stuff

So Protestantism split into two wings. Mainline Protestants – Methodists, Episcopalians, Presbyterians – said we’re going to take the body, ok, and we’re going to care about poverty and disease and charity and social justice and racial justice. And the evangelicals and the fundamentalists – which, by the way, are two different groups, they are not the same; I’m not a fundamentalist – said we’re going to take the soul. We’re going to care about personal morality and pornography and protecting the family and personal moral issues and personal salvation.

Who’s right? Well in my opinion they’re both right. And part of my desire as a leader is to bring these two wings back together. I think you need them both. I think it’s very clear that Jesus cared about both the body and soul. He cared about both personal and social issues. And I think they’re both important but there’s been this split.

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Steven Waldman
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