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.

BY: Steven Waldman


Continued from page 4

We are in hard economic times. There are a lot of people suffering. Do you believe there’s a spiritual cause to what we’re going through now?

Without a doubt. Absolutely. Without a doubt. The reason why we’re in the economic crisis we’re in right now is that we’ve walked away from the Biblical world view of economics. The Biblical worldview of economics is taught all through the Old Testament, particularly in the Book of Proverbs, which teaches thriftiness, teaches not living beyond your means, teaches the value of saving and investing.

Americans used to save about 18 percent of their income. By the ‘80s it had dropped to 4 percent. This last year the average American spent more than they made. We were actually in the negative. They saved nothing.

We cannot live beyond our means year after year after year without eventually paying the piper. So this concept of, “I’m going to live within my means, even if I have to charge it” – which means I’m going to live beyond my means, the chickens have come home to roost.

And that’s true not just on a global economic area. I’m dealing with members and families…I just finished a series for four weeks this last month on how to help a friend through tough times -- how to help a friend going through a divorce, how to help a friend who’s dying, how to help a friend who’s depressed. And we did a message on how to help a friend who’s in debt and near bankruptcy. And then we did follow up with a number of workshops -- budget workshops, financial planning, when your mortgage is upside down. We had over 4,000 people show up for the workshops during the week, so this is a real need there.

But it’s because we’re ignoring the very principles that made America great… the Judeo-Christian principles in scripture that teach thrift, savings, being wise, saving in the summer for the winter -- everything we haven’t done.

The other thing is that we’ve had people in previous years who were simply about wealth acquisition without creation of value. A guy who makes two million dollars in a day and doesn’t add anything of value to society – that’s phony money in my opinion. It’s not real wealth. It’s not like a guy who’s created a product or a service and that is really making the world a better place and he should be paid for it....

Well I believe that money is the ultimate test of faith. It’s actually, I think God tests your faith in finances more than any other area. Jesus, of the parables he told, over half of them deal with money. In fact, Jesus talked more about money than he did Heaven or Hell. And the reason why is because we spend more of our time making it, worrying about it, saving it, spending it, investing it. Our lives revolve around it and so he dealt with this and he said, “a man’s life doesn’t consist in the abundance of things he possessed.” In other words: the greatest things in life aren’t things. But there’s an interesting verse, one of the most misunderstood verses in the Bible, it says that God will “test you.” He says he “tests you in little things and he tests you in that which is not your own.” And he says, “if you have not been faithful, with unrighteous mammon – or ‘worldly wealth’ is what he is talking about--God will not trust you with the true spiritual riches in Heaven. And I think that actually money management, just like time management, is a test of our stewardship.

Think about this: Why are we even here, on this planet? Why, if God ultimately wants us in Heaven, why didn’t he just make us and take us to Heaven? Why does he put us here, for 80 years on a planet filled with all kinds of problems? Why didn’t he just make us and skip this part and go directly—you know, ‘do not pass go, just go straight to jail—just go straight to Heaven. Well, the Bible tells us that life is a test, it’s a trust, and it’s a temporary assignment. And this, in many ways, is preparation for eternity and God is testing our stewardship here on earth. And I think that one day, everyone of us is gonna stand before God and he’s not gonna say, “What religion were you? Were you Jewish? Were you Christian? Were you Buddhist? Baptist?” I don’t think he’s gonna say, “What church did you go to?” I think he’s gonna say first thing, first, “What did you do with my son who I sent to earth? Did you ever really get to know him? Did you even check him out? Did you trial test faith in him?” You know, “What did you do?” It’s about a relationship not a religion. And the second question is gonna be the question of, “What did you do with what I gave you? The talent, the ability, the resources, the network, the opportunities, the health, the freedom?” And we are going to be evaluated and judged NOT on our relationship to other people, in terms of, ‘well he did better and he did worse,’ but what did you do with what you were given. So, a retarded person, who does not have mental capabilities will be judged on a totally different scale. In fact the Bible says that people who don’t even have the ability to acknowledge God or to accept Christ, that they’re safe. They are safe. That’s why I believe babies automatically go to Heaven. Every baby does go to Heaven.

Why, why are we going to be judged in those terms at all if we already have grace?

The judgment there is not for whether you get in or out of Heaven. That’s all by grace. The judgment there is based on what you’re going to be doing in eternity. It’s about rewards, and roles, and responsibility and he said, “if you’re faithful in little things, then you will be faithful in much.” And so, contrary to popular opinion, Heaven’s going to be a pretty interesting place. I mean, the idea of most people of Heaven right now is: it’s all white, it’s a bunch of clouds, you’re sitting on a cloud in a white robe with wings playing a harp. Now, if that was Heaven--to me that’s Hell. I can’t think of anything more boring. On the other hand, you think of this world, and even in its brokenness--with all the crime and rape and murder and sin and self-centeredness--there’s a lot of cool stuff on this earth. You know, cool experiences and sunrises and sunsets. God created all these flavors and gave us taste buds. God created all these beautiful sounds and gave us ears to hear. God created eyes. And all of our senses are examples of how God enjoys watching us enjoy his creation. And so, if God made this place pretty cool, and it’s broken, Heaven is going to be pretty cool. And by the way, you’re not going to have wings in Heaven. You’re not going to be an angel. You are going to be a person. Angels are angels, people are people. So it’s the myth that you’re going to be flying around. You’ll be a person.

Now that Barack Obama has been elected, are you going to work with them to achieve an abortion reduction agenda or do you think that’s really just a charade?

Of course I want to reduce the number of abortions. Barack Obama is a friend of mine. We totally disagree on this issue. I’ve actually talked to him privately about this before and intend to again in the future. It’s not something I protest out on the street about. It’s something you deal with individually as rational civil people. The reason I believe life begins at conception is ‘cause the Bible says it. In Psalm 139, David says “you formed me in my mother’s womb. You planned every day of my life before I was born.” To me that means God had a purpose driven life for you before you were even born. He already knew in advance. To me, abortion short circuits that plan.

The pro-life liberals say, “yes and I’m going to keep working for the ultimate elimination but in the meantime let’s work to reduce the number of abortions.” Some on the pro-life side say, “that’s giving aid to the enemy. That’s a charade and a diversion. We really shouldn’t help a pro choice leader like that with this kind of a plan.”

An analogy for me would like Schindler’s list. Yes, the Holocaust, we wanted it to end. But Schindler was pulling people out. That’s a good thing even though he couldn’t end the whole thing. So if I can save a few lives that’s a good thing.

But to me it is kind of a charade in that people say we believe abortions should be safe and rare. Why do you believe it should be rare? If you don’t believe life begins at conception, it shouldn’t be rare. That’s an illogical statement. Don’t tell me it should be rare. That’s like saying on the Holocaust well maybe we could save 20% of the Jewish people in Poland and Germany and get them out and we should be satisfied with that. I’m not satisfied with that. I want the Holocaust ended.

And if you truly believe that life begins at conception --which I do because of my commitment to the scripture -- then that means 40 million Americans are not here who should be here. That’s a Holocaust. That’s 40 million Americans who could have voted for Obama or for McCain who aren’t here.

My concern is that we have this discussion with civility, that we don’t demonize someone you disagree with even on a life and death issue. As a pastor I have had to deal with every single angle of abortion. The rapes, the incest, the Down Syndrome child and on and on and on on and on. It is not an easy issue. But to me, life trumps these other issues.

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