Friday, January 23, 2009

Rick Warren's Prayer

At Obama's inauguration, Rick Warren gave a prayer. I've heard a few Christians up in arms about the prayer, and they generally focus on three things:

1) It was pretty empty.

This is a legitimate criticism. There wasn't much substance to the prayer, and some of the time was spent on "preaching to the choir." On the other hand, one shouldn't expect a prayer to be a sermon. I'm not trying to defend Rick Warren, but I think that some people's expectations would not have been met unless Warren had given a 30 minute prayer-homily.

2) Warren referred to God using this sentence: "And you are the compassionate and merciful one."

The criticism is that this sounds like it is taken from the Koran. It does sound like that. On the other hand, the true God is merciful and compassionate. Scriptures say so. It is not wrong for us to describe God that way, and it may be valuable for Muslims to see that the true God is merciful and compassionate - that such a teaching is not uniquely Koranic, but is borrowed from Christianity.

Psalm 145:8 The LORD is gracious, and full of compassion; slow to anger, and of great mercy.

Psalm 86:15 But thou, O Lord, art a God full of compassion, and gracious, longsuffering, and plenteous in mercy and truth.

3) Warren referred to Jesus as "Isa."

The criticism is, again, that this sounds like it is taken from the Koran. It does sound like that, and if context is not provided, it sounds very suspicious, particularly when coupled with (2) above. In context, however, Warren's sentence was:

"I humbly ask this in the name of the one who changed my life, Yeshua, Isa, Jesus [Spanish pronunciation], Jesus, who taught us to pray: [full length version of Lord's Prayer]."

In context, Warren was simply giving the Arabic name for Jesus in a list among the Hebrew name, the Spanish name, and the English name. In context, Warren is positively affirming that Jesus taught his disciples to pray like Christians, not like Muslims - although he is using the name for Jesus that is familiar to Muslims.

I am not a fan of Rick Warren, and I am not praising his prayer. The fact that he prayed in Jesus' name is great, but that's sort of a minimal bar. There are many ways his prayer could have been improved. On the other hand, I don't think that the claims that Warren was trying to be "ecumenical with Muslims" is valid - or at least cannot be shown from his prayer.

Now, I am not familiar with a large body of what Warren has said elsewhere. So, perhaps, viewed in light of the remainder of what he has said, these seemingly reasonable references could be viewed as inappropriate concessions. No one that I have seen criticize Warren, however, has brought forth that kind of evidence.



Kyle said...

Technically, 'Isa is not the Arabic name of Jesus, but the Qur'anic. Arabic-speaking Christians to this day still call Jesus Yasu' in Arabic. It is not known how Muhammad got the name 'Isa.

Here's a great link on the topic of Jesus' Muslim name: "Is 'Isa the True Name of Jesus?"

Seth McBee said...


We can agree with this...:)

Good post

Turretinfan said...


You have a point, but:

a) I'm kind of sceptical that Warren knew this nuance;

b) I've seen other transliterations/translations than Yasu' or Isa for Jesus;

c) Although the Koran misrepresents Jesus, the Koran is trying to identify the same historical person as we do with the word "Jesus" (it similarly butchers other names, such as Moses' name); and

d) Some Arabic Christians use "Isa" as the name of Jesus, according to various authorities.

I agree that it is not the way Jesus' name was pronounced - and it is slightly further from the original Aramaic pronunciation than the modern English "Jesus" or the Spanish "Hey-zeus."

The idea that "Isa" is "the right way" to pronounce his name is just silly.


Anonymous said...

I haven't read any of his books and don't intend on doing so for awhile. I do want to read them for context, maybe at a later date. I have other fish to fry right now.

However I have been with some who have read his book, Purpose Driven something, can't remember the full title but it is something about being purpose driven. One of my co-workers mentions that there is a chapter later on in the book that he himself couldn't find anything but "sound" doctrine and wasn't willing to discount Warren but expressed his confidence that, at least, in that one chapter in the book, there was "revelation" from Above and no one else could have given that to him but God.

With that I post these words and express gratitude to you TF for your even handed balance in this response to "Rick Warren's Prayer". It does reflect the character God has formed in your life and it is indeed enjoyable and encouraging to experience you this way!

Psa 89:8 O LORD God of hosts, who is mighty as you are, O LORD, with your faithfulness all around you?
Psa 89:9 You rule the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, you still them.
Psa 89:10 You crushed Rahab like a carcass; you scattered your enemies with your mighty arm.
Psa 89:11 The heavens are yours; the earth also is yours; the world and all that is in it, you have founded them.
Psa 89:12 The north and the south, you have created them; Tabor and Hermon joyously praise your name.
Psa 89:13 You have a mighty arm; strong is your hand, high your right hand.
Psa 89:14 Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before you.
Psa 89:15 Blessed are the people who know the festal shout, who walk, O LORD, in the light of your face,
Psa 89:16 who exult in your name all the day and in your righteousness are exalted.
Psa 89:17 For you are the glory of their strength; by your favor our horn is exalted.
Psa 89:18 For our shield belongs to the LORD, our king to the Holy One of Israel.

Turretinfan said...

Thanks, Seth and NatAmLLC!


Ben Douglass said...

A man of God mounts the stage.
The godless look sheepish as he prays.
No need: this one's no Ambrose, Leo;
He lacks the perspicacity and candor of Pio.
Repent! Repent! you butcher of your ways
Is what he should have told that babyphage.

Turretinfan said...

Thanks for the poem, Ben! I'm guessing that Pio is Padre Pio - which Leo did you have in mind?


Ben Douglass said...

Dear Francis,

You're welcome. It's part of a larger work in progress regarding the inauguration, which I attended. The Pio is indeed Padre Pio, who was often very blunt when chastising sinners. The reference to Ambrose alludes specifically to the incident in which he demanded that Emperor Theodosius repent of the massacre at Thessalonica. The Leo is Leo the Great, who confronted Attila the Hun and persuaded him not to attack Rome. Willingness to clearly speak truth to power is the primary characteristic I intend to evoke with these names.

Kyle said...


My only point was to state that 'Isa is not really the "Arabic" name for Jesus. I don't mean to imply anything about Warren's motives or anything else. Personally, I can't imagine he's aware of the distinction.