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Salvation and Purgatory

Rick Warren's teachings

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An accusation concerning Warren's belief on Purgatory:

A group of fundamentalist apologists have created the "Defending. Contending," or "DefCon" website at: A member of that group, "Coram Deo," has accused Rick Warren of promoting a Roman Catholic belief -- that of Purgatory -- to his fellow Protestants. ("Coram Deo" means "before the face of God.") 1

Warren is the author of some very popular Christian inspirational books, including "The Purpose Driven® Life," "Rick Warren's Bible Study Methods," "God's Power to Change your Life," and "The Purpose-Driven Church." His beliefs are also expressed in his church's website, the Saddleback Church whose main campus is located in Lake Forest, CA. 4

Coram Deo claims that Warren teaches the existence of Purgatory. Deo wrote:

... that friends of God (i.e. “seekers) have achieved the holiness necessary for heaven ... BUT  “seekers within Warren’s Purpose Driven Purgatory must add to their holiness by perfecting their heart toward God through a complex system of works righteousness."
Deo's statement may have resulted from a misunderstanding of Warren's beliefs about salvation:
  • Warren appears to believe that a person's life after death is dependent on both their faith and works during their life on earth. All saved individuals are taken to Heaven after death, but the rewards that they receive there are dependent upon their good deeds while alive on earth.
  • According to Deo, Warren appears to believe in the Roman Catholic teaching about Puragory: that individuals who have no unreconciled mortal sin experience Purgatory and are systematically tortured until they become sufficiently pure to enter Heaven. This is a belief that has long been rejected by almost all Protestants.

Traditional fundamentalist/evangelical beliefs concerning salvation:

Traditional conservative Protestant teaching on salvation states that there are theoretically two ways that a person can be saved and thus attain Heaven and avoid Hell after death:

  1. Lead a completely sinless life while alive on earth. This is clearly impossible. According to Protestant belief, of the billions of humans who have lived in the past or are now living, only Jesus has been able to lead a sinless life. So, this is not a viable option for any present-day human.
  2. Be "born again." That is, a person repents of their sins and trusts Jesus as Lord and Savior. The individual is "saved" and God's memory of the person's past, present and future sins are wiped out. Taking two extreme examples:
    • Consider an hypothetical individual similar to Mother Theresa or Albert Schweitzer. These are two individuals who have been well recognized for their spirituality and concern for humanity. Suppose that the individual had never been "born again." Suppose also that the individual had been able to avoid sinning all their life until one day when they hit their thumb with a hammer and issued a curse involving God's name. They then fell down some stairs and died. They would go to Hell because of their one sin.
    • Consider another hypothetical individual whose life included profound levels of evil -- a person like Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, Pol Pot, etc.  This imaginary individual was also personally responsible for the genocide of millions of innocent people. However, on his death bed, a few seconds before expiring, he sincerely repented of his genocide and other sins, and trusted Jesus as Lord and savior. He would go to Heaven.

Warren's beliefs concerning salvation:

The "What we Believe" section of the Saddleback Church's website has a brief description of life after death called "About Eternity." Presumably, it reflects Warren's personal beliefs. It states:

"Man was created to exist forever. He will either exist eternally separated from God by sin or in union with God through forgiveness and salvation. To be eternally separated from God is hell. To be eternally in union with him is eternal life. Heaven and hell are places of eternal existence." 3
The "About Salvation" section states:
Salvation is a gift from God to man. Man can never make up for his sin by self-improvement or good works – only by trusting in Jesus Christ as God’s offer of forgiveness can man be saved from sin’s penalty. Eternal life begins the moment one receives Jesus Christ into his life by faith. 3

That is, a person's ultimate destination is either Heaven or Hell; Purgatory is not an option. The destination depends only on whether one has been born again. That is, whether a person has been saved.

In his most famous book -- a Christian best seller -- "The Purpose Driven® Life," he wrote:

"One day you will stand before God, and he will do an audit of your life, a final exam, before you enter eternity... he will ask us two crucial questions ..."

  • "First, 'What did you do with my Son, Jesus Christ'?' ..."

  • "Second, 'What did you do with what I gave you'?"

"... the second question will determine what you do in eternity..." 4

Later in the book, he wrote:

"At the end of your life on earth you will be evaluated and rewarded according to how well you handled what God entrusted to you. That means everything you do...has eternal consequences." 5

That is, being born again gets you into Heaven. Good works earn you additional rewards for those who reach Heaven.

Biblical conflicts concerning Protestant beliefs:

There appears to be a conflict between many biblical passages and the beliefs of Protestants -- including Rick Warren.

The author of the biblical book of James wrote that faith without works is dead.

e.g. James 2:24: "Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only."

Various statements attributed to Jesus in the Gospels mention that salvation and the attainment of Heaven after death is dependent upon good works.

e.g. Matthew 25:34-45: "Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me...Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels..." 
However, other passages in Paul's epistles and other books in the Christian Scriptures (New Testament) indicate that salvation and an afterlife in Heaven are solely dependent on belief in Jesus.


We have found nothing in the DefCon essay that supports the charge that he believes in the existence of a Purgatory -- a place or state where people are tortured after death until they are sufficiently cleansed to enter heaven. We have also not been able to find anything in Warren's writings that indicates his belief in a Purgatory.

We conclude, in the absence of any positive information that we have been able to find, that Rick Warren does not teach a belief in the existence of Purgatory.

See also an essay on other Protestant beliefs concerning Purgatory


The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Coram Deo, "Purpose Driven Purgatory," DefCoin, 2008-JUN-20, at:
  2. Saddleback Church's web site is at:
  3. "About Eternity," Saddleback Church, at:
  4. Rick Warren, "The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth am I here for?," Zondervan (2007), Page 34. Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store
  5. Op Cit, Page 45

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Copyright © 1998 to 2008 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update and review: 2008-DEC-08
Author: B.A. Robinson

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