I'm not Rick Warren's biggest fan. Don't get me wrong; I admire his godly character and zeal to claim this world for Christ. But I could live without the hokey acronyms and, especially, his "felt needs" approach to evangelism.
That said, I was impressed with Warren's hosting skills at the Saddleback Civil Forum on Saturday night. Warren is the only Christian leader in America who could pull off this event. Sen. Barack Obama wants to peel away more of the evangelical vote, and he trusts Warren not to play gotcha with him on the issues where he disagrees with evangelicals. Sen. John McCain needs to bolster his credibility with evangelicals, and he knows Warren harbors no long-standing vendetta against him for sometimes bucking conservative political orthodoxy.
Moreover, Warren gave conservatives what they wanted out of the event. He coaxed both candidates into sharing how they would compose the Supreme Court. He asked questions about personal morality, and both candidates shared their views on same-sex marriage and abortion. Obama certainly didn't impress by dodging Warren's question about when life begins. Granted, we can't expect our presidents to be experts on science or theology. But in formulating their policy positions on such a crucial issue as abortion, politicians necessarily draw on theology and science. They can't pretend to avoid the problem.
At the same time that he addressed standard conservative issues, Warren broached other topics important to evangelicals and nonbelievers alike. He asked about education, taxes, foreign military interventions, and so on. Rarely did the candidates break new ground. And yet this event somehow did.
For example, Warren introduced the forum saying, "We've got to learn to disagree ...