Rob Goodman recently wrote an excellent article critiquing Rick Warren, “Smiley” Osteen, and the like for their “self-help” theology. The main instigation for the article was Rick Warren’s new “Daniel diet” based off of the Daniel story from the Older Testament.
Yeah, that guy who fell into the lion’s den.
Warren supposedly mined the depths of scripture to come up with this plan loosely taken from the section of Daniel where the book’s title character refuses to eat the king’s food in their place of captivity (thereby avoiding the appearance of consenting to the godless ways of his captors).
It’s a good story. And it may actually hold some diet advice…for lions.
But, as Goodman points out, it’s a story about identity and resistance and trust. Not about dieting.
So why is Warren using it as a diet guide?
Warren plays into what I think is one of the most dangerous trends in Christianity that has still, inexplicably, continued since the Enlightenment.
The Enlightenment did wonderful things for humanity in many ways. It also has some negative consequences, one of the chief ones being that we now only see something as “truth” if it correlates to “fact.”
I’ll go out on a rhetorical limb here and say that the statement, ” ‘Truth’ and ‘fact’ are always synonymous,” is simply…not true.
But, in Warren’s view the two must be the same, which means that the Bible must be “fact” and the home of all fact, or else the authority of the Bible is laid to waste. Basically, it’s a story of the Christian who rails against the Enlightenment because of what it has done to the authority of the religious community thereby perpetuating Enlightenment thinking by buying the primary premise.
Yeah, it’s that age-old story, that old chestnut, where, as Paul rightly says, someone (in this case Warren) “does not do what (they) want, and only does what (they) do not want to do.”
And so for Warren, the Bible is not only the authority on how the world was created (Genesis 1-2), why there are different languages (Genesis 11), what you should think about social issues (scan Leviticus and the Epistles and pick one), and how you should vote (wait…that’s not in there), it also must be the authority on everything else including dieting.*
Because if the Bible is reliable, it must be infallible and inerrant and the home and locus of all that is necessary for knowledge as a primary document.
And you spent your money on those Encyclopedia Britannica books…
I’ll cut right to the chase: the Bible wasn’t written to give you a diet plan, to save your marriage, or to help you make money. In fact, if you go to certain places of scripture you might find that you’re given permission to eat anything (Acts 10), or that you can hate your family (Luke 14), or that God intends for you to be penniless and poor (Matthew 19).
Like that advice? It’s probably not good for the purposes that I intended to use it for. But it has about as much merit as the basis for Warren’s diet plan.
That little move, where you take a section of Scripture and use it to proof-text a point or position is actually just taking it out of context. It’s a popular move, to be sure. I mean, what adds weight to a cause more than the very voice of God?!
But it’s not honest. And, dare I say, it might be breaking the second Commandment (from the Protestant Decalogue). “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain,” has little to do with cursing (although, from a previous post you’d think that that’s all it means).
It actually means that you shouldn’t take God’s name “uselessly.” You shouldn’t associate God with things that God has no association with. And so, if you believe that the Bible was more dictation than experiential writing, or if you think the infallibility and inerrancy of the text come from the very will of the Divine, I’d tremble in my boots before I use the Bible as back-up to most anything, let alone a diet plan.
I tremble doing it myself, and I don’t think the Bible is inerrant and infallible!
I tremble because, well, scripture is important to me. It is sacred. And as something sacred I hate seeing it belittled to the point of Jenny Craig and Seattle Sutton.
I do think that what we eat and how we care for our bodies is important, and Godly work, and I believe it can say something about our core convictions (hence why Chick-fil-a won’t be getting a dime from this pastor’s pocket anymore).
There are times when I can get insight into an issue from the Bible. Many a sermon is based on this. But that’s taking the Bible into my context. Warren, and those who routinely do this, mistakenly assumes the Biblical context is this context.
Suffice to say, I don’t think the Bible has a diet plan for me. And I don’t think it has a plan to get me rich. And I don’t think it has a plan to get me buff (Sampson comes to mind here…and I can’t grow much hair on my head). And I certainly don’t think that Solomon is a good example of a successful marriage.
The Bible doesn’t do that.
I do think it contains stories of people who have had experiences with God powerful enough to talk about them. I think it contains glimpses of my faith heritage. And I think it contains the best, most beautifully engaging story I’ve ever read in the person of Jesus. I think it’s instructive for devotion and faith.
Really, the only thing close to a diet plan I hear from the scriptures is from the book of John in chapter 6 where the Gospel writer has Jesus talking about him being the “true bread from heaven” that the world lives on.
But, as a Christian who takes Scripture seriously, I’m entreating the Christian world to stop with this nonsense of looking to the Bible like one might look to an encyclopedia.
The Bible wasn’t written to be your self-help book.
But, it does have beautiful stories, letters, poetry, and history that just may change your life. So please, do help yourself to it.
*If, perhaps, Warren does not believe that the Bible holds dieting advice, but is just using it as a basis to help sell the product, that would be the definition of the word “despicable.”