Rick Warren: Is This Really the Way to Help People?

Christian hypocrisyWhile I’ve been working on getting my new book finished in time for the Christmas season, Rick Warren has been doing the same. He snagged the Parade magazine cover story just a few days before his book launched. Something tells me that he’ll sell more than I will.

Warren’s goal

Warren says that he was inspired to focus on diet while baptizing overweight parishioners a few years ago. He challenged his congregation, enormous in both weight and number, to get healthier. They lost a total of a quarter of a million pounds.

And now he is promoting a new diet inspired by the Old Testament prophet Daniel.

What does Daniel say about diet?

The book of Daniel mentions diet twice. It begins with Daniel and his companions sent as captives from Judah to Babylon to serve in the court of king Nebuchadnezzar. They were offered the same food as the king ate, but Daniel asked for just vegetables and water instead. Their guard feared for his own safety—if these Judeans looked unhealthy, the king would blame him—but Daniel challenged him to a test. They would eat this simple diet for ten days, and the guard could judge. After the test, they did looked better, as promised.

Years later, Daniel had another diet encounter. Chapter 10 says that he fasted for three weeks because of a distressing vision he had been given. This was a no-luxuries fast, not a no-calories fast (“I ate no choice food; no meat or wine came to my lips”).

So, what does Daniel tell us about our diets? The fast had nothing to do with health, since it was either involuntary from mourning or aimed at spiritual purification, though you’ll find 300,000 hits on the internet with a search term “Daniel fast.”

What does Rick Warren say about diet?

I don’t know what Warren says in his book, but—spoiler alert!—if we follow Daniel’s lead, we’ll be vegans, eating only vegetables.

Warren says that Jesus cared about more than getting people into heaven; he cared about their health as well. The interview ends with Warren quoting John 3:16, about God giving Jesus to the world.

It’s a generosity verse. I say you can give without loving, but you cannot love without giving. If you want to become a loving person, you have to learn to give. You spell love G-I-V-E.

Okay, I get it. Americans are overweight. They eat unhealthy food. Warren is a giving person in an influential position, and he wants to do something to help. If he can wrap a diet in a tasty Christian coating, he can do some good.

I’m beginning to like this idea.

So let me anticipate Warren’s approach. He’ll get some nutritionists to create a healthy and sustainable diet, he’ll give it a Christian spin, he’ll make the diet freely available from his web site, and then he’ll use his influence to highlight the project. Maybe he’ll make it available as a free ebook.

Why let profit get in the way of so important a project? Remember, this is the guy who famously reverse-tithes (giving 90% to the church and keeping 10%, rather than the other way around) because of sales of his enormously popular The Purpose Driven Life.

The Rick Warren plan

Wrong. Warren’s The Daniel Plan is not a giveaway. It’s a book, soon available in a handsome hardcover edition on Amazon for just $15.64. Or as a CD for the low, low price of $13.49. Or Audible for $12.24. Or Kindle for $9.78. Buy one or buy them all!

But don’t stop there. There’s also the study guide ($8.78), meant to be used with the DVD ($14.39). And don’t leave without buying the journal ($11.22 hardcover or $7.99 Kindle). And what diet program would be complete without the cookbook? That’s $18.96 hardcover or $11.99 Kindle.

So perhaps instead of “You spell love G-I-V-E” as the guiding principle, the Warren strategists figured that a book combining religion and diet would be a financial marriage made in heaven.

I expected to see packaging a diet as a Christian directive, but it looks to be more packaging a lucrative franchise as a Christian charity.

The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians,
who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door,
and deny Him by their lifestyle.
That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.
— Brennan Manning

About Bob Seidensticker
  • http://batman-news.com Anton

    The Elijah diet involves eating only what ravens feed you, and so far results depend on your interpretation.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      And the Ezekiel exercise plan is to lie on your side for a year.

      Hey! We got a franchise going on here!

      • http://batman-news.com Anton

        PETA has condemned the Jonah weight-loss plan, for obvious reasons.

      • GubbaBumpkin

        Ezekiel Bread: Made with Human Dung

        Just thinking about that would make me lose weight.

    • Speedwell

      The Revelations 10:9-10 diet obviously involves the use of maltitol as an artificial sweetener (watch those digestive effects, kids!!).

    • Sophia Sadek

      I look forward to the Johanine honey and locust plan myself.

  • TheRealRandomFunction

    If a secular individual packaged a diet plan as a way of trying to solve the obesity epidemic and sold it in a book, would Bob think that that person was all about the money and didn’t want to help people at all?

    I mean, given that both of Bob’s books are well.. books that he is charging money for, I can only presume that Bob did not write any of his books for any positive purpose, but is simply interested in doing nothing else but making a quick buck off of secularists amirite?

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      Wrong as usual. I’d make my books available as PDFs if I thought that that would get more readers.

      But that’s not really the point. I am not a pastor. There’s no hypocrisy in my situation when it’s not my job to help people (it’d be nice if I did, of course, but that’s a little different). Further, I didn’t have a cover story in Parade effusing love and giving.

      I found that ironic enough to write about.

      • TheRealRandomFunction

        Why don’t you make them available for free then? I don’t think it’d cost you any money to put them into a PDF form. I bet if you put your book into PDF form and just put a link to it on your blog you’d probably get more readers. Heck, even I might read your book if I could do it for free, so you’d at least get one more reader.

        But that’s not really the point. I am not a pastor. There’s no hypocrisy in my situation when it’s not my job to help people (it’d be nice if I did, of course, but that’s a little different).

        Your message is clear. Because Rick Warren is selling something for money, he cannot possibly be interested in actually helping people at all, and is nothing more than hypocrite. He’s simply interested in making a buck. That’s it.

        So what am I to assume by your selling your book but that you aren’t really interested in helping people, or doing anything positive at all, but you’re simply out for a quick buck?

        Or is it just that when religious people sell something they are money-grubbing hypocrites, but when you do it, you have nothing but the best interest of humanity at heart?

        Should I assume that every atheist book that is written is not done out of a desire to help, or educate, or at all do anything positive, but simply out of a desire to make some money? After all, that’s your argument. If its possible to sell something, and help people.. then all your found “irony” vanishes away.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          It’s always refreshing when you drop by. The conversation always turns to trivialities, and that’s a nice break from real subjects.

          I bet if you put your book into PDF form and just put a link to it on your blog you’d probably get more readers.

          And I bet I wouldn’t. Otherwise I would’ve done that on day 1.

          Heck, even I might read your book if I could do it for free, so you’d at least get one more reader.

          No thanks.

          Your message is clear. Because Rick Warren is selling something for money, he cannot possibly be interested in actually helping people at all,

          Yes, the message is clear. I’m amazed that you didn’t get it, though.

          So what am I to assume by your selling your book but that you aren’t really interested in helping people, or doing anything positive at all, but you’re simply out for a quick buck?

          Wrong again. I made clear the different in just the last comment. A more careful reading might avoid such embarrassments in the future.

        • TheRealRandomFunction

          And I bet I wouldn’t. Otherwise I would’ve done that on day 1.

          Makes sense. The more widely available you make your book, the fewer people will read it. Obviously that’s correct.

          You do have one point. You are not being hypocritical. I had just assumed that you wrote your book out of some positive, non-profit seeking desire. That was my fault. You never actually said that, and I did put words in your mouth. I’m sorry for that.

  • smrnda

    First, Warren is wasting people’s time. You can find massive amounts of information on eating healthy online for free, and then you can avoid blowing money on a book about nutrition written by an amateur and just flat out give that money to a worthy cause. Even if Warren has consulted with experts, why not just read some of the stuff that’s already free?

    I’m kind of interested in this book though, because I find that Christians tend to turn food and diet and exercise into moral issues in a way that I really don’t think is healthy or fair to people and probably ends up causing a lot of harm in the end. There’s this idea that being *thin* or *fit* are indicators of virtue, but I’m willing to admit that a lot of that is really privilege. I’m relatively healthy in those areas, but part of this is that I have a job where my hours are flexible so I can both exercise and cook for myself and shop, I live in a reasonable well-off community with lots of real grocery stores (no urban food desert or isolated rural area with, at best, a convenience store with nothing better than overpriced canned goods and cereal.) If Warren wants to fight obesity, how about fighting food deserts? How about getting employers to give workers an extra break they can use to exercise? Why do this on an individual rather than a social level; obesity is bad enough in the US that it’s definitely a social rather than individual problem.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      Warren is using church community to his advantage. The church is the built-in support group.

      Again, this all sounds good. What I’m having a hard time digesting is the generosity course and the making-a-profit course. These are two great tastes that don’t taste great together.

    • Kodie

      Despite whole websites for free disseminating useful diet information, along with sections for recipes, exercise routines, and forums to talk to others, etc., people go for buying these things. People want more cookbooks on the shelf, they want videos, special weights, special pots and pans. Check out the New Year’s resolution targeted advertising – it is all this shit, and if nobody bought it every year, they wouldn’t keep pitching it.

      You are right that there are social problems, but I am not sure his audience is the same people you’re talking about. Maybe it should be, if he really wants to help, but I think Bob’s right – he wants to sell books to people who can not only afford books, but can afford cars to drive to the grocery store that sells the foods in this diet. And if they buy his diet, they are likely people who keep trying different diets – they have other books and guides. Besides the problem of food deserts, there is another unexplored problem – people who either have no access to the internet, or haven’t really gotten interested enough in it beyond their email to discover that it has pretty much everything you want to know…and more!

      • smrnda

        I’m aware that Warren’s church is in a somewhat more affluent area, so the obesity problems he’s encountering may really be the result of bad individual choices rather than social problems mostly due to poverty.

  • Kodie

    But don’t stop there. There’s also the study guide ($8.78), meant to be
    used with the DVD ($14.39). And don’t leave without buying the journal
    ($11.22 hardcover or $7.99 Kindle). And what diet program would be
    complete without the cookbook? That’s $18.96 hardcover or $11.99 Kindle.

    You mean he is managing to sell a lifestyle diet in book form that isn’t actually already a cookbook? There’s a book – what exactly is in this book? And then all these other books to go with the book? I don’t know how much difference there is between a notebook and a diet journal.

    Anyway, Bob, cookbooks are lucrative, and if most normal people have never heard of Rick Warren before, they’re about to get a whole lot of him making the morning shows and talk show rounds. Too bad Hasselbeck left The View, he’d be on tomorrow or something. If you want to make some money off your gig here, I suggest you gather some recipes and weave them into a story about 2 brothers, a Christian and an atheist, who haven’t spoken over their differences in years, and how they are finally airing it all out over having to make about a week’s worth of meals. Maybe their mom died and they’re her recipes. I’m not sure if that makes it kind of nice, or too morbid for a cookbook. It’s a recipe for a Hollywood feel-good movie of the season, not sure if cookbooks work like that.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      Great idea. The atheist and Christian have a talk over many weeks, punctuated by meals, as the atheist caves in to the superior logic of the Christian.

      They’re Mom’s recipes, and Christian brother has them, and Mom died sad that Mr. Atheist had fallen away. It’s like she’s acting from heaven, through the great food.

      Jesus and apple pie–it’s gotta sell!

  • KarlUdy

    A few assorted thoughts on this topic …
    1) A lot of diets are money-making fads with little to backup their claims.
    2) The Bible is not a cookbook, and was not written to give practical health advice (which includes dieting)
    3) I think the challenge to get his parishioners dieting was a good move by Rick Warren. The obesity epidemic in the developed world is evidence that we are more likely to feed ourselves when we are not hungry than to feed the poor and hungry.
    4) People’s behaviour with respect to free stuff is often different to things they’ve paid for. We are more likely to read the book we paid money for than the one we downloaded for free. Now it is possible to make free work (as in MacOS Mavericks) but not everyone is in a position to make that strategy successful.

    • smrnda

      1 is a good point – lots of diets don’t work, or aren’t sustainable or even healthy. I kind of think it’s due to the fact that weight loss is an industry. To make money, people can’t just learn how to eat healthy and be done, they need to keep coming back for more tips that don’t work so they can buy a new fad diet.

      2 You seem pretty willing to admit that the Bible *is not* any number of things and that going to the Bible for that information is absurd. This seems to be a point of disagreement as some Christians in the US seem to take the approach that the Bible *must* have something relevant to say on every issue.

      3 – one thing on obesity in the States is that being poor is correlated with increased risk of being obese. I’m sure that there are financially stable people who just don’t have good health habits, but there’s also the problem that the quick, easy, available low-cost food options are often not the healthiest. Chicago used to have more food deserts than it has now, and I found on my last trip that ALDIs (which actually sell produce) are now a common feature even in some of the poorest neighborhoods. Perhaps a good venture for someone to do is to promote opening real grocery stores?
      It wouldn’t even need to be charity, it could be done at a profit.

      • JohnH2

        The Torah does have diet advice, Acts gets rid of that, I know of very few Christians that won’t eat a cheeseburger or cheese-stuffed bacon-wrapped shrimp for religious reasons.

  • http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Maury_and_Baty/ RLBaty

    Without Rick Warren and his political machine, Judge Barbara Crabb may
    have never ruled Internal Revenue Code Section 107 UNconstitutional.

    Where is Rick Warren regarding Judge Crabb’s decision last week?

    Selling weight loss books?


    How are the mighty fallen!

    Come out, RIck Warren. Tell us what you think about Judge Crabb’s
    decision and what your political machine is going to do about it.

    • Frank

      Nothing has to be done about it. It will never stand.

      • http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Maury_and_Baty/ RLBaty

        That’s funny, Frank.

        Or, alternatively, at least it seems to be the minority opinion.

        Tony Perkins has started a petition calling for Judge Crabb’s decision to be overturned.

        Personally, I think Judge Crabb’s decision should and will stand.

        Time will tell.

        The latest on what Tony Perkins is up to:


        • Frank

          Some people just have to get upset about everything.

          There is no chance in hell (excuse the reference) that this ruling will stand or be binding.

          And yes time will prove me right.

        • http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Maury_and_Baty/ RLBaty


          I think time will prove me right.

          As for petitions, there was one recently on the White House petitions website calling for a repeal of IRC 107.

          President Obama would do well to moot the FFRF case by calling on the Justice Department to stop defending IRC 107 (i.e., file no appeals) and to ask Congress to send him a bill repealing IRC 107.

          We’ll have to wait and see what develops.

          It could be copycat suits will be popping up in every judicial district mirroring the successful FFRF effort and testing what other federal judges think of IRC 107.

          Rick Warren got Congress and President Bush to thwart the 9th Circuit’s effort to take up the constitutional test of IRC 107.

          I prophesy a different result this time around.

        • Frank

          I doubt it but as you have said “time will tell.”

          Will they also stop requiring ministers to be considered self-employed and pay the full social security tax?

        • http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Maury_and_Baty/ RLBaty

          How ministers have been constitutionally accommodated to allow them to participate in the Social Security system is an issue quite independent of the IRC 107 issue.

          If ministers don’t like what they have created on that score, they need to contact their representatives and see what might be done about it.

          That’s been tried with IRC 107 and neither Congress or the President had the political will to deal with it.

          And so, the FFRF has chosen to ask the Judicial branch of government to test the constitutional merits of IRC 107.

          Judge Crabb got it right.

          Next up?????

        • Frank

          Crabb got it wrong. :) Just another activist judge.


        • http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Maury_and_Baty/ RLBaty

          Haven’t we been around that bush?

          Judge Crabb got it wrong, so says Frank.
          Judge Crabb got it right, so say I.

          Will Obama’s Justice Department appeal?

          I think there could be an en banc review of Judge Crabb’s decision by her colleagues on the bench.

          If not, the next step up the ladder would be to the 7th Circuit and from there to the U.S. Supreme Court.

          If Obama doesn’t call off the Justice Department and, along with that, just possibly call for that bill to repeal IRC 107.

        • Frank

          We have but your still going.

          My guess is that it might make it to SCOTUS and that they will overturn it.

        • http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Maury_and_Baty/ RLBaty

          Frank, my problem with folks like you, in part, has been in getting them to give me the last word. It’s gets to be quite a game after awhile.

          The case is certainly ripe for Supreme Court review if Congress and the President don’t act to moot the issue.

          If it makes it to the Supreme Court, I anticipate that Judge Crabb’s decision will be AFFIRMED.

        • http://8bitnerds.com/ Dave

          (I know this comment is 7 months old) Every minister I know pays the full SS tax. Can you provide a source that states that ministers don’t pay the full amount.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Frank: you’re confident that the ruling outlawing the parsonage exemption will be overturned? (Just wanted to make sure we’re talking about the same thing.)

          Tell us why you think the exemption will be reinstated. Is is because it makes sense? Or because the religious right is powerful enough to overturn it?

        • Frank

          Yes I am talking about the minsters housing allowance. It both makes sense and those in power will overturn it.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Why does it make sense? It’s a gift to religion. If it applied
          to all directors of nonprofits, that would be another thing, but it’s only for clergy.

          Kind of odd in a country governed by a secular constitution.

        • JohnH2

          It seems that in terms of housing that a church would just need to be the holder of the housing, not the pastor, and the ruling becomes moot.

          I suppose this gets rid of a way of transferring wealth out of the church and to the pastor in a tax free manner. I don’t see how that is a big problem though.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Favors for religion are a problem. If pastors were treated just like the ED of a nonprofit, no problem.

        • JohnH2

          I mean, I don’t see how it is a problem that this transfer of wealth to pastors in a tax free manner is stopped; religion can still provide housing, it just can’t do it in a manner that increases the pastors net worth directly without incurring tax penalties to the pastor, which seems rational to me.

  • Thin-ice

    The Rick Warren Money Machine fires up again. And does what is so damn popular in evangelical culture: find a biblical justification for almost any secular activity in existence, and then use it to generate money: Christian diets/cooking, Christian exercise, Christian music, Christian toys, Christian housework, Christian car repair. Don’t you just love it when capitalism shacks up with Christianity? Which of course would be laughable, except that gullible believers swallow this stuff whole without even chewing.

  • Frank

    People value more that which they pay for,

  • Tamra Bryan

    I found that if you go to The Daniel Plan website it’s full of lots of free information, devotions, recipes, etc. It appears to be a healthy plan. Those that can pay, and want them, will probably get the for-profit resources, though.

    Thank goodness for people who do give freely of their time, talents, and resources. I appreciate those, like Jon Bon Jovi & his Soul Kitchen Community Restaurant, who make good things accessible to all, regardless of ability to pay.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      Helpful, thanks.

  • Sophia Sadek

    I am reminded of the argument Irenaeus made against vegetarianism. He considered it to be a form of blasphemy because vegetarians turn their noses up at the divine gift of animal flesh. Although I am not a vegetarian myself, I enjoy communing with vegetarians and eat less meat than the average Jane.

    When I read Irenaeus’ argument I thought of two possible come-backs. One is that vegetarians have more respect for animals and therefore are better stewards of such “gifts.” The other is that the same argument could be used to claim that people who refrain from smoking cannabis are blasphemers.

    As for Rick Warren, it is because of people like him that I would never feel comfortable living in Orange County.