Christian ministers who rightly hold to a robust, historical understanding of the divine inspiration of Scripture sometimes fail to recognize the solemn and awesome responsibilities that should accompany such a commitment. To hold to the verbal plenary inspiration of the Bible is to claim that the Word of God constitutes the words of God. If we acknowledge that the Ninth Commandment requires of us that we not misconstrue the words of our fellow man, how much more ought we to take care not to treat flippantly or make false claims about the words of God, Himself. In addition, if we regard the Bible as God's gift to His covenant people, by which He reveals Himself to mankind, we should take seriously and humbly the need to communicate it accurately, whether in the pulpit or in other contexts, so as not to misrepresent God's Word. I would add that while ministers are correctly teaching Bible content, they should also model proper methods of biblical interpretation, thus equipping their hearers both to read the Bible and to evaluate the preaching of others, lest they be led astray.
All of this came to mind when today's mail arrived with an advertisement from a Christian bookstore featuring prominently a new book by Saddleback Community Church pastor Rick Warren entitled, The Daniel Plan. Noticing that one of the medical doctor co-authors had the first name of Daniel, I briefly hoped against hope that this doctor had given the diet his name. Alas, it was not to be. According to the product's website, which also features, in addition to the book, a DVD, study guide, cookbook, and journal, "The Daniel Plan is not just another 'diet.' It's a healthy lifestyle based on the Old Testament story of Daniel." Given that no one can really read the story in Daniel chapter 1 and construe it as some sort of tale of either diets or healthy lifestyles, it is easy to reach the conclusion that the Word of God has been reduced to a mere marketing tool designed to hawk this set of products.
Certainly, there are a range of interpretations of the significance of the first chapter of Daniel. Readers will recall that youthful Daniel and his young friends (Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego), were forcibly exiled from Jerusalem and assigned to the court of Nebuchadnezzar. As part of their training in the court, they were to receive an allotment of food. Daniel, in behalf of himself and his friends, argued that they would be defiled by this food and ultimately prevailed upon the administrator to allow them to eat vegetables and drink water instead.
In discussing the reasons for Daniel's refusal to accept the king's food, E.J. Young, in his classic commentary on Daniel, provides the most common interpretation by favorably quoting from Keil: "The partaking of the food brought to them from the king's table was to them contaminating, because forbidden by law... [because] the heathen at their feasts offered up in sacrifice to their gods a part of the food and the drink, and thus consecrated their meals by a religious rite; whereby he who participated in such a meal participated in the worship of idols...." While acknowledging the possibility of that view, Sinclair Ferguson argues that Daniel saw "an effort to seduce him into the lifestyle of a Babylonian through the enjoyment of pleasures he had never before known....The good life that Daniel was offered was intended by the king to wean him away from the hard life to which God had called him."
While I prefer Young's reading of the passage, I would note that both of these views emphasize what seems clear from the text: that Daniel's courageous decision regarding the food rested on a question of loyalty to his covenant God while living in a strange land. Yet, Rev. Warren somehow finds a different understanding: "But Daniel knew this wouldn't be a healthy diet, so he asked that he and three of his friends be allowed to eat healthier.... [H]e understood God wanted him to live a healthy lifestyle so he could serve God no matter where he was located.
Warren's reading of the passage is so laughable that it hardly needs rebuttal. Not only are we left to ask on what basis Daniel might have found the nutritional data to suggest that his own diet would be more nutritious than the king's "defiling" (a rather strong word, if it merely means "less nutritious") food, but the notion of a "healthy lifestyle" is a modern concept that likely would not have occurred to a late 7th century B.C. Middle Eastern youth whose homeland of late was being subjected to savage military attack and siege. Given the paucity of support for reading this as a story about losing weight and living a healthy lifestyle, one is left with a couple of unsettling possibilities. Either Rev. Warren, who holds a degree in divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and is an ordained Baptist minister of long standing, is so ignorant of biblical interpretation as to arrive at this bizarre conclusion or, even worse, he knows better but is pushing this because giving a biblical facade to such a product makes for good marketing.
Either way, this is an abuse of the Word of God, and those who care for His Word need to point it out. Rick Warren, while liked more by some groups of Christians than others, is hardly way out there on the spectrum of modern American evangelicalism. He is successful and mainstream. To abuse the Word of God in this way in the marketing of a line of products is offensive, even vulgar, and Christians who know better need to shout, "Stop."
Finally, while the name of the program itself is the most blatant abuse of sacred scripture found in the marketing materials, looking through the website reveals additional carelessness with the Bible. The most ironic -- amusing in a sense -- is the use of Philippians 4:13: "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." Commenting on that verse, the website contends, "God is the power and the energy behind all transformational change and that includes making the lifestyle choices necessary for you to become healthy."
Perhaps Rev. Warren should re-read that letter, which was written from prison. St. Paul, the prisoner, said that he had contentment whether in plenty or want. Whether overwhelmed or starving, he had the strength in Christ to be content. Sitting in prison, his "lifestyle choices" were somewhat limited
Thus, those spiritually invigorating words are not the stuff of a diet plan. If Rev. Warren wishes to use his position and his pulpit to hawk a diet (pardon me, lifestyle) plan as his latest thing for people to spend 40 days on, I might shake my head and wonder if that falls within the proper mission of the church, but so be it. However, I wish he would cease to abuse the Word of God while doing so.