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Rick Warren is one of the bestselling Christian authors of our time. While he has written too few books to compete with the likes of Max Lucado for the greatest number of books sold, the few books he has written have uniformly made their way to the bestseller lists. Where most successful Christian authors have their books sell in the thousands or maybe the tens of thousands, Warren’s sell in the millions or even the tens of millions.

I have often wondered about why Warren’s books are so successful and here is what I understand as a key factor: He does not simply write books; he creates programs. His books reflect a mountain of ambition. The Purpose Driven Church was not merely a description of what the New Testament says about church, but a complete program for how to view church and do church. The Purpose Driven Life was not merely a Christian living book, but a church-wide program meant to impact every member, every attender, and every sermon and small group over a period of time. Rick Warren’s latest book is titled The Daniel Plan and, like its predecessors, it is part of a much wider program—a program meant to revolutionize the lives of those who participate in it. (Do note that this is not The Daniel Diet. Warren does not take the description of Daniel’s diet and make it prescriptive as others have done.)

The Daniel Plan had its genesis in a baptism service. In one afternoon, Warren baptized over 800 people, and as he did that, he came face-to-face with his own obesity and the obesity of the people who attend his church. He told his congregation he intended to lose weight and invited them to join him. Where he thought a couple hundred might sign up, he instead saw 15,000 people shed 260,000 pounds in the first year alone. With assistance from experts in medicine and fitness, he led these church members to a transformed life.

He calls this program The Daniel Plan and now, through this book and its supporting resources, he is offering it to you and to your church as a forty-day journey to better health.

In The Daniel Plan you will learn the power of prayer, the power of faith, the power of letting God’s Spirit refocus your thoughts, the power of fellowship and community in a supportive small group, and most of all, the power of God’s Spirit inside you, help you to make the changes God wants you to make and you want to make.

The Plan depends upon five essentials: faith, food, fitness, focus, friends.

The Essentials are a pathway to much more than improved physical health. Each of the Essentials holds up your life, enlivens your body, enriches your mind, and fills your heart. Integrating these can lead to a whole, healthy life that helps you love fully, serve joyfully, and ultimately live out your calling at your best. We want to wake up and be able to give our highest gifts. And we want that for you too.

The word “we” is important, as this book is written by a group of contributors. Rick Warren looks at spiritual health; Dr. Mark Hyman writes about the power of food to affect your mind and body; Dr. Daniel Amen helps you “turn your brain into the powerful tool God made it to be by showing you how to boost its physical health, renew your mind, and fulfill your purpose;” and exercise physiologist Sean Foy “removes the roadblocks that keep you from exercising.” The well-known Dr. Mehmet Oz is involved as well, though I am not so clear on his contribution.

Two of the essentials, faith and friends, are what Warren calls “the secret sauce” that make this program unique in the midst of a crowded field of books and programs that make roughly the same promises. Warren makes health—a holistic view of health—an important matter of service and sanctification and provides a strong and helpful call to understand physical health as a means to pursuing God’s purpose for us. The simple fact is that too many Christians do too little for the Lord because our bodies, minds and lives are in such poor shape. This is an issue of some urgency.

Warren begins with a discussion of Faith. Knowing that many who read the book will not be Christians, he provides a sound description of the Christian faith and a call to turn to Jesus. While I would have appreciated a stronger explanation of sin and its eternal consequences, Warren does offer his reader a helpful explanation of why the Christian faith matters. Those who were disappointed at the weak gospel call and response in The Purpose Driven Life will be more satisfied with what Warren provides here.

If it was grown on a plant, eat it, but if it was made in a plant, leave it on the shelf.

The second section is dedicated to Food. The eating portion of The Daniel Plan is rooted in a very simple principle: Take the junk out and let the abundance in. Said simply, when thinking about food, here’s what you need to do: if it was grown on a plant, eat it, but if it was made in a plant, leave it on the shelf. The authors distinguish between food that harms and food that heals, and they advocate all those healthy foods we all love to hate. An appendix contains all the recipes you will need for forty days of healthy eating.

After Food comes Fitness and here the authors show how our sedentary lifestyles, our constant sitting, is having a detrimental impact on our health. They call on the reader to become “Daniel Strong” which they define as “a pursuit of excellence in body, mind, and spirit for God’s glory.” They explain: “Daniel demonstrated his pursuit of excellence in his faithfulness in doing the little things when no one was watching … and that’s exactly what is required to experience becoming Daniel Strong. … over time, pursuing excellence will lead to strength of character, confidence, and courage forged by God.” They advocate choosing one word and focusing on that word as a means to change your life; that word essentially becomes your goal and mission, the measure of your temptations or opportunities.

Several chapters on Focus comprises what I believe is the weakest section in the book. Here brain renewal is conflated with Romans 12:2 mind renewal, weakening both emphases and doing little to convince. Two chapters focus on Friends and the importance of doing this program in community. The book concludes with plans for exercise and healthy eating.

There is much to commend in The Daniel Plan. There are also a few points worthy of critique.

My first critique of The Daniel Plan relates to the issue I have pointed out for as long as I have been reading Rick Warren’s books. He continues to use a long list of Bible translations, seemingly choosing translations not on the basis of which is most accurate, but on the basis of which best suits his purpose. And, once again, promises made in specific contexts (Jeremiah 29:11 being a prime example) are made universally applicable and texts are applied flippantly (so the three-fold cord of Ecclesiastes necessarily refers to you, a friend, and the Lord; the honoring of God in your bodies from 1 Corinthians 6 makes no reference to sexual holiness). These critiques have been made since Warren first begin to write books and it seems that he is not going to change now.

There are times where a thin and unconvincing Christian veneer is placed over parts of the Plan, and especially as it relates to fitness and focus. Doing small exercises throughout an otherwise sedentary day is sanctified by suggesting these be called “prayer movements” so that as you do your stretches you think about the Lord and as you touch your toes, you meditate.

Of greatest concern is the wider teaching of the experts. I have not looked deeply into what Dr. Oz teaches, but his wider teaching can hardly accord with biblical truth if he is featured on Oprah Winfrey’s show and television network. I am quite sure Dr. Hyman has advocated an eastern-style meditation that is fundamentally opposed to biblical meditation. While The Daniel Plan does not advocate these things, neither does it refute them. In fact, it may open the door to them by elevating the expertise of such men. Those who read beyond The Daniel Plan may find themselves introduced to very dangerous teaching.

Those critiques aside, The Daniel Plan has every appearance of a program that deliver what it promises, and especially so in the area of physical health. I agree completely when Warren expresses that too few people are faithfully guarding their health and shaping their bodies in order to live in a healthy way, and I appreciate that he makes this a matter of sanctification. I am glad that he is willing to lead this charge and hope that others follow his lead in addressing an area in which Christians show too little distance from the world around us.

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