Book Review: The Daniel Plan
[Disclaimer: I was provided a free copy of The Daniel Plan in exchange for my fair and unbiased review of the book. I was in no way compensated nor asked to write a favorable review. So, there you go.]
I'm sitting in my study tonight enjoying some music, playing a game on my NOOK, and enjoying a fine adult beverage–which is loaded with carbs and calories and was probably made from the sorts of things that the authors of The Daniel Plan would advise me to eschew. I'm actually fine with that. It seems to me that the key to living, and enjoying life, is moderation. But let's be honest: most Americans would just as soon cut their leg off than to practice moderation.
This is a long book. A very long book. It is all of the 261 pages of text about the Five Essentials (Faith, Food, Fitness, Focus, and Friends.) One would think it would be a quick and rather whimsical read, but it wasn't. It was boring. The remainder of the pages (263-346) are filled with recipes, fitness plans, meal plans, detox charts, and more. Really, it is terribly boring reading–even the multitude of personal testimonies marked off in green text boxes gives the book very little depth because all the testimonies are, predictably, supportive of the wonders of the Daniel Plan. I'm not suggesting the authors should have included negative testimonies; that would defeat the purpose. I am suggesting they could have eliminated most of them and the reader would not have missed anything.
I'm going to just cut to the chase, so to speak, in this review. Rick Warren is very popular and has written several books that have been remarkably helpful to thousands of people around the world. This is a fact no one disputes–well, except for some online 'ministries' who think it their job to police the church. I'm not concerned about Rick Warren as an individual nor is it my objective here to review him. I will review the book. The Daniel Plan is the third of Warren's books I have read and the same problem I had with the first two is the problem I have with this one: I dislike to the nth degree the way he uses Scripture to suit his own agenda. And with this book it starts with the title and gets worse.
Let's be honest: the Old Testament book of Daniel has absolutely nothing to do with what 'a healthier lifestyle' and frankly it is simply pastorally irresponsible to suggest that it does. Yes, in chapter 1 of Daniel, Daniel and his three friends refuse to eat the king's provisions and instead consume only vegetables and water. The next verse says, "To these four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. And Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds" (1:17). The emphasis is on what God did, not on the reasons why Daniel and his friends went on the peculiar diet in the first place.
This is how Warren consistently uses Scripture. He quotes it piecemeal–as if that is how the Bible was written. A verse here, a verse there; a particular translation that renders a verse with just such language that it suits Warren's thesis. It's old and tired. Just once I'd like Warren to write a book where he deals with a whole text–say, a book length church program about the church living in exile and what the Bible says to us about keeping in stride with Jesus all while focusing on one book of the Bible, from one translation, and with clear theological exposition of the book. But that is just not what I get from Warren's books. It is disappointing. And if I might say one final thing about this point, it would be this: his use of Scripture is, in my opinion, dangerous because it betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the purpose of Scripture. That is, it may not necessarily be wrong, but neither is it necessarily right. It really fails, at a significantly deep level, the grapple with the hard truth of the Bible. The Bible isn't necessarily interested in better people, but new people. Books like The Daniel Plan might make us thinner, healthier, and better. They will not necessarily make us new.
As much as I hate to say it, Warren is a master of abusing context to make Scripture match his ends.
As for the rest of the book, what can I say? There are those who agree; there are those who disagree. I've read other reviews suggesting his take on wheat and gluten and other grains is wholly off base. I disagree that the diet plan suggested in the book is affordable. Whole foods and organic foods are incredibly expensive and the meals they suggest we prepare for our families probably are not entirely realistic for families where both adults work full-time. I could be wrong, but I'm willing to bet that people who are already in a financial position to eat the sort of foods suggested are going to have a much easier time following through than people who are not.
A couple of final points. First, I disagree that red meats 'should be cooked medium rare or medium' (146). I think this is a matter of taste. Second: "That is why we believe that once The Daniel Plan is embraced by the faith community, it will spread the gospel of health and change through America and the world" (148). Well, there you go. This is a worldwide initiative. I can think of a few other things the church ought to embrace–but this is a 'faith community' initiative not necessarily a church initiative.
Here's the bottom line: I am sure The Daniel Plan has helped a lot of people. I am sure there is nothing in it that is entirely unhelpful. I am sure it is a radical thing for the 'faith community' to embrace. I am sure it is somewhat countercultural. I am sure getting healthy is a good thing that many of us in the church need to think about–especially in America where our poor are among the wealthiest people in the world. Rick Warren continues to produce books that are meaningful to a large portion of the population and that make a lot of money for his publishers. (There's a whole line of The Daniel Plan products including journals, apps, exercise gear, etc.)
As far as content is concerned, I'm indifferent. It's nothing more than another in a long line of lifestyle books on the market. Strangely enough we have a market for these books in America where we have everything we need. Others can testify to the medical content of the book; although, I have read reviews that suggest he is misguided on the issue of wheat, grains, gluten and other things. (And I might add that I don't trust Dr Oz who happens to be a proponent of the content of this book.)
But I'm not going to pretend for a minute that this book has done any justice to Scripture and I'm not going to pretend that just because it was written by a Christian preacher that it necessarily has anything to do with faith in Jesus. The 'faith community' is where it's at for this book–whatever faith that may be.