Rick Warren leads 'Global Summit on AIDS and the Church' at his Saddleback Church in Orange County, Calif., in 2007 (WNDphoto)
When megachurch pastor Rick Warren decided he needed to take his healthseriously, he responded in typically ambitious fashion, launching a year-long health program for his church, "The Daniel Plan," written with the help of threecelebritydoctors who will appear at a kickoff seminar today.
But critics point out the physicians who crafted the program apparently don't share the church's professed evangelical beliefs, espousing instead various forms of Eastern mysticism and the tenets of a Christian cult, Swedenborgism.
Vowing to lose 90 pounds, Warren said he placed himself under the care of Drs. Mehmet Oz, Daniel Amen and Mark Hyman last fall and worked with each to develop "The Daniel Plan."
Oz, host of the Emmy-winning "Dr. Oz Show" and professor of surgery at Columbia University, says he isinspired by Emanuel Swedenborg, an 18th century cult founder who taught that all religions lead to God and denied orthodox Christian beliefs such at the atonement of Christ for sin, the trinity and the deity of the Holy Spirit.
Best-selling author Amen, a professor of psychiatry at the University of California at Irvine, teaches Eastern religious meditation and the New Age energy-based practice of Reiki.
Hyman, a four-time New York Times best-selling author,promotes mystical meditation based on Buddhist principles.
Steve McConkey, whodirects a website called Christian Investigator, called it "troubling for a top pastor in the United States to promote false teachers."
"We are living at an all-time low spiritually in the United States with weak leaders," he said.
Saddleback's staff did not respond to a WND request for comment.
McConkey pointed out the followers of what is called Swedenborgianism believe all religions lead to God and that Christianity must go through a rebirth. The group also denies the existence of a personal devil and believes the Bible is not inspired. When people die, the followers believe, they become an angel or an evil spirit.
Emanuel Swedenborg said he had a vision in 1745 in which he saw creatures crawling on walls. He asserted God then appeared to him as a man and told him to promote the new teachings to the world.
Warren plans to have one-on-one discussions with Amen and Hymen at thesummittoday, which runs from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif. Oz will appear via avideomessage.
Thesummitalso will belive-streamed on Saddleback's website.
The church says all of its more than 5,000 small groups will go through "The Daniel Plan," which is part of Saddleback's "Decade of Destiny," a 10-year plan launching this month "to help individuals succeed and be who God designed them to be in every aspect in life."
Warren, author of the best-selling "The Purpose Driven Life," said he is "honored to be partnering with these internationally distinguished health experts."
"God says that health is important, and that is what we want to explore," Warren said.
He said that the many Americans who resolve each year to lose weight and get fit need to have the right motivation if they want to succeed.
"We hope to provide encouragement, based on biblical principles, to help people make a real lifestyle change toward better health," Warren said.
The 52-week "Daniel Plan," according to Saddleback, is based upon the biblical account of Daniel and his three friends, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who refused to take part in the Babylonian king's rich foods and wine and challenged the king's chief-of-staff to a test of meal plans.
Daniel and his three colleagues ate a 10-day diet of vegetables and water that made them healthier and better nourished than the others.
"I grew up in a home where the dinner table was the centerpiece of our existence," Warren said. "I have never paid much attention to my health, as it was just never important to me. But earlier this year I had a moment of clarity and realized we all need to make a change, and that I can't help anyone if I don't first start with me."
Warren cited statistics indicating 7 out of 10 Americans are overweight and that diabetes and heart disease is on the rise.
"America is getting fatter and fatter, and we must do something about it," he said.
Following the health seminar, medical professionals and volunteers will be available on the Saddleback campus to record health numbers so individuals can begin "The Daniel Plan," Saddleback said. Participants will be able toset up their own interactive online profile via the church's websiteto guide them through the plan and keep a record of health improvements and accomplishments.
Warren founded Saddleback in 1980 with his wife, Kay. The church has a total average weekly attendance of 22,000 at its main Lake Forest campus and nine otherlocationsin the cities of Anaheim, Corona, Huntington Beach, Irvine, Laguna Woods, Orange, San Clemente and Rancho Capistrano.
President Obama chose Warren to give a prayer at his Jan. 20, 2009, inauguration, prompting an angry response from homosexual-rights activists who decried Warren's vocal support for Proposition 8, the ballot measure that limited marriage in the California constitution to one man and one woman.
Defending his choice, Obama noted at the time that despite his disagreement with Warren on a number of issues,the pastor invited him to speak at Saddleback Church's Global Summi.... Some evangelicals at the time objected to a pro-choice Democrat being given the pulpit of a church that opposes abortion. At the 2007 AIDSsummit,Sen. Hillary Clinton gave a warmly received speechwhile Obama was among several candidates who presented taped messages via satellite.
In August 2008, Obama appeared with Republican presidential nominee John McCain at Warren's church for a forum in which each candidate was questioned by the pastor for an hour.
In 2006,WND reportedWarren stirred controversy during a trip to Syria when he described the Arab nation's policies as "moderate," even though the U.S. lists it as a terror-sponsoring statethat persecutes Christians and Jews.