November 2000 Issue
by John W. Kennedy
A weight-loss program that has
been criticized for its controversial health practices now is
drawing fire for the questionable theological views of its leader,
whose publisher has shelved plans for her next book.
Christians had earlier found fault with the Weigh Down Diet
because it places no restrictions on what types of foods participants
may eat. Apologists and church leaders are now asking whether
founder Gwen Shamblin holds heretical views of the Trinity, based
on her comments on the Weigh Down Web site.
Since 1992, Shamblin has taken her business from a garage start-up
to a multimillion-dollar Nashville corporation. Her 1997 book
The Weigh Down Diet has sold more than 1 million copies.
There are 30,000 Weigh Down Workshop locations meeting
weekly around the world, including in thousands of evangelical
The controversy intensified after Shamblin posted a weekly
e-mail communiqué to her followers on Aug. 10. "As
a ministry, we believe in God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit,"
Shamblin wrote. "However, the Bible does not use the word
'trinity' and our feeling is that the word 'trinity' implies equality
in leadership, or shared Lordship. It is clear that the scriptures
teach that Jesus is the Son of God and that God sends the Holy
Spirit. The Holy Spirit does not send God anywhere. God is clearly
Since then, Shamblin has been removed from the Women of Faith
Web site, several influential evangelical churches have dropped
her program, and some key employees have left. In addition, Thomas
Nelson canceled publication of Shamblin's new book, Out of
Egypt, which was scheduled to be shipped to bookstores in
"Gwen has touched the lives of untold thousands of people,"
Michael S. Hyatt of Thomas Nelson told Christianity Today.
"We had the joy of publishing Rise Above and seeing
it appear on the bestseller list. However, because of the recent
controversy created by her doctrinal position we do not feel that
we can go forward with this project."
L.L. "Don" Veinot Jr., president of the apologetics
ministry Midwest Christian Outreach in Lombard, Illinois, received
more than two dozen inquiries about Shamblin from Weigh Down workers
and coordinators after the Aug.10 e-mail. Veinot phoned Shamblin
after reviewing the Web site, but he says the conversation only
confirmed Shamblin's stance that the Trinity is unbiblical.
"When I asked about her statement that the Father and
Son are two separate beings, her reply was 'absolutely,'"
Veinot says. "Her views are closer to that of Jehovah's Witnesses
than anything resembling the historic biblical faith."
Veinot believes Shamblin's religious beliefs avoided scrutiny
for so long because of the subject matter she teaches. "Weight
loss is not one of the high priorities in apologetics or counter-cult
work," he says.
"The material on the Web site makes a distinction between
the Father and Son that is heretical," Veinot says. "She
is clearly anti-Trinitarian."
In the same Aug. 10 e-mail which has since been deleted
from the Web site Shamblin tells followers that Christians
grieve Jesus if they adhere to doctrines not found in Scripture.
"If God wanted us to refer to Himself, Jesus Christ, and
the Holy Spirit as the 'trinity,' He would not have left this
word completely out of the Bible."
"There are a lot of words that contain biblical concepts
that are not in the Bible," Veinot notes. "The word
Bible is not in the Bible."
Shamblin says she does not see what all the fuss is about,
and that many ministers from Baptists to Episcopalians
have called to support her. Those pastors who have closed
the program down are ineffective because there are other congregations
down the street where it is being held, she says.
"People don't care about this," Shamblin told Christianity
Today. "They don't care about the Trinity. This is going
to pass. What the women want is weight loss. They care about their
bodies being a temple and their lives turned over to the Lord.
That's what my ministry is about."
Shamblin's twelve-week "Exodus Out of Egypt" weight-loss
seminar, which costs $103 per participant, is being held in sixty
denominations in seventy countries.
Craig Branch, director of Apologetics Resource Center in Birmingham,
Alabama, believes the weekly messages that Shamblin has written
on the Weigh Down Web site reflect her Church of Christ background,
which he says historically has had an ambiguous view of the Trinity.
Branch says the writings reflect an extreme view of lordship,
a mixing of works and grace, and a "restoration of New Testament
Christianity" movement that relegates other beliefs as apostate.
"My background is Church of Christ and that's where all
this came from," Shamblin says, noting that hymnals, for
instance, change the words of Holy, Holy, Holy from "God
in three persons, blessed Trinity" to "God over all
and blessed eternally."
Shamblin no longer is in a Church of Christ congregation, however.
She says her husband, David, who started a new church in the Nashville
area last year with another couple, is now her pastor. She says
he is the "leading shepherd" of Remnant Fellowship,
which has about eighty members, many of them Weigh Down employees.
In a related development, Weigh Down faces questions about
its handling of employees in connection with Shamblin's theological
views and membership at Remnant Fellowship.
Carney Hawkins, a resident of the Nashville area, says she
worked for Shamblin and the Weigh Down Workshop for four
years. Her first three years at Weigh Down were spent coordinating
classes. At the time of her dismissal, she was director of counseling
and supervisor over outreach.
Carney said she was fired because of theological differences.
"Gwen and I had an ongoing discussion for several months
trying to nail down what she believed and what she was saying,"
Carney said. "To the end, I knew that I couldn't keep my
job. She told me I couldn't embrace the message of grace and then
she fired me.
"The problem I had is that I came to her in love with
questions about what she was teaching," Carney said. "It
was very difficult for me. We had been close friends. Those people
were my family."
Carney said she wanted to talk to the rest of the staff before
leaving Weigh Down, but Shamblin gave orders for no one to associate
"Anyone who leaves is labeled a devil," Carney said.
"She orders them not to speak or fellowship with those who
leave the ministry. There is a spirit of fear."
Carney said the atmosphere at Weigh Down is extremely difficult:
"It's very exclusive. There is a lot of fear and there is
a lot of redefining of scriptural terms."
At least forty employees have been either fired or resigned
since Jan. 1, according to an anonymous source inside Weigh Down.
Carney said employees are urged to leave their churches and join
the Remnant Fellowship. "The office is under a lot of pressure
to be a part of that church," she said. "And some people
have been fired for not joining."
As for theology, Carney believes Shamblin is not very clear
in what she believes. "I do think that Gwen has some wonderful
principles for weight loss. But she teaches that we have to love
God first and we have to get God to love us. The Bible teaches
that God is the pursuer in the love relationship, not us,"
"Gwen believes that you had better get things right or
you are going to hell."
Editor's Note: At press time, efforts were being
made within the Christian community to help Gwen Shamblin understand
the error of her stance and restore her to a biblically consistent
view of God. We should pray that the Lord, in His mercy, would
open her eyes to the triune nature of the Godhead.
This story first appeared in Christianity Today Online with additional reporting
by Baptist Press reporter Todd Starnes.
Shamblin's Doctrine of God and the Gospel
of Jesus Christ
by Steven A. McKinion
Gwen Shamblin's recent denial of the Christian understanding
of God as three Persons sharing one Essence undermines Christianity's
message of salvation. The gospel is the wonderful account of how
God Himself, not merely His representative, came to give Himself
for us and for our salvation. What Shamblin's position fails to
recognize is that a Savior who is not both fully man and fully
God cannot save.
Why is the picture of Christ she presents so unacceptable to
a genuine Christian faith? The death of her Jesus is merely an
example for us to follow. Scripture, on the other hand, describes
how the Word, who is God (John 1:1), became a human being (John
1:14). Christ's death was not simply an example for us, but was
the propitiation for our sin (1 John 2:2). To be the mediator
between God and man, he must be both God and man. Only God was
able to provide the sacrificial death for our redemption, and
this was accomplished through God's not someone else's
In addition, her picture does not allow God to be our Savior.
For her, the savior is a lesser divine figure, not God Himself,
who came to show us how to live. We owe our gratitude, allegiance,
and worship to someone other than God. What has God done for us,
in her understanding? Nothing. Her conception of God leads inevitably
to a gospel that is works-oriented. In other words, Jesus showed
us how to live and we are to follow His example.
The biblical view of God, as He is revealed to us as three
distinct Persons sharing one essence, leads to a gospel in which
the one true God lived a genuine human life, died a genuine human
death, and rose from the dead to offer us salvation. If the Son
is not co-equal and co-eternal with the Father, there is no Good
News for us to preach.
Steven A. McKinion is Assistant Professor
of Church History at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary,
Wake Forest, NC.
Fit 4 Life and Service
Fit 4 is a health and wellness program from LifeWay
Christian Resources. In light of the recent events involving the
Weigh Down Workshop and it's leader, Gwen Shamblin, Fit
4 Director Branda Polk has responded to inquiries with
the following statement:
Fit 4 is a biblically-based and scripturally-sound
wellness plan that balances all areas of our lives.
Fit 4 addresses our natural indicators of hunger
and fullness and the need to properly fuel our bodies with wise
food choices to accomplish the activities that God has designed
us to do.
Fit 4 offers proven methods of developing an
exercise and active lifestyle routine that keep our bodies strong.
Fit 4 focuses us on loving God with every part
of our being as well as loving others as we properly care for
our own bodies.
Fit 4 recognizes our uniqueness in Christ in
every aspect of life.
Fit 4 has an advisory panel of wellness and theological
professionals that have reviewed the resource for sound teaching
Fit 4 teaches a balanced approach between proper
nutrition and proper exercise and a method of achieving physical
health and does not merely focus on weight loss.
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