The Weigh Down Workshop: A New Cult?
By Craig Verdi
Fortunately, its not very often we get to watch the unfolding of what may become a major new pseudo-Christian cult. We may be watching it now with Gwen Shamblin and the Weigh Down Workshop.
Millions of people have read Shamblins book, The Weigh Down Diet. It is marketed as a "Bible based" approach to weight loss. The book has helped countless people lose weight by a method that helps train you to recognize cues from your body to help you decide if you are really hungry or simply eating for other reasons.
My wife and I have both read the book and have benefited from the techniques that Shamblin has popularized. After reading the book, I had the feeling that Shamblin had some ideas that were legalistic and a view of God as someone who we must please to earn his approval. I really never thought much about it until recently when information started to surface that indicated Ms. Shamblin was promoting heretical doctrine.
In July, questions about her theology were raised during her annual Desert Oasis Conference. Shortly thereafter she started making statements on her website about her views. In an August 14th message to her email subscribers she stated that "The Trinity was a message formed in a society that believed in polytheism and it was done in an attempt to make sure no one mistakenly believed that Christians worshipped several gods."
She has since replaced the emails with a lengthy statement about her beliefs on the Trinity. She flatly denies the view of Trinity accepted by the historical Christian church. That is a dangerous position to take. It has been said that "we stand on the shoulders of giants." That is, the Body of Christ has, at its foundation, solid and biblical thinking hammered out by some of the greatest mindsand most devout Christian men and womenin human history. The great doctrinal positions of the Christian faith have stood for two thousand years and are accepted today by the overwhelming majority of all bible-believing denominations. Shamblin howeversharing dangerous ground with many historical cult leadersapparently thinks she has discovered some "new truth," truth that we have all somehow missed.
Shamblin articulates a decidedly non-Christian theology about the nature of God, particularly about the historical doctrine of the Holy Trinity. She sees Jesus as subservient to God the Father and also sees him as being created by the Father. Although he is created she believes he is nonetheless "deity". Her pronouncements and writings are coming under fire from solid Evangelical voices. Christianity Today, which has previously written glowing reports of Shamblins weight loss system, reported that Christian publisher, Thomas Nelson, has cancelled their contract to publish Shamlins new book, Out of Egypt. The CT article quoted L .L. "Don" Veinot Jr., president of the apologetics ministry Midwest Christian Outreach in Lombard, Illinois as saying, "Her views are closer to that of Jehovah's Witnesses than anything resembling the historic biblical faith." Shamblin has been removed from the Women of Faith Web site and several influential evangelical churches have dropped her program.
Shamblin claims her theological views came by studying the Bible with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, but her theology indeed does sound more like it from came a Jehovahs Witness playbook. She bristles at the comparison to the Jehovahs Witnesses, but uses the same "proof texts" employed by them.
More troubling to me than her view of the Trinity is her explanation of salvation that is also found at her website. Here she explains a works-based salvation that sounds closer to Mormonism than Christianity. She quotes several scriptures that refer to works and none that refer to the work of grace. For example, she says:
We teach and believe that "this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands" (2 John 1:6). This is not a faith of the acknowledgment of the existence of God&but rather the faith that God requires, which is the faith of Abraham&We believe that this Lordship relationship is made possible by the sacrifice of his only son, Jesus Christ.
In other words, Shamblin teaches that we must walk in obedience to Gods commands and have the faith of Abraham to be saved. This kind of required walk, she says, is made possible by the sacrifice of Jesus. So it is not faith in Christ that saves us, but a particular kind of obedience that arises out of our faith in Christ. This is very similar to Mormon salvation or salvation taught by Jehovahs Witnesses: Jesus opened up the possibility that we could be saved by dying on the cross, now we must work out the rest through our obedience. This is not the gospel!
Newer Cults have had difficulty in achieving the critical mass of older cults like Mormonism or Jehovahs Witnesses. Cults have had to isolate themselves quickly with limited numbers of converts. In this environment they usually die a fairly quick death. This has happened recently with Jim Jones in Jonestown, The Branch Davidians in Waco, and the Church Universal and Triumphant in Montana. The force of society to keep them isolated has limited their reach.
However, with the Weigh Down Workshop we face some very different dynamics. They have operated for years now as a weight loss "ministry" within the Church. This has let them pass under the radar screen with few questions about doctrine. It has allowed them to createin advancea nationwide, even worldwide, critical mass of supporters that they can call on. Shamblin has used the Internet to teach those who read her books and participate in her workshops held in local churches. From this following she is now promoting a new denomination called the "Remnant Fellowship." A new video promotes the new sect, which has services with no pastors or elders and an emphasis on public confession and testimonies. Again, this sounds very similar to Mormonism and the Jehovahs Witnesses.
Many evangelical churches are still using her Weigh Down Workshop as part of the churchs overall programs. New visitors to the church who are not grounded in Christian doctrine or are not yet born again may get their first theology from a source that seems harmlessa weight loss class at the church.
Fortunately, many articles and lots of information have become available about Shamblins views and many high profile churches are dropping her program. One thing that the Weigh Down Workshop does not have in common with Mormonism and other older cults is that the founder is still living. We can actively be praying for Gwen Shamblin that she will open a dialogue with Christian leaders and not harden in her positions on theology. She is a brilliant woman who could offer a lot to the church if our prayers are answered.
You can hear the opening minutes of Jim Spencers teaching on the Trinity.You can also download the whole teaching as an Mp3 file.
And you can order his tapes on the Trinity there.