The Gwen Shamblin Controversy
Gwen Shamblin is a weight-loss instructor who operates out of Nashville, Tennessee. In a span of eight years (from 1992 to the present) she has taken her weight-control program from an in-home operation to a multimillion-dollar enterprise. Her book, The Weigh Down Diet, has sold more than a million copies in the last three years.
Seemingly at the peak of success, Mrs. Shamblin has come under fire from evangelical writers who allege that she is unorthodox in her views regarding the Trinity. Recently, she was criticized severely by the popular magazine, Christianity Today (Kennedy and Starns 2000, 15). Thomas Nelson Publishers have canceled the production of Shamblin’s new devotional book, Out of Egypt.
I’m sure Mrs. Shamblin is a nice person who is attempting to serve God to the best of her knowledge. Her writings appear to reflect a sincere religious disposition. She has likely helped hundreds of people with her weight-control program. And for that she may be commended.
It could be the case, however, that she has taken her new-found popularity as a dietitian and attempted to capitalize on that as a means of sharing her religious views. While that is a noble objective, it appears that she has a seriously flawed comprehension of some very important elements of the Christian system. She has ventured into areas she is ill-prepared to discuss, hence, has become involved in a controversy that has damaged her reputation.
Some of her conflict with “Christian” scholars may revolve around matters of semantics relating to the use of certain terminology regarding the Godhead. Her critics may not have dealt fairly with her in every respect.
For example, Craig Branch, director of Apologetics Resource Center (Birmingham, Alabama), charged that Shamblin’s teachings “reflect her Church of Christ background,” which, he alleges, “historically has held an ambiguous view of the Trinity” (Kennedy and Starns, 15). (Note: while Mrs. Shamblin and her husband were once associated with churches of Christ, they have started a new movement near Nashville called the Remnant Fellowship. David Shamblin has been described as the “leading shepherd” of this new sect.)
Two comments are required in response to Mr. Branch’s innuendo.
First, every congregation of the Lord’s church is autonomous; there is, therefore, no official, humanly-devised creed, detailing a position on the Trinity, that issues from any church headquarters. This is a concept that those afflicted with a sectarian mentality have difficulty in appreciating.
On his website, Mr. Branch criticizes churches of Christ as being “fiercely anti-creedal.” That is false. The New Testament is our creed!
In private correspondence with this writer, he characterizes as “creedal” any attempt to set forth a systematized presentation of the gospel (e.g., the plan of redemption). The gentleman appears to be unable to fathom the difference between arguing a logical case for a teaching and crafting a formal human credo to which people are obligated to subscribe in order to be identified with a sectarian body.
Second, gospel preachers—through their writings, preaching, and public debates—for many years have vigorously proclaimed and defended the biblical doctrine of the Godhead, i.e., that there is but one God (divine essence, nature [cf. Deuteronomy 6:4; James 2:19; John 10:30]), but that the divine nature is possessed by three distinct personalities, known in the New Testament as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19; 2 Corinthians 13:14). Mr. Branch’s charge, therefore, was generated either from insufficient research or, more likely, denominational bias.
That aside, it becomes apparent, from a consideration of “What does Gwen teach regarding the essence of God?”—which appears on her website (www.wdworkshop.com)—that this conscientious lady is confused on several matters of supreme importance.
(1) Mrs. Shamblin says that “the Churches of Christ denomination do not teach members about the Trinity”.
Faithful congregations of Christ are not a part of any denomination; genuine disciples of the Lord eschew the denominational concept, acknowledging that the sectarian disposition is opposed to Jesus’ petition for unity (John 17:20ff) and to apostolic instruction (1 Corinthians 1:10ff).
However, as noted above, gospel preachers do teach a scriptural concept of the sacred Godhead.
(2) The Nashville lady has a misunderstanding of the spiritual gifts discussed in 1 Corinthians 12-14. She apparently believes that she has been granted certain “gifts of wisdom, of knowledge, and of understanding.” She contends that she just wanted to be a dietitian, but “God had different plans” for her. She gets very close to suggesting that deity communicates with her personally.
But the fact is, the gifts detailed in these chapters are miraculous in nature, conveying an infallible ability to communicate the gospel. Such supernatural powers are no longer extant (1 Corinthians 13:8-10). (See our article Miracles.)
Furthermore, with all due respect, it is apparent that Mrs. Shamblin does not possess supernatural intellectual gifts.
(3) While Gwen happily acknowledges the deity of Christ, she entertains some definite confusion regarding the Lord.
For example, she denies that the term “Jehovah” can ever be applied to Christ. She does not understand that the name Jehovah is simply an appellation which suggests the eternal, self-existing nature of deity (cf. Exodus 3:14), and that the prophets applied the name to the coming Messiah (Isaiah 44:6, ASV).
Compare Isaiah 40:3 with Matthew 3:3, and see John 8:58. This is a point no serious Bible student disputes.
(4) Mrs. Shamblin raises the question: “Is Jesus a created being?”
She hesitates to answer the question directly, but she clearly leaves the impression that she believes that Christ, as the “firstborn,” the “begotten by God,” the “Son of God,” was not eternal.
What does this statement mean: “God was, then the Son (firstborn), and then together they made heaven and earth”? (emphasis added). The double use of “then” clearly implies chronological sequence. The truth is, the divine Word who became flesh existed eternally (Micah 5:2; John 1:1; 8:58). The term “firstborn,” as applied to Jesus (Colossians 1:15), does not have to do with chronological order. The word is used in the sense of primacy, and has no reference in this context to commencement of being. As one scholar has noted: “The point, then, is not that Christ is the first creature. . . . What is stated is Christ’s supremacy over creation as its mediator” (Michaelis 1985, 968).
I have dealt with this matter extensively in my booklet, Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Doctrine of the Deity of Christ.
It is a sad tragedy that this woman, who obviously is very sincere about wanting to serve the Lord, has drifted into areas of biblical discussion that are quite beyond her area of expertise.
We pray that some experienced teacher will have the opportunity to take Dave and Gwen Shamblin aside and teach them the way of Christ more precisely (Acts 18:26).
Moreover, we wish the same on behalf of Mr. Craig Branch.
- Kennedy, John W. and Todd Starns. 2000. Gwen in the Balance. Christianity Today, October 23.
- Michaelis. 1985. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament – Abridged. G. W. Bromiley, ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
About the Author
Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.