10 Questions with Rick Warren

The preacher, AIDS activist and author talks about his diet book, his son's suicide and Christmas parties

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The Daniel Plan, your first book in 10 years, is a diet book. Isn't weight loss sort of an earthly concern for someone in your profession?
In the '90s I wrote a book called The Purpose Driven Church, which is about church health. In the 2000s I wrote The Purpose Driven Life, which is about spiritual health. This book is even more foundational. I noticed that many people want to make changes in their lives but don't have the energy to do it. If we can get people's energy up, then maybe they'd be able to work on their marriage, finances, career and the things they care about.

A new year is coming up. If you could get people to change one thing, what would it be?
I'd get them to stop believing everything they think. We lie to ourselves more than anybody else. Jesus said the truth will set you free — but first it makes you miserable.

As a guy who likes the Christ part of Christmas, how do you feel about Rockin' Santa?
I'm not opposed to the party parts of Christmas. Actually, I think the three purposes of Christmas are found in the three statements we get at the first Christmas. The angel says, "I bring you good news of great joy. Unto you is born this day a Saviour. And peace on earth, goodwill toward men." I call this celebration, salvation and reconciliation. Christmas is a party. You gotta party.

Do you prefer Christmas or Easter?

Oh, that's a cop-out.
Absolutely both. There would be no Easter without Christmas, but there would be no point in Christmas if there weren't Easter.

Your church wanted to empty Rwanda's orphanages by 2014. Why?
In 1994, when the genocide hit, it left 1 million orphans in a nation of 10 million people. If I were to give you a list of 25 things to do with orphans, an orphanage would be No. 25. It's better to give money to an aunt who could take in two more kids if she were able to support them financially. We are now down to fewer than 1,800 orphans in Rwanda in orphanages.

Did your son Matthew's suicide make you rethink the purpose-drivenness of life?
No. What it made me rethink was how much our biology affects our personality. My wife was pregnant, and she got some kind of disease that left a rash on her body and left her crippled. Kay lived. Matthew lived. But Matthew struggled with mental illness his entire life.

What would you say to parents who have a kid like Matthew?
Today people don't even know where to get help. Since the Reagan Administration, our government has systematically been spending less on mental-health care. There's one-tenth the number of psychiatric beds than there were 30 years ago.

Rob Bell has suggested Christians put too much emphasis on hell. Do you agree?
Absolutely not. Most don't even talk about it.

Do you think the church has lost the same-sex-marriage fight?
I'm going to pass on that. I don't know.

At what age would you like to die?
I've already lived such a blessed life. I could die right now a happy man. If Matthew could talk to me from heaven — which I don't believe is possible — he'd say, Dad, you were wrong. It's so much cooler than you imagined, and I can't wait for you to get here.