Oprah and TV Spirituality

By Stuart Briscoe (“Oprah! You May Not Know Her As Well As You Think”)

Atlantic Monthly, in a recent article, asked today’s 20-something’s questions about the Ten Commandments. On average they didn’t know more than two of them, but they didn’t like “Honor Thy Father and Mother” or “Remember the Sabbath Day to Keep it Holy.” They said they preferred “Thou Shalt Not Drink and Drive” and “Thou Shalt Love the Environment.” When asked if they thought a revision would be a good idea and, if so, who should oversee the revision, the resounding answer was – Oprah Winfrey.

Now if you have spent the last 20 years in hiding somewhere, you may not be familiar with Oprah, so let me bring you up to date. She was born a little more than fifty years ago to unmarried teenage parents in a poverty stricken part of Mississippi. Poor, black, and female, her opportunities in life were limited. Raised by her grandmother, she attended church regularly and participated in church activities with great poise and ability. Upon returning to live with her mother in Milwaukee, Wis., however, her teenage years were wild and full of abuse. Her father, who lived elsewhere, stepped in, imposed a rigid discipline including school work and regular reading, and Oprah began to blossom. 
At 19, she burst into the media world. In a remarkably short time, The Oprah Winfrey Show was breaking records in the tough Chicago market. The rest, as they say, is history. Today, she is probably the highest paid entertainer in the business; her abilities as producer, performer, director, writer, promoter, and philanthropist are legendary. TIME magazine listed her in 2006 as one of the 100 most influential people in the world.
 Her television program, voted the number one talk show for more than 20 consecutive seasons, reaches 46 million people weekly and is released in 134 foreign countries. Her magazine, XM Radio show, and website reach millions more, not to mention her book club that only has to mention a book to send sales rocketing over one million. Oprah is a huge success in her wide and varied fields of endeavor!

But a strange thing has been happening to Oprah. Over a period of years, she has developed a warm friendship with Marianne Williamson, author of a book called “A Return to Love – Reflections on the Principles of ‘A Course in Miracles’.”  This “course” was purportedly scribed years previously by Dr. Helen Schucman through a process of inner dictation by a “voice” she identified as coming from Jesus. Williamson became a regular on Oprah’s show and gradually the talk turned more and more to the material contained in the “Course in Miracles” until it was recently announced that the course would be taught on the Oprah & Friends XM Radio Channel in daily segments for 365 days throughout 2008. This course, being made available to millions of people in the U.S. and around the world, announces clearly on its web page, “Even though the language of the course is that of traditional Christianity, it expresses a non-sectarian, non-denominational spirituality. A Course in Miracles therefore is a universal spiritual teaching, not a religion.” Non-sectarian and non-denominational it certainly is, but is it non-Christian too? Judge for yourself. The course literature states, “The course can be summed up this way: Nothing real can be threatened, Nothing unreal exists, Herein lies the peace of God.” Among other things, the course teaches that “The recognition of God is the recognition of yourself,” “God’s Name is holy, but no holier than yours. To call upon His Name is to call upon your own,” and “There is no sin.”

If that leaves you a little mystified, you’re not alone. A quick perusal of the 365 lessons reveals that the object of the course is mind training, leading to thought reversal, which means unthinking everything you’ve thought and believed thus far, and embracing what the course teaches. And what does it teach as it uses biblical terminology and totally reinterprets the terms to mean on occasion the opposite to the original biblical meaning? It rehashes elements of first and second century Gnosticism, teaches New Age emphases, overtly rejects the fundamentals of the Christian faith concerning Christ as Savior and Lord and the meaning and means of salvation, redefines the work of the Holy Spirit, and remains ominously silent on fundamental subjects like sin and repentance. Oprah seems to have embraced all of this and is now actively propagating it. Capitalizing on her enviable reputation, marshalling her vast resources, and mobilizing her undeniable communication skills, she has enthusiastically committed herself to an endeavor that Williamson claims is not only the key “to changing one’s personal life” but is the “key to changing the world.” 
Should there be any remaining doubt about what has happened to Oprah, an incident on A New Earth web seminar on March 3, 2008 sheds interesting light. A caller, noting Oprah’s emphasis on New Age teaching, asked her why she has departed from the Christianity of her Mississippi youth. Oprah candidly answered that she began to get out of the box of biblical doctrine in her late twenties when her pastor was preaching the characteristics of God. When he said that “The Lord, thy God is a jealous God, she turned away from Him, thinking that if He was jealous of her (a total misunderstanding!) she had no desire to follow Him. Tragic as this misunderstanding and its aftermath for Oprah undoubtedly are, the fallout from her missionary zeal to take her new message (she calls it “my greatest purpose and calling”) to the world cannot be measured.

Why am I bringing this to your attention? Because at the same time I was becoming aware of this dramatically significant event taking place under our very noses, I met some women who were Oprah fans and who clearly had no understanding of what she was teaching. At the same time I was teaching from Paul’s Second Letter to Timothy, a letter containing the warnings of an aged apostle to a young pastor concerning dangerous trends he should expect in his day. It is clear the apostle was addressing following generations, such as ours.

One of the trends he talked about focused on the work of false teachers who, coming from a Christian background and claiming to have received special enlightenment, “worm their way into homes and gain control over weak-willed women,” (now don’t jump ship yet, we all struggle with having the strength and will to make right choices) “who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth” (2 Tim. 3: 6-7). OUCH!! We need to be aware of those around us who are confused yet hungering to know, but are unwilling to call truth, truth. All of the adjectives describing women in this passage ─ in other versions “gullible women” is used – are very displeasing to our intellectual palates. Paul actually used the term “little women” which probably meant women who were vulnerable because of moral and intellectual shortcomings. Another unflattering label, but the point is that deception abounds and many women were the targets of the teachers and their attractive but dangerously wrong message in the first century and they are the ones who in my view are vulnerable today.

We should ask ourselves some pertinent questions here. Are there any women watching television each afternoon who are so inadequately versed in biblical truth that they are very vulnerable to well-produced, expertly presented alternative views? Yes! Are many of them “loaded down” with depression and guilt even if they do not relate their problems to sin, either theirs or someone else’s? Do they know they’re burdened? Yes! Are they being fed a regular diet of moral relativity on the soaps that confuses them about desire and longing and its satisfaction? Yes! Are they eager to learn about spirituality that doesn’t lead to the truth of life in the Spirit, the essence of biblical spirituality? Yes!

Here’s the crux of the issue. Millions of women (the vast majority of Oprah’s listeners are women) are being introduced to a spirituality that uses the language of Christianity that intentionally neuters the truth of that language – a spirituality that is at fundamental odds with the historic biblical faith. The gospel of our Lord Jesus is being misrepresented and women are being misinformed and misled. And the women of the church need to be aware and concerned. So what can they do? First, Christian women should pray for Oprah. Sadly, I have never met Oprah, but one can only admire what she has achieved and applaud many aspects of her life. However, we must fear for her spiritual well-being and be concerned about her vast influence.

Secondly, the women of the church should acquaint themselves with the mind altering that is taking place in the lives of many of their relatives, associates, and friends and redouble their efforts to provide loving, caring, informed, neighborly ministry to many of their gender who are eagerly learning without acknowledging the truth. 
Oprah’s magazine is called O. Its title reminds me to say “O Oprah!” with a genuine heartfelt concern for her and the women she is influencing.

Used by permission from Just Between Us Magazine

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