Oprah’s Gospel: Good Questions, Wrong Answer, Part 2
Ask Oprah Winfrey and she’ll tell you she’s a Christian, yet she’s joined with a self-described spiritual guide in releasing not only a book but a weekly internet course and millions are participating. I’m Charles Morris and welcome to Haven Today where we tell the great story that’s all about Jesus. Stay with me. These next few minutes are important. We’ll be joined by a biblical scholar who has studied the spirituality of Oprah for years. You need to hear what he has to say. So don’t go away for this program called, “Oprah’s Gospel: Good Questions, Wrong Answer”. And then after the program I’ll tell you how to get a special CD that covers, from a biblical perspective, what we’re talking about. Now let’s begin. Joel Engel leads us to sing to Jesus with his song, “I Believe in You”.
Song: I Believe In You
performed by: Joel Engel
This is Haven Today and we are having a special guest as we are talking about Oprah’s Gospel. We did it yesterday, we’re doing it today and here at Biola University I’m in the office of theologian, systematic and biblical Dr. Eric Tonnas. Eric, welcome to the program.
ET: Thank you Charles, it’s good to be here.
CM: 2 hours ago I was on a plane and I got off the plane and drove to your office. The woman sitting right across the aisle from me had a book. It was a new book, “The New Earth” and it was by Eckhart Tolle. And we talked about him in the last time together. Let me just ask you, as I was watching this woman with her journal, she was making copious notes, she was obviously interested in it, studying it. I got the sense she was studying and preparing for the next Monday night course in the internet that Oprah’s conducting with Eckhart Tolle. Why are millions of people buying a book like this new book?
ET: Well, part of me is encouraged to hear that people want something that gives them a sense of meaning, a sense of purpose, something beyond the here and now. So I guess in one sense we can be encouraged by her desire to understand things beyond the 9 to 5 and 70 years and a pension. She’s interested in spiritual things so we can be encouraged by that. But it could also be troubling if we think about exactly what it is that’s going on in Eckhart Tolle’s approach to things which is a very Eastern, very New Age approach to spirituality that really, gives people the ability to maintain complete control over who God is and what he looks like and who he is and what he expects of us. And so there’s something very appealing about an Eastern, New Age approach to God that really allows us to, as in the garden, return to good and evil and give us a sense of connection to power and to the spiritual realm but still maintain the kind of spiritual control we want.
Cm: One of the reasons Eric I wanted to have you on the program is because one, you’re a professor of biblical theology, systematic theology. Secondly, you’ve actually made a study of Oprah, and some of what she’s said, some of what she’s written over the past several years not just in relationship to this new book. The third thing also is that you’re a pastor. Now, you’ve heard a little sound bite of Oprah talking about an experience in her 20s and how she, in a Baptist church, was with the pastor all the way until he said, “God is a jealous God.” And she said, “I can’t buy that. God is love.” Now when you hear that as a theologian and as a pastor, what goes through your mind?
ET: Oh, I’m so thankful that God is a jealous God and it’s because I see his jealousy as something that grows out of his love. And anyone who’s ever been in any kind of romantic relationship can understand jealousy. Now the difficult thing is we often experience jealousy in a very ungodly way. It can often be unwarranted, or expressed in ungodly ways. But when we say God is jealous as he clearly does for instance in Exodus 34 when he tells his people to have no other gods before him and the reason he gives is because he says, “My name is Jealous and I am a jealous God,” which means he is intensely concerned with our faithfulness, that we recognize him for who he is, that we see him as the great and glorious God that he is and we respond with lives of faithfulness and obedience and love for him. He loves us so much that he loves us with a jealous love. He uses the metaphor of a marriage to describe the kind of relationship he has with his people. And rather than be something that repels us that’s something that should overwhelm us with how much God really loves us. It breaks my heart actually, to hear Oprah Winfrey say that she doesn’t believe God really cares what she calls it or what she thinks about it or what she does. But the reality is God loves us so much he cares deeply about our response to who he is and that we know him as he is. And so I would love to be able to sit down with Oprah Winfrey. And she’s influential for very good reasons: she’s winsome and bright and has overcome great obstacles in her life. There’s much to admire in Oprah Winfrey. And I don’t think there’s anyone who is more influential in popular culture than Oprah Winfrey. But I would love to be able to sit down and talk with her about the biblical understanding of the jealous love of God which is one of the most wonderful things we can ever think about. He pursues us in that jealous love even when we’re unfaithful to him. And any husband or wife understands this. Any husband or wife who isn’t jealous in the face of unfaithfulness of their spouse really doesn’t love that spouse at all. God loves us so much that he loves us with a jealous love. Augustine said, “What am I to you God that you would command me to love you and threaten great miseries if I don’t?” He was overwhelmed by the jealous love of God. And it’s one of the best things we can ever think about.
CM: Obviously Oprah is wanting to draw a distinction between God being a jealous God and God being a God of love but the scripture says both. And thank you. And I should mention to our listeners, you’ve actually written an entire book on the jealousy of God so you’ve thought about this a lot. But as I mentioned a few moments ago, you’ve also thought a lot about Oprah and in a sense she is a theologian. In a sense she is a pastor who’s well received and millions of people are going to her website for this every Monday night “non-Bible Bible Study” if I could put it that way. As you’ve tracked Oprah for several years – I know you even share some of what she says with your students. Do you mind just kind of recounting for us just one little snippet that’s not what we heard on our last program together but what she’s been saying a long time?
ET: I’m actually thankful for how interested she is in spiritual things and in what she calls God, even though she may define that very differently because she defines it according to her experience and not dependent upon God’s revelation of himself. But over the years it’s been fascinating to watch her understanding of spiritual things, having been raised in a Christian environment. As she says she was raised Baptist and had a pretty traditional understanding of God but was really turned off by that. And she says, “Why would an all powerful God, why would an omnipotent God care what I think about it?” And she assumes that has to be a petty jealousy or a jealousy based in insecurity – which it often is in human experience but that’s never true of God. God wants us to be in touch with reality in regard to who he is and be in relationship with him accordingly. What do we hate more than anything else? It’s when we’re misunderstood, when people misrepresent us. We hate that as much as anything else! Yet there can be an idea that God’s above that, God’s beyond that. And it’s not that God‘s insecure or petty. It’s that he really wants us to have a relationship with him based on reality, based on who he is not who we may want to create him to be or invent him to be. So her way of understanding God is based on a method that allows us to use whatever word we want, fill it up with whatever meaning we want. I’ve heard her tell a woman who claimed to be an atheist she wasn’t an atheist because she believed in love. And if she believed in love she believes in God, it doesn’t matter what you call it and basically you can fill up whatever meaning you want into words and it doesn’t matter. Well, this atheist, in one of the segments I’ve seen argues with her and says, “Well, why call it God?” And Oprah says, “Call it whatever you want. It doesn’t matter.” And so there’s this theological method, if you will, that gives each of us permission to define God however we want. And actually Oprah can get very frustrated with people who don’t realize we can make God up as we go. And once we get to that understanding she and Eckhart Tolle believe that that’s where we’ll have enlightenment and where they say they move beyond beliefs and move beyond reason and we can be entrapped by our beliefs – which by the way, is a belief – and they call us to move beyond our thinking. Well, they’re calling us to think a particular way. So there’s an inherent incoherence and irrationality in this approach to knowing God that we need to be able to recognize as incoherent and even though it may sound profound, it’s patently making no sense whatsoever. So I think it’s important for us to call that out and say, “What do you mean by that? You’ve got to define that. And where are you getting this information?” And sometimes we’ll be laughed at for wanting explanations for things and we’ll be called in bondage to our Western enlightenment rationalism when all we want is good reasons to believe what people are calling us to believe, especially when what we’re being called to believe is that beliefs don’t matter. That’s troubling. So there’s a method that is inherently incoherent and self-contradictory which leads to an impersonal god, a god who doesn’t have definite personal characteristics. And so the only god we’re really allowed to believe in is one that is indefinable in any objective way and allows me to be in the driver’s seat. And it makes me think of the Garden of Eden, the basic problem of humanity, that we call sin that resulted in the fall. And that is human beings deciding that I will determine what is good and what is evil and I don’t give that right to God anymore. I even define what God is like for myself and so there is a method that leads to an impersonal god. And the god of Eastern religions, which is really ultimately pantheism, that all is god, is the only god that is really allowable. Once you believe in a God who has personal qualities and can be described in meaningful ways and where you can say things that are actually wrong about him, once you believe in that sort of God, that’s impermissible. And so this method leads to a god who is impersonal, doesn’t have personal qualities and then cannot be related to personally. And so it brings me deep sadness to see that people find an impersonal god attractive because I don’t believe that’s the kind of god we really want and really need and that God really is and that he has given us a desire to know him as he really is which means we have a God that’s personal that we can call Father, that loves us, that sent his Son to die for us, that redeems us, that adopts us into his family, that we pray to, that hears our prayers, that isn’t just a vague force out there. That’s not the kind of God we ultimately want.
CM: Eric, I’m listening to Eckhart Tolle with Oprah. Eckhart says he just had to write this book because this transcendent consciousness, he calls it life, Oprah says, “Well, it’s what I call God,” but he says this consciousness tells him to come to the West Coast of the United States, San Francisco, because that’s where the spiritual forces are at their highest, he’s to empty his mind and he’s to then write his first book, “The Power of One” which was a best seller and sold millions. Then, now, he’s told to engage his mind a little bit. This conscious force tells him he has to come back to the West Coast, this time to Vancouver, and he writes this new book. When I hear someone talking about that, that is not what I’m reading in the scriptures about God. As a theologian, as a biblical scholar, what are you hearing when you hear a New Age teacher like Eckhart Tolle speak in those terms, that kind of language?
ET: I hear a total lack of accountability or submission to anything outside of ourselves. As Christians we believe God has revealed himself to us in his Word fundamentally that points us to the definitive revelation of self in Christ. And it’s that we submit our lives to. But this very mystical, very subjective approach, all bets are off on being able to really critique these ideas. Who gets to really stand in judgment of these ideas when this is how we come to truth? The problem with that is, that leaves us entirely unable to pass judgment on anyone’s ideas. If it’s just about my getting in touch with something entirely internal in particular places, well then how in the world are we able to tell a terrorist they’re wrong? How are we able to pass any value judgments on anybody’s definition of truth? So it’s deeply concerning when we get to make up truth and we’re not accountable to anything outside of ourselves. And so, the mystical approach to things really leads to self-deification. We get to determine what’s right and wrong and we deeply need God to tell us that. If we look at Hebrews we can see that the writer of Hebrews tells us that we need the solid food that is for the mature who have had their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. We need God to tell us what’s true. We need him to tell us who he is. Left to ourselves we will fall into all sorts of folly. When Jesus and the prophets would get on the religious leaders often they would say, “You call evil good and good evil. You don’t have the ability to discern the difference between those two.” God has told us what is true and we flee to him for that discernment and that understanding of what’s right and wrong. And so when we just go to particular places and seek enlightenment in ourselves, calling it whatever we want, it opens the door for anything to be true.
CM: If you just joined u s, you’re listening to Haven Today and Dr. Eric Tonnas from Biola University and the Talbot Graduate School of Theology is on with us and we’re just talking about Oprah’s gospel. Eric, this new book out by Eckhart Tolle, Eckhart makes the statement “we are all one.” Now I hear that as a Christian and I think, “Well the scriptures say that we’re all one in the Spirit if we’re in Christ.” But he’s, again back to this idea, I hear spiritual talk but I’m not in my heart and mind hearing this to be holy spiritual talk from the scriptures. It’s coming from somewhere else.
ET: We so need deeply need biblical discernment to wade through these things because so many words are being used and many of them are “Christian words”, biblical words being filled with very different meaning. So, to say we are all one? Well, we all believe as Christians that every human being is equally human, and we share a commonality in our humanity that gives us that identity as humans. But to say all are one, if it’s being said in an Eastern sense it really means that there’s no difference between humans and animals and plants or anything else. And “all are one” really can be very hard to understand. I find myself constantly wanting to ask, “What do you mean by that? Can you define that for me and where do you get this idea?” We believe God’s told us what is true and to throw out profound sounding things like “all are one” without clearly defining it can be very confusing. My concern is that we have the biblical discernment to see things that don’t cohere with a Christian world view according to the scriptures so we are able to see through things like “all are one”. And one of the major things we realize as we see that God created us is that there is a distinction between God and his creation, that there is a distinction between what he has made and himself and we don’t lump God in with creation and end up with a pantheism where there’s no difference between God and creation. We realize that creation is made by God for his glory and we’re accountable to him for the way we steward life he’s given us so I just keep wanting to ask, “What do you mean by that?”
CM: Eric, I just happen to know you’ve spent a lot of time in India and you’ve heard, and you’ve been around those who are into Eastern religion. I guess what I’m hearing is that’s what’s coming into the United States, into Canada, where most of our listeners are, and that’s not biblical. It’s not really Christ-centered, it’s a whole different religious system isn’t it?
ET: It sure is and even though often the same words will be used like “god” something entirely different is being meant by these things and so we need to realize that and have the biblical discernment that helps us to do that. When I talk to people who come from Eastern religions I try to talk about the fact that God is a personal God and that he’s created us to have a relationship as persons with a God who’s personal that we’re able to call “Father” and he calls us his sons and daughters. And that’s our deepest desire, to know God as he is, which is as a God we can call “Father” and who calls us his children and who actually compares his relationship with us to a marriage. And so, I don’t believe deep down human beings will ever be satisfied with a relationship with force, a relationship with a power. So whenever I talk to someone from Eastern religions I hope they’re able to recognize this deep desire God has given every human being, this void he’s given us to know him as he is, as our Father who sent his Son to die for us. And ultimately, the description we have of Christ in Colossians is so powerful where it says, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created in Heaven and on earth, invisible and visible whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities, all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things and in him all things hold together.” What a picture of Jesus! That we see that he is the Sovereign Supreme God of the universe and God has definitively defined himself in his Son who’s taken on human flesh. We can recognize who God is most clearly in Christ. And he’s the God of all. He is the God of Oprah, of Eckhart Tolle, of you and me, of everyone and everything. And he is the one to whom every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that he is God to the glory of God and so to recognize Christ as the revelation of God, you know Hebrews says, “in the fullness of time, God has sent his Son.” To go to Christ for our understanding of God is where we must go if we’re ever going to know God as he is.
CM: Eric, I want to thank you for being with us and I guess what I’m hearing is there is a Jesus that we can invent but that’s not the true Jesus. And as we close would you mind leading us in prayer to the One True Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Son of Man who came to save?
ET: Heavenly Father, we thank you that you have created us, and we thank you that you have revealed yourself to us. You have not left us to ourselves to figure out who you are. We’re thankful for that gracious provision of revelation in your Word. We pray that you would give us discernment from your Word to know you as you are. Lord you tell us that the wise man shouldn’t boast of his wisdom, nor the rich man of his riches and the powerful man of his power but the only thing worth boasting about is that we know you and know you as the God who is loving and gracious and kind and Lord we pray that we would know you as are. Lord I pray for Oprah Winfrey. I pray that this bright woman who is so gifted in so many ways, who is so interested in spiritual things would be guided by the Spirit and the Word of God that she’s heard in her life to truth, to understanding who you are as you are and use her great influence for good, to point people to the One True God and the only Savior Jesus Christ. Lord we pray for this movement that could have such detrimental effect on so many lives and how people think. We pray that you would be revealing truth to people who have interest in spiritual things, and Lord lead them to Jesus, we ask. And we pray he would be exalted and glorified and we pray this in his name, amen.
CM: Thanks Eric. Dr. Eric Tonnas. He’s taught at Wheaton, now at Biola University and I deeply appreciate his looking, in a loving way, at the teaching of Oprah and Eckhart Tolle and relating that to what the Bible teaches. Here on this program we’re all about the True Jesus and not a Jesus of our own invention. If you’d like a CD with 2 Haven Today programs looking into the latest spiritual teachings of Oprah, just give us a call at 1-800-654-2836, that’s 1-800-654-2836. Or just, if you’d like, go to our website, our address is haventoday.org, that’s one word, h.a.v.e.n.t.o.d.a.y, haventoday.org. We ask for your financial support in sending you this very timely CD. Be sure and let us know the station you’re listening to also when you get in touch. I need to also mention that we have 2 books by Sally Lloyd-Jones, “The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every story whispers his name”, nothing more needs to be said with a book by that name! We also have Sally’s book for younger children, “Tiny Bear’s Bible”. We have both in stock as our thank you for making your gift to the ministry. Thanks also to everyone who has ordered multiple copies to put in the hands of others. We exist to serve you in the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ so thank you for saying “Yes” and making the true Jesus, the true Christ known to a desperate and needy world. I’m Charles Morris and thanks for being with me and Eric Tonnas. Come back again next time when again we’ll be telling the great story about the true Jesus and we’ll do it together here on Haven Today.
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