Josh McDowell and Dave Sterrett: Thinking Critically about Oprah’s Spirituality
- Whitney Von Lake Hopler Crosswalk.com contributing writer
- 2009 3 Oct
Oprah Winfrey reaches millions of viewers every weekday through her popular TV talk show, and even more through her magazine and other parts of her vast media empire. She often discusses a topic she says is close to her heart - spirituality - and proclaims her Christian faith. Known for her acts of kindness and generosity to people in need, Oprah says she's passionate about serving God. But Oprah's idea of God is far different than the One the Bible reveals.
So well-known apologist and best-selling author Josh McDowell and his coauthor Dave Sterrett of Probe Ministries International have written the new book "O" God: A Dialogue on Truth and Oprah's Spirituality to help Christians learn how to discern what's true and what's not in Oprah's powerfully influential teachings.
"Oprah is probably one of the most influential people in the world," McDowell says. "She's a class act with a phenomenal personality, and I commend her for doing so many good projects to help others, even though I disagree with what she teaches. What I'm trying to do is not turn people against Oprah, but get them to think about their faith so that they discover what's really true, rather than just giving into whatever views are most popular in the culture."
Oprah's spiritual views make people feel good about themselves, says Sterrett, so they're naturally appealing. But focusing on feelings without thinking through beliefs can lead people dangerously astray, he adds. "A lot of Christians basically go off their feelings. They ask what feels good to them in their own lives. But we're not saved by our feelings. We're saved by a knowledge of the true God."
By helping readers see the difference between the Bible's teachings and Oprah's message, Sterrett says, he hopes the book will inspire Christians to "reason and think about the things that really matter."
"O" God: A Dialogue on Truth and Oprah's Spirituality presents the issues in the form of a conversation between two female graduate students - one a Christian, the other a seeker - who develop a stronger friendship as they discuss faith. "In that dialogue, there's an example for readers to learn from about how to discuss these issues in their everyday conversations," says Sterrett.
When Oprah discusses spiritual issues, McDowell says, she's reflecting views that are already prevalent in our culture. "Oprah is not creating the culture. She's simply manifesting it. She's giving a voice to what appeals to people."
Those popular spiritual views are unfortunately at odds with biblical truth, says McDowell. For example, Oprah says that as a Christian, she's following just one of many other valid paths to God, and that people who hold any kind of sincere religious beliefs can be saved. But the Bible clearly states that people can only connect to God through a relationship with Jesus. Oprah also claims that people can find spiritual power by getting in touch with their inner selves. But, as McDowell points out, "Jesus says, ‘You shall know the truth' - not get in touch with your inner self - and the truth will set you free. Christians aren't people who have gotten in touch with their inner selves, but those who actually have Christ living inside of them through the Holy Spirit."
Oprah also reflects the common American practice of choosing whatever beliefs seem most attractive and leaving the rest, Sterrett says. "We're concerned that so many believers take ideas from our culture and blend them with their Christianity without thinking about them. It's kind of like a salad bar. You can just pick and choose whatever you want."
But, cautions McDowell: "Truth, instead of being created, is discovered."
"O" God: A Dialogue on Truth and Oprah's Spirituality explains how the popular cultural view Oprah accepts - that truth is relative - actually doesn't make sense. Just as soon as Oprah says that a belief in absolute truth can't be true, she contradicts herself, McDowell says, because she's declaring that her view against absolute truth is absolutely right. "Oprah says that we should stand against doctrine, but what she teaches is doctrine - a set of her own beliefs."
The fact that different people have different beliefs doesn't change the reality that absolute truth exists for all people, says Sterrett. "You can believe something and be positive about it, but if that belief doesn't reflect reality, it won't have any positive implications in your life - only negative."
In contrast, McDowell says, Christians should develop convictions rooted in biblical truths, which hold up even under the closest scrutiny. "A biblical conviction has three dimensions to it: knowing what you believe, knowing why you believe it, and experiencing it in your life."
Often, in our culture, Christians who declare their faith in absolute truth are criticized and ridiculed for being intolerant of other people's views. McDowell suggests: "You can say to them: ‘Are you being tolerant by calling me intolerant?'"
Although tolerance is touted as a virtue in our culture, says McDowell, it's not always good. "If you're tolerant, than you're accepting of everything - sex abuse, violence - everything."
Sterrett says: "Sometimes intolerance can be a great thing. For example, I'm thankful that Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was intolerant toward racism. And even Oprah expresses intolerance, such as toward abuse between men and women."
The best way to express love toward others isn't by being tolerant, Sterrett says; it's by telling them truth that has the power to help them. "A lot of people want to hear the positive part of the Gospel - that God loves us - but they don't want to hear the part that says we're sinners who need a Savior. But sin is real," he says. "Real love doesn't just tell people what they want to hear. It involves having the courage to tell people the truth, because not doing that can hurt them. People who really love others care enough about them to tell them the truth - even when that's not what they want to hear."
Sterrett hopes that "O" God: A Dialogue on Truth and Oprah's Spirituality will motivate readers to tell others the whole truth about God. "Don't just say ‘God loves you' and leave it at that. Share the whole Gospel message with people so they'll know how to connect with God."
October 3, 2009