A Look at Oprah Winfrey's Religion

Oprah Church will give you a look at the religion fostered and proclaimed by this influential television personality.

QUESTION: We hear a lot about "Oprah's church" these days. What do you think about it?

ANSWER: I have received comments and questions from various ones about Oprah Winfrey's religious proclamations. They have been shown (and sensationalized) on YouTube, and described elsewhere. Let me state my position up front: Her views are unbiblical and dangerous.

Here are some further observations, mainly based on comments she has made on her television show and her website. The article will deal with what Oprah Winfrey believes and teaches: about God, about the Bible, and about eternal salvation? We will also take a look at the mind altering techniques she prescribes?

To begin with, as has been pointed out regarding other issues, it is not what I think on the subject that matters. The purpose of the newsletter and the website is to examine in the light of the Scriptures questions that are raised. What we need to ask is: What does the Bible say that is relevant?

First, a bit of background. Oprah Gail Winfrey was born in 1954, and was named after a Bible character in the book of Ruth (Orpah, accidentally misspelled). Ruth and Orpah were sisters-in-law, Moabite women who married Hebrew men. While Ruth left behind her heathen heritage and joined herself to the people of God, Orpah returned to her people and her idols when her husband died (Ruth 1:1-17). Some may see an ironic application of that to Oprah's spiritual drift.

Oprah Winfrey began developing her own unique talk-show style over 20 years ago in Chicago. Now in her mid-fifties, her talent and drive have made her a billionaire. Not only is she the most successful talk show host in television history, but she has become a media mogul, an actress and film producer, a publisher, a philanthropist, and more. At its best her daily (week-day) show has been able to entertain and inform, making people (especially women) feel good about themselves. At its worst, it is something else again.

The question above relates to the TV host's growing endorsement and promotion of anti-Christian teaching. To consider that, it will be helpful to summarize a few New Age beliefs. As we proceed, you will see that these are the very things Oprah is espousing. This philosophy is based aspects of Eastern mysticism, Hinduism and paganism. It has no authoritative holy book of its own, but makes use of selected passages from the Bible and the books of other religions.

New Agers desire to see world peace and unity built around their New Age religion. To them, everything and everyone is "God." He (it) is an impersonal force, not a person. They deny Christ's deity, and reject the Bible's teaching that He died to save us. (They also deny the reality of sin.) They assert that Jesus is actually a New Age "ascended master," who has tapped into the divine power within, as any of us can do.

"Salvation" for them is a growing awareness of our inner divinity and "Christ consciousness." We can gain this through meditation, hypnosis, channeling, and other means. They use terms such as being "reborn," but not in the biblical sense. They say human beings will be reincarnated until they reach oneness with the divine force. There is no resurrection, no heaven or hell.

Oprah's own spiritual pilgrimage apparently began in a Baptist church where her father was a deacon–a church she faithfully attended when she was young. But her lack of understanding of the Scriptures, and input from others who reject the Bible outright, have led her further and further away from the truth.

Increasingly, over the past few years, she has been involved in what one critic has labeled the "Oprahfication of religion," becoming a kind of unofficial high priestess of what she thinks of as a new spiritual awakening. ("Our mission statement for The Oprah Winfrey Show is to use television to transform peoples' lives.") But what she has in mind is as different as night and day from the spiritual awakenings in which John and Charles Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, and others were involved over two centuries ago.

This is an "awakening" through New Age indoctrination. And it is deadly. Deadly because it involves gross error. Error that will leave deluded seekers bound in sin and in danger of eternal judgment. And deadly because Miss Winfrey has the skill, the popularity, and the media platform to promote it effectively.

Oprah has a huge audience of dedicated followers, prone to take her word as gospel concerning just about anything. Her show is broadcast in 134 countries, and is seen by millions of viewers each week. Her give-aways make the news. Her Book Club selections instantly turn into best-sellers. TIME Magazine declared her one of the 100 most influential people in the world. So, exactly what religion is she peddling? What is "the Church of Oprah"?

The Oprah Church & God
As Oprah tells it, at about the age of 23 she was sitting in church listening to a message about the greatness and majesty of God. But then the speaker added that God is "a jealous God," and that immediately turned her off. "God is jealous of me?" she thought, commenting later, "It didn't feel right."

Since Oprah herself marks this incident as the beginning of her divergence from orthodox Christian teaching, let us start there. The statement that the Almighty is "jealous" is found more than half a dozen times in the Scriptures (Exod. 20:3-5; 34:13-14; Deut. 4:23-24; 5:7-10; 6:14-15; Josh. 24:19-20; Nah. 1:2).

The Hebrew word translated "jealous" (qana) can also be rendered zealous. It refers to a passionate desire to protect something that is in possible jeopardy. As the Bible uses the term, this is not necessarily a bad thing. For example, we are told, "The Lord will be zealous (qana) for His land, and pity His people" (Joel 2:18), speaking of His defense of Israel. And Paul says of the Corinthian church, "I am jealous for you with godly jealousy" (II Cor. 11:2), meaning he is concerned to protect them from error.

Oprah misunderstood. It is not that God is jealous of us, weak creatures that we are. Rather, He has a zeal to defend His own glory. ("I will be jealous for My holy name," Ezek. 39:25.) In most of the above biblical references to God's jealousy, the context deals with idolatry. Our allegiance and worship rightfully belong to God Almighty, since He is the only true and transcendent God (cf. Isa. 45:5, 18, 21-22; 46:9; Jer. 10:10; I Cor. 8:4; I Thess. 1:9).

And, as we have seen, the Lord is not only concerned for His own honour, but for His people's welfare. For them to bow down before impotent gods of wood or stone would not only be folly, but dangerous folly. God has a zealous desire to protect us from what can only cause us harm.

One of Ms Winfrey's New Age gurus is author and New Age lecturer Eckhart Tolle. She quotes with enthusiastic approval his statement that orthodox Christians have merely manufactured a "God" in their own image–that He is a product of our warped imagination. The irony of this claim–obvious to anyone who will stop and think–is that Oprah and her colleagues are guilty of precisely that.

Ms O espouses a version of what is called pantheism–God is in everything and everything is God. For her, God is not "up there." He (or it) is in every person; we have only to seek the divine consciousness or force within. And Oprah remarked to Tolle, "God is a feeling experience, not a believing experience–otherwise it's not truly God." She said, "We are the universe, or the source of all life, the creator, or god." (If that is not remaking God in one's own image, what is?) "We are...god." Whose lie is that (Gen. 3:5; Isa. 14:14)?

That is not what the Bible says. It presents God as the Maker and the supreme Ruler of all in heaven and on earth (Gen. 1:1; Neh. 9:6; Ps. 24:1-2; 33:6, 9; Rev. 4:11). And it declares, "Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him" (Heb. 11:6). It is not a matter of having a feeling about an impersonal "it of some kind. "Have faith in God," Christ said (Mk. 11:22).

The Person of God is presented to us clearly in the Scriptures from beginning to end. "So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Rom. 10:17). Though our finite intellects can never grasp all there is to know about Him, God's inspired revelation has been given so we can learn what we need to know in order to relate to Him and fellowship with Him.

In contrast to what Oprah believes and teaches, here is the Westminster Larger Catechism's definition of God and His attributes (answering Question 7): "God is a Spirit, in and of Himself, infinite in being, glory, blessedness and perfection; all-sufficient, eternal, unchangeable, incomprehensible, everywhere present, almighty, knowing all things, most wise, most holy, most just, most merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth." That statement accurately represents the God of the Bible.

The Oprah Church & the Bible
We can easily see what Oprah thinks of God's Word by the way in which she repeatedly contradicts or twists its teaching. As noted above, Ms Winfrey first rejected what the Bible presents to us because "it didn't feel right." But is that the basis on which we are to evaluate what God has said? No indeed! The kind of messages that tickle people's ears often turn out to be "fables" (II Tim. 4:2-4)!

The key issue here–as with other forms of heresy–is whether or not one believes the Bible to be the inspired and infallible Word of the living God. If it is merely a collection of ancient writings produced by fallible men, then we can do with it as we please. We can cherry-pick (as Oprah does) ideas we happen to like, and discard the rest. Or we can wrest the words from their context, and ignore the intention of the author, making them mean whatever we want.

But once acknowledge that in its entirety the Book is God-breathed (the literal meaning of "given by inspiration of God" in II Tim. 3:16), and we are not left with that alternative. "No prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation [it did not come from the prophets themselves], for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved [borne along] by the Holy Spirit" (II Pet. 1:20-21).

The Lord Jesus declared the Scriptures to be reliable, in the original languages, right down to the letters in each word, and even to the parts of each letter. "One jot [the smallest Hebrew letter] or one tittle [part of a Hebrew letter] will by no means pass from the law until all is fulfilled" (Matt. 5:18). Further, we are repeatedly told that any attempt to add to or subtract from the Word will be judged by a holy God (Deut. 4:2; 12:32; Prov. 30:6; Rev. 22:18-19).

One of the clever techniques practiced by the cults, and by Winfrey and her New Age coterie, is redefinition–taking words that may sound familiar–maybe even Bible words–and giving them a New Age twist. Let us consider a few examples.

Oprah's weekly online seminar based on Eckhart Tolle's book, The New Earth, is extolled as "walking you through a new birth." But what does it mean to be reborn in the biblical sense? Let's take a few moments to think about it. We are both physical and spiritual creatures. Each of us has both a material and immaterial aspect of his being. In fact, there is some evidence that we can think in terms of three interrelated elements. The Bible speaks of our "spirit, soul, and body" (I Thess. 5:23).

Our body gives us world consciousness, through our senses. Our soul gives us self awareness. (The Greek word used is psuche, from which our word "psychology" comes.) And through our spirits we are enabled to be sensitive to and responsive to God. Each of us was born naturally or physically. But we were spiritually stillborn (Ps. 51:5; 58:3). "These are sensual [psuche] persons...not having the Spirit" (Jude 1:19). In this condition, apart from a work of God, we are unable to comprehend the things of God (I Cor. 2:14), and we are in eternal jeopardy.

We need a new kind of birth–a spiritual birth, which comes through faith in Christ. This is part of the work of salvation that happens at conversion (Eph. 2:1) The "new birth" (referred to as being born again or regenerated in Scripture, Jn. 3:7; Tit. 3:5)–which Oprah so cavalierly attaches to her teachings–is a work of the Spirit of God by which new spiritual life is created in the one who puts his faith in Christ. "As many as received Him [Christ], to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God" (Jn. 1:12-13; 3:6). And "unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (Jn. 3:3).

Tolle also misrepresents what it means for believers to serve as lights in the world. He quotes Jesus' words, "You are the light of the world," adding that this means "You are the consciousness in which the world appears–is seen." But Matthew 5:14 has nothing to do with being the consciousness in which the world appears (meaningless New Age bafflegab!).

Light, in Scripture, is used to symbolize a number of things. One is truth, the truth of God's Word (cf. Ps. 119:105). Another is righteousness and holiness. "God is light and in Him is no darkness at all" (I Jn. 1:5), while "men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil" (Jn. 3:19). The gospel of grace also makes use of the light imagery–being called "the light of the gospel" (II Cor. 4:4). "God...has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (vs. 6).

Jesus declared, "I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness but have the light of life" (Jn. 8:12). Christ is the true and original light. He is the source of light–the light of life, and of truth, and true holiness. When we put our faith in Him, we become repositories and reflectors of His light, to the glory of God. We are enabled to shine forth His truth, both in word and in life.

As the Lord Jesus explains, in the context of Matthew 5:14, "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven" (Matt. 5:16). And we are to "shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life [the gospel]" (Phil. 2:15-16). Shining for Him represents the active proclamation and witness to the truth of the gospel of grace.

And what about the New Ager's concept of heaven. Tolle says, "Heaven is not a location, but refers to the inner realm of consciousness." Wrong again. Heaven is not a state of consciousness, but a real place, according to Christ Himself. He says to His followers, "I go to prepare a place for you [not a state of mind]" (Jn. 14:2). And to the dying thief, "Today you will be with Me in Paradise [a Persian word describing a lovely park or garden]" (Lk. 23:43).

Where God's throne is is called "the third heaven" (II Cor. 12:2, 4) which suggests it is just as real as the other two–the atmosphere where clouds form and birds fly, and outer space, the location of planets and stars. It is also called: "the city which has foundations....the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem....[and] the holy city, New Jerusalem" (Heb. 11:10; 12:22; Rev. 21:2). All of that sounds pretty real and concrete!

We can add to these deceptions Oprah's total misconception and misrepresentation of what "spirituality" is. Says Gary Zukav, another of her frequent New Age guests, "Souls that have chosen the physical experience of life as we know it as a path of evolution, have, in general, incarnated their energies many times into many psychological and physical forms. For each incarnation, the soul creates a different personality and body." (Come again?!) As Oprah puts it, "The whole point of being alive is to evolve into the complete person you were intended to be."

Compare this to the comments about our spirit, soul, and body, above. What Ms O is offering is a soulish religion, focused on the betterment of our psychological beings--with a large dose of material prosperity thrown in. But it is devoid of spiritual life. She defines spirituality as "being reminded about the best part of who you are." Notice how centred on the self all of this is.

"Oprah's newly-packaged positive-thinking spirituality is tailor-made for the empty souls of our postmodern age. She promises meaning without truth, acceptance without judgment, and fulfillment without self-denial" (R. Albert Mohler). But the Bible presents us with a life that is God-centred. To be a Christian is to be rightly related to Christ. To be a spiritual Christian is to be rightly related to the Holy Spirit. If we live in the Spirit [through the new birth], let us also walk in the Spirit" (Gal. 5:25; cf. I Cor. 2:12-13; Eph. 5:18).

The Oprah Church & Salvation
What of Oprah Winfrey's beliefs concerning Christ and the gospel of grace? Consider one source of her information on this topic. On her website, another New Age teacher, Marianne Williamson, holds forth regularly in a course on "miracles" (defined by her as "a shift in perception from fear to love"!). Williamson has made such heretical and blasphemous statements as: "My salvation comes from me....My Self is ruler of the universe....There is no sin....Do not make the pathetic error of ‘clinging to the old rugged cross.'" Her pronouncements have received the full endorsement of Miss Winfrey.

The gospel of the saving work of Christ on the cross a "pathetic error"? For shame! We must stand with Paul who says to the Corinthian believers, "I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified" (I Cor. 2:2). And to the Galatians, "God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Gal. 6:14).

Again, let's get back to the Book! "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all" (Isa. 53:6). "Christ died for our sins" (I Cor. 15:3). "In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace" (Eph. 1:7).

Oprah states, "I am a Christian who believes there are certainly many more paths to God other than Christianity....It's a mistake to believe that there's only one way. There are millions of ways to what you call ‘God.'" This is a strange contradiction indeed! By definition, a "Christian" (a Christ-one) is a person who has put his or her faith in Christ for salvation, and has become a follower of Christ.

So, does the Bible leave us with the millions of options Ms Winfrey claims we have? No. In fact the Lord Jesus Himself delineated only two possible "ways," the right way and the wrong way–the path to life and the path to eternal destruction (Matt. 7:13-14). "There is a way that seems right to a man [or woman], but its end is the way of death" (Prov. 14:12).

Over and over the Word of God presents personal faith in Christ as Saviour as the one and only possible way to be saved (Jn. 3:16; Acts 16:31-32; Eph. 1:7; I Jn. 5:11-13). "He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God" (Jn. 3:18). Jesus stated concerning Himself, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me" (Jn. 14:6). "Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12).

Winfrey is seducing her audience to swallow the lie that God is in everything, and that all roads lead to "it." And if there is no personal God, then we do not have to acknowledge Him and discover His will. If God is only some kind of energy or force and not the sovereign Ruler of the universe, we do not have to be concerned about whether we are pleasing Him or not.

It follows then that we need not be concerned about standing before Him after death. Eckhart Tolle claims that he has not given death much thought. He believes human beings will keep on getting reincarnated until they are finally absorbed into the great All. For him there is no heaven or hell, and thus no judgment to face before God.

But what do we find in God's Word? Speaking to believers, Paul says, "In Him [Christ] you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation" (Eph. 1:13). And "how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation" (Heb. 2:3). "It is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment" (Heb. 9:27; cf. Ecc. 12:14; Acts 17:31). "He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him" (Jn. 3:36).

The Apostle John saw this judgment taking place, in a prophetic vision. He wrote, "Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heavens fled away....And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire" (Rev. 20:11, 15). For more on the subject, click on Plan of Salvation.

The Oprah Church & Mind Training
Oprah Winfrey refuses to accept the plain doctrinal teaching of the Bible. She rejects the Christian "religion" because she sees it as too narrow, controlling, and oppressive. But this is merely a kind of religious sleight of hand, because her alternative is itself a religion with its own persistent dogmas, one that allows her a license to "catalogue shop" through the Bible, picking only what feels good, then mixing it with often contradictory ideas from other philosophies. This fatal mix she foists on the public.

A careful examination of the methods used by her and her colleagues reveals that she is employing standard thought reform or brainwashing techniques. Listen to what is said of the course on miracles conducted on the Oprah website by Marianne Williamson. It is called "an educational program for retraining the mind that is spiritual, rather than religious, in its perspective. Although it uses Christian terminology, the Course expresses a universal experience." (There again is the implication of employing biblical words to mean something different from what Christians and the Bible mean.)

Williamson goes on, "Some of the ideas the workbook presents you will find hard to believe, and others may seem to be quite startling. This does not matter. You are merely asked to apply the ideas as you are directed to do. You are not asked to judge them at all. You are asked only to use them. It is their use that will give them meaning to you, and will show you that they are true....You need not believe the ideas, you need not accept them, and you need not even welcome them. Some of them you may actively resist. None of this will matter, or decrease their efficacy. But do not allow yourself to make exceptions in applying the ideas the workbook contains."

Learners are being asked to do whatever they are told, without using discernment. In this regard, Oprah urges her listeners to "keep an open mind," and Tolle gushes, "Nonresistance is the key to the greatest power in the universe." Not surprisingly, Oprah makes use of the mind-emptying practice of Eastern meditation (not to be confused with meditation on the Scriptures). In one of Tolle's visits, she asked him to "lead us in silence." He proceeded to have listeners focus on their breathing as they sat silently. On another program, Winfrey had the entire audience hypnotized so they could supposedly regress into previous incarnations and learn about what they used to be.

This is perilous folly. To accept ideas and techniques without critically examining them in the light of God's Word is totally wrong. God never asks us to jettison our powers of thought and blindly accept anything. He exhorts the people of Israel, "Come now, and let us reason together" (Isa. 1:18). And when Paul preached to the Jews, he opened the Old Testament Scriptures and "reasoned" with them about the identity of the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 17:2; 18:4, 19; 24:25).

The apostle commends the people of Berea, "in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so" (Acts 17:11). As for meditation, trying to empty the mind of thought, leaves it dangerously open to demonic oppression. Demons look for opportunities to fill an empty "house" (Matt. 12:43-45).

As the prophet agonized regarding Israel, "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge" (Hos. 4:6). For all their social savvy and sophistication, Oprah is dealing many times with spiritually gullible, naive and untaught people. "According to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables" (II Tim. 4:3-4). They are "children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting" (Eph. 4:14).

Do not attempt to fill your mind with nothing, or focus obsessively on your inner self. Look to the Lord, and the Scriptures, and meditate on them (Ps. 1:1-3). Through the Word of the living God we find Him who is the Source of life and of spiritual health. In addition, it is through a careful study of the Word of God that we learn the truth and are armed against Satan's lies. "To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them" (Isa. 8:20; cf. Matt. 4:1-10).

The Apostle Paul declared, "There are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed" (Gal. 1:7-8).

In conclusion, there is no "church" involved in all of this, whatever some may call it. Oprah's programs and seminars are the direct antithesis to the church as it is presented in the Bible. The church is the spiritual body of Christ over which He is the ruling head (Eph. 1:22-23). Christians are bound together by a work of the Holy Spirit (I Cor. 12:12-13), and by our common faith (Eph. 4:4-6).

We gather as local churches or assemblies–local expressions of the body of Christ–for worship, for teaching, for fellowship and for ministry. And as we gather, the Lord has promised to be in our midst (Matt. 18:20). That is something Oprah's TV programs and courses cannot provide. If you do not have a home church, I encourage you to find one. One that is welcoming and alive, and one that faithfully proclaims the fundamentals of the faith.

What Oprah Winfrey is peddling is deception and deadly error. New Age teaching may well be a prologue to the end-times universal religion of the Beast (or Antichrist), when all the world will wonder after and follow the Beast (Rev. 1:1-18). "Do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world" (I Jn. 4:1). Be like the Bereans (Acts 17:11), and evaluate everything you hear by the trustworthy Word of God. And may the Lord enable you to do that!