Sitting in the green room at McLean Bible Church, renowned apologist Josh McDowell and up-and-coming apologist Dave Sterrett seemed relaxed and easy-going. But when the conversation turned to Oprah’s spiritual teachings, the atmosphere became serious and intense.
McDowell and Sterrett spoke to The Christian Post on Friday before going on stage to discuss their new book, ”O” God: A Dialogue on Truth and Oprah’s Spirituality.
The following are excerpts from the interview.
CP: What part of Oprah’s spiritual teaching do you find most troubling or dangerous?
McDowell: Everything. I mean, I don’t know if there is just one part. There are probably five or six major theses. I say one of the biggest is where she teaches you need to reach your inner self and live out your inner self and longing.
Ted Haggard was on the show with his wife and she made a comment that Ted had these homosexual leanings since 12 years old and he has tried to bring it under control. And Oprah stood up, she literally stood up, and said, “That is where I disagree with you. You need to live out those longing or you’re not authentic.”
And you say, oh yea, homosexuality. But what if he was a child abuser? Would you say the same thing? A rapist, would you say the same thing?
Sterrett: One of the things she teaches is a worldview that has been around a long time – pantheism, that everything is one and everything is God. God is all, all is God. No pantheist is purely always consistent with their pantheism. There are different forms from Hinduism to Buddhism, but what she really embraces and the people that she has endorsed – Eckhart Tolle, Marianne Williamson, Rhonda Byrne – teach is that everything is God.
What is really deceptive about it is that she uses languages of the Bible that seem to be Christian but they all have different meanings. For example, when she talks about Jesus she would say evangelical Christians and Catholics and Orthodox Christians believe that Jesus Christ is the unique son of God, that he is unique in his deity. Oprah would say no that is not the case, but if we all look within ourselves we have what she calls a “Christ-consciousness.” That means we all have this potential that Jesus, Buddha and other enlightened ones have, that we are all a part of God.
That is why she will bring people on her show that promote pantheism and yoga and for some of them the implication is if you follow it out – and she doesn’t always follow it out – but if you take all of the teachings and follow them out they are dangerous.
One of teachers she brought on the show, James Arthur Ray – he was a contributor of the book The Secret, New York Times bestseller – he had this sweat lodge in which they would embrace these pantheistic thoughts. You just create your reality with your mind. This was in October when our book came out. Two people died and multiple people were rushed to the hospital because he said you in your mind declare sickness is an illusion and illness is an illusion and you look beyond that.
Obviously Oprah is an incredible entrepreneur, businesswoman and very Americanized so she will not always follow all this eastern pantheism out completely. But it has its roots in Hinduism and Buddhism and it came in an Americanized version that is materialistic.
McDowell: Anyone with sincere religious beliefs cannot say that all religions are true. That is so illogical it is pathetic. All religion cannot be true because some of them are so diametrically opposed to each other.
Look, Jesus said that I am the only way. So it is illogical to say all religions are true, but it is not illogical to say all religions are false. All religion could be false but they can’t all be true because there are direct logical contradictions.
Sterrett: Oprah has announced her retirement from the show but she is starting OWN network. That stands for Oprah Winfrey Network. One of the main things she said she wants to promote on that show is spirituality. And so her presence I don’t think is going anywhere.
CP: Why do you think Christians are so confused about Oprah’s spirituality? What makes it so convincing?
McDowell: It is not that it is so convincing. It is that most Christians are not convinced of their own faith. I would say 90 percent of Christians do not have a worldview, in other words a view of the world, based on the Scripture and a relationship with God. And so they cannot discern between the truth and falsehood.
If someone says look within and find the Christ-consciousness, well in 2 Corinthians 13:5 Paul says: “Examine yourself to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you – unless, of course, you fail the test?” See there is this little twist there between “Christ-consciousness,” look within yourself and find your “Christ-consciousness,” and look within and find the presence of Christ.
And what they are actually saying with look within and find the “Christ-consciousness” is look within and find yourself. And so Christians don’t have the discernment.
For example, most Christians when asked what is the essence of the Christian faith will say it is all in the rules to be acceptable by God. That is anti-Christian, but they don’t know that.
So you take a believer who cannot discern and that’s dangerous.
Sterrett: Oprah will deny every major doctrinal belief of Christianity. For example, the very nature of God. For Christians they will say God made all, she will say God is all. We would say Jesus is unique in his deity, she would say he is not unique in his deity, he is one of many. Christianity would say it is essential that Jesus Christ died on the cross for the atonement of sin, well one of her main spiritual teachers, Marianne Williamson, denies that. One of the major doctrinal beliefs of Christians is that in history Jesus Christ physically rose again from the dead, the resurrection, one of her spiritual teachers, Eckhart Tolle, denies the resurrection of Christ. Just about every major doctrinal issue.
CP: Regarding the spiritual books promoted by Oprah, do you think Christians should read them? Or would you recommend they avoid them altogether or read other Christian books beforehand?
McDowell: I think they ought to read our book first. I’m dead serious. I would be hesitant to stand up in front of a crowd and say go out and buy these books by Eckhart Tolle and others and read them because most of them don’t have the background and discernment to discern truth from falsehood and this could lead them into some big false teachings. I wouldn’t recommend that to a crowd.
But again now, Oprah, you need to watch her and listen to her. She has become very influential and I think it helps you to be relevant today to know what she is teaching. That is why our book with the Socratic dialogue is so neat because you really feel it and see it in a real life situation. It is not that you are being taught a belief or doctrine, but you are experiencing a truth. That is key.
CP: What role does Truth have in the debate between Oprah’s spirituality and Christianity? Why do Christians have to believe in the absolute Truth? Why can’t they believe Jesus is one among many paths to salvation?
McDowell: Christians don’t have to but because there is an absolute Truth. If there were more than one path to salvation then it would totally negate Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, his life, his teachings.
Sterrett: One of the things we exposed in the book is some of the people that she brought on her show have often said things that refute themselves. Let me give you an example. If one of her spiritual teachers says there is no absolute Truth, we can ask is that true. Or if Eckhart Tolle in his book A New Earth says words as soon as they are used cast a hypnotic spell on us. Well if that is the case then why is he writing a 316-page book using words?
And so there has to be some truths that are absolute truth for all people, all times, and all places.
Our lives on a daily basis demands truth. When we go to the bank, the teller tells us how much is in the account. Rarely do we look at the teller and say, “That is true for you but not true to me.” Or in relationships we demand truth. Of course some relationships don’t work out but most of us there is something in our hearts that trusts and hopes the other person is telling us the truth, and if we find out that our friend has told us a lie, what happens? We get upset.
On a day to day basis we demand truth and I think the most important think in reality is God’s nature. If He is all powerful, isn’t it at least possible that He would reveal his character to us. I believe He has done that through Scripture so we can know Him.
CP: Oprah said she grew up in a Baptist church but was turned off to the faith when she heard the preacher say God was jealous. How would you explain a loving but jealous God to Oprah if you had the chance?
McDowell: Very simple. The same passage that preacher read, Exodus 34:14: “Do not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God,” that Oprah said drove her away from the faith is one of the key verses that brought me to Christianity.
Jealous, that part is not the selfish jealousy of man but God’s passion for us. He created us, He created us for His glory, and He created us to have a relationship with Him, and He created us to be all that He desires us to be and He’s jealous of that because He does not want to share that with others.
For me that is something that drew me. Wow, you mean God wants to have a relationship with me? God wants me to spend eternity with Him?