Ranked as the world’s most influential woman, Oprah Winfrey is undoubtedly a woman who has inspired millions with not only her wisdom, her wide circle of connections, but also with her very own rags to riches story. Although much ink has been spilled over her questionable influence in matters of spirituality, this post is not about her, instead it is about the church.
In 2005 a national survey of pastors was conducted, asking each of them to name the books that have most influenced them. The Purpose-Driven Life was the most frequent response. Authored by America’s pastor, Rick Warren, the book which has sold the most copies of any book in print, excepting only the Bible. Warren, who has amassed significant wealth as a result, retains a significant level of influence including the ear of the President of the United States.
Here is where we play the game regularly found in copies of the children’s magazine Highlights: circle the differences in these two pictures.
It’s a Little Hard to Tell
On the cover of this month’s issue (November 2009) of O: the Oprah Magazine is a byline touting the phrase “Who Are You Meant to Be?” Standing in the line at the checkout of our local Target store, I made a bet with my wife: this article must have been written by purpose-driven himself. Alas, my wallet was a bit lighter because instead of Rick Warren, this was a series of articles written by a number of people with a handsome number of different perspectives on the topic.
Oprah herself begins the series, talking about her own humble beginnings and her determination to be something more than her surroundings dictated.
I believe there’s a calling for all of us. I know that every human being has value and purpose. The real work of our lives is to become aware. And awakened. To answer the call.
No doubt that Oprah, deep down inside, believes that the strength of her determination has made her what she is. Literally living in the lowest parts of society, she wanted to have more and to be more than she was. However, it was not just her belief and determination that made her special. She also had ability, talent, tenacity, and other character qualities that gave her an edge. She is also intelligent with a great voice and charismatic personality. Plenty of other women and men have believed and worked very hard, but have not achieved the stature of wealth and influence that is Oprah.
This bell rings with a similar pitch to what we hear in churches these days. Joel Osteen is one who is eager to hold himself up is his best example of a life that can lived to its fullest potential. What Oprah seems to forget is that if we all became her, then who would be at home to watch? If we all stood at the top then who would be there to support us?
Tapping Into the True Self
“We already are… who we were born to be,” says Anne Lamott who has written books called Traveling Mercies and Grace (Eventually), both of which have been acclaimed by Christians as raw and real thoughts on being a Christian. In her article which appears immediately after Oprah’s introduction, does not mention Christ or the church, even in passing. Yet she freely acknowledges what many a purpose-driven pastor is hesitant to say: to preach this message, no god is required.
Lamott shares what seems to be a “spiritual” way to seek for the inner self, the inner purpose, and ultimately the inner peace. She encourages readers to seek deep within to find what is really true for them and how they can live in resonance to the rhythm that their life is playing. “I pray that your awakening comes with ease and grace,” she says, offering no divine connection at all.
Finding purpose in life is something that, when you listen closely, Rick Warren agrees does not require God. In his TED talk, he encouraged those unbelievers he was talking to by telling them that “God smiles when He sees you be you.” In essence he tells people who are successful without God that it is their very success that is driving them toward God’s favor.
I Don’t Need God for That
Just this week I had a conversation with my mother-in-law about her son whose recent reason for not wanting to attend church was that being good does not require a god. He cited the Code of Hammurabi and how it predated the Ten Commandments by 400 years, and how that code was not given by God. She was frustrated with him, but I assured her that he is right.
After catching her breath, I explained that when we begin to think of Christianity as simply a way to find our purpose in life and to live that life with impeccable morals, well he is exactly right. No where is there an indication that the Code of Hammurabi was divinely inspired. Not a single connection is made between the story of the Bible and the giving of that moral code. Other than the first commandments which are unique to monotheism, the Ten Commandments are contained within not only the Code of Hammurabi, but also the scores of other such codes for conduct.
Christianity is not about self-actualization or finding my life’s purpose.
Today is Friday, November 20th, 2009. Today Oprah Winfrey will address her throngs and tell them that she is ending her talk show within the year. What will be next? She may decide to join the likes of Rick Warren, Joel Osteen, Steven Furtick, Creflo Dollar, and Joyce Meyer and begin her own ministry. And why not? If “pastors” preach the same message on Sunday that she has been giving people five days a week, it will be a walk in the park for Oprah.
I DO Need God for This
If what we mean by self-actualization we mean that when reading the Bible you realize that at your core you are a wretched sinner in desperate need for a savior. After all, if we do work out the journey of self-actualization to its stated goal, that is all we will find. It is the message of the layers of rules and regulations that protesters enjoy reminding Christians of when having moral debate. To teach that at the core of every human is a beautiful purpose not only undermines the teaching of the Bible, but when we lie in bed at night, we know it violates our very existence.
This is indeed bad news: it is the news that there is nothing good within me and there is no part of me that seeks good. Yet, it is that core realization which opens wide the doors to the love of Christ and the Gospel. When we are able to face the bad news, the good news is truly just that. It is the reality of our sin that displays the beauty of what Christ has done. It is as simple as the placards that people hold up during basketball games: John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Only when we embrace the bad news is the Good News sweet.
The Gospel is not about being good enough. The Gospel is not about finally finding your life’s purpose. And the Gospel does not end. Christianity is about the sacrifice of Christ being enough, and that nothing else matters. The Gospel says that there is nothing that you can do to make God love you any more and nothing you can do to make God love you any less.
This is what Christ has to offer. Anything else is counterfeit.