Updated: Jan 5
If You Don’t Have the Right Diagnosis, Your Cure Will Never Work!
“The Gospel According to Oprah” was a best-selling book written by Marcia Z. Nelson in 2005. Believe it or not, I actually taught a Sunday School class over 20 years ago with the same name – several years prior to Marcia Z. Nelson’s book. I claim no credit for the title, it’s obvious that Oprah is far more than a TV personality – she preaches a “good news” with her own special values that certainly qualify as a “Religion.” While Marcia Nelson’s goal was to praise Oprah as a cultural warrior on the Left, I’d like to look at her teaching about God from a Biblical standpoint. When I taught my class in 2002, even then I recognized many of the “spiritual falsehoods” that were the daily fare on Oprah's nationally broadcast show. As I taught then, it was clear that the moral and theological values Oprah and the early woke culture were preaching, was not the gospel. She has succeeded in converting modern America to the practical atheism we now have. Today, Oprah has millions of disciples who control the mainstream of American thought. Her influence can't be overstated, as she was instrumental in electing Barak Obama, America's first African-American President. Consequently, millions of American women follow her woke-gospel chapter and verse.
So what is the Gospel According to Oprah? And how is it different than the Gospel According to Jesus Christ? The easiest way to answer this question is to refer to two of her regular guests and their false teachings: Joel Olsteen and T.D. Jakes. Any simple examination of these two false prophets shows that neither of them has a "right diagnosis" of the condition of fallen mankind. And like all so-called cures, IF YOU DON'T START WITH THE RIGHT DIAGNOSIS, THE TREATMENT WILL FAIL - NO MATTER HOW WELL YOU APPLY IT, OR HOW STRONGLY YOU BELIEVE IT! The most glaring deficiency in the false prosperity gospel of these two preachers is: THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS SIN! To hear Oprah, Joel or Jakes explain, there is no right or wrong – just people making bad choices. Fact is, they minimize and excuse all sins of the flesh, including Homosexuality and Transvestitism in direct contradiction to the teachings of Scripture. “They shamelessly proclaim that it’s not our sin that causes pain and distress in our lives, but a lack of self-esteem and failure to believe that we are good people.” According to Oprah, Joel and Jakes – God is desperately trying to bless and prosper us - if only we would let Him! This diagnosis IS ETERNALLY FATAL!
To give you a simple example, let's say that I go to my Family Doctor complaining about a skin rash on my stomach. He gives me the 30 second $150 look, then prescribes an ointment for psoriasis, convinced that the ointment will clear it up over several weeks. But after a few weeks I'm no better – maybe a bit worse. Then sadly, I make a serious mistake: I trust my doctor implicitly and continue to use his remedy for a full month. After a full month of applying the ointment, I finally go to the ER and see a different doctor, one who is trained to be objective and diagnose my actual condition. He recognizes my rash from an old textbook from his med-school days. He's not sure, but he thinks my rash may actually be a serious cancerous tumor that has metastasized right through my skin. After a biopsy, he confirms that it is indeed a serious malignancy. In the end, it doesn't matter that I had faith in my original doctor, or that I liked his simplistic diagnosis that my rash was a minor condition – the disease has now spread and is inoperable, and my condition is terminal. This is exactly what the false diagnosis of Oprah, Joel and Jakes accomplishes for poor sinners. Sure, they might make their patients feel good for the short term. They may even have been kept from a painful treatment or surgery. And think about the worry they were prevented from suffering – and of course they meant well, didn’t they? But in the end, trusting their false diagnosis proves to be fatal! Men and women don’t need to be saved from a problem of “low self-esteem” or a lack of material possessions – we need to be saved from OUR SIN!
So let me observe three ways in which Oprah, Joel and Jakes are way off. The first is in describing man’s sinful condition. You hear all three repeatedly promoting a “self-help-gospel” in which they motivate their disciples to self-sufficiency, personal power and a positive attitude. To be honest, all three are at best, motivational speakers and not gospel preachers. Often you hear them say that 99.9% of all people are not bad people, they have “good hearts,” but just make bad decisions. That’s totally false. In fact, Scripture teaches that 100% of all men and women are fallen, dead in trespasses and sins. “There is none righteous, no not one” (Romans 3:10). And Scripture shows their statements opposite of the truth. We make bad choicesbecause of our fallen hearts that are alienated from God:
“Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone” (Matthew 15:17-20).
Religious hypocrites in Jesus’ day had it wrong as well. They wanted to be sure they didn’t eat anything common or unclean, thinking by doing so, they would be clean and holy before God. And just like those religious hypocrites – Oprah, Joel and Jakes fail to diagnose man’s real condition. If they did, they would call upon men and women to “repent and believe the gospel.” According to their gospel, people just need to reach for their dreams and live their best life, whether they’re Christians, Muslims, Jews or Atheists. It doesn’t matter what you believe, as long as you’re sincere.
The second error is teaching that God wants us to prosper. Oprah once commented to Joel Olsteen: “What kind of a God wants you to be poor and miserable?” All three definitely have a marketable message to the vast majority of men and women who long for “perishable treasures on earth,” and who want to live their “best life” right now. Joel then responded “that’s the way I feel as well.” But like all prosperity preachers they are apparently unaware of the teachings of Scripture:
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? . . . . . And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? . . . . .Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:25-34).
The clear teaching of Scripture is that God has promised to take care of us and not to be anxious or desirous of wealth. In fact, it is a sin as God warns us in the Tenth Commandment: “Do not covet” (Exodus 20:17). Oprah, Joel and Jakes are icons of prosperity to many disciples who follow them – all longing to be like they are and join the “rich and famous.” Whereas God has given us clear direction to “be content with what we have, and not desire to be wealthy:
“But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs” (I Timothy 6:6-10).
Paul is careful to tell Timothy that it’s not money itself, but “the love of money” that is the root of all kinds of evils. It’s hard to imagine that God would be speaking through these prosperity teachers to say otherwise.
The third error that Oprah, Joel and Jakes get wrong is: The Exclusivity of Jesus Christ! While all three profess to be Christians and believe in some version of Jesus – He’s not the Jesus presented by the Scriptures. All three present a Jesus that might be nice, but optional. Biblical Truth plainly states that Jesus alone is “the way, the truth, and the life” and that “no man comes unto the father but by Me” (John 14:6). I wish I could say that the Gospel According to Oprah wasn’t popular or widely believed, but I can’t. This type of “Jesus is a good guy, but you can get to heaven in many different ways – as long as you are a good person and sincere.” My prayer for all three of these false teachers is that God would open their eyes, and show them the error of their ways.