Oprahdoxy

“Oprahdoxy.” This philosophy focuses on the self (and a little on others) and blends numerous forms of spirituality into one non-descript feel-goodism. It’s church building is the studio, it’s liturgy is the interview (and occasional dance from Tom Cruise) and it’s sacraments are the giveaway beauty supplies (or diet supplement, or book, or whatever). It’s vicar is Oprah Winfrey. This is Oprahdoxy, and its a brand of spirituality that rules the airwaves (and video streams) and has won millions of adherents. It has entered the homes and hearts of the world and promised people a spiritual vitality that seems to be lacking in their life. From the comfort of the recliner, you too can empower yourself for today. Or say yes to your “no’s.” Or envision a new vision. Or whatever. It’s a spirituality that seems to say good things, but in the end, really says nothing at all. It gives people an opportunity to be “spiritual” without having to be “religious.” It gives credence to everything that seems open-minded, yet closes its mind to anything asserting credence. Joseph Sunde writes about the phenomenon known as “Oprhadoxy:”

This is not about “love” as selfless, unconditional devotion to the other, tied to transcendent commitments and cultivated through relationships not of its own design. This is not, as the One True Guru might say, the last shall be first. This is cultural consumerism at both its highest and lowest — humanistic in its instincts, privileged in its priorities, and carefully glazed with all the right marketing to deceive itself that justice is at hand and Neighbor Love has the wheel. It’s as if human desire has grown so weary of natural constraints and so content with its own appetite that it would prefer to label self-indulgence as “self-help” and be done with it. It’s faux-self-empowerment for the self-centered, heart-religion as a mantle for hedonism.

What may seem like the most loving thing is actually the most harmful. What promises to feed the soul actually deprives it of nourishment. This is why “Oprahdoxy” (and other similar philosophies) tend to be so successful—they leave people wanting and coming back for more. The next big thing eventually fizzles. Like inviting people to a bonfire yet forgetting the matches, “Oprhadoxy” promises big results without the true means to make it happen. It’s the equivalent of Facebook for spirituality—only showing the good times and the happy moments, never the pain and sorrows of real life. Besides the unbiblical nature of this form of religion (because, it is a religion), the issue that should deter people the most from this brand of feel-goodism spirituality is its utter lack of power to deal with the reality of suffering in our world. No matter how good you feel about yourself, boats still capsize in South Korea killing hundreds of passengers. No matter how many times a day you meditate on the universe, numerous infants are still murdered by a mentally-unstable mother. No matter how many cleanses you have, spouses still cheat on each other and rip apart families and cause incalculable amounts of emotional anguish.

“Oprahdoxy” simply cannot account for why bad things happen, at least not in any meaningful sort of way. This is what consumerism does best. When bad things happen, you need to forget and indulge. Lost your job? Buy a new wardrobe. Husband cheated on you? Live it up with a night on the town. Your son or daughter is diagnosed with a terminal illness? Find solace in a bottle of the latest designer booze. This is not meant to sound crass at real issues which result in tragic outcomes, but this is to say that “Oprahdoxy” is simply unequipped as a philosophy or way of life to deal with such real-life issues. Sunde goes on to say

We’re all looking for a soul at rest, and we’re all looking for inner peace. But where God is Self and Self is God, we ought not be surprised when we find ourselves at the mercy of human depravity, stuck in first-world ruts of self-obsession and excuse-making, afflicted by our own prosperity and privilege. The “life we want” surely requires “something more,” as [Rob] Bell would say, but that certain something must be life-giving in its essence and orientation — absolutely, thoroughly, and completely.

The “Oprahdox” are ultimately at the mercy of depravity, whether they realize it or not. Some may be able to live the “Oprhadox” life and have a relatively easy and carefree existence, free from reflecting on the dire straits of a sinful world. Those ones, however, are usually writing the books and telling others how to do what they’ve been able to accomplish. And the cycle of consumeristic spirituality begins afresh. How can the “Oprahdox” elite deal with depravity and suffering? They simply don’t. There is no room for suffering when the best expression of spirituality is envisioning the best life for oneself and making self-love the priority. But when real suffering hits, where do the “Oprahdox” turn? Well, I guess they have to tune in next week and hopefully find out.

HT: The Federalist

 

Meditation

Meditation is not a neutral word in today’s culture. A Google search of the word yields websites promising practical tips, eastern religious origins, and local venues to begin practicing. Where I live, at least six different places provide opportunities for meditation. One claims to be Christian, another Buddhist, while another a new-age self-help hypnosis center. Clearly meditation is anything but nonpartisan.

So how does meditation relate to the Christian life? If the concept seems so tainted, why not abandon it to the culture? Though the idea of meditation has more definitions than a Texas oil man has Cadillacs, the properly Christian practice of meditation has an historical pedigree worth exploring. Over the next few posts, its my desire to highlight this oft-misunderstood practice as it relates to the Christian life. A Google search won’t help us here. For this we’ll need to dive deep into the ocean of Christian literature to discover how Christians through the centuries have promoted the necessity of meditation. You may be surprised at how many Christians wrote about, preached about, and practiced meditation in a properly Christian sense.

Reflecting on meditation and Johnathan Edwards, Kyle Strobel notes:

Meditation is necessary because Christianity demands more than just abstract knowledge; it entails affectionate knowledge. Edwards wove these ideas together around the idea of beauty, so that our spiritual life progressed through a clearer and clearer vision of divine things. The Spirit illumines the real world to us, so that the false world of the flesh, sin, and death fade away. Meditation is attending deeply to God’s truth, purposes and revelation, so that the lies of the world are seen as lies, and so the truth of God can pervade every aspect of our lives. (Formed for the Glory of God, 115)

There is a beautiful necessity in the practice of meditation for the Christian. I hope that over the next few posts, you’ll come to understand what it means for a Christian to meditate, why we should, and how generations of Christians before us understood the practice of meditation.

ReligionFruits

Kyle Strobel, professor of theology at Grand Canyon University, has provided readers with a helpful “updated, unabridged, and enlightening version of Jonathan Edwards’s Charity and Its Fruits” (back cover). According to Strobel, Charity and its Fruits provides the “best way to get into Edwards’s thought” (331). Strobel helps to illuminate the heart-warming theology of Edwards and provides a marvelous introduction into the theology and practice of arguably one of American Christianity’s greatest minds. For this great mind, the notion of “religion” was not merely a throwaway expression or abstract concept. Regarding Edwards’s use of the word “religion” Strobel states:

“Religion has come to be seen as synonymous with religiosity. This was far from Edwards’s understanding as you can imagine. Edwards frequently uses the word religion as a synonym for virtue, the Christian life, and even, at times, Christ. There was a false religion and there was true religion, to be sure, but religion was not simply defined by things people do; it was understood as the appropriate response to God….The term, for Edwards, denoted our whole posture, life, and devotion to God in christ. In light of this, religion might be closest to what we might today refer to as the Christian life, Christian spirituality, or spiritual formation, assuming those terms are used with distinctively Christian (and Protestant) content. Even moving beyond heaven, we could say that for Edwards, religion is ultimately God’s life. As the Father and the Son love one another infinitely, so believers are brought into that Father-child loving relationship through the Son by the uniting power of the Spirit.” (30)

Is it possible for Christians to reclaim this understanding of the word religion? Why does it matter? I believe we should reclaim this way of understanding religion. Where religious liberties are consistently threatened and New Age spirituality infiltrates much of (Christian) culture, the proper understanding of religion is necessary for forming basic Christian identity. Christians should reclaim and employ the Edwardsian concept of religion. Let’s take a look at just a few ways in which Edwards uses the word “religion.”

  • “The very notion of religion or worship is the creature’s exercise and expression of respect to the Creator. But if there be no true respect or love, then all his religion is but seeming religion, and there is no real religion in it, and therefore it is vain.” (45)
  • “How much such a spirit unfits persons for the duties of religion. All undue anger indisposes us for the pious exercises and the active duties of religion. It puts the soul far from that sweet and excellent frame of spirit in which we most enjoy communion with God, and which makes truth and ordinances most profitable to us” (191)
  • “The sufferings which are in the way of our duty come of the difficulties which attend religion. This is the cost of being religious. He, therefore, that does not comply with this cost never complies with religion to any effect. As a man who wishes his house to be built, but is not willing to comply with the cost of building, does in effect refuse to build. He who does not receive the gospel with its difficulties does not receive it as it is offered. They who do not receive Christ with his cross as well as crown do not truly receive him.” (230)

Edwards’s use of religion distinguishes between true and false religion, much in the same way Jesus did in the gospels. This is religion which has as its ground in the love of God in Christ. True love, or charity, produces fruits which are pleasing to God, edifying to man, and formative for the individual. This religion is infused with the understanding of “the most perfect and excellent instance of humility that ever was”—namely Christ. Edwards states, “The gospel leads us to Christ, as an humble person. Christ is one who is God-man, and so has not only condescension which is a divine perfection, but also humility which is creaturely excellence” (156). He goes on to say, “The gospel yet further tends to lead us to humble exercises of love as it leads us to love Christ as one that was crucified for our sins. Christ’s being crucified is a great argument for the humility of us who are his followers; but his being crucified for our sins is a much further argument for it” (157). The essence of true religion is identification with the crucified and risen Christ and the fruits which it produces in the life of a believer by faith. This is religion. This is the virtuous life of following Christ, displaying the humility of Christ in the pursuit of being like him.

Should we recover this meaning of religion? I think we must. We should want to let people know that we are religious, and in fact, hold to true religion. Religion implies obligation and submission, which are two postures inherent in Christian faith and living. Religion, as Edwards envisions it, is nothing but the highest life of virtue—the pursuit of Christ-likeness. It is the life of love fully lived. While the Spirit endears our hearts to true fruit which is pleasing to God, He brings about a change which allows us to pursue that which is most worthy to pursue. This is how Edwards conceives of religion, and perhaps its time we recovered this understanding in our own faith and practice.