Never underestimate the power of an Oprah endorsement. Ever since she branded German-born spirituality guru Eckhart Tolle's A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose the 61st Oprah Book Club selection in January 2008, the book has sold 3.5 million copies. Over the past several weeks Oprah and Tolle have hosted unprecedented free "webinars," on which Oprah-Tolle discuss a chapter from the book each week and field live questions from the online audience. That audience grew to 2 million people.
Tolle's message is based largely in Eastern spirituality, though he draws from Christian language and imagery (such as the book's title). Tolle defines the human problem as a false self - what he calls "egoic mind patterns," which can be overcome by acknowledging oneness with ultimate reality, or "God." Here's how Greg Boyd, senior pastor at Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul, Minnesota, summarizes it:
Tolle espouses a rather typical Eastern metaphysics in which the true "you" is not the "you" that is distinct from other people, but the (alleged) "you" that is one with the universe. To grasp this, imagine waves on an ocean. Your individual ego is one such wave, but the true "you" in the Eastern religious worldview is the ocean itself - as it is for me and every other "wave." The wave-"you" is limited and temporary, but the ocean-"you" is unlimited and eternal.
Oprah's website reports that she and Tolle will be offering another webinar session beginning June 16.
Boyd aside, seemingly few evangelicals have taken the time to engage A New Earth and offer a thoughtful, biblical response - perhaps because, as Peter Jones, writing for Christian Science Monitor puts it, A New Earth's missteps are rather old:
For Tolle, "knowing self and knowing God become one and the same." The millions who've turned to Tolle might naturally conclude: I am the "I Am." Sound familiar? It should. According to the Bible, such "knowledge" springs from the oldest error of all: man's desire to be "as gods."
Stay tuned to CT for our upcoming analysis of the Oprah-Tolle craze in the next two weeks.
Greg Boyd's review of A New Earth at his blog, "Random Reflections"
The Real Secret of the Universe | Why we disdain feel-good spirituality but shouldn't. (May 2007)
The Church of O | With a congregation of 22 million viewers, Oprah Winfrey has become one of the most influential spiritual leaders in America. (April 2002)