For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.
….Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
-2 Corinthians 5:14-15,17-21
We have a new mayor for the first time since 1989, but that wasn’t nearly as significant. The Bulls lost the Eastern Conference Championship, but that was a minor ripple. No, the era that ended this week with a celebrity-filled gala at the United Center - bumping the Bulls out of their home, in the process - was of epic proportions.
After 25 years on the air, Oprah Winfrey recorded her last show.
If you don’t think TV matters, then you haven’t been paying attention to what the Wall Street Journal called “the Oprah-fication of America.” Realizing that Americans don’t read like we used to, she started her Book Club and created best-sellers single-handedly. Viewers believed her and her guests when they dispensed medical advice - even when the advice was sometimes less than medically sound. Her audience tuned in to learn how to fix their relationships, lose weight, and parent their children more effectively. Celebrity appearances saved and wrecked careers. And, of course, she gave stuff away. She’s likely the most influential person in America; one-part guru, one-part best buddy, one-part spiritual leader.
Honestly, I’ve never been a fan. But so many people were - so many tuned in, well, religiously. Or at least took what she said as, well, gospel. (See? It’s hard not to use religious language when you talk about her.) As her show ends this week, I’ve been wondering why. And I think I have an idea.
Oprah created a world people wanted to live in.
It’s as simple as that. Oprah told her audience that they mattered. That there was nothing wrong with them that a better attitude, more nutritious food, a new medical theory, or a nicer wardrobe couldn’t cure. She didn’t just dispense information; her words, recommendations, the advice of her guests - they all came together to create a new reality. And in this new reality, her audience could be the people they wanted to be, knew all along that they were supposed to be. Oprah was - and still is - in the business of worldview - creating. And her disciples watched because they wanted to believe that the world she created, in which everyone was good and everything was beautiful, was real. She knew what she was doing, too. Back in January, Oprah said this to Piers Morgan:
“I am the messenger to deliver the message of redemption, of hope, of forgiveness, of gratitude,
of evolving people to the best of themselves.”
N.T. Wright, in his book The New Testament and the People of God, says that every world view answers four questions: 1) “Who are we?” 2) “Where are we?” 3) “What is wrong?” and 4) “What is the solution?” For 25 years, Oprah has answered those questions for people. As a Christian, I believe her answers are inadequate. It might be interesting sometime to interact with her worldview, using Wright’s criteria. But my point here is really just to point out that Oprah became a media mogul simply by offering answers. They didn’t have to be right, or even all that compelling. It was enough that they were attractive, and that she offered them.
In doing so, Oprah filled a gap that was, at one time in history, filled by the church. But the world started to perceive the church as a place where information was disseminated, but the questions of worldview weren’t getting answered coherently. They didn’t understand, often because church leaders didn’t understand, that the information being parceled out at church was supposed to describe a reality, not just a set of doctrines. And they stopped paying attention to the gospel, and started looking elsewhere to answer the questions of who they were, and what kind of world they inhabited, and what was wrong with it, and how it could be fixed.
Oprah had room because the church has stopped wrestling with the big worldview questions. We’ve stopped proclaiming that all people, everywhere, whoever they are, have value as God’s creation - and also responsibilities to fill. We’ve failed to say that we live in a world full of beauty and promise, also created by the same God that created us. We’ve been reluctant to say that everything that’s wrong with this world is because human beings have forgotten our Creator, forgotten our value to him, forgotten that we should matter to each other. And we haven’t said with conviction that this same Creator, through Jesus and through his Spirit, has intervened to restore human beings and the rest of creation to what he always intended us to be.
But the proclamation of the gospel is intended, not just to answer a series of questions, but to create a new world. People flocked to hear Oprah because she showed them how they fit in this world she built for them. It didn’t matter to them that the world she built was created with smoke and mirrors, TV lights and pseudo-science and a multi-million-dollar budget. People believed her, and not the ministers who prayed with them through grief, because she told them who they were, and about the world in which they lived, and what was wrong with them and how to make it right.
So I propose that we Christians get back into the world-creation business. We’ve sat it out for too long, watching people like Oprah mislead our world about what is true and good and right. Maybe one of our problems is that we’ve kind of bought into their worldviews ourselves. So let’s recover the world created by the gospel. Let’s create that world with our words and actions, because the way we answer those four basic questions should determine what we value, how we treat the people around us, how we live with our husbands and wives and children, and how we do our work and live our lives.
The world we create will have God at its center. People will have great value, but our own immediate happiness won’t be our highest goal. Instead, in this world we will go forward in Jesus’ name, reclaiming the lost, healing the broken, redeeming the fallen. And we will look forward to the day when he comes to make everything right again. We will, literally, bring into being the world Jesus was creating when he proclaimed, “the kingdom of God is near.”
Not even giving away a car can beat that.