‘Church of Oprah’ lectureship class bridges new-age spirituality gap

Abilene Reporter-News, Feb. 25, 2003
By Loretta Fulton / Reporter-News Staff Writer

The “Church of Oprah” filled faster Monday than most mainstream churches could ever hope on a Sunday.

The 75 seats in an Abilene Christian University classroom were quickly grabbed, and the remainder of the “congregants” sat cross-legged on the floor.

The “Church of Oprah” is the title of a class being taught by Chris Altrock, preaching minister of Highland Street Church of Christ in Memphis, Tenn. The class is one of many, plus daily lectures, being held during ACU’s 85th Annual Bible Lectureship.

Early activities today are cancelled because of the weather. Today’s events begin with the 11 a.m. lecture in Moody Coliseum.

Altrock chose the title for his class because he said talk show host Oprah Winfrey represents three of the most significant characteristics of American post-modernism, a religious era that began in the 1970s.

Post-moderns, as opposed to Christians of previous eras, are deeply interested in spirituality, are not interested in the established church, and believe many paths lead to God.

Oprah fits the bill, Altrock said, quoting from a magazine article that described her as “a post-modern priestess — an icon of church-free spirituality.”

“Oprah is one of the most influential spiritual leaders in America,” Altrock said.

The Oprah Winfrey Show is watched by 22 million people in 112 countries, Altrock said, so obviously the show’s hostess is onto something that intrigues viewers. The trick, Altrock said, is to teach church leaders how to reach those same post-modern Americans.

It’s not easy, he said, when post-moderns in the established church believe the same things as those on the outside.

A member of Altrock’s own church lost her father in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. The woman, Valerie, suffered greatly, but never questioned God’s presence during the tragedy. She remained a steadfast member of the church and even continued teaching her Sunday School class.

Of all people, Altrock thought Valerie would have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. He was stunned when he heard Valerie tell her Sunday School class that her path to God was Jesus, but that Muhammad or Buddha would be acceptable as well.

“Jesus is a good choice, but not the only choice,” Valerie told her class.

Christianity’s exclusive claim to salvation is a stumbling block to many post-modern Americans, Altrock said. He offered tips to church leaders for addressing that issue and the other barriers they face in trying to attract post-moderns:

  • Highlight the inclusive nature and tolerance of Christianity.
  • Explore the basis for Christianity’s exclusive claims of incarnation, atonement and resurrection.
  • Reveal the exclusive message of other faiths.
  • Point out the inaccuracies of pluralism, the belief that no single explanatory system or view can account for all the phenomena of life.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Tuesday February 25, 2003.
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