Oprah's Religion: A Brief Evaluation of Eckhart Tolle's A New Earth

Is Oprah’s religion (ala Eckhart Tolle) compatible with Christianity and the Bible? This brief article isn't an exhaustive analysis of Eckhart Tolle's work but a brief evaluation of that question. This question has been brought to STR a number of times. Oprah claims the answer is yes. And surprisingly, more than a few Christians think the answer is yes. But even a cursory reading of Tolle makes it obvious the answer can only be no, and that he is actually teaching Hinduism, not Christianity. But he carries on in the Hindu syncretistic tradition of wrapping all religions under Hinduism, teaching that “all roads” lead to God but via Hinduism.

Eckhart Tolle might concede that his philosophy is not compatible with Christianity because he contends that Christianity has been corrupted from the original teachings of Jesus. His assertions are based on the long refuted idea that the Bible was changed by the church and what is known as the Gnostic gospels suppressed. These ideas have been so thoroughly debunked elsewhere, I won’t go into the details now. Suffice it to say that he repeatedly quotes from the Bible as we know it now claiming that Jesus is on His side. So since we share that source of authority of Jesus’ teachings, and because this critique is aimed at the claim that Tolle’s teachings are compatible with what Christians believe, I’ll rely on showing the explicit claims Tolle makes that are on their face incompatible with Jesus and Christianity.

p. 6 Tolle makes a claim about Jesus’ identity, a central fact of what Jesus Himself said marked His followers: “Who do you say that I am?” He asked His disciples. Clearly, the answer is significant. The answer Jesus agreed with: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Tolle’s claim: Jesus is a messenger along with Buddha and others who are precursors of what transformed humanity can become. In his view, Jesus isn’t divine. He’s not unique. Who Jesus is is what we should all aspire to become. Not like him, but just as He is since that’s what “precursor” means.

p. 7-8 Another central tenet of Christianity is what mankind’s problem is: sin. According to Tolle, we need an “awakening,” not redemption. Our problem is the “workings of the ego.” And by that he doesn’t mean self-centeredness but an Eastern view of our sense of identity that we need to empty ourselves of. According to Tolle, we have the resources needed to reach the new level of humanity he is encouraging. The Bible says that we’re dead in our trespasses and sins; we have no resources to help ourselves. That’s why we need Jesus. Jesus said that He Himself was the “light of the world.” Tolle states, “The light of consciousness is all that is necessary. You are that light.”

p. 9 Tolle redefines sin to conform with Hinduism and Buddhism. He claims that the word sin has been misunderstood and misinterpreted. “Literally translated from the ancient Greek in which the New Testament was written, to sin means to miss the mark, as an archer who misses the target, so to sin means to miss the point of human existence.” Now he’s correct in what the word sin literally means, but notice that he also defines what the target is: the point of human existence. That’s a point of interpretation in which he inserts Eastern philosophy. According to the Bible, from which Tolle is drawing the word, the target is perfection, the Law. The point of the Law was to show us how far we’ve missed the target and are in need of the Savior. Again, according to Tolle, we’ve missed the target but we also have the resources within ourselves to hit the target. We don’t need a Savior; we need “awakening.” 

p. 16 According to Tolle, Jesus gave us one take on Truth using the conceptual framework of His religion. In other words, Jesus didn’t give us the truth, He gave us a perspective on truth that is one perspective among others that are just as valid and helpful. He goes on to commend the rediscovery of Gnosticism, a heresy roundly condemned by the Early Church. Again, I won’t take the time to dispute Gnosticism here. I can point to resources on that. But Gnosticism and the secret knowledge it taught is inconsistent with Christianity and not another source of truth that can be syncretized. 

p. 23 Tolle writes: “We need to understand that heaven is not a location but refers to the inner realm of consciousness. This is the esoteric meaning of the word, and this is also its meaning in the teachings of Jesus.” Jesus refers to Heaven repeatedly as a place, albeit not a physical place as sometimes simplistically stated. He referred to it as another place, not our consciousness. 

p. 32 “…[T]hinking without awareness is the main dilemma of human existence.”

p. 57 This is the worst one of all. “You realize your true identity as consciousness itself, rather than what consciousness had identified with. That’s the peace of God. The ultimate truth of who you are is not I am this or I am that, but I Am.” “I Am” is an Old Testament reference to Yahweh, which Jesus used for Himself and is what instigated blasphemy charges against Him since the Jews understood this claim to deity. This is the most explicit religious claim Tolle makes that comes from Eastern religion and is utterly incompatible with Christianity and the Bible. Jesus is God incarnate, the second person of the Trinity. He is unique, and no man can become deity. This one claim alone should make it obvious that Tolle’s claims are not what is taught in the Bible, and that his teaching is utterly incompatible with Christianity.

p. 71 “The Truth is inseparable from who you are. Yes, you are the Truth. If you look for it elsewhere, you will be deceived every time. The very Being that you are is Truth. Jesus tried to convey that when he said, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life.’ These words uttered by Jesus are one of the most powerful and direct pointers to the Truth, if understood correctly. If misinterpreted, however, they become a great obstacle. Jesus speaks of the innermost I Am, the essence identity of every man and woman, every life-form, in fact.” 

The sentence Jesus uttered immediately after this statement makes unequivocal what His meaning was: “No one comes to the Father but by Me.” Jesus wasn’t teaching that the truth is in all of us, that we are all “I Am’s.” He was pointing to His unique identity, not a secret identity in all of us; and He was underscoring why He is the only Savior. There is no other way to God besides Jesus, yet that is what Tolle teaches. 

p. 196 Tolle writes that “good” and “bad” are mental labels that are ultimately illusory. There is no distinction between good and bad. In fact, all distinctions are illusions and what we must extinguish. That is Hinduism, which is the religion Tolle is teaching. Good and bad are not mere illusions. God Himself uses good as an objective property when He declares His religion good. And subsequently, evil is introduced as an objective problem He sends His Son to reconcile. The evil that resides in all of us because of our sin is a real problem separating us from God, and the solution in Jesus is the essence of Christianity. If sin isn’t a problem, then Christianity is pointless and Jesus isn’t needed. 

Tolle fundamentally misdiagnoses man’s problem, and therefore his solution is wrong. The Bible says that man’s problem is sin, and Jesus, the unique Son of God, is our solution.

Melinda Penner

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