Super Pastor Carl Lentz, from Hillsong New York, was interviewed by Oprah Winfrey and presented a confusing version of Christianity that uses some Biblical words, but ultimately had too much in common with Oprah's prominent New Age beliefs, rather than actual Christianity. You can hear the entire interview here.
It would have been great if Pastor Lentz would have clearly proclaimed the Gospel of Jesus Christ because the people in Oprah's audience really need to hear it: the Gospel of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. But he didn't. He really appeared like someone attempting to say Christian things that wouldn't offend non-Christians. He also seemed to be incapable of disagreement with Oprah-even going so far as to agree with her when she said the Holy Spirit is "a thing, a power, a force," or "divine energy." Lentz agreed and told her "that's exactly what it is: a divine energy." Huh??
Interestingly, just a few weeks ago a major survey was released that showed how a large segment of the Christian population in America believes things that are totally heretical (like the Holy Spirit is a power or force). Carl Lentz proclaimed some of those very same things in this interview. Maybe he was really nervous and forgot what he was saying, but he repeated his murky version of Christianity throughout the entire interview-often getting close to the Gospel without ever proclaiming it.
In the video below, we've taken clips from this interview to highlight where Lentz biffs it. You may want to find out where he mimics the uninformed Christians in the State of Theology survey.
Clip 1. His first confused attempt at explaining the "Gospel." Sort of... Kind of... I guess…
Clip 2. Oprah asks him "Do you believe only Christians can be in relationship with God?" His answer comes immediately: "No." Although his response could have been much better, I will cut him a little slack, because this is a tricky question that Oprah seems to be using to test him, or even trap him. Because she never defined what she meant by "relationship with God" I'm not going to make too big of a deal out of this (plus, his response gets even worse). He is obviously very sensitive to the charge that Christians are judgmental and narrow-minded, and he seems to be over-compensating. He then goes on to give a pretty incoherent explanation of Jesus's very clear words "I am the way, the truth and the life..." (without quoting the rest of the verse: "No one comes to the Father but by Me.") He ventures into universalist territory and says "That's what this whole Gospel is based on-it's love..." He seems to be trying to explain something like the Law and the Gospel, but it comes out confusing and contradictory.
Clip 3. This is so unclear that after repeated listening it's still confusing... Let's just move on to the next one.
Clip 4. Here is where Pastor Lentz really jumps the shark. He is the poster boy of hip, trendy pastors and he preaches at the most hip and trendy church on earth: Hillsong New York City. But he actually says that they are teaching the ancient faith and it doesn't need to be hip and trendy. Here's a proposal for Pastor Lentz: remove your rock band, the lighting crew, the dancers, the sound crew, discontinue the slick marketing videos, and start using Hymnals (with good theology). Stop dressing like an attention-starved rock star. Then ask all the celebrities to stay away for a while (so they can be catechized privately). After you've done that, see if your church continues to grow. I dare you. Let's be honest: Hillsong New York City is an entertaining spectacle and you know it.
Clip 5. Oprah asks him "For you, who is Jesus?" This starts off very clear: "He's God." But then he gives a cluster of incomplete phrases like "He's the answer, He's the sacrifice, He's the atonement, He's the way in..." He's the answer to what? He's the sacrifice for what? He's the atonement for what? He's the way in to what? His comments almost appear as a response to all the "critical Christians" who think he should be more Biblical and traditional. Yes, these are Christian words from the Bible, but he's leaving out the full equation. He could have easily completed his thoughts and said something like: "Jesus is the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity. He came to earth as a baby in the miraculous virgin birth, which we celebrate at Christmas, and He was crucified on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins, but He rose from the dead, which we celebrate at Easter. And He's coming again to judge the living and the dead."
Clip 6. Oprah cuts him off and inserts her New Age version of faith-which turns Jesus into a mere moral example: "Jesus came to show the way, this is how you do it." Lentz simply agrees with her. Come on Carl, you know this stuff; Jesus came because we can't follow Him good enough; we need a Savior to save us from our sin, not a just moral example to remind us of our sin.
Clip 7. Here's the bizarre Holy Spirit section, where Pastor Lentz repeats the common heresy that the Holy Spirit is a force or energy-not the third Person of the Trinity.
Clip 8. Here's where Lentz gives his hip, cool and utterly wrong explanation of Christianity. He says "because of Jesus you have the right to put your hand up and totally start a new cycle. That, to me, is the essence of what we're trying to do." What is he talking about? A load of laundry?? Lentz says he's "trying to get people to allow God to do what only God can do." This is a pretend God. The true and Living God, revealed by Scripture, spoke the whole universe into existence, and He doesn't need our permission to do anything.
Clip 9. Here Pastor Carl Lentz totally twists God's Word by repeating the idea that "Be still and know that I am God" is about me and my own personal happy place. This verse (Psalm 46:10) is not about your own personal happy place. Read it in context. “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”
Clip 10. Lentz tells Oprah that starting a "relationship with Jesus" (a phrase that doesn't exist in the Bible) is all about us making a decision and making a commitment, it has nothing to do with God choosing us. It's all up to us. Charles Finney would be proud of this little Pelagian.
Clip 11. Finally, Oprah asks him "Success is?" Lentz says "Seeing other people thrive. That's, for me, I couldn't think of a more successful life than being able to look back and say people's lives were better because they crossed my path." This is what any motivational speaker or leadership guru would say (including Brian Houston). If heaven is real, and if hell is real, why would any pastor not mention his concern for the souls of mankind as his primary goal? Why does Pastor Carl Lentz seem only concerned with the temporal well-being of people, instead of their eternal destination?
The Gospel is, by definition, exclusionary (see article: Why is Christianity so closed-minded and exclusive?). In John 14:6 Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." To his credit, Carl Lentz actually quoted (half of) this verse twice during this interview. But the unbelieving listener would have been given the distinct impression that failing to follow Jesus would only result in a less than ideal life. And besides that, Oprah has established the belief that all religions are, at best, essentially the same, so not choosing Jesus simply leaves open a thousand other spiritual options. This is Oprah Winfrey's show, after all; she is not going to allow the true Gospel (the one she rejected many years ago) to make an appearance while she's in charge. That appears to be why she had Hillsong Pastor Carl Lentz as a guest. Maybe Oprah saw Lentz as no real threat? In the end, he and Oprah made everyone comfortable with "whatever works for them."
Here's an excellent teaching video about Carl Lentz:
As an interesting side note, Bobbie Houston made the following over-the-top comment on Instagram; it really appears like she made a preemptive strike against the criticism that Pastor Lentz brought upon himself:
Read Bud Ahleim's article about it here: Bobbie Houston: If You Hate Hillsong, You Hate God
Here's a LOT more information about Brian Houston (Carl Lentz's mentor and senior Pastor) and his Hillsong church: "The Brian Houston & Hillsong Cornucopia of False Doctrine, Abuse, Obfuscation & Money Generation"
For those of you who think it's mean and unloving to criticize Hillsong, Carl Lentz (or any other popular teacher) here's a list of Bible verses to consider: Shocking Stuff You're Not Supposed to Know.
If you're having a knee-jerk reaction to try and defend Carl Lentz or Hillsong, check out: Confirmation Bias: Why You Are Protecting Your False Beliefs.
Finally, here's an important article that will help you be more discerning and a lot less gullible: Defusing Demonic Dirty Bombs.
Steven Kozar started The Messed Up Church; he is an artist, musician, blogger and stuff.