We need to hear something from you about "The Secret" as seen on Oprah. This is beginning to sweep through our church and I know it must be affecting others as well. Please post something on your website.—Nick (Baltimore)

I have to admit that until your email came, I'd never heard of The Secret. Soon after, I noticed it was being promoted in our local bookstore. However, the basic idea is nothing new, or even secret. It's the recycling of some rather old ideas, ones I first came across in the early 1980s. I've read several books similar in thinking. Having watched the promotional video for The Secret, I am ready to offer a few comments. But first, for newcomers to this popular craze:

According to "The Secret," a video by Rhonda Byrne offering a better way of life, if we can envision what we want, truly believing it will happen and willing to act on our dream, it will happen. We will get what we desire. We can see our debts disappear. We can lose weight. We can become millionaires. (No wonder it's so popular!) Guest speakers share similar rags-to-riches stories. If you want to be like them, you will want to know "The Secret." You are asked to consider purchasing a book or video.

As I tuned in to Oprah, I heard the following. (And to the best of my listening ability, these are actual quotations from guests on the show).

  • "We have an absolutely unlimited power within us... We are all just energy... Thought and feeling control the flow of energy."
  • "We all have our own magnetic power... The thoughts we think -- our feelings -- send out a wave into the universe, and anything that's vibrating in a similar level gets attracted into our life."
  • Thus "we create our own reality, attracting into our lives the things we want, which means that our thoughts are the most powerful things about our lives."
  • This is because of a fundamental law in the universe: "What you focus on expands... Our thoughts, feelings, actions all have to be firing at the same time..." There are "no coincidences – everything happens by principles and laws in our universe..." This is "a time when spiritual traditions and science are in total agreement." Those who discovered the path before us include Einstein, Newton, Edison, Plato, Carnegie, Churchill, and the Buddha!
  • This is "so exciting – now the secret has reached mass appeal!"

As I see it, yes, mass appeal will result whenever you offer people whatever they want. Now I'm aware that Oprah is an amazing woman who has accomplished some pretty amazing things. She has given hope to millions, and has become a highly respected voice and source of inspiration. And yet in my opinion, and to speak bluntly, The Secret, promoted on her show, is taking millions for a ride. After all, you can't change reality just by thinking.

As one reader writes in, "Having been a young adult in the '70s and not yet a Christian, I was into the metaphysical movement now known as the New Age movement. It is all the same self-focus, greedy, mind over matter mumbo jumbo, and to top it all off, The Secret is really old news. There is a book called Three Magic Words (written about 30 years ago) that is full of all the same ideas, and in the end the three magic words are: 'I am God.' This book gives you the notion that you have the same power that God has, so why would you need him anymore."

Prosperity theology
What makes it so sad that professing Christians are buying into this is that what is being proclaimed on the talk shows is essentially the same as that being peddled by preachers of prosperity theology. (They are those who chant, "Name it and claim it.") This is also called the word-faith movement. Mark 11:24 says that if, when we pray, we believe we have already received, it will be ours. But Jesus is speaking in hyperbole (deliberate overstatement for effect). He also said that if we pray with faith we can move mountains. (Again, an instance of hyperbole -- no mountains have ever literally been moved.)

This kind of thinking actually has more in common with oriental "mind-over-matter" and New Age thinking than it does with the gospel. Bible readers should be able to see through this, especially since it closely resembles the false doctrine 1 - 2 John, 1 Timothy, and Colossians were written to combat: Gnosticism.

According to recent surveys, 95% of pentecostal/charismatic churches proclaim prosperity theology. That is, they too teach that if you are spiritual enough, you'll get what you want. Why would churches teach this? Maybe because churches tend to reflect the values of the societies in which they live (what the Bible calls the world -- 1 John 2:15-17), and most Americans have been sucked in to this erroneous thinking. This is wrong because it creates a class of Christians who are tempted to appreciate Christ for what he does for us. This is contrary to the spirit of Luke 17:7-10.

But where is God in all of this? Where is the Cross? Where is self-denial? Jesus said, in Luke 9:23, that when we follow him we are going to have to carry our cross -- to suffer. To be even more blunt than I have been so far, I would call "The Secret" nothing but the gospel of "Self and Wealth." No doubt its promoters will become richer and richer, falsely holding out the unreachable hope of riches for the millions who buy their books and videos.

There's a secret, all right. The secret is that the prophets of "the secret" are destined to become rich (the very thing they proffer), while those who help them realize their dreams are never likely to realize their own.

Claims Byrne, "The Secret is the culmination of centuries of great thinkers, scientists, artists and philosophers. Here we take an exciting look behind the scenes of The Secret’s life-transforming power." I hope that my readers will be able to see through all of this. To smell a rat -- the logical impossibilities of such a "secret." And also to resist all perversions of the gospel. (And avoid being soon parted from their hard-earned money).

Further study

  • Michael Shermer shares his views on Rhonda Byrne's The Secret. Click here to read his article in Scientific American.
  • Click to visit Byrne's own website, The Secret.
  • Christianity Today also features an article on this popular book/DVD. Click here for Mel Lawrenz's critique.