THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO…
May 26, 2002
Unlike Oprah and Britney Spears—everybody tends to love them—Bill O’Reilly is a different case. O’Reilly is the kind of person you either love or hate. There are very few people who remain neutral about Mr. O’Reilly, but he is truly a phenom, and he is a cultural icon right now. Unless you have been living in a cave for the last 5 years, you have probably seen and heard Bill O’Reilly and his show, The O’Reilly Factor. His new show is the #1 rated news talk show on cable TV, and he has put out several books. Two of his books have reached #1 on the New York Times Best Seller List. His ego and influence stretch around the world right now, and he truly impacts multiple millions of people around this globe with his message and his no-nonsense straight talk.
Tonight we are going to look at Bill O’Reilly—his story, his gospel, and his spin on bias and religion. Let’s look at a brief bio on Bill O’Reilly. He, like Britney Spears and Oprah, is pure Americana. His story is one from humble beginnings, from rags to riches. He was born and raised in Long Island, New York with parents who were staunch Irish Catholic. He grew up in a working class family and a pretty tough environment, but he was quite a competitor and astute student. He also was raised in the Catholic Church. He was an altar boy, believe it or not, for ten years, and he has spent 16 years receiving education under different Catholic priests and teachers.
Here’s what O’Reilly says about church in one of his books. He says, “I go to church, but I am an independent thinker. For me, religion is primarily a way to examine my conscience and spend time thinking about things more important than my own existence.” And he adds, “Which is pretty tough for a TV person.” He has two Masters degrees—one from Boston University and the other one he received in 1995 from Harvard. After college, he taught high school for two years in Miami, Florida. Can you imagine having O’Reilly as your high school teacher? “Come on, give me the facts! How can you say that?” Only two years as a teacher, and then he moved into broadcast journalism.
He has spent over twenty-five years in TV. He has worked for CBS News, ABC News, and also Inside Edition, before he hit the big time in 1996, when he landed his own program called The O’Reilly Factor with Fox News. And the rest is broadcast history, as you would say. To sum it up, O’Reilly, if you have not seen him, is a tough, witty, relentless interviewer. He is tenacious like a pit bull in heat. When he gets after a subject or a person, he will just tear into them and grind and grind and grind, until he gets to what he perceives to be the truth and the facts on that particular issue.
If I had to summarize O’Reilly’s gospel in a few sound bytes, I would say it’s this: Work hard, be honest, and take responsibility for your life. Basically, that is what his show is about. That’s the agenda or the truth that he is trying to communicate to people. Those are all good things. Work hard; pull yourself up by your bootstraps. Be honest. Practice integrity and take responsibility for your life and your own actions. Stop blaming other people.
I would say that O’Reilly is a selective moralist, and he draws a lot of his ethics from the Judeo-Christian tradition. All in all, I like most of what O’Reilly says. Someone came up to me after the service last week and said, “Now take it easy on Bill O’Reilly. I like him.” My point in doing this series is not to come down hard on O’Reilly or Oprah, maybe Britney Spears a little bit. I like O’Reilly, generally speaking. When he is borrowing his ethics and his morality from the Scripture, I like him. I have a problem when he steps outside of that boundary. I also have a problem with the subtitle of his show, which I think is absolutely hilarious. “You are now entering the no-spin zone.” This is what kind of irks me about O’Reilly, and people in his particular epistemological camp, is they believe when they look at a particular issue or a story that they are completely objective and neutral.
Here is their motto. This is not a direct quote from O’Reilly, but it’s something like this. He will say something like,” I just want to deal with facts. I want to deal with the objective facts as they really are. I am completely neutral. I am completely unbiased.” Note to Mr. O’Reilly: You are wrong, sir. It is impossible to be neutral on any issue, whether it is a religious issue, a political issue, a social issue or the price of cornbread in a local grocery story. You can’t approach any issue or any object or any person from a position of pure, objective neutrality because everyone has a particular worldview.
A worldview is a set of beliefs we hold to, either consciously or subconsciously, about the overall makeup of the world. Everyone has a worldview. Most of our worldviews come from assumptions. It’s something we are not even aware that we believe, but everybody has an idea about who God is or if there is a God, about how they determine what is right and wrong and about what’s going to happen at the end of their life. Everybody has answers to these questions.
The idea that you can approach an issue completely neutral, “I’m just looking at the facts,” is an impossibility. If you want to discern someone’s worldview, you can ask four basic diagnostic questions that will help you discern what perspective someone is coming from. You don’t have to actually pin someone down when you are talking with him or her but maybe in your mind, you can be asking these four questions that will reveal it.
The first question you need to ask is this: What is ultimate reality? There are many ways to respond to that question. When someone is asked that question, they may say that ultimate reality is matter, things, stuff, and the cosmos. All there is, is stuff. Molecules in motion, that’s ultimate reality. Someone else may say ultimate reality is Brahman. It’s the universal spirit that basically there is no distinction between matter and spirit. Ultimately everything is one. Others may say ultimate reality is God. Some may say ultimate reality is my faults or myself. The first question you can ask to determine someone’s worldview is: What is ultimate reality?
The Second question you need to ask is: What is a human being? Someone, if they hold to a naturalist worldview, if they are a thorough-going evolutionist, they may say a human being is nothing but a naked ape. It’s nothing but a sophisticated animal. That’s what a human being is. Someone else may say a human being is a sleeping god. We all have a spark of the divinity within us and we need to awaken to the God within us. That’s what a human being is. Someone else may say a human being is a complex machine.
The third question you need to ask is: What happens to a person at death? Some would say extinction. It’s like if I were to blow out a candle, that’s what happens when you die. Your light goes out, you are dead, dust–to-dust, and you become worm food for the rest of your life. Someone else would say that’s not what happens at death. Once you die, you get a do over. You get reincarnated. You come back as a dog, as a cat, as an armadillo depending upon your good and bad deeds on earth. Others may say that after you die, there is judgment and you will either go to heaven or to hell. Others may say when you die, if you worship Allah or you do something for him, then you get to go to some paradise with all of these oodles of virgins.
The fourth question you ask to determine someone’s worldview is: How can you know right from wrong? This is the question of ethics. How do you determine what is right and what is wrong; what is good and what is bad? Do you determine that? Do your feelings determine what is right and what’s wrong? Does a book outside of you determine what is right and what is wrong? Do your parents determine what’s right and what’s wrong? Does society determine what is right and what is wrong? This is the fourth question you can ask to determine someone’s worldview.
Most people are unaware of the fact that they have these assumptions, these givens. These are given. These are things that people don’t question, but it’s like a lens. It’s like wearing sunglasses. If I had on rose-colored sunglasses, that’s going to affect everything that I see in that rose tint. If I had yellow sunglasses on, it’s going to make me see a different way. It’s the same with your worldview. If you have a naturalistic worldview or if you have an existential worldview or if you have a postmodern worldview, it’s going to affect the way you see and deal with things. It affects everything. Therefore, no one is neutral and objective, as O’Reilly claims to be, but instead everyone is biased and subjective.
This does not mean that there is not objective truth. There is objective truth. God has revealed to us who He is and His standards. That’s objective but our perspective, unless we are thinking God’s thoughts after Him, are tweaked and they are biased. Let’s just take something, for example. The guy on the front row is wearing a hat. It’s a navy hat with an S on it. You would think that I could look at that hat, and Gary Piel could look at that hat and we are just going to look at the facts, right. We are completely unbiased. He has a navy blue hat with a white S on it and Gary and I are going to take the same things away from that.
You can’t do that. Why? Because what Gary brings to the table is his entire life, which is a part of his worldview. Forget those four questions—his upbringing, his like or dislike of hats, what S means to him (Is that a snake or an S?) or what does that stand for? I bring my own personal background, the good things, the bad things, the sad things, the happy things, all my experiences, my entire upbringing, and all my education. I bring everything as I interpret something as simple as a navy blue hat with an S on it.
Don’t believe it when you hear anyone, whether it’s O’Reilly or someone on a different T.V. news station, or if you are reading something in the Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Chronicle or Sports Illustrated, or Sally, Dick, and Jane in the first grade—everybody is coming from a particular worldview. Everyone has a perspective or a take, and it will influence and slant that. You can’t get around it.
You can try to be objective, and if you are in the journalistic profession, you should try to be objective. You should try to look at things as neutral as possible but the idea that you can achieve it perfectly on this planet is really a farce. Let me show you an example of that: A while back, O’Reilly interviewed Jerry Falwell, and I want you to watch this clip of O’Reilly and Falwell. You kind of get a flavor of what O’Reilly is like and also you will get his spin on religion. So, watch this clip.
Clip – O’Reilly: “Here’s the loophole you want to hear. It’s very interesting. And I believe this to be true. The Catholic theologians, not all of them, but the ones that I respect, say that if you lead a life that mirrors the life of Jesus in the sense that you love God, whatever God, above all things, and you treat your neighbor as yourself, that’s enough to get you into heaven or paradise, or whatever you want to call it, because that’s Jesus’s philosophy. Maybe you don’t acknowledge that Jesus is God, but by living the way He did, that’s enough to get you there. And I believe that.” Falwell: “You’ll never get Pope John Paul II to amen that.” O’Reilly: “Maybe I won’t, but I think that’s an inclusionary religion and that’s a religion for all men.” Falwell: “I admire and respect your point of view, and there is nobody that I admire more on television than Bill O’Reilly, and nobody sends more people to watch you because I like what you are doing, but you are wrong on that.” O’Reilly: “All right. I’d rather be wrong and inclusionary, than exclusionary. See I know some very, very, very good Jews and Buddhists, and I can’t imagine that a God, an All-Just God would ever not accept them into wherever that…”
That’s a little taste of the dialogue with Falwell. Come on, Bill. Look a little closer at your inclusionary religion. He said to Falwell that he believes in inclusionary religion, and he says in his particular religion, which is Roman Catholicism, that there is a loophole. I would believe that orthodox Roman Catholics don’t believe that, but this is what O’Reilly said and this is what he believes: If you mirror the life of Christ, love God above all else and you love your neighbor as yourself, then regardless if you believed in Jesus, if you lived a semi-ethical, moral life, then you are going to get in.” And he said, inclusionary religion!
That’s kind of like Oprah’s statement a couple of weeks ago. The statement we’ve heard many people say before, many people at work, many people we live with, that there are many diverse paths that lead to God. That sounds so great and so embracing, but when you ask just a few probing questions, you will see the hypocrisy and the contradiction within that particular statement. For example, I would ask him this about his inclusionary religion: “How do you know that that is true? In other words, how do you know if you lead a good, moral life, no matter what you believe, you are going to get into heaven? How do you know that, Bill?”
Question number two: “What about those people who are not good enough to make it? What about the people who have really messed up? What about the people who have really sinned big time and broken the law? What about those people? What’s going to happen to them? “
Third question I would ask him would be: “How good do you have to be in this inclusionary religion?” Follow up: “Who decides how good you have to be? Do you understand that? Who is going to be the judge and the arbiter and say, ‘Oh, you have to have this many good works, and you can’t have this many bad works, this many sins?’ Who decides that?”
Another question I would ask you guys in the congregation is, what dogma is he preaching? You can’t escape dogma and doctrine. It doesn’t matter if you are an atheist, an existentialist, a New Ager, Jewish, or Buddhist. Whatever you believe, you cannot escape being dogmatic and preaching a particular doctrine. What doctrine is O’Reilly preaching? We spent six months studying it. O’Reilly is preaching the doctrine of justification by good works.
He is saying at the end of your life, whether you are a Buddhist, a Muslim, or a Christian, that God is going to take up these big scales and He is going to put your good works on one side of the scale and your bad works and sins on the other side. If your good works are heavier than your bad works, then no matter who you are, no matter what you believe, you get in. Those are a few questions that I would ask Bill, or someone else like that about that particular statement. It sounds inclusionary, but it is not. His gospel or his take on religion is only for good people; it’s not for bad people.
Let’s push it a little further. Let’s look at his inclusionary religion because it’s ironic from a Christian worldview. That is my perspective because I am biased. I am not neutral. I believe what I believe because of my commitment to Jesus Christ. He is Lord over everything in my life, everything that I say every time I step into the pulpit, and every time I write something, it is being influenced by my commitment to Jesus Christ.
What’s ironic as you look at O’Reilly’s statement through a Christian worldview is, not only is his religion not inclusionary, his religion is completely exclusionary. From a Biblical perspective, his religion, the religion of justification by good works, excludes everybody. Ridiculous note: If you mirror Christ’s life, you will go to heaven. That’s what he said. If you love God above all else, and you love your neighbor as yourself, then you will get in. Problem: Like most Americans, he is grossly underestimating the holiness of God, while simultaneously grossly overestimating his own holiness.
Romans Chapter 3, starting with Verse 9 says, “What shall we conclude then, are we any better? Not at all. We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin.” What Paul has been saying in the first two chapters of Romans is this: It doesn’t matter if you are religious or irreligious. It doesn’t matter if you are a pimp or a preacher. It doesn’t matter if you are a minister or a murderer. It doesn’t matter if you have little bitty sins or great big sins. It doesn’t matter, he says, because everyone is in the same sinking ship. One sin, one small, tiny-weenie sin, one little white lie is enough to separate you from God forever.
Look at Verse 10: “As it is written, there is no one righteous, not even one. There is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away. Together they have become worthless. There is no one who does good, not even one.” Here’s the power point: No one is good enough in God’s sight. No one has ever perfectly mirrored the life of Christ. God’s standard to get into heaven is 100% perfection. No one has ever accomplished this. Not the most holy monk, nun, saint, missionary person who has strived their entire life not to sin, no one, no one has ever accomplished this impossible feat.
As Americans, we don’t like to hear that. You mean I am just as guilty as the people who are locked up in Huntsville. Yes! I’m just as lost and separated and guilty and contaminated as the people I work with, who cuss and cheat and lie? Yes. We are all in the same sinking ship.
Galatians Chapter 2, Verses 15 through 16 state: “We who are Jews by birth, and not ‘Gentile sinners’ (he says that sarcastically) know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.” How can you get right with God? How can you go to heaven? Is it by being good? No. No one can be good enough. No one is justified. No one is made right in God’s sight by obeying the Ten Commandments, loving God, and loving your neighbor as yourself. No one has ever loved God and loved their neighbor as their self for one minute perfectly in their life.
The law of God, the Word of God, shows us that we are in a heap of trouble, and it’s not like God is going to grade us on the curve. “If you really try hard, if you are really sincere and really try to be good, then you will get in.” No! God’s standard is perfection. God is holy. He can’t look upon sin.
How can we be justified? That’s where the cross of Christ comes into the picture. Jesus Christ died on the cross. God poured out His wrath. God poured out His judgment on Christ. We should have been on the cross. We should have died. We should have paid the price, but Christ paid that price for us. The cross tells us that we are so tweaked, we are so depraved, we are so twisted that it took the death of Jesus Christ to deal with our sin, our guilt and shame. The cross also tells us that God loves us so much that He would send His Son, Jesus Christ, to shed His blood in our place, and to experience separation on the cross for us, that we might be forgiven and covered in righteousness. Christ died on the cross because we have all failed to love God, as we should and we have all failed to love our neighbor, as we should.
The Christian faith is incredibly inclusive. It doesn’t matter your race, gender, and education or your social, economic status. It doesn’t matter if you are a sinner or if you are a saint. We all desperately need to be forgiven of our guilt and shame. We all desperately need to be clothed and given the 100% righteousness of Jesus Christ that He earned for us. That’s good news, isn’t it?
The Gospel says this: Bad people go to heaven…bad people, evil people, like you and like me. It’s justification by faith in Christ alone. Those who are justified make it in. If God was purely just (think about it), then everybody would be toast. I can’t imagine a purely just God. If He was purely just, everybody is gone. But we know that God is just and merciful.
Some people—those who don’t trust in Christ—shake their fist at Him and rebel against Him, and they receive justice, separation from God. Others, who trust in Christ and cry out for His mercy and grace, receive mercy, but no one is gypped. God has clearly revealed Himself to every person, in every corner of the globe. Clearly He has revealed Himself to them, and we are responsible to how we respond to Him. The good news is this: The Gospel embraces everyone in all cultures, and all backgrounds. It’s the good news of God’s grace.
The Christian message is not about you and what you have done. The Christian message, the Gospel, is about God and what He has done. It’s about what God has done for you and the person of Christ Jesus. God has come to rescue you from doom and despair and to put you in a place of hope and healing.
You say, “Well, I just don’t deserve that. I deserve to be punished. You don’t know what I’ve done. You don’t know how many times I’ve screwed up, how many times I’ve blown it, Ben. You don’t understand. I don’t deserve this love.” Of course you don’t deserve it. I don’t deserve it either. That’s why they call it grace. Pretty amazing, isn’t it?
[Ben leads in a closing prayer.]