Carl Lentz, lead pastor at Hillsong New York, told Oprah Winfrey in an interview that any person can have a relationship with God even if that person is not a Christian.
The controversial “rockstar pastor” sat down with Oprah for an episode of Super Soul Sunday, which was recorded earlier this year but only recently aired, to talk about many things like the premise of Christianity, racism, ego, Justin Bieber’s baptism and the pastor’s "breakthrough" to spiritual awakening.
Oprah began by asking Lentz about what it means that his faith is not about religion but about a relationship with God.
“What I find interesting, in everything that I’ve read, is that it really, for you, is not about religion but about — this is what struck me and this is my real intention of having this conversation with you today — it’s about your relationship with God,” Oprah told Lenz. “So your goal is to transform the way people experience their relationship with God, would you say?”
“Yeah, I think that’s a cool way to put that,” Lentz said, clarifying that he did not possess the power to transform lives.
Lentz said he hopes churches would be able to present to people a “clearer view” of Christianity. He said many people are trying to transform their lives in their own strength but end up failing, and they don’t know why. He said it's important to teach people to bow their knee to God and admit their need of him.
“There’s a moment where my repentance matters and it’s right now, and I’m handing over the keys,” Lentz said. “If you do that, God can drive this better than you can.”
Lentz described the premise of Christianity as something similar to looking in a mirror and acknowledging your need for God. When that happens, he said, there’s a “rescue, a salvation that you can’t counterfeit any other way.”
“Do you believe that only Christians can be in a relationship with God?” Oprah asked.
“No. I believe that when Jesus said ‘I am the way, the truth and the life’ – the way I read that, Jesus said He’s the road marker, He’s the map,” Lentz replied. “So I think God loves people so much that whether they accept or reject Him, He’s still gracious and He’s still moving, and He’s still giving you massive red blinking lights for you to take a right turn when you would take a left.”
Lentz emphasized that love makes the difference, saying some people would look at how others behave and say “they’re not acting right.”
He said Christianity is not about “behavior modification” but about “soul transformation.”
“You get your soul right, your behavior will change,” he said. “Yeah, your behavior can be an issue, but do you know who Jesus is? Do you know how much He loves you? Do you know what he’s done?”
A person who has had a revelation of who Jesus is won’t treat people the same way because God’s grace changes that person, enabling him or her to “change the way you live,” Lentz said.
Lentz first revealed his interview with Oprah in May, posting a photo of him with the queen of talk on Instagram. The post was liked by thousands, but it was also criticized by many, who said Oprah does not acknowledge Jesus as the way, the truth and the life.
Hillsong New York is touted as the fastest growing church in the city. It has been involved in a number of controversies, such as the youth pastor dressing up as a naked cowboy at a women’s conference in May.
Hillsong senior pastor Brian Houston apologized for what happened at the conference, saying the event organizers, which included his wife, Lentz and Lentz’s wife, were not aware of the naked cowboy’s appearance at the event and that it was not part of the original plan.