May 25th, 2011
07:13 PM ET
By Steve Almasy, CNN
(CNN) – Oprah Winfrey closed her sentimental final show with the words, "I won’t say goodbye, I’ll just say until we meet again."
Then, after a subtle pause, she added, "To God be the glory.”
With her work done, she walked through the audience and left the set of her talk show. During the show's 25-year run, she interviewed more than 30,000 people and won more than 40 Emmys. The credits rolled as she walked the hallways of the Harpo complex, saying goodbye to her staff.
She has been one of the most influential people in America, if not the world. Commentators looked at the power she held over her audience, and some people even likened her viewers to members of a cult.
Winfrey professed her faith and her belief in God, but over the course of the show, some observers saw her more as a spiritual person than a Christian.
In her last show, Winfrey took several minutes to speak to her belief that God - and her staff - were behind the show's success.
"People often ask me what is the secret to the success of the show," she said. "How have we lasted 25 years. I non-jokingly say, my team - and Jesus."
It was a remark that drew applause from the studio audience but also may make Christian commentators take notice.
Kathryn Lofton, who has watched more than 2,500 episodes of the show, said she had recorded the finale and would watch it later tonight. But her friends were texting her about the episode.
Lofton, a professor of U.S. religious history at Yale University and the author of "Oprah: The Gospel of an Icon," was intrigued that Winfrey had mentioned Jesus, since she had used his name sparingly on air.
"Early on (in her career) she was more comfortable in saying that but over time began to use this more universal language of 'spirit,'" said Lofton, who wrote about Oprah's final show for CNN's Belief Blog.
Lofton says Winfrey wants to be viewed as someone who "translates and understands herself as a Christian woman" but reflects a modern attitude about religion and religious institutions.
And that has angered a few folks.
In 2008, Winfrey endorsed the book "A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose," helping it sell more than 3.5 million copies after the talk-show host selected it for her book club. Winfrey and the book's author, Eckhart Tolle, took part in a webinar in which she angered some Christians by saying that Jesus didn't come to die on the cross.
"It really was about him coming to show us how to do it, how to be, to show us the Christ-consciousness that he had and that that consciousness abides with all of us," she told the audience.
One viewer even asked the question on the Oprah.com message boards: Is Oprah a Christian?
Pistis07 wrote: "I was surprised because I had always thought she was a Christian but after flicking through her website and watching clips of more shows where she seems to be promoting a type of New Age religion and books from 'New Age spiritualists,' I really doubt that she is a Christian in the way Jesus explained and most Christians understand. Or perhaps she's just confused about the nature of God."
It was an issue her critics seized on. They said she wasn't promoting the God of the Bible but instead was indoctrinating her audience into a New Age spiritualism.
Authors Josh McDowell and Dave Sterrett say as much in their book, "'O' God: A Dialogue on Truth and Oprah's Spirituality." Sterrett told Crosswalk.com in October 2009 that Winfrey "reflects the common American practice of choosing whatever beliefs seem most attractive and leaving the rest."
Her message in the final years of her show was that the truth of life was within the individual, several commentators have said.
"Christians aren't people who have gotten in touch with their inner selves, but those who actually have Christ living inside of them through the Holy Spirit," McDowell told Crosswalk.
What Winfrey tried to get across is her belief that there wasn't just one right way to be connected to God, Lofton argues.
"The only right way is the way that she herself articulates and embodies, which is multiplicity," she said. "You can be many things. There are many paths to God, she says. It's that multiplicity which very much marks contemporary religious life."
Winfrey wanted to make sure that everyone knew she wasn't being ambiguous about her faith. In her final show, she spoke of how God has always been there, a voice whispering. And that her faith, while it might seem different than the one taught in religious institutions, was at its roots the same: It all centers on one thing.
"Nothing but the hand of God has made this possible for me," she said. "For all of you who get riled up when I mention God and you want to know which God I'm talking about, I'm talking about the same one you're talking about. I'm talking about the Alpha and the Omega. The omniscient. The omnipresent. The ultimate consciousness. The source, the force, the all of everything there is. The one and only, G-O-D. That's the one I'm talkin' about."
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team and frequent posts from religion scholar and author Stephen Prothero.