“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.” (COL 1:15-16)
‘Moralistic Therapeutic Deism‘ is the latest religious philosophy being embraced by American youth. Albert Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Lexington, KY, describes this phenomenon in an article in the Christian Post dated April, 2005. The trend was first identified by researchers at the National Study of Youth and Religion at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Their findings have been published in a book titled, “Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Eyes of American Teenagers” by Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton (Oxford University Press, 2005).
The researchers interviewed 3000 American adolescents and summarized their religious beliefs as follows:
- A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.
- God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
- The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
- God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when He is needed to resolve a problem.
- Good people go to heaven when they die.
The authors conclude, “…this study indicates that American teenagers are heavily influenced by the ideology of individualism that has so profoundly shaped the larger culture. This bleeds over into a reflexive non-judgmentalism and a reluctance to suggest that anyone might actually be wrong in matters of faith and belief.”
Simply stated, adolescents believe religion is about deriving self satisfaction from being a good, moral person. “That means being nice, kind, pleasant, respectful, responsible, at work on self-improvement, taking care of one’s health, and doing one’s best to be successful.”
These beliefs are not a part of some organized religion or expressed in any creed or statement of faith, they simply evolved from prolonged exposure to contemporary worship and the culture of diversity and tolerance which it reflects.
Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is “not a religion of repentance from sin, of keeping the Sabbath, of living as a servant of sovereign divinity, of steadfastly saying one’s prayers, of faithfully observing high holy days, of building character through suffering, of basking in God’s love and grace, of spending oneself in gratitude and love for the cause of social justice…. ” So what is it about? “…it is about feeling good, happy, secure, at peace. It is about attaining subjective well-being, being able to resolve problems, and getting along amiably with other people.”
In this scheme of things, God is some sort of celestial benefactor who is there to solve all problems and meet all needs without requiring anything in return. He doesn’t meddle in people’s affairs or make them uncomfortable with their lifestyle, but affirms them in all they do. He is essentially the Great Therapist.
This attitude is prevalent from sermons to small groups, in seeker friendly megachurches and small local churches. It shows itself in a tendency to favor books by popular contemporary Christian authors over serious Bible study, to devote much together time to socializing and little to corporate prayer, and to embrace and affirm all conduct whether good or bad rather than confronting and correcting it.
I witnessed this religion first hand in a church I once attended. A member came to church one Sunday with his new girlfriend and sat two rows behind his wife and two children during the worship service. Not a single person ever said a word to him about his scandalous behavior. I also belonged to a small group that refused to deal with a single mom who took up residence with a house full of single men. Even the police reprimanded her for poor judgment when she complained that some of the men had become abusive. They had no sympathy for her because she had exercised such poor judgment. The group, which had helped her move into the house in the first place, interceded for her and offered her comfort.
Lately I have noticed that many of my friends and family who profess to follow Christ have put the gay rainbow colors on their Facebook profiles. This same non-judgmental attitude has led them to compromise their core Christian beliefs in the name of tolerance.
These folks’ religion is totally self-serving. They cannot comprehend their own moral depravity and total inability to please God. They know nothing of the riches of His grace and mercy in offering them pardon. Therefore they have no sense of indebtedness to God or desire to devote their lives to Him in selfless service in return. Contrast that attitude with the attitudes of Moses, David, Isaiah, Daniel, Jeremiah, and Paul. Listen to how they relate to God:
“Now therefore, if I have found favor in your sight, please show me now your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight. … Moses said, “Please show me your glory.”(Ex 33:13, 18)
“One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple.” (Ps 27:4)
“For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.” (Ps 84:10)
“As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God.” (Ps 42:1)
“In the path of your judgments, O Lord, we wait for you; your name and remembrance
are the desire of our soul.” (Is 26:8, 13)
“Now therefore, O our God, listen to the prayer of your servant and to his pleas for mercy, and for your own sake, O Lord, make your face to shine upon your sanctuary, which is desolate. O my God, incline your ear and hear. Open your eyes and see our desolations, and the city that is called by your name. For we do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy. O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. O Lord, pay attention and act. Delay not, for your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people are called by your name.” (Dan 9:17-19)
“We acknowledge our wickedness, O Lord, and the iniquity of our fathers, for we have sinned against you. Do not spurn us, for your name’s sake; do not dishonor your glorious throne; remember and do not break your covenant with us.” (Jer 14:20-21)
“…that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might” (Eph 1:17-19)
“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.” (Phil 3:21 )
“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Phil 3:9-10)
“To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.” (Eph 3:8-10)
Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is a pretty shabby shadow of the faith that characterized these men of God, don’t you think? They were all about knowing God, seeking His favor, seeing His glory, gazing on His beauty, dwelling in His presence, protecting the honor of His name, experiencing the power of His resurrection, sharing in the fellowship of His sufferings, longing for Him, preaching the gospel, being fruitful in His service, grasping the wonder of His blessings, and proclaiming his wisdom and power to heavenly authorities. These things were more important than life itself to them.
Perhaps part of the problem today is the way we present Christ. We offer Him up as the solution to all our problems. So when we come to Christ, we eagerly accept Him as our Savior, but reluctantly submit to Him as Lord. We accept all the good stuff – peace, hope, joy, love – but decline to pick up our cross. We warmly receive His invitation to become part of His family, but without acknowledging the sins that have cut us off from Him in the first place. We are eager to accept His forgiveness but slow to express sorrow and remorse for our failures. We don’t heed Jesus’ words to forsake all when we follow Him. Instead, we keep it all and add Jesus to make everything complete. We want heaven on earth and on our terms.
God saves us ultimately not for our benefit, but for His. As our verse says, “All things were created through Him and for Him.” He created us to have fellowship with Him. We broke that bond and went our own way. He sent His Son to restore that relationship by suffering and dying for our sins so that we might once again find favor with Him. As the Westminster Confession says, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” It is not to fill our lives with those things that take His place.
The church needs to get back to its roots – to sound doctrine based on a correct interpretation of scripture. It needs to reaffirm the tenets of the faith as expressed in the Westminster Confession and other historic creeds. It must abandon its fascination with Christian best sellers and go back to the Christian classics like John Calvin’s Institutes, and the works of Jonathan Edwards, Charles Spurgeon, John Knox and the Puritan writers. But most of all, it needs to get back to a systematic, sequential study of the scriptures based on a grammatical-historical approach to interpretation so that this kind of error doesn’t continue to corrupt Christian doctrine.