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Thursday, June 30, 2005

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism

Today, at the worldview conference I am attending this week, Dr. Gene Edward Veith spoke to us about a new book called Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers by Christian Smith and Denton Melinda Lundquist.

It seems that the authors have concluded that the majority of American teens, including those who are active members of conservative churches, basically live by a creed which the authors are calling Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.

The basic tenets of this creed are:

  • God created the world.
  • God wants us to be good.
  • God wants us to be nice.
  • The central goal of life is to be happy.
  • God does not generally interfere in a person's life - except when one has a problem (this is what I call the Divine AAA Membership).
  • And finally, good people go to heaven.

I'm sure that Smith and Lundquist are correct in their assesment of American teenagers. But, with Dr. Veith, I would not limit it to them. I'd say that is how a large percentage of adults think as well.

Except for the first two tenets listed above, none of them are Christian statements. Would it surprise you if I said that the main message of Christianity is not "be nice to people?" It certainly appears that most of the people who actually met Jesus didn't consider Him a nice person. Let's be honest, most of the people who met Jesus found Him offensive. His own disciples were frequently embarrassed by His shocking and unpredictable actions and utterances. If being nice means comporting yourself in such a manner that most people like you, Jesus was not, by that standard, a nice man. And neither are His disciples. Christ warned His hearers to count the cost of following Him for they will be despised by the world even as it despised Him.

The main message of Christianity, you see, is that we are all objects of God's wrath on account of our sin and that God's Son, Jesus, has atoned for our sins so that we may be eternally pardoned. And when this message is communicated, especially the first part, people do not usually thank you for it.

In Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, God's chief interest is to make you happy. The reality is that our greatest happiness is found on the far side of great sorrow. God has to make us unhappy (by revealing the gravity of our sinful condition) before making us truly happy (by absolving us for the sake of Christ). In other words, God has to kill us before He makes us alive.

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2 comments:

Ryan P.T. said...

Preach it!

The question is: what aspect of our Christian lives is perpetuating this view? What are our churches teaching? Can I PLEASE stop hearing about how to make myself a better person, and instead hear what a sinner I am, ransomed by a gracious God? Please? Isn't there a church that cares about this?

Oh, wait, there is. Can we Lutherans get a voice already?

Pastor Scott Stiegemeyer said...

Ryan,
Ditto!

New Curriculum at Concordia Theological Seminary