Anglican Perspectives

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism

American Anglican Council

By Robert Lundy, Communications Officer, AAC

 

The other day I posted on the American Anglican Council’s (AAC) Facebook page the definition of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism and was surprised by the number of people who reused that information and shared it on their own Facebook profile. Now the AAC’s social media pull is not the same as a Lady Gaga or a Justin Bieber (even if their stock is inflated). However, 20 “shares” and multiple comments, some negative, were enough to make me think the topic struck a nerve and would be good for further discussion.
So…what in the world is Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD)? When I first heard the term I thought it was something I was supposed to have read years ago in Philosophy 1000 at the University of Georgia.
The term comes from the book Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers (2005) by sociologists Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton and describes the sort of working theology that many young Americans have:

 

1. A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.
2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.
5. Good people go to heaven when they die.

 

Before I attempt to dive in to this, please take a look at what someone with more experience has to say about it. Canon David Charney is the youth minister at Christ Church, Atlanta, GA, and he addressed this topic during one of our Sure Foundation seminars:

 

After I realized that Moralistic Therapeutic Deism wasn’t something I missed in philosophy class, my next thought was that it did describe the theology of some Christians I knew and, given the increasing difficulty of distinguishing those who claim to be Christian from those who don’t, it seemed that MTD might have hit the nail on the head in pointing out a major challenge for Christianity in the West.

My prayer is that you are reading this and nodding your head in agreement and wanting to do something about it. I know, however, that some will disagree or be offended by this in some way. For those who aren’t buying in to the idea of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism being a “bad” way to go about your life, please let me offer my humble observations about why this worldview is a little messed up.

1. A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.

James 2:19 says “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that-and shudder.” Just believing that God exists doesn’t make you any better than those agents of darkness that are hell-bent on doing evil (pun intended).

2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.

It’s true; God wants people to be good to each other. Part of my issue with this is the definition of what it means to be “good, nice and fair.” Do you believe you can lovingly tell the world it’s on the road to eternal destruction and needs a savior? From what I’ve seen, many in the Anglican Communion and the Church at large don’t think that’s a very nice thing to say. Yet eternal souls are in danger. Should we not proclaim the Gospel to them?

3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
Jesus said regarding our life’s aims: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Matthew 22:37-38
God wants you and I to know him and have a daily relationship with him and he wants us to love other people. This does not mean that we will always be happy and feel good about ourselves. My experience has been that loving God at times fills me with remorse for my many shortcomings and that loving people, especially those I don’t like, isn’t always fun.

4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.

Again, God wants us to know him and have a relationship with him – not just when we need him but at all times.

5. Good people go to heaven when they die.

Jesus said that no one comes to the Father but by him. (John 14:6) Also, our good works will never save us and never could. God said: “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

I’ll finish by pointing out an instance in the Bible where the Apostle Paul addressed a group whose own religious views were off the mark – sort of like Moralistic Therapeutic Deists.

“From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. (Acts 17:26-27)

Paul is saying that God is not a “hands-off”, distant overseer but made us to seek him and find a relationship with him. The way to have that relationship is through his son, Jesus Christ. In this instance, some laughed at Paul and some believed.

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