Moralistic therapeutic deism

The Standard October 14, 2021

“Dr. Christian Smith and Melinda L. Denton, fellow researchers with the National Study of Youth and Religion at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, published “Soul Searching: the Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers,” Christianity Today’s 2005 Distinguished Book Award. These sociologists, after conducting over 3,000 interviews with teenagers across the country at the turn of the millennium, coined the term “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” to describe a typical belief system proliferating among our youth. Some of the things the respondents believed were:

  • God created the world and made natural laws that give order.
  • God wants us to be good, nice and fair. This is taught in the Bible and in most world religions.
  • Our ultimate purpose is to be happy and to feel good about ourselves.
  • God lets good people go to heaven.
  • God remains mostly distant from us, unless we need something.

Deism involves belief in a higher power that created the world and left us with natural laws to order the universe, but has little involvement with us on a day-to-day basis. Miracles do not fit into this school of thought. In Theism, God created the world and is intimately involved with us each day. God intervenes in our lives, sometimes in miraculous ways. In MTD, God demands very little from us and typically there is no such thing as absolute truth.

Smith and Denton found that most American teenagers had very little theological understanding. “To the extent that the teens we interviewed did manage to articulate what they understood and believed religiously, it became clear that most religious teenagers either do not really comprehend what their own religious traditions say they are supposed to believe, or they do understand it and simply do not care to believe it. Either way, it is apparent that most religiously affiliated U.S. teens are not particularly interested in espousing and upholding the beliefs of their faith traditions, or that their communities of faith are failing in attempts to educate their youth, or both.”

According to an April 2021 article by the Cultural Research Center staff at Arizona Christian University, “new findings from the American Worldview Inventory 2021 show that nearly four of 10 adults (38%) are more likely to embrace elements of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism than other popular worldviews, including Biblical Theism (or the biblical worldview), Secular Humanism, Postmodernism, Nihilism, Marxism (along with its offshoot, Critical Theory) and Eastern Mysticism (or ‘New Age’).”  Dr. George Barna, CRC Director of Research and author of the AWVI 2021, says Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, is “a worldview that is defined and driven by current culture more than historic religious truths or a comprehensive and coherent doctrine.” Barna concludes that “practitioners of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism are not anti-religion or anti-Christianity. They just are not willing to surrender themselves to authentic Christianity’s demands—or to believe that a real faith would even make such demands of them.”

Theology is important. Nothing is more crucial than teaching our children specifics about our Christian faith and what Jesus said and modeled. He quoted the Old Testament approximately twenty times and made indirect references to it on numerous occasions, holding up Scripture as authoritative. Jesus showed that God cared deeply and constantly for all people and that their best response was to believe, love God and put the needs of others first.

“And he [Jesus] said, ‘The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.’ Then he said to them all: ’Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self? Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.”  (Luke 9: 22-26)

Jesus said to Nicodemus, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” (John 3:16-18)

“Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’” (John 14:6)

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