Moralistic Therapeutic...What?

(I started this post days ago, and have really struggled with it.  I think the more important something is to me, the harder time I have sometimes putting my thoughts on paper...or computer screen.  I've finally decided it's time for this one to go "as is"...so my apologies for any awkwardness or lack of clarity in advance.)

Several months ago I began a series of posts on "Protecting Children".   (Protecting Children, part 1;  Protecting Children, part 2)  That series is by no means finished...in fact, it will probably be ongoing for as long as I am blogging.  I have a couple of posts on the topic sketchily planned on the "To Be Blogged" list that I hope to get to very soon, as a matter of fact.   That series focuses on issues such as child pornography, child trafficking, protection from predators, etc....issues about which I am very passionate.  

However, as important as I think those issues are, and as heavy as they are on my heart, there is another area of "child protection" that is even more important...and that is the spiritual protection of our children's hearts and minds...protection from the dangers of a false gospel.  

When we...I...think of the term "false gospel", I...we...tend to think of cults and false religions...Mormonism, Islam, etc.   However, the "false gospel" that I seem to be getting bombarded with lately is a different one, one which is much more insidious, much more subtle, and so very, very dangerous.  

As I've mentioned before, I recently began teaching the youth girls Sunday School class at our church.  I LOVE teaching this class...I love the girls, I love the discussions, I love everything about it (except the pesky clock that tells me my time is up and I am "yet again" late letting the girls out every week...*sigh*.  I really *am* working on it and *determined* to make a habit of getting out on time. Eek.)   Most of all, I am loving the lessons and the things God is teaching *me* through them.  We've been in 1 and 2 Samuel, learning from the lives of Samuel, Saul, and David.  *So* much good stuff there (no wonder I have a hard time finishing on time! :))  

This past week, we were in 2 Samuel 6...the account of David's decision to bring the Ark of the Covenant back to Jerusalem, and the tragic death of Uzzah as a result of disobedience in transporting the Ark.   I'm planning a whole separate blog post around this lesson, especially all the parts I had to leave out! :)   But one of the main points of the lesson was this:  We can be totally sincere, our intentions can be wonderful, but if we are not careful to see what God says about what we are doing, and obey Him in that, we may find ourselves in sin and in grave danger.   

I'm NOT going to let myself get any further into that post here, although it's tempting :), but the girls and I had some good discussion on this Sunday morning, particularly as it relates to people who say, "It doesn't matter what someone believes, or what they call their god, as long as they are sincere."  

I read a book just this week (published by a major Christian publisher and glowingly reviewed all over the blogosphere) that asserted that very thing.  I've been stunned to see this attitude seeping increasingly into the church and Christian publishing.

In his article "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism--The New American Religion", Al Mohler discusses the National Study of Youth and Religion.  As a parent and youth Sunday School teacher, the results of the study, and Mohler's article, are chilling.

According to Christian Smith and his fellow researchers at UNC-Chapel Hill, authors of the study, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism includes the following beliefs:

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."

Sound familiar?  None of these beliefs are new.  They are thoughts we've seen in the "lost" for years.  However, this study indicates that they now form the belief system of "most religiously affiliated U.S. teens."

The Mohler article is long...four pages...but "must" reading as far as I'm concerned, especially for parents, children's/youth workers, and church leadership.  I'm not going to repeat it all here.  However, there are a few points that I feel are worth particular note.

Of everything in the article, this may have been the most disturbing thing of all. Mohler says,
"The researchers, who conducted thousands of hours of interviews with a carefully identified spectrum of teenagers, discovered that for many of these teens, the interview itself was the first time they had ever discussed a theological question with an adult. What does this say about our churches? What does this say about this generation of parents?"

What does it say, indeed?   I pray that no teen with whom I come into any sort of regular contact...and particularly my own children...would never be able to say such a thing.  This causes me to treasure even more the time carved out in our school schedule for this very thing...not to mention the day-to-day opportunities.  I am strongly convicted to make those times even more of a priority.   And I am thankful for a church in which I believe it would be difficult for a teen to make it through the children's and youth departments and be able to say such a thing.  I'm also thankful that my children...and their parents...have the privilege of sitting under preaching each week that is solid "meaty" Biblical truth.  As I told the girls in Sunday School last week...the absolute best preparation they could have for attacks on their faith at college is to listen to and take notes on Bro. Kent's preaching every week.

Another deeply disturbing finding of this study...which won't be a great surprise to many...is that Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is "colonizing" the church itself today...which "seduces converts who never have to leave their congregations and Christian identification as they embrace this new faith and all of its undemanding dimensions."  According to the researchers, "...we have come with some confidence to believe that a significant part of Christianity in the United States is actually [only] tenuously Christian in any sense that is seriously connected to the actual historical Christian tradition, but is rather substantially morphed into Christianity's misbegotten step-cousin, Christian Moralistic Therapeutic Deism."

Whereas we have heard for years that America is becoming a more secular nation, Mohler's article says that isn't necessarily the case..."These researchers assert that Christianity is either degenerating into a pathetic version of itself or, more significantly, Christianity is actively being colonized and displaced by a quite different religious faith."

What does that mean for us as Bible-believing Christians?  According to Mohler:

"We must now look at the United States of America as missiologists once viewed nations that had never heard the gospel. Indeed, our missiological challenge may be even greater than the confrontation with paganism, for we face a succession of generations who have transformed Christianity into something that bears no resemblance to the faith revealed in the Bible."

More and more over the past few years, I've been convinced and convicted that as a parent and as a homeschooler, I need to be very careful in my priorities...both on paper, and subconsciously.  As I said in a previous blog post...

"My primary goal is not for my children to excel academically...although I do want them to excel academically. My primary goal is not for my children to be well-behaved in public...although I certainly want them to be well-behaved in public! :) My primary goal is not even first-time obedience with a respectful attitude...although that is a crucial foundation stone and a vital goal.
"My primary goal is for my children to love the Lord with all their hearts, souls, minds, and strength. Only if they truly love Him and have a personal walk with Him as not only Savior, but also Lord of their lives, will they truly be the successes that He...and I...want them to be. No matter what they look like on the outside, no matter how intelligent, polite, and "successful" they appear to be...if they haven't given their hearts to Him completely, it is all for naught."

I've been reminded through many sources lately that a major component of that is making sure that our children are firmly grounded in the Word...that they know the true gospel, so that they will be equipped to recognize and reject a false one...that they know what they believe and why they believe it, but also that that goes beyond head knowledge to heart knowledge...that it is truly "theirs", and not just what their parents have passed down to them.  What a challenge, particularly as we look toward a new school year.  

And what a challenge to any of us who work with youth or children.  Fellowship is a good thing.  Fun is fine and definitely has its place.   But we must never lose our focus on *why* we are there.   Grounding our children and youth in the truth...and not a watered down version...is crucial.  

1 comment:

t marie said...

Good words. Thanks for posting. I think that apathy in our personal relationships with Christ is poison, not only to ourselves, but to the world that watches those of us labeled as Christian.