Moralistic Therapeutic WHAT? Chilling Words on Young People and the Church

Protection from a False Gospel
Several months before originally writing this article in 2010, I began a series of posts on "Protecting Children".   (Protecting Children, part 1;  Protecting Children, part 2, Child Protection Resources)  That series is by no means finished...in fact, it will probably be ongoing for as long as I am blogging. 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 think of the term "false gospel", we generally tend to think of cults and false religions: Mormonism, Islam, etc.  However, the "false gospel" that seems to be overtaking us now is a different one: one which is much more insidious, much more subtle, and so very, very dangerous.  

I spent several years teaching the youth girls Sunday School class at our former church.  I LOVED teaching this class...I loved the girls, I loved the discussions, I loved everything about it (except the pesky clock that told me my time was up each week...ugh! ;-))  Most of all, I loved the lessons and the things God taught me through them.  At the time of the original writing of this article, we were in 1 and 2 Samuel, learning from the lives of Samuel, Saul, and David.  So much good stuff there!

That particular 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.   There was so much good in this lesson, but the most important point 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.   

The girls and I had an excellent discussion about this that 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."  

We've long heard that philosophy from the world.  However, it is increasingly seeping into the church and the Christian publishing world.  At that time, I had in fact just read a book asserting that very thing which was published by a major Christian publisher and glowingly reviewed all over the blogosphere.

A New American Religion? 
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, I find the  results of the study, and Mohler's article, quite 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, but it is "must" reading as far as I'm concerned, especially for parents, children's/youth workers, and church leadership.  I can't address the entire article here, but there are a couple of things that I feel are worth particular note.

Most Disturbing

Perhaps the most disturbing thing in Mohler's article was this:
"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?" (emphasis mine)
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.   

I am also thankful that our family has been blessed with churches in which I believe it would be difficult (if not impossible) for a young adult to go through their childhood and teen years and say such a thing.  I'm thankful that my children (and their parents :)) have had and continue to have the privilege of sitting under preaching each week that is solid "meaty" Biblical truth. 

Colonizing the Church

Another deeply disturbing finding of this study is that Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is "colonizing" the church itself today. It "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 this: "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."

  • Our children must be firmly grounded in the Word.
  • Our children must know the true gospel so that they will be equipped to recognize and reject a false one.
  • Our children must know what they believe and why they believe it, but that must go beyond head knowledge to heart knowledge. They must take that as truly their own, and not just what their parents have passed down to them.  

What a challenge to us as parents.  We cannot make the "heart stuff" happen.  There is no formula to produce that in our children.  Our responsibility is to teach them according to God's Word, to diligently pray for them, and most importantly, to truly "live it" ourselves, and to show true repentance and humility when we fail.  Then we have to trust the Holy Spirit to do His work in them, just as He does in us.

What a challenge also 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.  

What a challenge, really, to any of us who call ourselves Christians.  We need to be sure that we are grounded in truth ourselves.  We need to be sure that we are involved in a solid Bible-teaching church.  We need to support and encourage pastors who are committed to teaching the truth of God's Word.   

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction.~2 Peter 2:1

And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.  ~Deuteronomy 6:6-7

So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  ~John 8:31-32

How and where have you encountered the "false gospel" of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism?  Do you agree that it is infiltrating our churches?   How are you living out the command to "teach them diligently" to your children?  

I'd love to hear in the comments, or via the "contact me" box in the sidebar.  

Author's Note: Long-time readers may recognize much of the content of this post.  It was originally written and published in 2010.  In the process of preparing to share it from the archives, I decided to edit and update it a bit and completely republish it instead.  

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