Two Ways to Avoid Being a Moralistic Therapeutic Deist

According to Christian Smith, many young adults subscribe to Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (hereafter MTD). Proponents of MTD hold five cardinal 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.

As you can see, this worldview is moralistic ("it's important to be good"), therapeutic ("it's important to feel good"), and deistic ("God is not directly involved in history, but he does want people to be good and feel good").

This worldview is pervasive and misguided. And Christians are certainly not immune to it ( I know I'm not). For that reason, we must be careful to identify MTD, and reject it. To that end, I wish to challenge the validity of two  popular statements. Sometimes, people employ said statements as justifications for their behavior (I know I have). I believe, however, that they are the justifications of a Moralistic Therapeutic Deist, and thus are sub-Christian. Here are the statements.

  • Statement 1: "I wouldn't feel comfortable doing that."  Sometimes, the Holy Spirit convicts us of sin. We feel discomfort. Our conscience isn't at ease. We are leery of making a decision for fear of disobeying Scripture. In such  cases, it is right and good to say, "I'm not comfortable with that." But using personal comfort as an ultimate decision-making criterion is profoundly unChristian. Following Jesus isn't comfortable. Jesus says, "lose your life, that you may gain it." Discipleship is risky, unpredictable, and often counter-intuitive. We cede control of our lives to Christ. And since we are bent on self-preservation, ceding control is low on the priority totem pole. A vague feeling of discomfort is never - by itself - a legitimate reason to avoid doing something. Why? Because God isn't a Moralistic Therapeutic Deity. He is more committed to your holiness than your comfort. That should comfort you. But it should also make you uncomfortable. After all, you and I are still sinful. Quite frankly, new steps of faith usually feel uncomfortable, whether it's being more generous with your money, discipling another believer, preaching the gospel,serving the poor, or starving your flesh.
  • Statement 2: "I don't feel at peace about that." As in the case of comfort, there are legitimate occasions to say this. If you are disobeying King Jesus, you will feel great unrest. In such cases, you should pay attention to feelings of "peacelessness." However, your personal peace barometer is a lousy gauge. Some people feel great peace before making selfish, God-dishonoring decisions. Others feel great unrest before making selfless, God-glorifying decisions. Subjective feelings of peace and unrest are unreliable guides. But I fear this isn't always acknowledged. We live in an age of privatization and personalization. Many Evangelicals want to know God's personal will for their lives (as opposed to his revealed will in Scripture), and they want to discover this privately (as opposed to publicly, through the proclamation and practice of the Christian community). And when God's will is personalized and privatized, it is also "peaceanized" (yes, I just made that word up). We find God's bull's eye for our lives through subjective feelings of peace. We thus baptize our feelings, imbuing them with holy and unassailable authority. And this is dangerous. Does God give us peace? Absolutely. But God isn't a Moralistic Therapeutic Deity. He give us more than facile peace; the kind every human feels when things are going well (see John 14:27; Philippians 4:6-7). Don't expect God to make you feel good before you do good. Think of Paul. In 1 Corinthians 16:8-9 he says, "But I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, for a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries." God opened a door for him; a door of conflict! Think of Jesus in the garden. Jesus felt great unrest about doing God's will (Mark 14:32-42). Praise God he didn't wait for a subjective feeling of peace before going to the cross. Praise God he instead embraced the infinite unrest and agony of the cross.