According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for
this world to recreate, reclaim, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of
explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. - anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. - anon
... Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument.
There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is
irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a
power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table
to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace,
reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants
us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. - anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul

Monday, December 15, 2014

What is Christian "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism" (MTD)?




I am afraid that it is becoming increasingly harder to find the gospel in America.
It is either wrapped so tightly in the flag as to be virtually invisible or relegated to a
footnote to messages about “success in living,” being nice and including everyone.
- Roger Olson

"I am always amazed at how much time we spend removing the hooks from our lives.
Self-made hooks of the flesh, sin, failure, apathy, greed, pride, self-righteousness. Or,
church-wielded hooks of legalism, works righteousness, acts of personal denial, acts of
self-vaunting holiness, mock pride, and so forth. Or even the deeper hooks of harm, 
anger, guilt, uneasy consciences, theft, greed, and hate. We are deeply flawed people
in need of an earthy Savior risen victoriously over the depths of our sin who can provide
the salve of redemption only God may administer within the fabric of our broken lives."
- A Psychology Counselor and past Pastor


What is MTD?
Part 1

What Is a NT Church Anyway?

How does one define "actual historic Christianity?" I would submit there is no such thing as any one, single form of Christianity but only what we might fancy it to be in our mental reconstructions of idealisms and Utopian dreams of a New Testament church community of believers thrown about by sentimental words in place of historic actualities. A mere glimpse into the lives of the Corinthians, Galatians, or Judean churches shows just how non-actualized these first century churches were to the dream of being true, authenticating Christ-filled churches.

And to that end, in the looong sense of Christian history gleaned from the many tomes of gathered church doctrines, exposés, theologies, expositions, biographies, failures and events, do we perhaps even now have at this moment an idea of what might be an "actual historic Christianity" as we would like to exclaim to naive ears about us. The kind that pulpiteering pontiffs and media darlings like to describe as the "New Testament kind" of historic Christianity. A kind that I will wager was as much misunderstood and as rarely discovered then in the days of the Apostles as it is even now in the church of the present tense.

More mundanely is the sense of the term historic. For yes, it is a historical truth that the church then as now - both the New Testament kind, and the modern / post-modern kind - each have had their own lived experiences of God's actualizing power within their midst. For ultimately it is Christ Jesus Himself who is our epitome of faith and living, service and suffering, leadership and partnering, to the world about. Not any one fellowship at a certain time and place that is most pure, most holy, most God-fearing. Nay, that church will be the eschatological church of the future whose people will rest in God from all their labors in the Day of His Coming and not until. This church will then be the fully realized, "actualized" embodiment of all that Christ promised in His historic incarnation and incarnated resurrection and incarnated glorification. And not until then. It will be the church of the Kingdom become the Kingdom of God amongst men.


Introduction to Sin and Sanctification

In fact, I would submit that with every era, millennia, century, decade, and generation of the church the content and conversation of what and how the Christian faith can be described changes from one moment to the next based upon its audience and adherents at the time that it is being discussed.

If we pursue a fluid definition of Christianity within an existential sociological matrix we should find a Christian faith that reflects the mood of its culture, country, community, or social group. The trick is to start with wherever we are at and to allow the God of our Christian faith to move this faith towards Him in whatever way it needs to be moved and away from our conception of what its religion should look like in our own mind's eye and heart.

As such, today's Americanized Christian faith is fraught with consumerism, exceptionalism, entitlement, and self-actualization among other things, and all centered around a "feel good" gospel. But where in the church's vast labyrinths of history has this not been true? We see its enclaves throughout church history (think of the Roman times with its hedonistic excesses) and predominantly today in the 21st century as an outgrowth to the modernism that preceded it in the 20th century.

If anything, the post-modernism of this current era is helping us to understand that we are especially influenced by modernism's hedonisms, excesses, and moment-by-moment need to define ourselves by what we do, consume, spend, and make time for. And if we can recognize a thing than we can do something about those very things that so perversely influence us in the power of God's Holy Spirit. 

But a thing unrecognized is a thing not re-centered into the person of Christ so that we ourselves now inhabit its center by whatever thing we do - whether religious or not. In essence, the gods of this world are not diminished and de-centered should they go unrecognized and not submitted to the cross of Christ. In more simple terms, the New Testament describes this process of re-centering as a way of "putting off the flesh" and "putting on Christ and His work of salvation for us." The church knows it by its doctrinal name of "sanctification."

And yet, even the historic Christian practices of "putting off" and "putting on" can still reflect the cultural products that we have become. Try as we may, even Christian ministries done for Jesus can become an uplifting source of self-redemption before God showing Him just how good we are. Or how He must accept us. Or even act in a way that would redeem us from the guilts and transgressions of our past by our own hands. Trading predominantly God-first activities for me-first activities all the while neglecting the sublime truths that we are already accepted of God, loved, and forgiven as His children redeemed in Christ.

Thus is the power of the old man in our lives so that even when we would do acts of righteousness in God's name sin can still linger on as a residue of self-righteousness, pride, ego, or a host of other vagaries unknown, unrecognized, or unrelented at the time. Whether we do works for ourselves or works for God the old man is always at work to degrade something good and beautiful into ugly, misshapen forms. It is a continual fight and struggle and one best done in the power of the Holy Spirit.

The answer? Examine ourselves and continue as we can. And in the continuing keep to a repentant and confessional mind and heart that worships God, gives Him the glory due His name, and never ceases from daily submission to God as the One who moves us to live Christ-filled lives brought into submission to His mission, ministry, and acclaim of well-done thou good and faithful servant blood-bought by the Lamb of God.

In this life we can never be free of ourselves. Nor, do I think, must we be free of ourselves. It is wisdom to know who we are - and in the knowing to use what gifts God has given to us for His honor and glory. But this is an article for another time. An article emphasizing the positive sense of being and expression, doing and service, behaving and believing.


An Appearance of Righteousness is not True Right-ness

As such, part of what we fight as Christians is a large tendency towards thinking that denying ourselves by acts of deprivation, monkish lifestyles, self-scourgings, and/or various types of religious legalisms (those do's and don'ts the church always is preaching) are approved of God when actually they are replacing Christ's salvation with our own "good works" in place of His divine atonement.

Substituting the one thing for the other may have a semblance of "righteousness" about it when, in fact, we are simply substituting "religion" as we think of it within an enlarged concept of ourselves "saving" ourselves. In essence, we wish to present ourselves to God by our own hands-and-work than by Christ's crucified hands and suffering servanthood.

Hence, however right a religious act may seem, or good it may feel, or godly it may appear, nothing that we can do or say can ever put away or avoid the legalistic nature of our old man. Truly, the only thing our salvation must rest on must be Christ alone and His atoning work. Not our own fleshly works of self-righteousness as substitutionary works in Christ's place.

Man can never be his own saviour though he attempts it in a million different ways. Nor can any mere act of the flesh remove the redeeming work of God through Christ as man's Saviour and Lord. Pride is not the first sin of the bible however much it is quoted. No, our greatest urge - whether unsaved or saved - is to present ourselves as our own embodiment of salvation to God. Otherwise known as legalism in all its many acts of self-approving works righteousness.

Thus and thus it is better to accept ourselves as we are and what we are and to take those reflections and submit them to Christ. To thank God for how He made us and shun as we can the old man of our spiritual life so that we may become in the Holy Spirit's care "jars of clay" whose only value is that of service regardless of the shape, colour, or make of the pot. We each are valuable to God when we bear the good news of His salvation within ourselves and towards others. It matters not our composition or exterior. It matters most our service to Almighty God and Lover of our Souls. Amen.

R.E. Slater
December 15, 2014




What is MTD?
Part 2

Non-Sequitur Arguments

So then, has American Christianity become "moralistic therapeutic deism?" Whether it is or isn't doesn't suggest that moralism or Christ-centered therapy is wrong (notice I have purposely moved the term "therapy" towards a positive reconstruction and not a negative one as implied in the Wikipedia article below). But more a cultural definition that seeks practical Christian living with necessary outcomes.

If dogma is stripped from the church then what would the Christian faith look like? I suggest these elements and more.... That Christianity is a moral faith outwardly focused on others benefits, protection, and justice, and less on oneself. And that it is therapeutic in the sense that the Christian faith will attend to the scars, harms, open wounds, guilts, and inner sufferings and turmoils of the inner man. That the process of Spirit sanctification will occur within the lives of God's children as they re-orient their attitudes and spirits towards God's plans and purposes in their own lives and away from the harms, vengeance, trials, and troubles in this wicked world.

In essence, though Christianity can be broken down into its component parts such as being kind to others, thoughtful, helpful, nourishing of self and others, yet no one of its parts can contain the whole. In other words, no one piece of the puzzle makes the whole puzzle. It must come in all of its component parts to attain the whole. And the whole is more than moralism and more than personal or social therapy. The whole is God Himself through Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. It is in Christ that any form of social good, reconstruction, or justice may be obtain however much we wish to make it regenerative from ourselves alone. Without the self-regenerating God as its foundation-and-lifeblood there can be no regeneration except a world regenerative in sin and madness.


The Struggle of Faith in Living

However the deistic aspect cannot be central to Christianity though many times it has become this very thing both on a pagan level as well as for strong Calvinist expressions of faith. I mention this latter because such dogma has removed God from the tissue of His incarnate ministry in this life through the Holy Spirit rather than entertain how God has radically infilled this world and our lives through Christ's resurrection.

Discussions focusing on less separateness of God from us (words like holiness and sin) and more presence of God together with us (words like love, forgiveness, fellowship, empowerment) may indicate a more moderate Christian faith less certain of extreme statements and harsh judgementalism towards self, others, and mankind in general.

In fact, this kind of Christian faith may be more willing to reach out to all people without quantifiers, exceptions, or expectations (except for the expectation that Jesus based living and ministry may have its fruits). This type of faith may be moralistic or therapy driven from the harms of this world but it also sees God as seential front-and-center to very life itself through Christ Jesus. And if God is present than it is anything but deistic. (And less the reader becomes confused, holiness and sin are not denied here so much as rearranged within our Christian lexicography).

Lastly, a more proper naming of MTD may be as MTT - that is, a Christian faith that is not so much deistic but theistic. Deism perceives God as unknowable except through logic and reason thinking of God as distant and removed from His creation. Whereas Theism perceives God at all times and in all places as present (whether He is known by logic, reason, perception, or through His very Word, the Bible itself as special revelation). However, the wrinkle is just how present we allow this God to be in our lives. If we think not of God until we need Him than this theistic God is practically become deistic for us, and so on.

Even so, as Christian brothers and sisters, we must bind ourselves together into mutually united enclaves of Christian fellowships urging each onwards into the life of Christ in every thing we say and do. For it is this Christ who is our life and breath even as we are His people whom He loves and adores. Amen

R.E. Slater
December 12, 2014



Exerpts from Wikipedia: MTD


Authors' analysis

The authors say the system is "moralistic" because it "is about inculcating a moralistic approach to life. It teaches that central to living a good and happy life is being a good, moral person."[5] The authors describe the system as being "about providing therapeutic benefits to its adherent" as opposed to being about things like "repentance from sin, of keeping the Sabbath, of living as a servant of a sovereign divine, of steadfastly saying one's prayers, of faithfully observing high holy days, of building character through suffering..."[6] and further as "belief in a particular kind of God: one who exists, created the world, and defines our general moral order, but not one who is particularly personally involved in one's affairs—especially affairs in which one would prefer not to have God involved."[7]

The remoteness of God in this kind of theism explains the choice of the term "Deism", even though "the Deism here is revised from its classical eighteenth-century version by the therapeutic qualifier, making the distant God selectively available for taking care of needs." It views God as "something like a combination Divine Butler and Cosmic Therapist: he's always on call, takes care of any problems that arise, professionally helps his people to feel better about themselves, and does not become too personally involved in the process."[8]

The authors 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 has rather substantially morphed into Christianity's misbegotten stepcousin, Christian Moralistic Therapeutic Deism."[9]

CNN online featured an article, "More Teens Becoming Fake Christians" on Kenda Creasy Dean's 2010 book Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church. (Oxford University Press, 2010). She writes, "The problem does not seem to be that churches are teaching young people badly, but that we are doing an exceedingly good job of teaching youth what we really believe, namely, that Christianity is not a big deal, that God requires little, and the church is a helpful social institution filled with nice people…" She goes on to say that "if churches practice MTD in the name of Christianity, then getting teenagers to church more often is not the solution (conceivably it could make things worse). A more faithful church is the solution…. Maybe the issue is simply that the emperor has no clothes."[10]


Criticism

Deist writers have leveled two criticisms against use of the term Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. First, it has been argued that the word "Deism" has been too radically redefined by the coiners of the phrase. Deism in the classical sense means belief in an intelligent designer arrived at through reason and observation of the natural world. One critic states that, "the 'religion' called Moralistic Therapeutic Deism would be more accurately called Moralistic Therapeutic Theism. There is no reason to invent the phrase Moralistic Therapeutic Deism to begin with—because it is, as has already been stated many times, merely a diluted version of the revealed religion that already exists. In truth, it holds no relationship with Deism as we know it."[11]

A second criticism against use of the term is that it is essentially vacuous since, as the originators of the term even admit, "no teenager would actually use the terminology 'Moralistic Therapeutic Deist' to describe himself or herself,"[5] and since the term is always applied relative to one's own position on a spectrum of adherence to or ignorance of Christian scripture and tradition. As one critic argues, "The case for this can be especially strengthened when you consider the issue of executing disobedient children, as we discussed earlier [referring to Deuteronomy 21:18–21]. Almost no Christians actually follow that part of the Bible. . . . To an extent, then, all Christians fit into the MTD category—the only difference between American teens and the rest of them is that American teens hold the beliefs of MTD to a higher degree, and therefore hold the beliefs of traditional Christianity to a lesser degree."[11]



* * * * * * * * * * * *


American Christianity – Moralistic, Therapeutic Deism

http://prodigalthought.net/2014/05/24/american-christianity-moralistic-therapeutic-deism/

Posted on May 24, 2014


Roger Olson, Professor of Theology at George W. Truett Seminary of Baylor University, recently posted an interesting article in which he engages with the findings of a sociological study of youth religion in the United States. The study was carried out from 2003 to 2005 by sociologist of religion, Christian Smith, and his colleague, Melinda Denton. The study was also recapped in the book Almost Christian, authored by Kenda Creasy Dean, professor of youth culture and ministry at Princeton Theological Seminary.

Read more from Olson here. But I’d like to note some reflections of Princeton professor Kenda Dean in her book Almost Christian:

The religion that is replacing “actual historical Christian religion” in America, especially among young people, is labeled MTD [Moralistic, Therapeutic Deism]. Dean…summarizes MTD with five beliefs: 1) A god exists who created and orders the world and watches over 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 is not involved in my life except when I need God to resolve a problem, and 5) Good people go to heaven when they die. (p. 14)

Olson continues in his blog post:

Dean interprets this trend and the prevalence of MTD as accommodation to “the American way” and implies it is the fruition of two centuries of churches adopting that as their real gospel. The goal is “success in life” and the American way of self-actualization and acquisition of goods and being nice to others is the path to the goal.

I would concur that this seems to be the prevailing undercurrent to the Christian faith for at least much of the Bible-belt culture of the southeastern U.S., if not the whole of America. Honestly, at times, I can find it running through my own veins, encapsulated by a couple of major words: entitlement and consumerism.

We, as a community of people, not just individuals, think we’re owed the good, American [Christian] life. And this works its way out in a myriad of practical ways on a daily basis. And we continually approach church with the question: What can you do for me?

I’m here to gain a service, entertain me.

It’s a far cry from Paul’s declaration that the wisdom and power of God is truly seen through the lens of Christ crucified. Counter-cultural, for Rome then and America today, to say the least.


* * * * * * * * * * * *


A Shocking Conclusion about American Christianity
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogereolson/2014/05/a-shocking-conclusion-about-american-christianity/

A God without wrath
brought men without sin
into a kingdom without judgment
through the ministrations of
a Christ without a cross.”

- H. Richard Niebuhr
by Roger Olson
May 19, 2014

I’m not an expert in or scholar of “youth ministry,” but many of my students are either doing youth ministry or plan to. For some time now I’ve been hearing a lot about something called “Moralistic, Therapeutic Deism” (MTD for short). From 2003 to 2005 sociologist of religion Christian Smith and his colleague Melinda Denton carried out a massive study of youth religion in the United States. It was called the “National Study of Youth and Religion” (NSYR). They summed up the overall results with this shocking conclusion:

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 religion. … It is not so much that U.S. Christianity is being secularized. Rather, more subtly, Christianity is either degenerating into a pathetic version of itself or, more significantly, Christianity is actively being colonized and displaced by quite a different religious faith. (italics added) (quoted in Kenda Creasy Dean, Almost Christian, p. 3)

This sounds like a “the sky is falling!” doomsday prophecy—only not about what will happen but about what has happened. Of course, neither Smith and Denton nor interpreter Dean thinks this is a total picture; they are talking about a massive trend allowing many exceptions.

The religion that is replacing “actual historical Christian religion” in America, especially among young people, is labeled MTD. Dean, a professor of youth culture and ministry at Princeton Theological Seminary, summarizes MTD with five beliefs:

1) A god exists who created and orders the world and watches over 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 is not involved in my life except when I need God to resolve a problem, and

5) Good people go to heaven when they die. (p. 14)

Dean interprets this trend and the prevalence of MTD as accommodation to “the American way” and implies it is the fruition of two centuries of churches adopting that as their real gospel.

The goal is “success in life” and the American way of self-actualization and acquisition of goods and being nice to others is the path to the goal.

Churches tend to support this, she says.

Years ago sociologist of religion Dean Hoge said much the same thing about American Christianity. Here is what I wrote down then on a three-by-five card. Unfortunately I didn’t write down the source, but I think it was in an article in Christian Century sometime in the 1980s:

For the typical Protestant church member[middle class commitments to family, career, and standard of living] are so strong that church commitment is largely instrumental to them and contingent on whether the church appears to serve them. As a result, many local churches tend to become instruments for achieving middle class interests, whether or not these interests can be defended in New Testament terms. (italics added)

Of course, what’s new (maybe) is the identification of contemporary American Christianity as “MTD.”

So where does that come from? I would suggest the influence of Oprah Winfrey explains much of it. Of course, all the ingredients were already there—Deism, moralism, therapeutic religion.

But the recipe and actual spirituality, such as it is, so I think, is popularized by Winfrey and those she promotes through her books, television show (now in reruns) and cable network. By all accounts Winfrey is one of the most powerful and influential people in American culture. I used to watch her program to try to keep up with popular culture. It didn’t take me long to discern that it was promoting a spirituality of self-actualization and morality of being nice under the guise of a kind of stripped-down, easy to believe and live Christianity. I preferred Phil Donahue because he was openly hostile to traditional Christianity so at least it was apparent to all traditional Christians where he stood.

I have long thought that Smith, Denton and Dean were right—even before I read them. When I read the New Testament and Christian history and put them alongside contemporary American mainline “Christianity” I find the contrast stark and shocking. The only way someone can think most of what goes on in American churches is authentically Christian is not to read the Bible, the church fathers, the reformers, and the great thinkers and evangelists of all denominations.

Even fundamentalist churches are not immune. They may not be into MTD and might even fight against it, but much of what they do is incommensurable with New Testament and historic Christianity.

Recently I attended two self-identified fundamentalist Baptist churches—just to see what they are like. Both advertise themselves and “welcome” visitors. One of them advertises its weekly “concealed weapons safety course.” The same one announces that it requires leaders of the church to wear ties (without designating when or where). The other one dedicated about half of its Sunday morning “worship service” to Mother’s Day. The sermon was about honoring parents but the preacher focused mostly on “beating” kids into submission. (I do not exaggerate; he used the word “beat,” not “spank,” and advocated use of belts for even the most minor infractions.) The sermon bordered on endorsing child abuse with the purpose of “breaking their wills” so that they will become “good citizens obedient to authority.” The American flag was not only hanging on its pole at the back of the “platform” but also hanging above the platform from the ceiling facing the congregation. (Those two churches are in a state where the bumper sticker “God, Guns and Guts” is popular.)

Well, none of that is exactly what Smith, Denton, Dean or Hoge were talking about. My point is that even churches that claim to resist cultural accommodation often fall into it. In fact, I suspect that every church will succumb to cultural accommodation unless it consciously guards against it. (And by “accommodation” here I do not mean contextualization, adapting to the culture for the sake of communication of the gospel; I mean subversion of the gospel by culture’s alien habits, customs, beliefs and practices.)

I am afraid that it is becoming increasingly harder to find the gospel in America. It is either wrapped so tightly in the flag as to be virtually invisible or relegated to a footnote to messages about “success in living,” being nice and including everyone.

Again, this is not a new situation; other countries have experienced it to their shame. A German theologian said that when he goes to church he listens for the gospel but comes away thinking the gospel was what should have been said (or sung) but wasn’t. The German Christians of the 1930s certainly didn’t think they were accommodating the gospel to a culture alien to it; they thought they were discovering new dimensions of the gospel that would bring revival to their churches. How strange, we think. But when I really press my students from other cultures to say what they think of American Christianity they’re generally not very complimentary.

I suspect what we need in American Christianity is to take a step back and consider as dispassionately and objectively as possible how much like New Testament Christianity ours is:

  • Where is the tension between our faith and cultural fads that arise from materialism and individualism?
  • How much sacrifice is involved in being an American Christian today?
  • Why do we not hear or talk about heaven?
  • Are we too comfortable here and now?
  • Where is conviction for sin?

Is H. Richard Niebuhr’s prophetic quip about liberal Protestantism fitting for even many “evangelical” churches today? (“A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.”)

Smith’s and Denton’s conclusion is stark and frightening and hopefully extreme. But we American Christians should heed it anyway and consider ourselves in its light: "How like New Testament and historic Christianity is ours? What have we lost?"