Moralistic therapeutic deism describes the presuppositions that define the worldview of many who claim to believe in God. It's a mouthful to say, and a lot to unpack, moralistic therapeutic deism.
Really, though, it's just another in a long line of false belief systems that have appeared throughout history. Hello, I'm Bill Wright, and this is The Truth Pulpit. Today, as he continues teaching God's people God's Word, Pastor Don Green begins a new series titled Deception Close to Home. And Don, what can we expect in the days ahead? Well, Bill, I think this may be one of the most important series that we have ever broadcast on The Truth Pulpit. My friend, we're going to examine a vague philosophy that is called moralistic therapeutic deism.
That's a mouthful. But it's a vague philosophy that dominates most churches throughout America. We're going to break it down and compare it to scripture. And by the end of the time, you'll be able to identify common errors in the church and know how to respond to them biblically.
Stay with us today. Thanks, Don. And friend, let's join our teacher now in The Truth Pulpit. The term moralistic therapeutic deism was first coined in a book that was published in 2005. And the name of this book was Soul Searching the Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers by a researcher named Christian Smith.
Christian having no connection with, you know, Christianity, just his name. And in this book, what they did was they reported on the results of a comprehensive study that they did of the spiritual lives of over 3,000 American teenagers based on telephone and face-to-face interviews. Now, this is a very important subject, a very important term, even if you have never heard of it, which I suspect is perhaps the majority of you. Moralistic therapeutic deism has attracted the attention and commentary of such prominent names and organizations as Al Mohler, the Ligonier Conference, the Gospel Coalition, Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, among others of lesser renown. And they all consistently say that they believe that what the authors in Soul Searching identified is an accurate diagnosis of religion in America today. And so, in light of that, we believe that it is important for us to understand. Now, before I go any further, what I want to say is that even though the term may be unfamiliar and some of the things that we go through today may be packaged in a way that sounded new to your ears, I think that you will quickly come to identify and say, oh, that's what I see, that's what I've heard in other so-called Christian churches, that's what my neighbors say about God.
You're going to find that this is something that is very real and practical and powerful, even though you may not know it by this particular name. What is moralistic therapeutic deism? Moralistic therapeutic deism describes the presuppositions that define the worldview of many who claim to believe in God.
Let me just repeat that. It describes, it summarizes the presuppositions that define the worldview of many who claim to believe in God. Now, here's what makes this difficult, here's what makes this slippery, here's what makes it so elusive. There is probably not a single person in the world that would declare themselves, if you ask them who they are spiritually, there's probably no one who would say, I happen to be a moralistic therapeutic deist. It doesn't work that way. It's far more subtle than that. It's much more vague than that. It's vague enough to find root in nominal Christianity. This spirit and this mindset can be found in Catholicism, in Mormonism, in Eastern religions, and Islam, even though none of those religions and none of their teachers would explicitly promote it, certainly under the name by which it has been labeled. This mindset, moralistic therapeutic deism, is powerful enough to generate genuine hostility against true Christianity. It is subtle enough that it can seduce Christians who lack discernment. And so what we want to do is we want to pull it out of the shadows, expose it to the light, and at the end we are going to have, I believe, a far clearer idea of what true Christianity is and what it is not.
And we're not only going to see in a negative sense what is wrong with this prevailing spiritual sentiment that animates Western culture, but we are also going to, by the time we're done, have a far clearer idea of what true Christianity looks like and what the true practice of Christianity is. What the authors of Soul Searching did was they identified five basic principles that are at work in the mind of teenage culture. That was their object of study.
That was their field of study. Where do you think that teenagers get their spiritual thinking from if not the adults in their lives and the churches that they attend? What these authors uncovered in all of their interviews and their research, what they uncovered is simply a reflection of what churches had been feeding into young people and what the adults in their lives have been conveying to them about what the reality of God is.
And the fact that the teenage thinking is so distorted is simply a reflection of the fact that this is what adults think also. Okay, moralistic therapeutic deism. Moralistic...
Ten syllables in those three words. Moralistic therapeutic deism. Let's understand what it says. First of all, what we want to look at today is simply to identify what the creed of moralistic therapeutic deism is. There are five principles that identify the spiritual worldview of moralistic therapeutic deism.
What we want to do here is just kind of see it in a broad overview fashion, see how it all ties together, and then start to unpack it. What is it that marks the thinking of Western culture when it comes to God, generally speaking? The prevailing sentiment that crosses even, not just denominational boundaries within Christianity, but jumps across to express the thinking of people in other religions.
The authors listed five. They were not exactly systematic theologians. I might have expressed things a little bit differently in a different sequence, but we'll take it in the way that they presented it. First of all, first of all, you find in this worldview, this poorly articulated worldview in the thinking of many, first of all it's this. A God exists who created and orders the world and watches over human life on earth. A God exists. There is a God.
He created the world, he ordered the world, and he watches over human life on earth. Okay, you might think that doesn't sound so bad. That's kind of what I believe. What could be wrong with that? Number two, what does this God want? He wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions. Well, who could be against people being good and nice to each other and being fair?
How could you be against that? What's the problem here? You see, this is pretty subtle, but it goes somewhere. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions. It feels kind of good to hear things like this, doesn't it? Number three, the central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about yourself. Why do we live? What's the purpose of life? What should we be seeking out of life? What is the reason that you exist? The reason that you exist and what should be happening, what you want out of life, according to moralistic therapeutic deism, is your personal happiness, and that you'd feel good about life, feel good about yourself. Inside, you'd have a sense of wellness that wells up within you and makes you feel well.
Well, well, well. Number four, God does not particularly need to be involved in your life except when you need Him to resolve a problem. God doesn't need to be particularly involved in your life except when He is needed to resolve a problem.
One of the ways that you can tell, one of the ways that you can identify in yourself if you've been influenced by the mindset of moralistic therapeutic deism, even if you've never heard that term before, one of the ways that you can recognize it in others is this. I only prayed when I wanted something. I only prayed when I needed something. Prayer was a means to get what I wanted that I couldn't get on my own. So I appealed to a higher power, I appealed to the God that I thought I knew to give me what I couldn't get on my own.
Otherwise, I was more than content when life was going well. I was more than content when I was happy to have nothing to do with God however I was defining Him in my heart at that time. So prayer was just simply a selfish exercise to get what I want or to get me delivered from my problems or to help me get an A on my exam that had nothing to do with rendering true worship and praise to God for His inherent worth.
There's a huge distinction there. And the practice of prayer helps to expose someone who has adopted this as their mindset. They only turn to God when they want something. They only turn to God when they've got a problem. They only think and pray to Him when life isn't going the way that they want it to. That's a moralistic therapeutic deist for you and we'll leave it there for now.
We'll come back to that in time to come. Fifthly and finally, good people go to heaven when they die. Number one, a God exists who created and orders the world and watches over human life on earth. Number two, God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other as taught in the Bible and by most world religions. Number three, the central goal of life is to be happy and feel good about yourself. Number four, God does not need to be particularly involved in one's life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.
And number five, good people go to heaven when they die. Now, what we're going to do as we proceed now, having set forth the so-called creed of this informal religion, this worldview, we're going to examine this worldview biblically to protect you and your loved ones and to equip you to interact wisely with your circle of influence, to have a measure of discernment that leads you to be able to zero in on this misguided mistaken thinking and to be able to apply biblical truth to it in order to bring truth to bear on the souls of those that are around you and perhaps even to sanctify your own thinking about what it means to be a Christian, for you to grow in your own mind, in your own heart, for you to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, to Him be the glory forever, amen, as 2 Peter chapter 3 verse 18 says. Now, with all of this said, and just to repeat myself, this is not a formal religion, and it makes it hard and difficult to refute.
That's why I've been at work at this for a few months now. People hold these views in an in an ill-defined way, no doubt, sometimes in self-contradictory ways. They hold them in a way that allows them to apply selected Bible verses out of context in support of what they think, rather than systematically teaching through Scripture, rather than systematically reading Scripture, just cherry-picking certain verses that would seem to prop up this worldview. And here's the problem, beloved. It insulates them, it inoculates them against truth, against the true gospel, against that which would convict them of sin and bring them to their knees before Christ in repentance and saving faith. There are souls greatly at stake here that make it critical for us to deal with it in a thorough way.
So, here's what we want to do. We've seen the creed of moralistic therapeutic deism with those five points. So question number two today is, what does moralistic mean within this worldview? What does moralistic mean within this worldview? Well, this religious viewpoint is moralistic because it teaches that a happy life is found in being a good moral person.
You can be happy if you're good and moral. Now, they're defining morality in a way that has very little to do with actual biblical truth. It's more morality according to the prevailing sentiment of culture at the time that you're just kind of going along with and you agree with what everybody else thinks.
That's what they mean by it. To be moralistic in this worldview means that you're nice, that you're kind, that you're pleasant, respectful, responsible. You work on self-improvement, you take care of your health, and you do your best to be successful. You're moralistic, you're moral in the sense that you're nice and pleasant and you're easy to get along with. You're moralistic in the sense that you start to see where this is leveraged against people in social discourse and how it's leveraged against Christians in the moral issues of the day. In moralistic therapeutic deism, beloved, you must be someone that others like.
You must not be disruptive or obnoxious. In this morality, you are supposed to be agreeable with others and to feel good about yourself. You're not to confront people with truth from Scripture. You're not to say that there is an absolute right or wrong. You let people have their truth, you have your truth, and we all get along together without asserting truth claims against one another.
And so religion, broadly defined, spirituality if you prefer that term, religion exists to serve that horizontal end, that horizontal goal that we would get along with each other and be nice to each other and accept each other no matter what the other person is doing. And so embedded in the sense that we should use the preferred pronouns of transgender people irregardless of what their biological sex actually is, what's embedded in that is this sense of morality that says you need to be agreeable and go along with everything. And don't raise questions about truth in the midst of it. Don't raise questions about the true biblical nature of homosexuality or of homosexual marriage.
If this is what people want to do, you go along with it. Because that's what spiritual people do, that's what's right. And you see, you start to see anyway, how embedded in this worldview is that which would marginalize the absolute truth claims of biblical Christianity, because it's not nice to disagree, that's not kind, that's not pleasant.
So keep your views to yourself and let me be me. You can recognize this moral person in MTD because other people like him, like her. He or she accepts others without being judgmental. The key Bible verse for this moralistic aspect of MTD would be Matthew 7-1, the truncated version of Matthew 7-1. Do not judge.
Now, you don't need the rest of the context of that. You don't need to worry about what Jesus was actually teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. It's simply enough to assert that we are not to judge one another. And in this moralistic view, you go along with what society is doing, you go along with one another, you're not disagreeable, you don't judge others.
You're just simply nice and kind and pleasant in the whole sphere of things, and that lets you get along, and that's what you are expected to do in this worldview. Now, notice that this kind of moralism is completely horizontal. It is directed toward men, it's directed toward human relationships. There's no verticality to it, there's no God-centeredness to it. It's all about how you get along with your fellow man. That's what they mean by this kind of moralism. Beloved, if you're getting along with your fellow man, then there is no reason for you to search further for anything further spiritually oriented. You need not worry about whether you've offended a holy God.
What does that matter if, as long as you're getting along with men here on earth, it's horizontal, it's not God-centered? Now, for a third point, what does therapeutic mean in this mindset? What does therapeutic mean in this mindset? Or, as Barney Fife once famously said, it's therapeutic. It's therapeutic, Andy. But we'll go by therapeutic. The word therapeutic comes from the Greek verb therapeutic, meaning I heal. To heal, it has a healing aspect to it, it makes you feel better. And MTD is therapeutic in the sense that... Oh, this is so important. It is therapeutic in the sense that it provides psychological benefits to its adherents, to the people that have this mindset.
It's therapeutic in the sense that it makes them feel better. Religion exists to make people feel good, happy, secure, and at peace. The point of religion is what it does for you subjectively, how it makes you feel about life and how it makes you feel about yourself. If your religion makes you feel good about yourself, then it has achieved its purpose. It helps you to resolve problems and to get along well with others. The authors of Soul Searching quote one conservative protestant saying this, a teenage girl as I recall, and she said, quote, God is like someone who is always there for you.
He'll always help you go through whatever you're going through. When I became a Christian, I was just praying and it always made me feel better, end quote. The idea here is that that's the purpose of religion, is to make you feel better.
And if you feel better, you've gotten what you need out of it. Rather than I know that I've been reconciled to God after my sinful nature manifested itself, and I became aware that I was worthy of judgment. You see, and people will testify about becoming Christians and explain it in terms that I feel better about life, I'm better able to face my trials, rather than having any kind of vertical sense that I was an offense to God and Christ died in order to forgive me of my sins.
You can have that testimony without even referring to the cross. And my concern as a pastor has always been over the years when I see testimonies like that, you know, does this person even understand the gospel? Today on The Truth Pulpit, Pastor Don Green has introduced the concept of moralistic therapeutic deism and helped us begin to better understand it, the better to combat it when we encounter it. Don will continue our series, Deception Close to Home, on our next broadcast, and we hope you'll be with us then. Meanwhile, we invite you to visit our website, thetruthpulpit.com. There you can download free podcasts or find out how to receive free CD copies of Don's series and messages. And if you want to go even more in depth, you'll also find the link, Follow Don's Pulpit. That'll take you to Don's full-length weekly sermons, not subject to the time editing we need for radio broadcasts. Also, if you're in the Cincinnati area, be sure to check out our service times for Truth Community Church. That's also on our website. And plan a visit. We'd love to welcome you. Again, that's all at thetruthpulpit.com. I'm Bill Wright, and we'll see you next time on The Truth Pulpit as Don Green continues teaching God's people God's Word.
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