Penny and I attended the Youth Ministry 2011 conference at the beginning of January. The presentation was by Christian Smith, a sociologist who has been involved in a major study called the National Study of Youth and Religion. They found that the youth of the nation are basically religious, with many saying that they are Christian. The problem they found was what the youth meant by Christian, religious or spiritual. Many of them had an interesting definition that began to take shape in a form of religion. It isn't like Lutheranism or Methodism. Instead, it forms a relationship with the accepted religions and begins to change and morph that religion within the lives of the youth.
The more they studied it, the more they began to get a handle on what was being said by the youth. Christian Smith and company came up with a name for this "religion." They called it Moralistic Therapeutic Deism or MTD. It is an interesting form of religion. You can't really say that it is Christian, but it builds upon Christianity. You can't really say it is biblical because it builds upon feelings. It is truly deism in the modern sense of the word.
What does MTD look like? It has 5 basic tenets.
1. A God exists who created and orders 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 live except when he is needed to resolve some problem.
5. Good people go to heaven when they die.
Now on first glance, you might agree with what is said in MTD. In fact, you might agree on a second glance. One thing I have come to understand is that it is not just youth that feel this way about their spiritual life. They are learning this not from the world "out there." They are actually learning this in two places: at home and in their church!
That is right, they are learning this at home, from the most influential people in their lives - their parents. (That might just be you!!) And they are learning that from the church they attend. That means that their pastor, their Sunday school teacher, their youth minister, and the various other people they come in contact with are actually following this form of "Christianity' themselves.
That was an amazing insight to me! I have been struggling with trying to figure out what is going on in Christianity today (including in many Lutheran churches) and have come to see that in many ways, MTD has come to have a great influence upon the teachings and beliefs of the church. It fits very well in our pluralistic society, one that wants to let all things live together in harmony and peace, without any differences or disagreements. When was the last time you heard someone stand up and publicly state that they believe in Jesus Christ as their Savior and that only those who believe in Him will go to heaven? Did they catch a lot of flack for it? I was thinking of the new governor of Alabama when he, speaking in a church, said that those who are Christian are his brothers and sisters and that he wanted those who didn't believe in Christ to become his brothers and sisters. You would have thought he was proclaiming that it was all right to hang your puppy dog and skin the cat! There was such a backlash from various organizations and media outlets. But is not what he said true? Not according to MTD.
He actually broke a cardinal rule of MTD - don't be a jerk to others. And in making such a statement, he was a jerk. He needed to retract the statement and apologize to all those he offended. Imagine how Paul the apostle would have responded to that! There on Mars hill or in any of the other places he preached the gospel.
OK, that is enough for the moment. I will post more about MTD. Actually what I will do is take each point and begin to help us understand it in light of Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions. Talk with you soon!