While it may not be a mainline denomination yet, there is a consistent set of beliefs that is rising up within the church.
In 2005, Christian Smith, a professor of Sociology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, performed a study on the religious beliefs of American teenagers. After extensive interviews and research, the study revealed that the faith tenets of most American teen-agers can be summarized in five main points:
1. A God exists that created the world and watches over human life.
2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and in most world religions.
3. The central goal of life is to be happy and feel good about one's self.
4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one's life, except when God is needed to solve a problem.
5. Good people go to heaven when they die.
Through his research and findings, Smith coined the term to describe these dominant beliefs as "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism" (or MTD).
"Moralistic" - Do good and live morally.
"Therapeutic" - My faith offers benefits that are helpful when they're needed.
"Deism" - A belief in God, or a God.
While Smith makes some great claims about these beliefs rising up within the younger American generations, MTD is a theological epidemic that is spreading through the entire church.
At first glance, these five points seem harmless, and may even reign true for you. But there's a problem - actually, MANY problems - with this framework of the Christian faith:
It's not biblical.
For starters, MTD creates the belief that life and everything in and around it is about US. It's about ME feeling good about myself. It's about MY happiness.
It's about God serving ME when I'm in need or want something. MTD treats God as if He's our servant, rather than obeying and submitting to Him as Lord.
As long as I'm in a place where I'm happy, satisfied with my environment, and everyone is being "fair" (whatever that means), God is waiting in His quarters until He's called out to serve my purposes.
MTD also takes the never changing, heart transforming, life saving message of the Gospel and narrows it down to morality and behavior modification.
If I'm on my best behavior and follow the "golden rule," I'm heaven bound. God smiles upon those who treat others with kindness, while watching over those who don't with a shaking finger.
MTD believes in a God who is distant, and "on call." Yet, the Gospel showcases a God that loves us, pursues us, and is on mission to transform us into the image of His son (Romans 8:29).
MTD encourages others to ask God to intervene when something is needed. But the Gospel tells us that we're desperate for Him in ALL areas in our life. In fact, without Him, we're "blind" and "lost" (John 9:39).
MTD teaches that regardless of how God is involved, happiness and satisfaction with my circumstances are the real goals in life. The Gospel, however, calls us to give up anything in order to follow Jesus (Luke 9:23-24, Galatians 2:20).
One of my biggest fears for the Church is that we would begin drifting towards this type of self-serving mindset that uses God as a means to an end. Is God for us? Does He love us? Absolutely.
But as I suggested last month, we're here for HIM and HIS glory. He's not a part of our story - but, rather, we are a part of His.
I'm convinced that we're called to search for truth in scripture instead of creating a mosaic of beliefs that only create a self-serving theology.
What have been some of the things that have influenced your own beliefs?
• Colin Noonan is director of youth ministries at Mountain View Lutheran Church in Ahwatukee. Reach him at email@example.com.