Are You a Moralistic Therapeutic Deist?

By Danielle Dammeyer 
Guest Contributor  

“There is a difference between a Christian worldview and a biblical worldview,” declared a professor during one of my first courses of Bible college. I was a freshman and a brand new believer. Although I had grown up in a Christian home, it wasn’t until my second day at Moody Bible Institute that God truly took hold of my heart and changed my life. Until then, I had been living for myself.  

My professor’s words alarmed me. I had not even heard of a “worldview” before, let alone a biblical one. My roommate often said to me something like, “Well that’s not biblical,” to which I often bristled. I wondered how you could really know what was biblical, and if you did, why would it matter? You see, my worldview was “Christian”, maybe, but it was mostly based on my own feelings. If I had feelings for an unbelieving guy, why did it matter that the Bible says we shouldn’t be unequally yoked? If I was angry with a friend, and ‘needed’ to vent, why did it matter that the Bible commands us to refrain from slandering others? I believed that underage drinking, abortion, lying, and stealing were wrong, but I had little concern for what the Bible had to say about my daily decisions. And although there were things I believed were wrong, if it suited me in the moment, I often put the commands of God out of my head and acted out of my own desires. It wasn’t until my professor was upfront with me that I realized how dangerous my mindset was.  

My professor went on to talk about a worldview called Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. This is a phrase coined by Christian Smith and Melissa Lundquist Denton. These two sociologists collaborated on a book published in 2005 called Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers. Since then, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism has become a common theology term to not only describe teenagers, but American Christians in general. Unfortunately, the term also described me.  

Does the term describe you, too? Ask yourself these questions:  

Is my primary goal to be happy, comfortable, and/or successful?  

If someone asked me about my beliefs regarding ethical issues like homosexuality, marriage and divorce, or abortion, would my response be based on feelings or Scripture?  

What type of preaching am I drawn to? Do I enjoy preachers/sermons that cause me to walk away feeling convicted, or do I like to leave church feeling motivated?  

What is my prayer life like? Do I pray often about anything and everything, or do I view God as a genie tasked with giving me what I want?  

Am I more concerned about being my best self, or with being more like Jesus?   

These questions are intentionally worded to make you feel like there is a right answer and a wrong one. However, if you ever answered on the ‘wrong’ side to one or a couple of these questions, do not despair. Even the most committed theologians and Bible teachers will find themselves on the wrong side of the coin in certain seasons. None of us have arrived. The issue arises when you have answered favoring your emotions more often than not.  

So, now what? If you answered any of these questions negatively, I commend you for being honest with yourself. Honesty is a great start, but we can’t stop there. We have to know what the Bible says. But why? What is the big deal about the Bible? 

Even moralistic therapeutic deists admit there is a God. That’s the ‘deist’ part. The existence of God begs the question: what is God like? Christians believe that the Bible is God’s written Word in which He revealed Himself to humankind. He also revealed Himself through Jesus, the incarnate Word, whom we also read about in the Bible.  

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  

John 1:1

We find out from John 1:10-12 that this Word John speaks of is Jesus. The best place to know who Jesus is, and therefore who God is, is from the Bible. The entire Bible points to Jesus. The Old Testament is full of references to Jesus, even from the very beginning (Genesis 3:15). The entire Bible can be trusted, and is without error, because the Holy Spirit protected the men who wrote it. The Bible tells us in several places that it is trustworthy, completely true, and should not be taken lightly. One example is given by Peter in his second epistle: “And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:19-21) Did you notice Peter’s warning? “You will do well to pay attention…” Are you ready to pay attention? Why are the questions listed above so important? What does the Bible have to say about these issues?  

Is my primary goal to be happy, comfortable, and/or successful?  

The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” Ecclesiastes 12:13 ESV 

If someone asked me about my beliefs regarding ethical issues like homosexuality, marriage and divorce, or abortion, would my response be based on feelings or Scripture?  

“Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered.” Proverbs 28:26 ESV 

What type of preaching am I drawn to? Do I enjoy preachers/sermons that cause me to walk away feeling convicted, or do I like to leave church feeling motivated?  

“For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” 2 Timothy 4:3-4 ESV 

What is my prayer life like? Do I pray often about anything and everything, or do I view God as a genie tasked with giving me what I want?  

“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words.” Matthew 6:7 ESV 

“praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints” Ephesians 6:18 ESV 

Am I more concerned with being my best self, or with being more like Jesus?  

“But that is not the way you learned Christ – assuming that you have heard of him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” Ephesians 4:20-24 ESV   

This is an exercise you can do for any question you run into. What does the Bible say about rest? What does it say about love, lust, anger, anxiety, depression, marriage, etc.? Many study Bibles now have topical indexes where you can look up answers to these questions. I have found Google to be helpful a lot of the time as well! What will really be fruitful for you though, is to just get in the Bible more often. Read it. Study it. There are so many resources available to you: use them! You won’t know what the Bible says overnight or just by staring at it. You have to do the slow, hard work of studying it, much like you would trying to lose weight. It requires discipline and perseverance. But it is so worth it to start transforming your mind to think as God does, and training yourself to go to Scripture for answers rather than your own emotions. You do not work alone, but the Holy Spirit has been given to believers to transform our minds and our hearts.  

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.  

Romans 12:2
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