How Not To Raise Teens That Are Almost Christian

Research from the National Study of Youth and Religion shows that a significant majority of America teenagers haven’t so much rejected Christianity as replaced it with a poor substitute–one that leaves them Almost Christian. After conducting over 3,000 personal interviews with teens, Christian Smith, currently a professor at Notre Dame, and his team determined that most teens’ religion can be distilled into these 5 points…

1. “A god exists who created and ordered 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 life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.”

5. “Good people go to heaven when they die.”

The name Moral Therapeutic Deism (MTD) captures the spirit of this new religion. It is moral because it teaches  a moralistic approach to life. “[MTD] believes that central to living a good and happy life is being a good, moral person. That means being nice, kind, pleasant, respectful, and responsible; working on self improvement; taking care of one’s health; and doing one’s best to be successful.”

MTD is therapeutic because it is all about providing benefits to its adherents. “This is not a religion of repentance from sin, of keeping the Sabbath, of living as a servant of a sovereign divine, of steadfastly saying one’s prayers, etc…” “Rather, what appears to be the actual dominant religion among U.S. teenagers is centrally about feeling good, happy, secure, at peace. It is about attaining subjective well-being, being able to resolve problems, and getting along amiably with other people. One fifteen-year-old Hispanic conservative Protestant girl from Florida expressed the therapeutic benefits of her faith in these terms: ‘God is like someone who is always there for you. I don’t know, it’s like God is God. He’s just like somebody that’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.’”

Finally the researchers labeled the religion deism because its adherents believe that God exists, created the world, and defines the moral order but is not “particularly personally involved in our affairs–especially affairs in which we would prefer not to have God involved.” In other words God doesn’t interfere with one’s personal agenda but is there when you need him to take care of your personal needs. “This God is not demanding. He actually can’t be, since his job is to solve our problems and make people feel good. In short, God is something like a combination of a Cosmic Butler and Cosmic Therapist–he is 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.”

Now no one introduces themselves as a Moral Therapeutic Deist and there is no church that goes by that name either. And yet this is the pervasive way of thinking both inside and outside the church.

And this is definitely not a problem confined to teenagers. Teens are simply living out in a purer form what they have seen from their parents and learned in their churches. The hard to escape truth is that teens understand how little their parents really believe and just how much many of their churches have accommodated themselves to the larger culture. Their world view is the end result of what happens when truth is sacrificed on the altar of individualism and relativism. Teens are only modeling their spiritual leaders pursuit of personal fulfillment above all else.

Next Thursday we will compare Moral Therapeutic Deism with biblical Christianity and see what it has right, what it has wrong, and what is missing.

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