Last week we talked about Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, that religion of being nice/avoiding conflict/fitting in that seems to have taken over our culture. This week, as we continue in chapter 1, we consider how we got there.
Kenda Creasy Dean suggests…well, outright says…that we got here because this is what our churches are teaching. We are not teaching the theological tradition that has lived thousands of years in many cultures and contexts, we have allowed that tradition to be colonized by one that calls on God only to do our bidding even while God requires nothing of us. Dean asks if we have been too excellent at communicating “a watered down gospel so devoid of God’s self-giving love in Jesus Christ, so immune to the sending love of the Holy Spirit that it might not be Christianity at all? What if the church models a way of life that asks not passionate surrender but ho-hum assent?” If this is the case, then the “problems” we see in the church–apathy, half-hearted participation, biblical illiteracy, etc–are rooted not in the people or the generation but in the “Christianity” we have taught. Or worse, we haven’t taught anything–we’ve simply “exposed” our young or new people to faith. As Dean points out on page 14, “we teach young people baseball, but we expose them to faith. We provide coaching and opportunities for youth to develop and improve their pitches and their SAT scores, but we blithely assume that religious identity will happen by osmosis, emerging “when they are ready” (a confidence we generally lack when it comes to, say, algebra). We simply have not given them the soul-strength necessary to recognize, wrestle, and resist the symbiotes in our midst–probably because we lack this soul-strength ourselves.” Exposing people to faith is no substitute for teaching it to them–it just leads us to faith as useful when entertaining and forgettable when not. It passes on the message that faith is not as important as any of the other things we do (soccer, standardized tests, jobs, etc), so we can just enjoy it when convenient and put it aside whenever that is even more convenient for us.
So what do we do?
First, we need to recognize Moralistic Therapeutic Deism when we hear or see it. We need to call it out when we hear it–whether in worship, Sunday School, small groups, newsletters, or anywhere else.
In order to do that, and to have something worthwhile (aka our actual theology) with which to replace MTD, we need to know what we believe and we need to practice our faith. We can learn more by reading Scripture, participating in Bible studies (at church, in homes, on the blog!), participating in educational opportunities, learning what’s in our book of confessions (the documents that have explained our theology for the past 1600 years), etc. We can read, pray, talk to others, attend worship, etc. But we have to be sure to put all of that stuff we learn into practice–remember that Christianity is a religion of relationship and desire! God desires a relationship with us, and our desire for God forms our lives. To love God, our neighbors, ourselves, and our enemies requires practice, diligence, prayer, and strength not usually needed in our culture. On page 15 we are reminded that “It is in following Jesus that we learn to love him; it is in participating in the mission of God that God decisively changes us into disciples.”
Second, we need to recognize where faith formation actually happens. The sad newsflash for many of us is that it’s not primarily at church. When we come to church for an hour or two a week, but spend many times that in our homes or schools or workplaces, we cannot expect the one hour to override everything else. Just like many things, faith begins at home. What we talk about at home, how we relate to others, how we practice our faith (prayers, devotions, studying, etc) at home, what we see at home…and how these translate into our other life-spaces such as work, school, playground, and parking lot are much more formative than even the best pastor or the most amazing sermon. So we need to brush up on our faith vocabulary, unlock the box faith is put in between Sundays, and think/talk/act our faith outside the church building as much as-or even more than-we do inside. Only when we use it will our faith become something worthwhile, and only when we talk about it will we become more articulate (and help those around us become so as well). It may make us uncomfortable, but it must be done.
as a final thought, we have this (page 23):
“Christian adults can no longer treat Jesus like an embarrassing relative, someone we introduce with apologies to alleviate others’ (or is out our?) discomfort–that is, if we introduce him at all.”
Thoughts? How are you feeling about all this? Is any of this resonating with you, or are you just thinking “meh, what is this nonsense about?”
What do you feel like you need to combat Moralistic Therapeutic Deism in your own life or in the life of the church?
Have you ever caught yourself treating Jesus like an embarrassing relative, or apologizing for your faith?
What are some ways you practice your faith, ways that connect you to God and to others and that help you to love God, yourself, your neighbor, and even your enemy?