American Christianity – Moralistic, Therapeutic Deism

the-american-dreamRoger Olson, Professor of Theology at George W. Truett Seminary of Baylor University, recently posted an interesting article in which he engages with the findings of a sociological study of youth religion in the United States. The study was carried out from 2003 to 2005 by sociologist of religion, Christian Smith, and his colleague, Melinda Denton. The study was also recapped in the book Almost Christian, authored by Kenda Creasy Dean, professor of youth culture and ministry at Princeton Theological Seminary.

Read more from Olson here. But I’d like to note some reflections of Princeton professor Kenda Dean in her book Almost Christian:

The religion that is replacing “actual historical Christian religion” in America, especially among young people, is labeled MTD [Moralistic, Therapeutic Deism]. Dean…summarizes MTD with five beliefs: 1) A god exists who created and orders the world and watches over 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 is not involved in my life except when I need God to resolve a problem, and 5) Good people go to heaven when they die. (p. 14)

Olson continues in his blog post:

Dean interprets this trend and the prevalence of MTD as accommodation to “the American way” and implies it is the fruition of two centuries of churches adopting that as their real gospel. The goal is “success in life” and the American way of self-actualization and acquisition of goods and being nice to others is the path to the goal.

I would concur that this seems to be the prevailing undercurrent to the Christian faith for at least much of the Bible-belt culture of the southeastern U.S., if not the whole of America. Honestly, at times, I can find it running through my own veins, encapsulated by a couple of major words: entitlement and consumerism.

We, as a community of people, not just individuals, think we’re owed the good, American [Christian] life. And this works its way out in a myriad of practical ways on a daily basis. And we continually approach church with the question: What can you do for me?

I’m here to gain a service, entertain me.

It’s a far cry from Paul’s declaration that the wisdom and power of God is truly seen through the lens of Christ crucified. Counter-cultural, for Rome then and America today, to say the least.

What are your thoughts on this prevailing narrative in America known as Moralistic, Therapeutic Deism?

One thought on “American Christianity – Moralistic, Therapeutic Deism

  1. This is a fascinating article Scott. Looks like Christianity in the post-Christian world is being undermined more by Christians than by unbelievers.

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