Moral Therapeutic Deism

moral therapeutic deism God, Christian SmithAnd How You Might Be One Too...

Moral Therapeutic Deism (after this MTD) is a phrase that comes to us via Christian Smith and his team's research in to the spiritual lives of American teenagers.  Smith and his team found out that MTD is the real religion of teenagers who claim to be Christians.

Sarah Arthur, in her great book - The God Hungry Imagination: The Art of Storytelling for Postmodern Youth Ministry, gives a brief explanation of the three core ideas of MTD.

Morality.  Religion helps you be a better person. But the definition of good is very fuzzy, varies from person to person and is far removed from the biblical definitions of what is good, the greater goods and the greatest good.

Therapeutic.  Religion helps you feel good about yourself. No surprise on this one, since the pursuit of self-expression, self-satisfaction, self-fulfillment and just about anything else connected to self -- is just about the supreme good. 

Deism. A minimally involved God. This is the religion of many of the founding fathers of the U.S.A. God is there to help you when you need it, but otherwise he makes no claims on your life.

Now, follow this next statement about what spirituality becomes for those who believe in MTD.

"Spirituality is thus renarrated for all comers as personal integration, subjective feeling, and self-improvement toward individual health and personal well-being, and no longer has anything to do with, for example, religious faith and self-discipline toward holiness or obedience." (Smith, Soul Searching, pp. 175)

I have seen this over and over, especially with those who have become interested in contemporary spiritual formation. (Be sure to read the last "footnote.") The spirituality they are interested in and the spiritual self-help books they read are largely devoid of biblical teaching and theological substance. There is a generic spirituality that Jesus would not recognize as representing his way, truth and life. There is virtually no virtue or ethics in this spirituality. There is a general loss of the great themes of holiness, reverence, obedience, surrender, trust... 

Christian Smith says this is now the spiritual life of American teens who attend church. 

Oh, by the way, Smith says, in large part - this is what their parents believe as well and what they are likely to be taught (or not taught) in church. Robust theological themes that are essential to historica and orthodox Christian faith are generally neglected. They are replaced by entertaining, self-help, primarily pragmatic messages. Pretty much what you could hear on Oprah (and Joel Olsteen). 

Jesus himself raised the question: Will the Son of Man find faith on earth when he returns? (Luke 18:8)

He will certainly find MTDeism! 
But faith?


Brian K. Rice
Leadership ConneXtions International

I engage in a wide variety of Christian spiritual traditions, especially as they are defined by Richard Foster and Ken Boa. But all these traditions are biblically rooted, theologically substantial, historically developed and situated in the framework of biblical faith. That includes the classical approach to the contemplative tradition. The contemporary approach is much more shaped by theological liberalism, a rather generic humanistic psychology at odds with Christian faith, and a generous borrowing from eastern religions, especially Buddhism. In our pluralistic and relativistic world - this is very attractive to MTDs, many of them who no longer are interested in church.

I deeply appreciate both Smith and Arthur who map out a better way. It is a hard way. And really - the only way.