My wife, who is passionate about children’s ministry, introduced me to a study that I had not previously heard about. In 2005 Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton wrote a book entitled: Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of America Teenagers. (I have to stress, I have not yet read the book only the paper by Smith referenced below.)
After interviewing 3000 teenagers they suggested that there is a “de facto dominant religion among contemporary teenagers in the United States … what we might call “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.”
Smith and Denton suggest that there are a number of key beliefs to this creed, namely:
1. A God exists who created and orders 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 he is needed to resolve a problem.
5. Good people go to heaven when they die.
If this research is accurate, and there is no reason to suggest it isn’t, we have a scary, self centred religion among many of our young people. I might add that the noise coming out of many churches is not that dissimilar. Prosperity theology is just one example.
The findings of this research have massive implications for the church: What it teaches, how it teaches and the centrality of Scripture in that task. The five beliefs above are at best half truths and at worst poisonous corruptions of the truth that will stifle and destroy Christian faith and discipleship.
Christian Smith closes his paper by writing:
The language—and therefore experience—of
Trinity, holiness, sin, grace, justification, sanctification, church, Eucharist,
and heaven and hell appear, among most Christian teenagers in the United
States at the very least, to be being supplanted by the language of happiness,
niceness, and an earned heavenly reward. It is not so much that Christianity
in the United States is being secularized. Rather more subtly, either
Christianity is at least degenerating into a pathetic version of itself or, more
significantly, Christianity is actively being colonized and displaced by a quite
different religious faith.
I can’t help thinking that this development describes more than only teenagers. In my recent travels around a variety of churches in Australia I have been astounded how often I have heard pop psychology and “feel good” messages rather than the proclamation of Word of God. A return to God’s Word and its claims on our lives must be the starting point for the rescuing of lives – hearts and minds.
Click to access Smith-Moralistic.pdf