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Moralistic Therapeutic Deism: A Modern “Faith”

Photo of Jon SherwoodJon Sherwood | Bio

Jon Sherwood

Jon Sherwood strives to treat people with respect and dignity while expressing his heartfelt beliefs about Jesus and the Christian faith. He is the lead minister of Asheville Church in North Carolina. A graduate of the University of Florida and Athens Institute of Ministry, Jon founded the Columbia School of Ministry in 2016. He is married to Brittany and has two children. He loves the outdoors and good coffee.

Today’s Christian faith in the western world has taken a sharp turn in modern multiculturalism. A new faith has, and is, emerging especially in the younger generations of American’s that takes the name and shape of “Christianity,” but is in fact an anemic and gutted version of traditional Christian faith.

Some have termed this emerging kind of faith “moralistic therapeutic deism” (Smith, Souls in Transition), defined as a form of Christianity masquerading as beliefs in: the existence of God, the importance of being kind to others, our ultimate goal of personal happiness, that God is seldom personally involved in individual lives, and that good people go to heaven when they die.

Sound familiar?

I’ll bet you didn’t even know that you hadn’t believed in Christianity this whole time, did you?
This modern “twist” on the Christian faith largely comes from the absorption of the Western cultural beliefs inherent in individualism, multiculturalism, and relativism to the point where (especially young) people see little difference between various denominations or even different religions altogether. In other words, once someone has extracted the basic moral code of conduct, there’s no need for religious practice. Unsurprisingly, this sort of watered down faith does not have any real traction in the moral lives of those who embrace it. This kind of “moralistic therapeutic deism” translates more into a sort of relational “karma” than Christian faith.

Some believe that this type of “MTD” is now the dominant form of religion in America. There is such a strong consistency in these beliefs across generations that “MTD” has colonized American churches, and young people tend to think about religion in exactly the way that liberal mainline Protestantism has encouraged us to do for decades in terms of individualism, pluralism, tolerance, and the authority of individual experience. Yet Evangelicalism has also fostered this slide toward personal autonomy, with its anti-institutional bias and its focus on individualized scriptural interpretation (Grant, Divine Sex).

If you are a Christian and realize that this sort of “faith” has infiltrated and saturated your understanding, doctrine, and belief system about Jesus Christ, then I urge you to devotedly and consistently dig into the Scriptures to mine out the heart and mind of God in order to combat the pervasive and even oppressive weight of the culture in which you live.

If you are a Christian leader, you must consider the ways in which your own teaching of God and His word encourages the modern social imaginary (the construct that culture would have us believe is reality) while undermining the Christian vision of what it means to live in trusting obedience to God in every part of our lives, including sexuality, relationships, pluralism, relativism and moralism.

Every good person is not going to heaven according to biblical Christianity.

“Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone.” At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. – Mark 10:17-22

Faith without repentance and deeds to illustrate that faith, is not true and valid faith according to biblical Christianity.

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? . . . You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? . . . You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone. – James 2:14-26

Christianity is not primarily meant to make you feel good. Christianity is not primarily about making you happy. God did not take the form of a man and die a treacherous death so that you would not have to go to a therapeutic support group. The message of believing in and following Jesus the Christ is to reconcile your mind, body, and soul to your Creator, while forgiving your transgressions against Him in order that you will not face the just wrath of your Creator’s judgment.

From Jon Sherwood’s blog on fueling faith in the 21st century at www.jonsherwood.com. Used with permission.