The term moralistic therapeutic deism (MTD for short) has been tossed around the Christian blogosphere for a few years now, but what is it? Where did it come from? And why do you need to know it as a kids ministry leader?
In 2005, Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton released a book called Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers. In their book, Smith and Denton coined the term moralistic therapeutic deism to describe the “defacto dominate religion among contemporary teenagers.” MTD is a heretical system of thought that has infiltrated evangelicalism and Christianity as a whole. It is subtle and dangerous.
Let’s break it down:
Moralistic – God wants people to behave.
Therapeutic – God wants people to be happy and well-adjusted.
Deism – There is a God, but He made the world and then left it alone. God isn’t personally involved in the everyday lives of people.
On the surface, MTD doesn’t sound all that bad, right? Producing happy moral people sounds like a worthy goal. But is this the kind of Christianity the Bible teaches? Did Christ die so we could be good and well-adjusted?
In the words of the apostle Paul, “May it never be!”
God desires far more from us and for us than our good behavior and temporal happiness. Jesus Christ came into the world to redeem creation from the curse of sin. Well-behaved and well-adjusted people are not His goal. God’s plan is complete and utter transformation–not just of humanity, but creation as a whole.
When did moralistic therapeutic deism replace biblical Christianity in kids’ hearts and minds? When well-intentioned churches started spending more time telling kids what they need to do instead of telling them what Jesus Christ has already done.
We told kids they need to obey right away otherwise bad things could happen to them, like being swallowed by a great fish like Jonah. We told kids they need to be brave like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace, and God will protect them. We made kids memorize the Ten Commandments and then told them to work hard to keep them.
We forgot to show kids that God still used Jonah after He disobeyed and that an entire city repented of their sin and turned to God. We neglected to point kids to that fourth figure in the fire with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. The one “like a son of the gods.” We forgot to tell kids that Jesus Christ kept every one of the commandments perfectly on their behalf.
Morals only go after the behavior. The gospel gets to the root of the behavior by addressing the heart. For kids to be transformed, they need to know that they are sinners. They need to know that they are far from God, but that in His love and grace, God took on human flesh to rescue them. Teach them that Jesus Christ lived the perfect, sinless life they could never live on their own. Tell them how Jesus took the punishment their sins deserve by dying on the cross in their place. Assure them that Jesus rose from the dead, defeating sin and death forever. Help kids discover that they are part of a kingdom far greater than the world they can see.
God wants more for your kids. Don’t give your kids moralistic therapeutic deism. Give them the only thing that can transform their heart. Give them the gospel of Jesus Christ.