In 2005 Christian Smith an American Sociologist at Notre Dame and the director of the “National Study of Youth and Religion” wrote a book called “Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual lives of American Teenagers”. Part of his research for the book included a survey of several thousand teenagers views on spirituality and religion. Through his research he discovered a new set of commonly held spiritual beliefs that he called “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism”. It was determined that MTD boils down to these 5 spiritual beliefs.

  1. A God exists who created and ordered 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 God is needed to resolve a problem.
  5. Good people go to heaven when they die.

At first glance this doesn’t sound horrible. There is some truth in there, but if you really examine it more closely it’s clear that MTD doesn’t really line up with the foundational teachings of the Bible. It is very subtle and yet powerful, just like the devil’s craftiness in the garden. It is a slippery slope that can have a huge impact on what people think because it is an example of challenging what God really says. We also have to consider that the teenagers in this survey are now in their 30’s and this set of spiritual beliefs has continued to evolve exponentially becoming more complex and held by a vast majority in our current culture. This is important because if we don’t believe the God of the Bible is who He says He is, then there isn’t much point in bothering with what He says.

In order to examine any “new set of spiritual beliefs” we need a filter, a way to wash out or test the impurities and false narratives that may be floating around. 1 John 4:1 it says “1Dear friends, do not believe every spirit (set of beliefs), but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” God has given us His word, the Bible, to test the spirits or set of beliefs, a filter that we can wash out theological impurities. 2 Timothy 4:1-8 is one of many examples of Biblical filters at our disposal.

“1In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: 2Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. 3For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 5But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry. 6For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. 7I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” 2 Timothy 4:1-8 NIV

Paul begins chapter 4 with an important reminder that we are “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom,” God is with us now, watching and listening, present tense. He hasn’t abandoned us or left us to our own fate. He’s “intently” engaged in our lives. If you look up “intently” it says, “with earnest and eager attention”. I love that! So, to say that “God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem” (MTD statement #2) is contrary to pretty much everything we read in scripture. This is only one example of how MTD doesn’t make it through the filtering process, more on that next week. There are some other things in this passage that I want to point out that can help us with the filtering or testing process.

Paul continues by issuing a “charge”, “I give you this charge: 2Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke, and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.”  The word “charge” has multiple meanings, including financial transactions, demands, and expectations, but Paul is basically entrusting believers to carry out the task of passing on God’s word or what God says. So, who does Paul think he is to be giving such a charge and by what authority? Paul has the same authority as the disciples. He was not only an eyewitness of Jesus, but he was also commissioned by Jesus himself in Acts 9. Jesus said that Paul was His “chosen instrument”. (Acts 9:15) I’d say that qualifies as an endorsement, and his pedigree gives us more confidence in the process. So, now that we know Paul is legit let’s continue.

One of the things I love about Paul is that he usually gives us an explanation or a “how to” list. If we’re going to preach the word, share what God says, or even test a set of spiritual beliefs, we need to be ready at any time or season, preparation or homework is required. If we are going to preach or test it, we better know what we’re talking about. His charge instructions also include both positive (encourage) and negative (correct and rebuke) reinforcement techniques that should be used in proper balance. That’s why he says, “with great patience and careful instruction.” Christians tend to lean to far to one side or the other, overly harsh or making things too easy. In order for us to grow and mature we really need all of the above without extremes and in proper balance. The same can be applied to a filtering or testing process like this.

So, if we look back at the set of beliefs from MTD, there are a few statements that don’t pass through our biblical filtering process. We’ll look at that a little more closely next week, but before I go, I wanted to touch on Ephesians 6:10-18 because I asked you to read it last week. This section is titled the “Armor of God”. Paul tells us in verse 11 to Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.” Of course, Paul is not talking about physical armor. It’s spiritual. It’s for our protection, but not all of it is defensive. God has given us a spiritual weapon, an offensive weapon to add to our arsenal, to stand against the devil’s schemes and craftiness (Genesis 3), a sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”(Ephesians 6:17 NIV) This is another reason why paying attention to what God says is so important.

Have a great weekend! Love y’all!

Robby Morris
Director of Family Ministry and Facility Coordinator – Andrews UMC

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