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Moralistic Therapeutic Deism: Not Just a Problem with Youth Ministry

moralistic therapeutic deism

Worried about moralistic therapeutic deism? You’re not alone! Read this informative article from Brian Cosby about MTD, its widespread reach, and how to combat it.

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism: Dangerous & Widespread

That a youth ministry “teaches the Bible” does not necessarily mean it teaches the gospel. Many mistake the gospel with moralism—being a good person, reading your Bible, or opening the door for the elderly in order to earn God’s favor. But the gospel is altogether different.

This is a problem across the youth ministry landscape. It’s not because teenagers and youth leaders have misunderstood the church’s teaching of historical-confessional, gospel-infused Christianity. It’s a problem in youth ministry wherever the American church has not preached Christ crucified and has catered to a pragmatic, entertainment-driven, and numbers-oriented model of church growth.

According to sociologists Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton, most American teenagers believe in something dubbed “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” (MTD). [1] Within this MTD “religion,” God is a cosmic therapist and divine butler, ready to help out when needed. He exists but really isn’t a part of our lives. We are supposed to be “good people,” but each person must find what’s right for him or her. Good people will go to heaven, and we shouldn’t be stifled by organized religion where somebody tells us what we should do or what we should believe. [2]

MTD isn’t a religion like Islam or Buddhism, but rather a melting-pot belief among American teenagers. Historic distinctions between denominations like Baptists, Presbyterians, and Methodists are not as important to teens because they see their Christian faith as just one aspect of their lives like anything else—be it sports, friends, school, or family. Its preacher is American entitlement and its sermon is a me-centered message about a distant, therapeutic god who wants teens to be good and happy.

Alternative to Entertainment

I sat in a Waffle House one early morning, talking with a dad who had caught his son looking at pornography. His family had just transferred from a nearby church that spent through the roof creating the most spectacular show in church—complete with fog machines, strobe lights, and professional musicians writing Christian lyrics to Lady Gaga songs. In between the dueling DJs, this family was starved for the Bread of Life. But despite their burnout over endless entertainment, they didn’t know an alternative.