Teenage Religion: Moralistic Therapeutic Deism

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism – what!?  That’s what sociologist, Christian Smith, and his team of researchers has concluded is the leading “religion” among teenagers (and broader culture, too) today.  Smith led a nation-wide study on youth and religion, asking a diverse selection of teens their beliefs about religion and how they practice those beliefs in their daily life.  The results of that study have been published in the book, “Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of America’s Teenagers.”  What I’ve written below is a VERY abridged version of his findings.  If you’re interested in learning more, you can read this longer article about the book, or you can simply buy the book here.

So what is Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (or, MTD)?  It’s best summarized in these 5 points:

  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

MTD is a far cry from the “anti-religious” beliefs that many people think teenagers hold.  In my experience as a youth pastor I’ve encountered many many teens who unknowingly believe in MTD.  Personally, I would not have been able to articulate that’s what they believe, but after reading Soul Searching and reading about MTD, it definitely rings true and very accurate to what many teenagers believe (even many teenagers who profess to be Christians).

Below are a number of Scripture verses I could think of to challenge the philosophy of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.  I’d like to give MTD a more thorough treatment sometime in the future, so stay posted, but hopefully these verses will suffice for now.

“Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”  (John 14:6)

“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.””  (John 3:36)

“There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God.  All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.”  (Romans 3:10–12)

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”  (Matthew 5:11–12)

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”  (James 1:2–4)

“What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer”  (Romans 6:1–3)

Update: Oct. 14, 2011
Kenda Creasy Dean has written a book entitled, “Almost Christian: What the Faith of our Teenagers is Telling the American Church” that is based off the same research as Soul Searching but is much more approachable and down-to-earth.  If you’re looking for heavy, in-depth research then stick with Soul Searching, if you’re looking for the research and what that means in real life, then read Almost Christian instead.

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