Moralistic Therapeutic Deism

Horton Michael 1Michael Horton has recently described his concern about the rise of “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” in the church.  His concern is quite valid.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the distinction between preaching behaviorism and preaching Jesus. Behavioral teaching goes like this—You should not steal, but you steal. So stop stealing, and here are some tips to help you stop (a.k.a. you can fix yourself). Or, you should not lie, but you lie. So stop lying, and here are some steps to help you stop lying (a.k.a. here’s how you can pull yourself up by your own bootstraps).

Teaching Jesus looks like this—You should not steal, but you are a hopeless stealer. There’s no way you’ll ever stop stealing on your own because you’re a thief at heart. So cast yourself on Jesus! He is mighty to save! He can set you free and give you life.—See the difference? In this way, salvation in Jesus Christ becomes the answer to every question and the solution to every problem of life. As a result, God gets the glory and we get true freedom and joy!

Along these lines, I recently heard pastor Mark Driscoll say he never had another fist-fight after he was saved. He said the change did not happen because he went to a class about letting go of anger but because Jesus got a hold of him and saved him. I heard another pastor say he had spent thousands of dollars and sent his son to weeks of rehabilitation to get him off of drugs. But not long after the rehabilitation clinic, he and his wife found drugs in the son’s room again. It wasn’t until the boy gave his life to Christ that he was set free. And when he turned to Jesus, no clinics were needed.

I can also remember a professor once saying as a Christian he had an amazing marriage, but it wasn’t until recently that he had found out men are from Mars and women are from Venus, and apparently, men are like waves and women are like rubber bands (according to the book). But even without that information, somehow his marriage had survived (note the sarcasm). His point behind the sarcasm was that a life surrendered to Christ, yielding the fruit of the Spirit, does a lot more for a healthy marriage than popular psychology. Who needs self-help books when Jesus is flowing through your limbs?

So where am I going with this? Here’s my concern. I catch a whiff of behaviorism in many of the bible studies I come across. In an effort to be biblical and relevant, ‘hip’ new bible studies emphasizes action steps and changed behavior in light of the truth. That’s fine. But if we’re not careful the way we teach this and the way we go about it can promote the idea that we can change ourselves. Instead we should teach our parishioners to casts themselves on God and turn to Jesus for salvation.

Prayer, bible study, fasting and all the other spiritual disciplines are simply ways to cast ourselves on Jesus, showing and declaring ourselves to be fully dependent on God.

Can some advice help? Sure! Can some practical steps help? Sure! But they will never solve the problem. Parents often ask me as a pastor to help fix their kids. So I lay out steps and give advice, but don’t be fooled. If you’ve been around long, you know regardless of whether the kid follows my advice, if there’s no heart change, the “dog returns to his vomit” every time.

Thus, in all we do, let us preach Jesus as our salvation, as the author and perfecter of our faith.

Mind Your Own Business

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Christ is in all parts of life, even the mundane activities. Unfortunately, we have lost sight of God’s accessibility in the simple.

In the gospels, when John the Baptist says the kingdom of heaven is at hand, he is literally saying it is in our midst. It’s everywhere, all around us and in us. God took all his ‘possessions’ (so to speak) and moved into the world with us. Now his ‘stuff’ is strewn all over the place, just begging to be tripped over.
We do not need to go off to another country or spend our lives in prayer closets to encounter God and walk with him. In fact, Paul seems to speak directly against this, actually suggesting something that looks like quite a boring, ordinary life. He writes that we should make it our ambition to live a quiet life, to work with our hands, and mind our own business. This is pleasing to the Lord. (1 Thess. 4:1)
I wonder if people still believe that?  Everything in our culture says go, go, go!  An important life is a busy life, not a quiet life.  Churches create more and more programs.  Christians meddle.  But what would it look like to “mind your own business,” to be quiet?  I’m not sure, but it sounds wonderful.
I wonder if the missional church movement holds some answers…

Exercise For Theologians

A little exercise for young theologians by Helmut ThielickeThielicke’s little book has many big ideas contained in its small pages. As a theologian speaking to other ‘theologians’ (though I would not consider myself in that category), his words resonate. Theology can indeed be a threat to us. It can actually cause us to sin if we are not careful. We can become prideful and divisive.

We get our three semesters of Systematic Theology, and we become pedantic sesquipedalians, with our ‘prolegomenon’ and ‘eschatological’ vocabulary words floating around. But are we better for it? Do we have changed lives? What a great reminder Thielicke gives us! Our focus should be on God and his Glory.I need to remember this in my own life, especially as I write and preach. I must remind myself why I do what I do. I am not here for the acclaim or a title, but to learn and to serve and to proclaim the Gospel.

I could go on about all the various lessons I have learned from Thielicke’s book, but what stands out most to me is his statement that we should view every new idea as a challenge to our faith.

He says if we latch on to other’s ideas, we essentially become their disciples rather than Jesus’. This seemed so radical to me at first, but the more I think about it, the more it rings true in my heart. How often I have been caught up with some new craze or fad, religious though it may be. Thielicke calls me to a higher standard, a place of total allegiance.

All other ideas and theories must become secondary to Christ and his teachings. I am his first and foremost. Ecclesiastes echoes Thielicke’s sentiments when it talks about how there is no end to the writing of books. By this, I believe it means there seems to be no end to new ideas and new comments and commentaries, but Thielicke reminds us only God’s word remains. I should be devoted solely to God and his ideas.