A few posts back I mentioned an article in Christianity Today called “The Leavers” that highlights the exodus of young adults from Christian churches. There was a paragraph in there that I thought needed some examination and discussion on p.15 of the online version,
What pushed them out? Again, the reasons for departing in each case were unique, but I realized that most leavers had been exposed to a superficial form of Christianity that effectively inoculated them against authentic faith. When sociologist Christian Smith and his fellow researchers examined the spiritual lives of American teenagers, they found most teens practicing a religion best called “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism,” which casts God as a distant Creator who blesses people who are “good, nice, and fair.” Its central goal is to help believers “be happy and feel good about oneself.”
Where did teenagers learn this faith? Unfortunately, it’s one taught, implicitly and sometimes explicitly, at every age level in many churches. It’s in the air that many churchgoers breathe, from seeker-friendly worship services to low-commitment small groups. When this naive and coldly utilitarian view of God crashes on the hard rocks of reality, we shouldn’t be surprised to see people of any age walk away. – Drew Dyck
I can’t find a link to the actual study but I did notice that John Ortberg talked about this over on his site. He seems to agree that people have learned this at church. Here are the tenants of MTD as Smith describes them (quoted from Ortberg…I think he quoted them from Smith):
This religion is characterized by five beliefs:
–There is a God who created earth and watches over it
–God wants people to be nice, fair and good (as it taught in the Bible and most other religions)
–The central goal of life is to be happy and feel good about yourself
–God doesn’t need to be involved in your life except when there’s a problem that needs Celestial Performance Enhancement
–Good people go to heaven when they die.
Do you think this is what our kids are getting in Sunday school, in our preaching and teaching? Do you think we have boiled our faith down to good moral teaching that is basically on par with any other good moral teaching? Have we inadvertently communicated that life is about being happy and feeling good? I am really curious what you guys think about this?
The bigger question whether or not we have played any role in contributing to the exodus of our young people. It is easy to say all the evil influences out there do it but are we willing to take an honest look right at home to see if we have played any role in this ourselves. I am not saying anyone in the churches are evil or were out to get anyone. I am not saying every church has done this wrong. I am saying it is worth a look and evaluation to see if what we have been doing has made any contribution to this problem we are now facing. Different congregations will come to different answers on this but I think it is important that we don’t just assume that all the problems are “out there” without first examining ourselves on this.