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I only heard this term a few days ago. Although I’ve had to go to various web-sites to try to find out about it, I feel confusion growing and seek help from Reformed Protestants.

At first, I thought it was a more academic name for “Cultural Christianity” but apparently not – or is it?

What gave rise to this phrase?

Is there a specific year when it was written about, and was America the seed-bed for it (please don’t be offended at that question, all you Christian Americans on this site – it’s just that hundreds of ‘new’ religious movements all claiming to be Christian have sprung up there since the early 1800s to this very day.)

So far, I gather that it teaches a god who created and watches over the earth and its people, wanting people to be nice to each other. But it is viewed as wrong to hold strong theological convictions (which are shunned and said to be harmful and judgemental, preventing equality amongst all religions, which seems to be its idea of a good thing). There is no repentance for sinning [which is an action of the will of the individual to go against God’s will], there is no idea of becoming a servant of Christ, or of devotion to prayer and Scripture reading. This leads to congregations where people do have a form of belief but do not have any understanding of their own religious traditions and what they are supposed to believe in order to be Christians. If they do understand their traditions, they simply don’t care to believe them and substitute whatever makes them feel good. Am I right with that brief summary?

The crucial matter for this analysis, though, is whether Moral Therapeutic Deism accords with orthodoxly Christian doctrine and practice.

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    It's not a movement, so it doesn't have teachers or teachings. It's just a label someone gave to the common post-Christian worldview of Americans. You could consider it a step beyond cultural Christianity, when it's even lost the distinctives that come with that. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moralistic_therapeutic_deism
    – curiousdannii
    Apr 8 at 10:14
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    Such religion seems to me to be very much in accord with that which the false prophet encourages the world to go after, worshipping the first beast, as seen in the visions of John the apostle. Such a religion has two horns, as though it were a lamb, but when it utters its real view, it speaks like a Drakon. Repentance, redemption, reconciliation, remission, justification, Christ;s Headship, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit : all are absent. The rest is an accommodation to the world that now is, with the acknowledgement of an 'historical' jesus. This can be an answer, if you deem it enough.
    – Nigel J
    Apr 8 at 11:30
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    Reading the Wikipedia article it sounds like today's version of Santa Claus deistic God but as a divine non-interactive counselor who just listens but doesn't put demands: all the comfort but not much responsibility except trying to be good according to minimal standard of goodness that one can customize heavily according to one's taste. Apr 8 at 13:28

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I found an article about the origins of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD), first coined by sociologists Christian Smith and Melina Lundquist Denton in their 2005 book Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers (Oxford University Press). The five core beliefs of MTD are as follows:

  1. A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.
  1. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
  1. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
  1. God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.
  1. Good people go to heaven when they die.

The article explores these ideas in some detail, comparing them with biblical morality and how deism and theism diverge, and sums it up thus:

The most important point concerning Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, however, is not the difference between theism and deism, but how far removed from biblical truth some young people are. The beliefs of MTD are not isolated to Millennials, either. It seems that many people simply view God as a “cosmic genie,” a “divine bellhop,” or a roadside assistance mechanic—you don’t know Him or need to, but you can call Him when you are broken down and He will come and get you going again. The most important thing, according to MTD, is to be good, nice, and tolerant, and God will ultimately receive you into heaven. This view is probably held by a lot of Americans and seems to be becoming the dominant “civic religion,” which emphasizes the horizontal relationships with other people but minimizes a relationship with God. In short, MTD puts humanity at the center and, ultimately, each individual at the center of his or her own belief system.

The article concludes:

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is not an official religion. Probably no one would ever identify himself as a “Moralistic Therapeutic Deist.” The real problem is that moralism is not Christianity, and most people who hold these beliefs are likely to identify themselves as Christians when in fact they are living to glorify themselves!

I found another article by a retired minister of the Reformed Protestant persuasion, explaining the effect that Moral Therapeutic Deism is having on the Christian Church today. I shall paraphrase and partially quote from it:

Superficially, the expression “Moral Therapeutic Deism” sounds benign and even desirable. Anything that upholds moral values, makes people feel good, and is aimed at deists must surely be applauded. But what is this morality that is being promoted? There is a suggestion that what God wants for humanity, and the main goal of life, is that we be kind to others and feel good about ourselves. What’s not to like?

Its danger lies in the fact that the morality it teaches is that which makes people feel good, and people feel good when they are told that it is all right to do what they want to do anyway and that God approves it. By focusing on making people feel good, the practitioners of Moral Therapeutic Deism usurp the role of God and replace Him with humanity. The god of the Moral Therapeutic Deism taught in many churches today is not the God of the Bible. In many churches the faith ‘once delivered to the saints’ has become little more than an antiquarian curio.

Subjective wellbeing has replaced God’s revealed truth as our moral compass. Individualism trumps what God wants for us. This philosophy isn’t new, of course. Warnings about how the Church would be corrupted were clearly stated in 2 Timothy 4:3:

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions (2 Timothy 4:3).

Individual is at the centre of the Moral Therapeutic Deism world leading to a reflexive non-judgementalism which is reluctant to say that anyone might be wrong in what they believe or do, except if they hold to the teaching of the Bible, especially in matters of sex.

Nearly 400 hundred years ago John Calvin spoke of people who ‘wish nothing to be lawful for God beyond that which their own reason prescribes for themselves’. We have reached a stage where the church sits in judgement on God and decides what He may and may not say.

The article concludes:

Moral Therapeutic Deism is a parasite which has latched on to its host and is sucking the life out of it, leaving nothing but an empty, desiccated husk. Our challenge is to rebuild.

Moral Therapeutic Deism does not accord with orthodoxly Christian doctrine and practice.

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How best to analyse Moral Therapeutic Deism (MTD) from the viewpoint of biblically-centered Reformed Protestantism?

Moral Therapeutic Deism is not an official religion and probably no Protestant (or other Christ) would ever identify himself as a “Moralistic Therapeutic Deist.”

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism or MTD. The five core beliefs of MTD are as follows:

  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.

Biblical Christians will have problems with all 5 key points of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism:

  1. Not just “a god” exists, but the God of the Bible, who has revealed himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Whoever does not honor Jesus Christ as God does not honor God (see John 5:23).

  2. God does not just want people to be “nice” but commands that they obey Him. He is the One who defines good and nice. He calls sin “sin” and promises to judge it (see Romans 1:18–32).

  3. The central goal of life is to give glory to God. A by-product may be that we feel good about ourselves, but that is not the goal (see Romans 11:36).

  4. Our primary goal as believers is to be constantly in tune with God, following His leading and in daily fellowship with Him. We are to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

  5. No one is good enough to go to heaven. All have sinned and fall short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23); no one is good enough, and that is why we need Jesus, God in the flesh. He lived the perfect life that we could not, and He died to pay for our sin so that we might be made acceptable to God. “‘He himself bore our sins’ in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; ‘by his wounds you have been healed’” (1 Peter 2:24).

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is not an official religion. Probably no one would ever identify himself as a “Moralistic Therapeutic Deist.” The real problem is that moralism is not Christianity, and most people who hold these beliefs are likely to identify themselves as Christians when in fact they are living to glorify themselves! - What is Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD)?

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