The interview was disturbing. The young woman I was counseling was in deep-dish trouble. Her relationships were dysfunctional, she was up to her armpits in debt, and most of her decisions were based on a daily reading of her horoscope.
But the most troubling thing is that she had grown up attending church. She was supposed to know how to manage life. But she didn’t. Her spiritual journey included a lot of lessons to help her feel good, but very few to help her live as a true follower of Christ. I should not have been surprised.
In 2005, University of North Carolina sociologist Christian Smith and colleague Melinda Lundquist Denton published The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers, revealing that most teens adhered to a pseudo-religion Smith dubbed MTD, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. Its tenets:
- There is a God who created everything and watches over us.
- That God wants people to be good as defined by most world religions.
- The goal of life is happiness and feeling good about oneself.
- We only need God when we have a problem.
- Good people go to heaven when they die.
In other words, the moral part is superseded by the therapeutic. Purity of heart, Christlike sacrifice for others, repentance, forgiveness and the pursuit of righteousness and the rule of God in life aren’t in the picture. Feeling good trumps everything.
Smith’s follow-up research published in 2011 showed nothing had improved. Though 40 percent of young believers said their moral beliefs were grounded in the Bible or other religious feeling, it is unlikely that those beliefs were biblically consistent. And 61 percent “had no moral problem at all with materialism and consumerism.”
Those teens are grown up now and most of America follows MTD.
That isn’t the way Church is supposed to be. The Church should be God’s university on planet earth, a learning center for Biblical life lessons, a place where each member is constantly growing up into maturity in Christ.
Healthy Churches equip believers to discern between wisdom and the world’s empty values.
Consider some examples: What do you think about climate change? How about a nuclear-armed Iran? What about health care? College debt? How about the Virginia Tax Code? And what about education? Helping the poor? Sex-ed in schools?
Simple answers elude us. How should a serious Christian respond? Can the Bible help?
The Bible doesn’t always teach us what to think. But it can teach us how to think. That’s what it means to develop a Biblical Worldview. Christians truly educated in God’s university know how to ‘think Biblically’ on issues from Abortion to Zoning laws. In that sense, a healthy church produces better parents, better students, better leaders, better workers and better citizens because it produces better thinkers.