This week's 'thought' comes to you from James Emery White, pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and former president of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, my Alma Mater. It is taken from his book, "The Church in an Age of Crisis, 25 New Realities Facing Christianity."
This entry has to do with the demise of a Christian worldview among Christians. I found it helpful in understanding why it is that many professing Christians (especially the young) do not think Christianly. I trust you will find it helpful as well. Enjoy.
Moralistic Therapeutic Deism
"The National Study of Youth and Religion, conducted from 2001 to 2005 and perhaps the largest research project on the religious and spiritual lives of American adolescents, cataloged the demise of a Christian worldview among Christians. While the vast majority of American teenagers identified themselves as Christian, the "language, and therefore experience, of the Trinity, holiness, sin, grace, justification, sanctification, Eucharist, and heaven and hell appear, among most Christian teenagers in the United States at the very least, to be supplanted by the language of happiness, niceness, and an earned heavenly reward.
Principal investigator Christian Smith writes, "It is not so much that U.S. Christianity is being secularized. Rather, more subtly, Christianity is either degenerating into a pathetic version of itself or, more significantly, Christianity is actively being colonized and displaced by a quite different religious faith."
Smith and his colleagues call this new faith, "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism," a belief system that embraces the existence of a god who demands little more than that we be nice, with the central goal of life to be happy and feel good about oneself.
God is not particularly needed in daily life except to resolve various problems that may come our way (think Divine Butler or Cosmic Therapist). And regardless of religious convictions, beliefs, or commitments, good people go to heaven when they die... The research of Smith reveals a frightening scenario -- the loss of the most basic of Christian thought and belief itself.
So what has influenced these young people toward such an emptying of content in regard to their faith? Alarmingly, three out of four students say that their beliefs simply mirror those of their parents.
This loss of content brings to mind Jean Bethke Elshtain's experience on the first Sunday following the attacks of 9/11. She went to a Methodist church in Nashville. The minister, whom she describes as having a kind of frozen smile on his face, said, "I know it has been a terrible week." Then, after a pause, he continued, "But that's no reason for us to give up on our personal dreams." She thought, "Good grief! Shouldn't you say something about what happened and how Christians are to think about it?" But then she realized that if one has lost the term evil from his or her theological vocabulary, then it is not easy to talk about such a thing.
But a robust and deeply theological discourse on evil was precisely what the world needed to hear at that moment and would have been uniquely served in hearing. Millions flooded into churches across the nation to hear a word from God, or at least about God, to make sense of the tragedy. Sadly, many were left as empty and lost as before they entered -- which is one reason why the millions who came just as quickly left.
Little wonder that now even hell itself is on trial, with popular pastors asking such questions as, "Is there a hell?" "Does anyone really go there?" and "Do your decisions in this life make or break you in regard to heaven and hell?"...
In a day when the world is increasingly secular, and frequently apathetic, the Christian faith is losing its distinctive identity and content. And it is Christians who are emptying their minds. Yet without a clear embrace of the actual matter of the Christian faith, we will have nothing to offer the world that it does not already have."
In response to all this, the one thing that comes most forcefully to my mind is the verse from Revelation 2:5: "Remember the height from which you have fallen. Repent and do the things you did at first."
The Lord has been impressing that verse upon my heart a lot lately. Remember your younger days in the Lord. Remember your hearts desire at that time. Remember the passion and commitment and willingness to go almost anywhere and do almost anything for Jesus. Remember the lengthy times spent in prayer, and reading the Bible, and sharing the gospel, and that burning desire to see family and friends and loved ones come to Christ. I do remember. Do you?
Every so often (for the good of our own spiritual health) the Lord asks us to remember the height from which we have fallen, repent for having allowed it to happen, and then set our hearts once again doing the things we did at first. For only then -- through remembering, repenting, and doing what we once did -- will we begin to experience that first love again, and hopefully, start turning the tide of apathy in the American church -- one soul at a time.
"Lord Jesus, I commit myself to you, your church, and the purposes of Your kingdom all over again..."
For the Honor of His Name, Pastor Jeff