the MTD virus

In response to a posting on 18 April ('the doors'), Stephen Garner commented on some research that points to 'moralistic therapeutic deism' (MTD) being the religion of younger Christian people today. I've been a bit distracted by this research all year!

In a nutshell - this is what is meant by MTD:
"Good, kind, nice pleasant people (the moralistic bit) are able to live a happy life from their religion (the therapeutic bit) while believing in a relatively uninvolved and undemanding God who is watching everything from above (the deism bit)."

And this is the religion of countless Christians!?
How must a follower of Jesus respond?

At its core MTD makes a mockery of the cross of Christ. It is not Christian. It is not even close to being Christian. Let's take each word one at a time in reverse order...

(a) deism - and the God who is uninvolved?
This makes a mockery of the relational word which the Bible knows as reconciliation. God does not drop out of sight after creating the world. The entire story of the Bible is about this 'hound of heaven' (CS Lewis) involving himself in this world and pursuing us across sin and separation and conflict and rebellion until he finds us - at which point he offers forgiveness through the substitutionary death of Christ on the cross. This restores the relationship. This brings reconciliation. And after pursuing us like this - he persists with us! After all of this, an uninvolved God seems ridiculous ... check out 2 Corinthians 5:15-21 for a bit more.

(b) therapeutic - and living life just to feel happy?
This makes a mockery of the marketplace word which the Bible knows as redemption. It is about the buying of a slave so as to liberate them. The price has been paid... We have a slavery to sin. We are unable to grapple with the situation because of that sinfulness. We are helpless and hopeless - completely reliant on God. God purchases our redemption. He pays the price with the death of his own son. We are redeemed. Jesus dies our death so that we can live his life - a life to be lived with Jesus as our Master. 'If he is not Lord of all, he is not Lord at all'. After all of this done for us, living just to feel happy looks pathetic ... check out 1 Peter 1:18-21 for a bit more.

(c) moralistic - and thinking that being good and kind is enough?
This makes a mockery of the legal word which the Bible knows as justification. We stand in the dock. We are guilty. We face God as a righteous and holy judge. He has a standard we cannot attain. There is no goodness in who we are or what we do that can make a difference. The outcome is clear. And then ... God brings in Jesus. He takes our place in the dock as a substitute and receives the sentence of death. It is called grace. It is God's way of forgiving us and treating us as if we had never sinned. We are justified. After all of this, thinking that being good and kind will be enough just looks silly ... check out Romans 3:21-26 for a bit more.

My response to the MTD virus?
Soak up reconciliation, redemption, justification - let the big words have a big impact!
"If Jesus Christ be God and died for me, then no sacrifice can be too great for me to make for him." (CT Studd)

nice chatting


For the record, the book is...

Christian Smith & Melinda Denton, Soul Searching: the religious and spiritual lives of American teenagers (Oxford University Press, 2005)

This posting is an abbreviated version of an article which is itself an abbreviated version of an address given at the TSCF conference in July. The article appeared in CANVAS magazine and can be read at
I am happy to pass on the full manuscript of the address to anyone who is interested.


Stephen G said…
Related to this is the effect that this has upon mission.

Howard Ingham wrote an interesting piece a few years back about the impact of MTD attitudes upon the effectiveness of UCCF "Missions" in British universities. Generated quite a bit of discussion on the UCCF discussion boards (to which he responded in person) and in other places on the net.

See, "The unimportance of being earnest" at:

"To the question, “What do you want most out of life?” most people said: “to be happy”. To the question, “If God asked you, ‘Why should I let you into my heaven?’ what would you say?” the usual answer was something like: “I’m a good person. I’m all right.”"

UCCF discussion here:
Paul Windsor said…
I guess my only response to this is that followers of Jesus can misread where the challenge lies. More than the external challenge of secularism (where there is the gradual erosion of religious and/or Christian strength in society), we face the internal challenge of syncretism (where there is the mixing of the worship of the living God with the worship of other things).
Syncretism tends to occupy a blindpsot within whereas secularism occupies the headlines in the front of our noses. While we don't tend to see it, syncretism is the far greater danger.
... and so to answer your question, I'd argue that for many, many followers of Jesus M&T&D gets picked up from the people around them and from the media that confronts them - and then it is unknowingly woven into what they do on Sundays and in Christian social settings to create a syncretistic faith. Some good stuff, some not-so-good stuff. And if there ain't any sustained focus on the Word of God in their life, they will never notice it ... and they will develop 'a form of godliness but denying its power' (2Tim 3:5)

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