So many things have changed for me. When I was young, my church life was simple and wholesome and most everything we did went unchallenged. There was a certain intellectual naiveness to my spiritual upbringing. We believed certain things. We did certain things. We accepted certain things. It was all important and it played an enormous role in the life I led.
And somewhere along the line, it got complicated.
College brought philosophy professors and my simple faith began to look more and more simplistic. And I became intellectually defenseless.
My young adult years exposed me to theological conflict, worship wars, church leadership in-fighting, epic moral failures of leaders I admired, and the tragic misuse of money…all in the name of God. But somehow, God’s kindness always rescued me from the “mess” of church life and drew me to kingdom priorities anyway.
Through it all, I’ve learned to embrace my doubts, temper my cynicism, see the beauty in brokenness, and remain fully committed to helping others experience the mercy of God that has surrounded me. This is no small miracle…
One of the shifts I have witnessed and deal with more and more, is the continual Americanization of Christianity…the redefining of discipleship according to the values we have been raised to cherish as citizens of this country.
The ideals of individualism, success, competition, expansion, achievement, esteem, contentment, leisure, acquisition, ownership, self-realization, fun…and dozens of others…have been appropriated by the church and found as worthy, and even superior to the core characteristics of Jesus and his first-century followers.
Ten years ago, a study was done by a professor at Princeton Theological Seminary that defined a new version of Christianity called Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD). You can read about it here, if you’re interested in digging deeper. MTD is characterized by five beliefs:
- A god exists who created and orders the world and watches over life on earth.
- God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
- The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
- God is not involved in my life except when I need him to resolve a problem.
- Good people go to heaven when they die..
I’m no Princeton grad, but I’ve known this for years. It’s epidemic in the church. This is how we present ourself to a watching world. This is what the church has come to hold as its central tenets. In the article I referenced, the author quotes an unnamed source:
For the typical Protestant church member, middle class commitments to family, career, and standard of living are so strong that church commitment is largely an instrument to them and contingent on whether the church appears to serve them. As a result, many local churches tend to become instruments for achieving middle class interests, whether or not these interests can be defended in New Testament terms.
Welcome to my world.