Moralistic Therapeutic Deism and the rise of a new frontier


In a timely article in the New York Times by Rod Dreher entitled, “Trump Can’t Save American Christianity,” an effective argument is raised that American Christianity is actually not worth saving because it is not true Christianity. It’s not “historical” or “biblical;” it’s spiritually thin; and it has sold its soul to politics.

In fact, Christian Smith, a sociologist at Notre Dame who has been studying the religious and spiritual lives of millennials, has come up with a new name for American Christianity: Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.

“Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is a pseudoreligion that jettisons the doctrines of historical biblical Christianity and replaces them with feel-good, vaguely spiritual nostrums. In M.T.D., the highest goal of the religious life is being happy and feeling good about oneself. It’s the perfect religion for a self-centered, consumerist culture. But it is not Christianity.”

In his article, Dreher goes on to conclude that if Christianity is to survive, it needs to chart a new course, not the one currently traveled by evangelical Christianity in America — indeed, in most churches. And since a majority of millennials have rejected church but are still seeking spiritual answers, the scene is set for a true spiritual revolution.

This kind of stuff makes my spine tingle, because this is exactly what we are championing here at the Catch, and what we are preparing to help foster. And just like the Jesus movement of the early ‘70s, it will begin outside the existing structures of religion and the institutional church, and whether it will make its way back into that church remains to be seen, but it is not the point. The point is to follow the Spirit of God, and we believe the Spirit of God is leading us into a new frontier — a group of believers following the Christ of the gospels (what Tony Campolo calls “Red Letter Christians”) and committed to discipleship and administering Grace Turned Outward to everyone we touch. It is Christians, not trying to save western civilization, but to follow Christ and survive as communities of believers regardless of whether the civilization and culture around it collapses.

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4 Responses to Moralistic Therapeutic Deism and the rise of a new frontier

  1. drewdsnider says:

    This is one of these “don’t get me started” topics 🙂 … the notion of MTD also fits with the alt-right view that declares war on enemies and wants to shut out anybody who Isn’t Like Us. It’s got nothing to do, as you say, with what Jesus stands for: love, unifying people and drawing them into a strong relationship with God.

  2. The United Methodist Church has a similar movement going on called (the opening video on it is actually replicates a similar situation that happened at the church I grew up in). It is about grace, and love, and caring turned outward. Not about me or our church but about the bigger, wider ‘Us’ that God created.

  3. If one wanted to mash up the first few letters in the words “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” (e.g.: MOR – TH – DEI), and apply a little French and Latin legalese to their result, one might discover a subtle inference and/or a suitable (albeit linguistically debatable) neologism:
    “Morth Dei” could be loosely interpreted as the “murder (or assassination) of God.”
    IF, if one wanted to do all of that, of course… 🙂

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