Jeremy Sarber On Life & Scripture

Insights on God, salvation, and ourselves.

Moral Therapeutic Deism is the broad road

Moral Therapeutic Deism is a convenient yet damnable belief system. It lulls the masses into a false sense of security.

In their 2005 book, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers, sociologists Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton coined a helpful term—Moral Therapeutic Deism (MTD). It’s useful because it aptly describes the prevailing spiritual beliefs of many, if not most, Americans.

According to orthodox Christianity, God is personal and knowable. He has a name. He is the Creator and Sustainer of all things. He has given us his law to distinguish between right and wrong. Everything he has done, is doing, or will do is for his glory alone. Last but certainly not least, his Son is the only way to heaven.

According to MTD, however, God isn’t personal or knowable. He’s a vague, largely undefinable deity. While he may have created the universe, he has effectively stepped away, leaving nature to run its course. Much like his character, his will for humanity is obscure. We can’t know what he wants from us, though we should assume he would like us to be kind and treat people fairly. Ultimately, anyone who proves himself to be a reasonably good person—whatever that means—will enter into heaven. As for God’s Son, the Moral Therapeutic Deist might ask, What son?”

MTD is a convenient belief system. It allows one to call upon God when needed—he might occasionally intervene—and ignore him otherwise. He won’t mind. It lets followers construct their own moral codes rather than obey the clear commands of Scripture. Organized religion need not apply. God has better things to do than worry about church attendance. It presumes he wants us to be good people without defining good. Most importantly, MTD assumes this God we cannot know only wants us to be happy. What other purpose could he have?

As a funeral home chaplain, I cross paths with MTD frequently. Tell me about your loved one,” I say. What did he believe?”

He didn’t go to church or anything, but he definitely believed in God.”

Did he have any favorite Bible passages?”

He didn’t really read the Bible.”

What did he believe about heaven?”

Oh, he believed in heaven. I’m sure he’s there now.”

Why do you think that?”

He was a good person—heart of gold, you know.”

If I want to inject a moment of awkward silence into the conversation, I’ll ask, What did he believe about Christ?” I can hear a pin drop on the carpet as they scramble to think of an answer that wouldn’t offend the Christian minister sitting across the table. They believe their loved one is in heaven and want me to affirm it, which isn’t something I have the knowledge or authority to do.

MTD is damnable. It lulls the masses into a false sense of security. They don’t know or love God, yet are confident he loves them. With only rare exceptions, they believe he would never bar anyone from heaven. After all, on what basis would he keep them out? They don’t think he’s given any explicit commandments, so according to what could he judge us? Condemning people to hell would be cruel and arbitrary.

Contrary to popular opinion, however, God has given us his law, and whatever the law says it speaks to those who are subject to the law so that the whole world may be held accountable to God (Ro 3:19). None is righteous, no, not one (Ro 3:10). No one will enter into heaven by default or because he’s a good person with a heart of gold. Such a person doesn’t exist according to God’s assessment.

Even so, God is patient, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance (2Pe 3:9). All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, but we can be justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus to be received by faith (Ro 3:23-25).

As B.B. Warfield has written:

There is nothing in us or done by us at any stage of our earthly development because of which we are acceptable to God. We must always be accepted for Christ’s sake or we cannot ever be accepted at all.

Suppose you are a spiritual-but-not-religious” believer in the Deist’s vague notion of God, clinging to the assumption that you’ll eventually wake up in heaven one day. In that case, I will tell you what the apostle Paul told the Corinthians. Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame (1Co 15:34). Repent of your sin and look to Christ for salvation. There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved (Ac 4:12). Deny yourself and follow him.

Moral Therapeutic Deism is a broad, seemingly pleasant road leading many to eternal destruction.