Moral Therapeutic Deism.
I know what you’re thinking – three words in and I’ve lost him already!
Moral Therapeutic Deism. It’s a fancy way to say “We like a God who makes us feel good, but otherwise leaves us alone.” In his book, One Faithful Promise, Magrey DeVega explains this concept with an illustration: God as a vending machine.
We approach a vending machine only when we want something – a Coke, or a candy bar, some chips. Some of us approach God only when we want something – a job, health, wealth, security. We put our coins in the machine, punch a button and we get what we want. We say our prayers (the right prayers in the right way); we go to church (with appropriate cheer – at least as far as anyone can tell!); and we get what we want . . . or so the Moral Therapeutic Deist thinks.
This type of faith is “a faith that primarily encourages people to be nice (the moral part)”, that says “God is real and alive, but there isn’t much interaction between us and God (the deism part); the only time we interact with God is “usually when we need God to help us out (the therapeutic part).”
Kenda Creasy Dean, in Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers Is Telling the American Church, says this is the primary faith of the American teenager. They aren’t losing their faith, they are watering it down, she says. And they got it from us!
- From parents for whom the Christian faith makes very little difference in their lives.
- From churches that only pray for things like illness and death.
- From preachers who preach about a “good life” and comfort rather than challenging their people to risk-taking discipleship.
We are turning the faith of the risk-taking, life-giving Jesus Christ into a comfortable, feel-good “hug fest” in which God caters to our needs but demands nothing.
We’ve tried to be Christian, but we’ve only just almost made it!
One of John Wesley’s sermons was called The Almost Christian. He bases it on Acts 26:28, where, after hearing Paul’s testimony, King Agrippa says – basically – “You almost make me want to be a Christian.” (Of course, King James phrased it differently) There are many, Wesley says, “in every age and nation who were almost persuaded to be Christians.
What does it mean to be an “Almost Christian”? And how does one become an “Altogether Christian,” to use Wesley’s term. We might say the “Almost” versus the “All In” Christian.
The “Almost Christian” has “the outside of a real Christian.” He or she doesn’t lie, cheat, steal, or murder. The “Almost Christian” gives and expects love and assistance from other “Almost Christians.” They even avail themselves of the Means of Grace – worship, study, the sacraments, prayer. Believe it or not, they are even sincere about it; “a real design to serve God, a hearty desire to do his will.”
Wesley confesses that for many years, he was an “Almost Christian.” We should go ahead and confess that, too. It is possible – and probably “standard operating procedure” – for most of us to be almost a Christian. We do good things. We abstain from bad things. Mostly because we want to avoid punishment. The “Almost Christian’s” sole motivation is the avoidance of hell.
But, we are sincere in our desire to escape punishment. We do this good sincerely, with a “hearty desire” to do God’s will. But, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” “Good designs and good desires” do not make an “All In Christian.” To be an “All In Christian,” every aspect of our lives must be fully given to God – not just to avoid hell, but to express the love of God that fills our heart.
The “Almost Christian” Jesus is too easy. John Pavlovitz says in a recent blog post that Christians don’t need that kind of Jesus:
They don’t need the walk the aisle, say a prayer, and get out of Hell kind of Jesus. That Jesus is too easy. That Jesus requires no further work. That Jesus is convenient and accommodating to their lifestyle. That Jesus allows them to leave no differently than when he arrived. That Jesus serves them salvation on a silver platter and asks nothing in return.
The Jesus these Christians need, is the Jesus of the Gospels; the one who gets all up in your personal business, the one who turns over tables in the sacred temples of your greed and hypocrisy, the one who demands that you [care] about the poor and the hungry around you—enough to give all that you have for their care.
The way we become an “All In Christian” is to have “the love of God shed abroad in our hearts.” If we are truly “All In” as a follower of Christ, then God’s love must fill us and we must love God “with all our heart, soul, strength and mind,” and, of course, “love our neighbor as ourselves.”
Becoming an “All In Christian” means that we commit all of ourselves to God.We hold nothing back. We get our own desires and motives out of the way. We commit to following God’s will wherever it leads us. Whatever it takes to do what God calls us to do, we do.
Beginning in 1755, Wesley conducted a “Covenant Renewal Service” at the beginning of every year. In that service, early Methodists were encouraged to fully commit their lives to God. The word, “covenant” means “promise;” so, each year, Wesley’s followers were encouraged to renew the promise they made to God. In One Faithful Promise, De Vega lists 5 steps in renewing our promise to God, as written in Wesley’s service:
- Confide in God
- Compose your Spirit
- Claim the Covenant
- Choose Faithfulness
- Connect to God in Prayer
The centerpiece was the Covenant Prayer. (UMH 607):
I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed by thee or laid aside by thee.
Exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine.
So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
Let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.
The Covenant Prayer reminds us what Jesus meant when he said, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).
The Covenant Prayer reminds us of our baptism, when we promised to:
- “renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin…”
- “… accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves…”
- “… confess Jesus Christ as your Savior, put your whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as your Lord, in union with the church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races…”
When Jesus went to be baptized, do you think he did so to avoid hell? Jesus was baptized to express his “All In” relationship to God. Jesus was baptized in order to express publicly his total commitment to whatever God called him to do. He didn’t need it. He didn’t earn salvation from it. He did not receive forgiveness of his sins. When Jesus was baptized, he was “All In.”
The God addressed in the Covenant Prayer is the One who invites us to his table where he offers his life in the form of the bread and the cup. “Make them be for us the body and blood of Christ, that we may be for the world the body of Christ, redeemed by his blood. By your Spirit make us one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world, until Christ comes in final victory and we feast at his heavenly banquet.”
Make us yours, Lord. All in, altogether, whatever it takes