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Consequential Faith? or Moralistic Therapeutic Deism?

September 1, 2010

A couple of days ago, I posted a link and excerpts from a CNN article about Princeton professor Kenda Creasy Dean’s research into the faith of church-going American teenagers. Well, now I’ve come across this article from a few weeks ago in The Christian Century written by Dean. It’s long and fiery and definitely worth reading. In it, Dean indicts American churches for teaching what she call “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” or MTD–a heavily watered down version of Christianity that she calls “self-focused” and a boring cult of “niceness.”

Instead, she urges churches to offer their teens what she calls “consequential faith”:

Churches in which young people exhibit highly devoted faith look and act differently than those colonized by MTD. Structurally, they are more likely to have full-time youth ministers, a variety of programs for teenagers and opportunities for youth to participate in religious practice and leadership. But the differences are theological as well. According to the Exemplary Youth Ministry study (a national study of congregations in seven denominations funded by the Lilly Foundation and completed in 2003), these congregations are also more likely to:

• portray God as living, present and active

• place a high value on scripture

• explain their church’s mission, practices and relationships as inspired by “the life and mission of Jesus Christ”

• emphasize spiritual growth, discipleship and vocation

• promote outreach and mission

• help teens develop “a positive, hopeful spirit,” “live out a life of service” and “live a Christian moral life”

These congregations view young people not as moralistic do-gooders but as Christ’s representatives in the world. Teenagers in faith-supporting congregations do not describe God as a Pez dispenser that delivers good feelings on demand but as a “living and active presence” in their lives. Adults in these congregations till the soil for consequential faith in young people. Pastors and adult leaders model “the transforming presence of God in life and ministry,” and parents engage “in conversations, prayer, Bible reading, and service that nurture faith and life.” These congregations invite, cultivate and nurture faith that bears fruit, yielding new life in and beyond the church.

Young people will not develop consequential faith simply by being absorbed into a so-called Christian culture as an alternative to the culture at large; churches are quite capable of developing deformative cultures of their own, while washing down the gospel with large gulps of rationalization. Consequential faith is the result of doing ministry, and not simply being ministered to. Missionary historian Andrew Walls explains, “Christ sends his people as he was sent: to be the light to the world, to give healing and hope to the ill, the weak and the unwanted, to suffer, perhaps unjustly, on behalf of others.” Faith so conceived turns a self-focused spirituality like MTD on its head.

One Comment leave one →
  1. September 2, 2010 9:09 am

    Hi, I saw your post and thought your readers might could use some resources you may find helpful as you respond to the CNN article Author: More teens becoming ‘fake’ Christians which covered Kenda Creasy Dean’s new book Almost Christian. The resources linked below are ‘Nutshell’ summaries–one which unpacks the findings of the National Study of Youth and Religion (NSYR) and one of Almost Christian, which was based on the findings from the NSYR. These Nutshells overview the research, put it into context and highlight the major findings along with the implications for ministry of those findings.

    The National Study of Youth and Religion in a Nutshell –

    Almost Christian in a Nutshell –

    Please feel free to link to and pass these resources along to those in your circle.

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