Me, Me, Me; MTD
This post is about me. I can hear both of you saying, “Aren’t they all?” Well, yes. But this one isn’t about me, per se, but about “me”. As has been said many times, in many places, our culture is driven by the consumer. It used to just be an economic phenomenon, but it’s spread. The consumer determines whether or not you have a job, and how hard you work, and how much money you make. How much money you make determines how much money you spend when you get off work and become the consumer. The consumer determines what movies and TV shows get made, and what kinds of commercials air during those shows.
I know you’ve seen the whole “consumerism is EVIL!” rant before, so I’ll stop there. Suffice it to say that (several years ago) it made its appearance in the church. People started choosing churches based on what they “got out of it”. I’ve done it myself, and I hate that part of me.
Like I said, that was several years ago. When people started seeking church that way, rather than correcting that error, church leaders began to cater to it. Robert Webber says this in the intro to Listening to the Beliefs of Emerging Churches:
While the sixties were the age of secularism in which God had been shoved to the periphery of existence, the eighties and nineties rapidly shifted to a new era of self-focused spirituality…In this context, a “pragmatic evangelicalism” was born…[it] created new practical solutions – corporate churches, entertainment worship, need-driven programs, therapeutic faith.”
Webber goes on to discuss how theology took a back seat to meeting felt needs. I went to a conference last year that brought to my attention the concept of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. The basic idea, as stated on Christianpost.com, is this:
- 1. “A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.”(Deism)
- 2. “God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.”(Moralism)
- 3. “The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.”(Therapeutic)
- 4. “God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.”(Deism again)
- 5. “Good people go to heaven when they die.” (Moralism Redux)
I just read this article to brush up…the comments are especially telling.
It’s clear that based on the evidence of MTD that we can easily see in our world, theology – Biblical theology, that is – has taken a serious hit. I was speaking with my pastor today about a conversation I had with some of my teens. Our Sunday School conversation turned to world religions, and two of my students said that they believed that a) God revealed himself differently to different cultures, and those made up the world religions…so they’re all equal, and b) that a good person – the example was Ghandi – must be deserving of God’s love.
I told my pastor that I disagreed with them, and first he asked me why. I was a little confused, but he said that he’d tell me what he thought, and that I could tell him what I thought, and we’d go from there. Here is a paraphrase of his position:
I see religion as people watching a baseball game through a wood fence. They’re looking through knotholes, one from first base, one from centerfield, one on the third baseline. They’re all different perspectives of the same game.
I had a friend who was an alcoholic and a drug addict [note: I assume he was recovering]. He told me that we’re all suffering from the same disease: separation from God. Everyone’s trying to fill the void inside, he had chosen drugs and alcohol.
I’m a Christian because I believe with all my heart that Jesus is the way to God. But if someone tells me that they’re Muslim, or Buddhist, and that fills the void for them, who am I to say that’s wrong?
It’s like in the the Gospel lesson this week. When they asked Peter why he had to eat with the uncircumcised, he said, “If these guys had an experience just like we did, who am I to keep them out?”
There are two things in this conversation that stand out to me, showing that Biblical theology has become unimportant. First, my pastor believes that the purpose of faith is therapeutic. Whatever stuffs your turkey. It’s about you feeling complete, satisfied, happy. Second, he either misunderstood, or intentionally misstated the passage that had been our reading this Sunday.
Before Peter went to Cornelius’ house in Acts 10 he had a dream. God told him not to call “common” that which he has made clean. Then the Spirit directed him to follow the three men who had come from Caesarea. He did, where he was told of Cornelius’ dream, then he preached the Gospel. Then the Spirit descended on them. When questioned, Peter recounted the whole incident, including both dreams, and applying Jesus’ words of them being baptized in the Holy Spirit. Then he said, “Who was I that I could stand in God’s way?”
Peter’s experience was directed by heaven itself. Supported by dreams, prophecy, and the words of Christ. Moreover, it doesn’t conflict with Scripture, it confirms it. Scripture tells us that “the nations will rally to him” (Is 11:10), that he would proclaim justice to them (Is 42:1); Christ told the apostles to make disciples of all nations (Mt 28:19-20), etc, etc.
But my pastor’s argument does not confirm scripture. It contradicts it. Those who do not believe are “condemned already” (Jn 3:18), no one will find God except through Christ (Jn 14:6), “there is one God, and one mediator between God and man, the man Jesus Christ (1Tim 2:5).” How can my pastor, who seems in all ways conventional hold this belief? I honestly don’t know.
I know it’s a product of our consumer culture. I know it’s a product of the “tolerance” movement that is en vogue in progressive churches like my own. I know it’s a result of “niceness”: you must be careful not to offend. Nobody wants to seem arrogant or superior, so they won’t point out error. They won’t point out anything that will make another person uncomfortable. So they pretend there’s no right way.
In the end, it all comes down to “me”. What makes me happy right now? What makes people like me? What will keep my parishioners and the members of the community from thinking I’m cocky?
I told him that Jesus’ purpose wasn’t to make us feel whole or complete, that’s just a by-product. He came to reconcile us to God, for his glory. Our purpose is to give glory to God. This isn’t about “me”, it’s about him.