Contracting MTD

Various pills
(Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

MTD stands for Moralistic Therapeutic Deism – a technical diagnosis of Christianity that has devolved into a much more palatable religion, featuring a God that teaches people to be nice, might save them from trouble, is patently uninvolved in the world, and doesn’t really impact people’s lives.[1]

For some of us, if we’re honest, this pretty much describes our experience of God.  You can be almost certain that you (or your church) have a case of MTD when your faith is entirely summed up and exhausted by the following-

  1. God exists
  2. God wants people to be good and nice
  3. The goal of life is happiness and self-adjustment
  4. God doesn’t get involved unless you need God to fix something
  5. Good people go to heaven

If you do have MTD, don’t let it worry you too much.  It isn’t that bad.  MTD sets us up for relative success in our culture, makes us good friends, sociable people, and decent citizens.

And, at the very least, it’s way better than abusive religious bigotry.

What MTD doesn’t do, however, is constitute anything remotely like historical Christianity. 

The God revealed in the Bible is intimately involved in the affairs of this world; so intimately that God is said to have taken on human flesh and walked among us.  This God pursues humans, demonstrating and demanding sacrificial love.

And this God’s significance is everywhere, in all things, at all times.

Christianity is built on the idea that all authority in heaven and earth belongs to Jesus, that his followers teach others precisely what it means to be followers– to sacrificially love all people, even enemies, mostly because God loved them.

MTD, however, isn’t interested in these particulars. It understands God in terms of “force,” rather than “person”… and knowing how difficult people can be, dealing with an impersonal force doesn’t sound so bad.

If the statistics are right, MTD is spreading quickly and quietly among churches and their people, subtly supplanting Christianity wherever it touches.

But it doesn’t have to- I think there’s medication for it.  I’m almost certain its the transforming embrace of God in a Christian community which cares enough to be relevant and challenging, takes God’s presence seriously, and puts more stock in connection with God’s mission than institutional survival…but who knows, maybe I’m just misreading the Physician’s handwriting again.

[1] Much of this post is indebted to the awesome content in Kenda Dean’s Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church.

Allen Marshall O'Brien

Allen Marshall O’Brien is the pastor of a UCC church in Northern California and co-host of the Irenicast. He believes in the importance of education, peace, and ecology, throws things to his border collie Sonata, and writes for multiple platforms.

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