I’ve been reading through Stanley Hauerwas’ Working with Words. I just read an essay in which he gives a great summary of the problem with moralistic therapeutic deism: “God becomes that great OK who tells us we are OK and… we should tell others they are OK.” In other words, God’s “I love you” is twisted into “I approve of everything you do.” Having argued for a more therapeutic understanding of holiness ( that God is more interested in healing than retribution), I thought I should distinguish that from the view that God is our “yes man therapist who approves of everything we do.
One of my favorite things about Stanley Hauerwas is the way he says outlandish, exaggerated things to get a rise out of people. For example, in a recent lecture to the Duke Youth Academy, he shared that he wished the phrase “under God” could be taken out of the pledge of allegiance, because it promotes a generic concept of God that isn’t necessarily Trinitarian. I often try clumsily to emulate Hauerwas by saying things in a more provocative way than they necessarily need to be expressed. One example is my last post on moralistic therapeutic deism which I’ll admit was fairly sloppy. No, I’m not an advocate of bad, wishy-washy theology nor do I think Jesus is. But I have encountered arguments in which MTD is made analogous to the basic premise that love is behind everything God does and command us to do. The underlying question I’m wrestling with is how we understand the why’s and what-for’s of holiness. Continue reading
When Christian Smith and Melinda Denton coined the phrase “moralistic therapeutic deism” in 2005, it described the way that many Christian teenagers have grown up with fuzzy theology in which God is basically nice and he just wants people to be nice and happy. Since that time, MTD has become a catch-all slur to use against any theology which doesn’t make God sufficiently strange or mean. The way to prove that you haven’t succumbed to MTD is to interpret the Bible in a way that celebrates the opacity of inexplicably arbitrary divine commands, because if God’s law is entirely benevolent and concerned with human happiness, then it must be a secular humanist projection. But Jesus creates a problem for this Biblical interpretive strategy when he says, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). Continue reading