“They have also healed the hurt of My people slightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace!’ when there is no peace. Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination? No! They were not at all ashamed; nor did they know how to blush. Therefore they shall fall among those who fall; at the time I punish them, they shall be cast down,” says the LORD. Thus says the LORD: “Stand in the ways and see, and ask for the old paths, where the good way is, and walk in it; then you will find rest for your souls. But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’”
Through Jeremiah, Almighty God gives His people a clear & certain call that the only way to move forward, to be genuinely progressive, is to get back onto the old paths (from which they had twisted off), to walk forward in the God-defined ways. This is not a call to return to some fabled Golden Age. Instead, it is a call to see & embrace the previous things God had established, pick them up & start moving forward. Here, at the end of 2010, I want us to start looking forward to the future as the God-shaped, God-molded, God-defined people walking in the God-shaped, God-molded, God-defined way!
Acknowledge & Disown our Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.
Back in 2005 two sociologists, Christian Smith & Melinda Denton, surveyed religious teenagers through out the USA. They went across the spectrum racially, economically, denominationally, etc. Then after doing the surveys, they met with several of these teens face-to-face to get a better idea of why the kids answered the questions the way they did. Their findings were published in a book titled, “Soul Searching: The Religious & Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers.” What they found was that the predominant religion in America is what they denominated as “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism”. Allow me to break it down for you:
Moralistic-”being the kind of person that other people will like, fulfilling one’s personal potential, & not being socially disruptive or interpersonally obnoxious” (163).
Therapeutic-”This is not a religion of repentance from sin, … , of living as a servant of a sovereign divine, of steadfastly saying one’s prayers, … , of building character through suffering, … Rather, what appears to be the actual dominant religion among U.S. teenagers is centrally about feeling good, happy, secure, at peace. It is about attaining subjective well-being” (163-4)…. Very much the “healing the hurt of my people slightly saying “peace, peace” when there is now peace” of Jer. 6.14!
Deistic-”…the God of this faith keeps a safe distance” (164). “this God is not Trinitarian…..this God is not demanding…In short, God is something like a combination Divine Butler & Cosmic Therapist: he is always on call, takes care of any problems that arise, professionally helps his people to feel better about themselves, & does not become too personally involved in the process” (164).
Now comes the really bad part. Smith & Denton concluded that “in most cases teenage religion & spirituality in the United States are much better understood as largely reflecting the world of adult religion, especially parental religion” (170).
If Smith & Denton are correct, we have handed off to our children & grandchildren a sick, anemic religion. How did we get into this muddle? I would suggest that we have been kidnapped by a mechanical, procedural, magical approach to Christianity or paganism in the name of Jesus. What is paganism? The attempt at manipulating the cosmic fibres, maneuvering the binary code & trying to trick the matrix of the universe through some kind of incantation or sacrifice or trinket so as to win the gods’ notice & manipulate his/her approval on your behalf. This is clearly seen when some slide on a WWJD bracelet & expecting it to keep you from sin, or purchase anointing oil made in Israel & expecting that it will really do the job in healings, or walk around a neighborhood & spout off some formulaic Christian spell to bind back the evil territorial spirits, etc.
Here, at the end of 2010, if we are going to move forward, then we will need to start on our knees, crying out to God Psalm 139.23-24, own up to God where we have become virtual pagans in our lives & absorbed moralistic, therapeutic deism; confess where we may have pawned this off on our children & grandchildren; & then return to the old paths of the Reformation, being enamored again by & moving forward with Sola Scriptura, Solus Christus, Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, Soli Deo Gloria. If this is our heart’s desire, our longing, then two things will become prominent in us: We will be recaptured by the Trinitarian Dynamic, & we will always, always ardently, forthrightly & clearly verbalize the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Be Recaptured by the Trinitarian Dynamic.
Here, for time, I’m going to presume that you understand what we mean by “The Trinity”. So I want to delve a bit into the dynamic. The Trinitarian Dynamic declares that before time & space & dust, the One, singular God was this loving fellowship of Father, Son & Holy Spirit. God was not lonely nor dying for attention when He made all things. Instead He was & is eternal love & joy. From that position of eternal, unending joy & love He created all things, & especially humans, so that creation & humans could be part of the pleasure, peace, fellowship & love of God. & since Adam & Eve sinned & things have gone to pot, the Father, the Son & the Holy Spirit are actively working out the restoration & liberation of His sin-enslaved, sin-damaged creatures & creation. This world reclamation project is focused in Jesus Christ, & not scattered all over the ideological, conceptual countryside! Nevertheless, this Jesus-focused work of re-creation, restoration, reclamation is fully the work of the Trinity, the Father, the Son & the Holy Spirit. The Father has planned this world reclamation project (Eph. 1.3-11); the Son executes this cosmic rescue work (John 12.32, 14.6, Col. 1.15-23); & the Holy Spirit applies the Son’s work to us (Romans 5.5-11, 8.9-25). The way we know the world-rescuing Trinity is solely through knowing the Son. Being recaptured by this Trinitarian Dynamic will rescue us from at least 3 things:
1st-From the dead-end trap of moralistic, therapeutic deism. How? You live & work from the reality that the Trinity is one God who is simultaneously a relationship of three persons, who graciously wants us to be part of that relationship (as creatures in His image). There is a deep personalism & vibrant warmth in God. This is the personalism & warmth of a God who really is love (1 John 4.7-8), & has loved from eternity. & that love will get into our business, even when we would prefer Him not too (Revelation 3.19). We will crave this deeply personal, vibrantly warm loving God & His getting into our business. One of the things this will do is that it will even change how we read Scripture & hear sermons: “…reading Scripture is about being mastered by Jesus Christ through a biblical text that functionally stands over us as the word of God, not under us as a word we can control, rearrange, and use for our own purposes. Reading the Bible as Scripture involves nothing less than entering into the triune God’s own communicative fellowship” (203).
2nd-From the blind alley of spirit-centered solipsism. This, it seems to me, is the dangerous edge of much Charismatic & Pentecostal lived-out theologies. They repeatedly promote the Spirit with Jesus as marginal & optional. Yet Jesus spent loads of time in John 14, 15 & 16 emphasizing that the Paraclete, the Spirit of Truth, is in step with Jesus, testifies of Jesus, draws us to Jesus. & in 1 John 4.1-6, the way to know if you have the right spirit is to see if He declares that Jesus Christ the eternal Son of the Father has become flesh. In other words, the Spirit of God is Jesus-focused, & will constantly draw us to Jesus who is the only way to come to the Father (John 14.6). The way to know the Father is to know the Son, & the way to know the Spirit is to know the Son. & how do we come to know the Son? By the Spirit. & if, by the Spirit, we come to know the Son, Jesus promises that we will then know the Father. The Trinitarian dynamic!
3rd-From the suffocating clutches of Liturgical lameness. Christian worship should be Christian worship. In a day of seeker-sensitivity, high-octane tolerance, mamby-pambyism, & patriotic politicization, our worship must be distinctly, pronouncedly, scandalously Christian. If a Muslim, a Hindu, a Buddhist, a Jew or a ’I’m into spirituality, not organized religion’ person walks into our assembly & feels unchallenged by Jesus Christ, or walks out happy, satisfied & affirmed in their wrongheaded position, then we have not worshiped as Christians, instead we have worshiped as moralistic, therapeutic Deists, or as Masons, or as Spiritualists. If we really do believe what the Reformation reclaimed for us, then we will sing songs, pray prayers, recite creeds & embrace sermons that, all told, have been captured by the dynamic Trinity!
Ardently, Forthrightly & Clearly Verbalize the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Methodist Bishop, William Willimon, once stated the problem this way: “Unable to preach Christ & him crucified, we preach humanity & it improved” (9). Bishop Willimon’s observation is cuttingly brilliant. It is this embarrassment, this inability that appears to be blunting the edges of our North American Christian knife. Think of it this way, if you preach Christ Jesus & Him crucified, that means there is something terribly wrong in the world as it is now. If you preach humanity & it improved, that means I’m okay, you’re okay, & the only thing we need is just a bit more okay-ness. Here is the dividing line, it seems to my meager mind, that divides much of North American Christianity, “Liberal & Evangelical” from Reformational Christianity! Therefore, allow me to give you a rule of thumb that can help you gage which side of that divide something is on from an 8th century Christian Theologian, John of Damascus: Crux Christi clavis Paradisi! The Cross of Christ the key to Paradise. Very similar to Martin Luther’s : Crux probat omnia! The cross is the test of all things. It is imperative that we ardently, forthrightly & clearly verbalize the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
But what exactly is the Gospel of Jesus Christ? 1 Cor. 15.1-5 & Romans 4.25. It is the message of who Jesus Christ is, what He has done for us, is doing for us, & will do for us. Notice how the Gospel of Jesus Christ is extra nos. It is outside of us, though by the Holy Spirit & received in faith, it is brought to bear on us. The Gospel is not about a born again experience. It is about Jesus Christ, incarnate, righteous, crucified, resurrected & enthroned. Whom we must embrace as our only hope & life & rescuer!
Therefore, here, at the end of 2010, let us acknowledge & disown our Moralistic Therapeutic Deism as the place to begin returning to the old paths as we move forward in the Reformation. Then let us be recaptured by the Trinitarian dynamic, & ardently, forthrightly & clearly verbalize the Gospel of Jesus Christ, not settling for humanity & it improved, but unashamedly announcing Christ & Him crucified!
Billings, J. Todd, The Word of God for the People of God: An Entryway to the Theological Interpretation of Scripture, Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2010.
Smith, Christian, with Melinda Lundquist Denton; Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers, Oxford Press, 2005.
Willimon, William H., Peculiar Speech: Preaching to the Baptized, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1992.