THE GOSPEL IS NOT A SELF-HELP PROGRAM
Sociologists Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton coined the term “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” as a result of their research project: the “National Study of Youth and Religion.” Their research included interviewing thousands of teenagers on their religious beliefs.
The authors found that for many young people their beliefs were not exclusive to any of the major world religions but made up of a combination of beliefs that they label “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” or MTD.
MTD consists of ideas like:
There is a god that exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.
That same god wants people to be good, nice and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and most world religions.
The central goal of life is to be happy and feel good about oneself. God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when needed to resolve a problem. Good people go to heaven when they die.
Essentially the authors found American society inculcates a moralistic approach to life. It teaches that central to living a good and happy life is being a good and moral person. The authors describe the system as being “about providing therapeutic benefits to its adherent” as opposed to being about things like “repentance from sin, keeping the Sabbath, living as a servant of a sovereign divine, steadfastly saying one’s prayers, faithfully observing high holy days, building character through suffering…” Moreover, MTD is described as “belief in a particular kind of God: one who exists, created the world, and defines our general moral order, but not one who is particularly personally involved in one’s affairs—especially the affairs that one would prefer not to have God involved.”
This is in direct conflict to what we know and believe to be the true God as taught by the Orthodox Christian Church. The Gospel is not a self-help program, but instead, God’s roadmap to eternal life.
In the Orthodox Church, we know and understand God to be much more than a dictator of morals or the ‘go-to’ therapist when things get tough.
We know that God is sovereign, “everywhere present and filling all things”, and that He loves us enough to have sent His Son into our world and to die on a cross in our place.
Life for the Orthodox Christian demands that there be so much more to living our faith than just moral, ‘nice’, or appropriate do-gooding. Our faith calls us to repent, forgive, and a life of humility and prayer. In fact, St. John Chrysostom tells us
“Prayer should be the means by which I, at all times, receive all that I need, and, for this reason, be my daily refuge, my daily consolation, my daily joy, my source of rich and inexhaustible joy in life.”
So the question becomes, in an America where much of our religious understanding surrounds feel good, self-help, ‘become-a-better-me’ kind of worship, how do we bridge the gap from a world that so often seeks therapy instead of Truth? Can we live a life according to the Holy Gospel while going about our life by the norms of the world?
At Faithtree, we believe it’s not only possible to not be “of the world” while living in it, but necessary to engage others who are receptive to the message of the Gospel. Our goal is to be saved and all who are in our lives and those who we encounter. This is our call as Orthodox Christians. Again, in the words of St. John Chrysostom, “There is nothing colder than a Christian who does not seek to save others.”
So how do we do that?
First, we start by being clear on our calling. We aren’t called to spend our time thinking about what it takes to be happy. Instead, we are called to seek holiness. It is a calling that is not self-serving but a calling to serve our brother who may be a stranger. It is not about the pursuit of earthly riches and gain, but instead, a calling to seek the healing of our souls and bodies through Christ and His Holy Church.
Second, we follow the example of Christ in our response to that call. Think of the Incarnation: God sending His Son into the world is the greatest evidence of his loving-kindness for mankind. It is the primary example God gave us of meeting His people where they are. When God took on human flesh, He modeled how we are to communicate in the language of the people. God entered our world, becoming one of us, and met us where we are.
Third, this is achieved through one’s life in a community. It is a ministry that is spoken in the language people understand. At Faithtree, we believe that effective communication is essential if we are really to convey the Good News of the Gospel. It is one of the important ways that we meet people where they are. And for Americans: meeting, sharing, and growing in a brotherhood is a meaningful way of learning.