Revelation 1 & Moralistic Therapeutic Deism
In Sunday School yesterday morning, we began our study of Revelation. Explore the Bible encouraged the class to focus on Revelation 1:1-8.
In order to gain context of being stranded on an island as John was when writing the book of Revelation, we spoke about several television shows and movies that illustrated being stranded on an island: Castaway, Lost, Gilligan's Island. The class then considered what two items they would want to carry with them if they were allowed two items on a stranded island. Answers varied from a knife to an airplane with a pilot!!
As we continued to discuss the eventual hopelessness that would be sure to follow being stranded on an island, we began to discuss that the message of Revelation was one of hope that would be shared with the persecuted Christians in the first century. It is there that I began to realize that the Christians of the first century and the Christians currently are not as far removed from one another as I previously thought.
Originially Christianity developed out of Judaism and for a while was accepted as a portion of Judaism, with Christians attending worship with Jews in the synagogue. Eventually the differences between Judaism and Christianity began to create a separation, both within the synagogue and also within their community. Christians began to be seen as a minority religion that was practicing a religion considered extreme for the day. Because of their beief and their differences, they began to see persecution.
Christianity today is following a similar pattern as it has benefited greatly from the assumption of America that we are a Christian nation. Many profess Christianity without really having a full understanding of what they claim to believe. Recently we have seen studies identifying a subset of Christianity called "nominal Christians" which are professing Christians in name only, not in how they live their life. These nominal Christians are separating themselves from Christianity, creating what appears to be an exodus of believers leaving the faith.
I will argue that these nominal Christians were never Christians to begin with (can't lose salvation lest Christ was not big enough to overcome sin and therefore Christianity is pointless) but are actually ascribing to the nation of the day - Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.
According to Christian Smith in his work "Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers" defined Moralistic Therapeutic Deism as:
1. A God exists who created and orders the world and watches over human life on earth.
2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one's life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.
5. Good people go to heaven when they die.
Essentially, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism teaches that, "central to living a good and happy life is being a good, moral person"; provides "therapeutic benefits to its adherents"; "about attaining subjective well-being, being able to resolve problems, and getting along amiably with others"; and "about 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 affairs in which one would prefer not to have God involved" (p. 162-164).
Since Christianity does not fit in to the Moralistic Therapeutic Deism box, many are starting to distance themselves from the religion that previously allowed them to be a part of an inclusive majority. Instead, Christianity is starting to see itself narrow down to the true followers of Christ that are affiliating themselves with Christianity because of their Savior, not because it's the "right thing to do."
As the coming persecution draws near, let us take comfort in knowing that Christ has overcome death and that we are eagerly awaiting His return.
Also, as we await Christ's imminent return, may Christians take comfort in Revelation 1:5-6 painting a slightly different picture of what should be central in our lives and what will help us live life rightly:
"and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To Him who loves us and has set us free from our sins by His blood, and made us a kingdom, priests to His God and Father - the glory and dominion are His forever and ever. Amen."