Study past awakenings and you will see leaders confront the idols of their time:
Wesley confronted slavery in England. Edwards confronted a stripped-down gospel in New England. Spener confronted a spiritually dead Lutheranism.
Today we have an insidious shadow-Christianity we must confront: it’s called Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, a behavior-modification, me-centered, God-is-distant religious perspective that, according to the largest study of youth and religion in U.S. history (NSYR), permeates our churches far more than we dare to admit. It creates a Christian subculture that pacifies rather than purifies and a discipleship that, to use the terms of my friend Richard Ross, makes Jesus a Mascot instead of our Master.
Once again I look to Dean for her compelling commentary: “Here is where the NSYR drops a bombshell on American churches. Why do teenagers practice Moralistic Therapeutic Deism? Not because they have misunderstood what we have taught them in church. They practice it because this is what we have taught them in church. In fact, American teenagers are barometers of a major theological shift taking place in the United States. Smith and Denton observe: ‘Our religiously conventional adolescents seem to be merely absorbing and reflecting religiously what the adult world is routinely modeling for and inculcating in its youth.’ To be sure, churches neither intend nor acknowledge this religious position, despite its considerable appeal. Moralistic Therapeutic Deism makes no pretense at changing lives; it is a low commitment, compartmentalized set of attitudes aimed at ‘meeting my needs’ and ‘making me happy’ rather than bending my life into a pattern of love and obedience to God.”
What are the implications for revival for which man of us pray, given movements typically grow through zealous participants from the younger generation? Dean offers a warning:
“If teenagers lack an articulate faith, maybe it is because the faith we show them is too spineless to merit much in the way of conversation. Maybe teenagers’ inability to talk about religion is not because the church inspires a faith too deep for words, but because the God-story that we tell is too vapid to merit more than a superficial vocabulary.”
We should replace Moralistic Therapeutic Deism with Gospel-Driven Theism centered on the Atonement of Christ and placed in the narrative of the work of God throughout the Scriptures and in history. Students learn trigonometry in school; they can learn theology in church. They have watched a movement of change in culture on issues like gay marriage; they can learn the accounts of God-movies that have changed nations.
Read the history of revival movements. Leaders preached the gospel with power and passion. Lives were radically changed. Why? Because nothing mattered more than Christ and His mission.
What matters more to your students? The college they hope to attend or the Christ to whom they are fully surrendered? The career they seek for fulfillment or the cause that can change lives for the gospel? The relationship with that boy or girl, or a walk with Christ that surpasses any other?
If we will see a movement of God, I’m convinced it will manifest a shocking (to us) devotion to Christ in a generation of younger adults. I just hope our church kids won’t miss it.
Quotes from Dean, Kenda Creasy (2010-06-12). Almost Christian : What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church. Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.