“God is watching us from a distance.”
So says the hit song “From a Distance” by Bette Midler. The song, which I’m sure you can find the lyrics to through Google, talks about how, from a distance, all the problems on Earth (war, disease, famine, etc) are invisible. She ends by saying God watches from a distance. The implication is clear, that God sits far above us, uninvolved and unaware of our troubles.
This view of God is typically called Deism. It is a belief that there is a God-being who made everything, but that He does not interfere on a personal level with Man, nor does He really care about individuals.
During the 18th Century and the Enlightenment, Deism became popular amongst the American elite. Many of the founders of the United States could be classified as Deists, not Christians. Undoubtedly, however, many of these people claimed to be Christians, even though their worldview was decidedly unBiblical, and therefore unChristian.
In the early 19th Century, a series of revivals known as the Great Awakening brought many people out of this philosophical quagmire and into true relationships with Jesus Christ, the God who died and lives for us.
That wave of Christianity seems to have broken on the harsh rocks of the early 20th Century, by which time the Civil War and Industrial Revolution totally changed American culture forever. Confused people coming up in this age began to redefine themselves.
A new heresy began to emerge in America: not the pride-filled, intellectual Deism of the Enlightenment Era, but a new Deism that focuses on emotions and self.
Like the Deists of old, many of these people would answer in the affirmative to the question “Are you a Christian?”, but their life and hearts tell a very different story.
Allow me to introduce the new popular religion, thanks to the National Study of Youth and Religion.
Moralistic Therapeutic Deism
A survey was taken on the beliefs of 3,000 teenagers. Many of these young people believed in several moral statutes not exclusive to any of the major world religions:
1. A god exists who created and ordered 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.
The first two sound Biblical. The first affirms Biblical Creation and affirms that God plays some role at least in human affairs. The second mirrors closely the second greatest commandment: love thy neighbor as thyself.
But the others are totally unBiblical.
The last belief is not technically wrong. Good people do go to heaven. The problem is that there are no good people. (Romans 3:10-18) Since there are no good people, only people with a saving belief in Jesus will go to heaven. (John 3:16-18)
Don’t let the fact this survey was done on teenagers fool you. Those young people learned this heresy from someone, likely their parents and grandparents. Some of these people may not have realized they were leading their children astray. They didn’t set them down to teach them all about Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, oh no. They might not have even set them down at all.
Consider this statistic from the Barna Group: Of 1,871 professing Christians, 29% said their faith had impacted their life very little, and 9% said not at all. Many people today who wear the label “Christian” do so often because they were raised in a “Christian” home or a “Christian” community. It has very little to do with their actual life.
As I’ve said, this is not a new problem. Separating the sheep from the goats in America has never been an easy task. It’s a problem we shared at one time with England. During the 19th Century, the titanic Christian William Wilberforce (who spearheaded the movement that ended the slave trade) wrote A Practical View of Christianity, comparing and contrasting what his countrymen called Christianity, and what the Bible says a Christian is. John Gardner has read this and written a very good post about it.
The question for us is this, are we a Christian, submitted to Christ and fit for His kingdom? Or are we merely Deists wearing Christian suits, living our lives our own way to be “happy and feel good”?
Jesus said: “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Matt. 7:13-14)