Moralistic Therapeutic Deism

In his excellent new book God In the Whirlwind, David Wells says: “There is a dominant view of God among a majority of American teenagers. It is called ‘moralistic therapeutic deism’. This dominant view is that God made everything and established a moral order, but He does not intervene. Actually, for most He is not even Trinitarian and the incarnation and resurrection of Christ play little part in church teenage thinking – even in evangelical teenage thinking. They see God as not demanding much from them because He is chiefly engaged in solving their problems and making them feel good. Religion is about experiencing happiness, contentedness, having God solve one’s problems and provide stuff like homes, the Internet, Ipods, Ipads, and Iphones”.

This is not a problem for just teenagers but for adults too. If God is so detached, or if He even exists, then we would consider most of our problems to be genetic or caused by disease. For example, there was a movie out last fall entitled Thanks for Sharing. It was about a man addicted to pornography. The premise of the movie was that the problem was not his fault. He had a disease. In saying this we remove personal responsibility from all moral lapses in our lives. If it is drug addiction, it is a disease. If it is alcoholism, it is a disease. If it is homosexuality, I was born that way. Genesis 6:5 says, “Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually (emphasis mine)”.

I am far from a perfect person. I struggle with worry, pride, vengeful thoughts, but I am a sinner saved by grace. I will say it again, I am a sinner saved by grace.  The answer to all mankind’s problems is that we are sinners. We do not hear that word mentioned any more. It may only be used as a figure of speech such as God, heaven or hell. What we need is not freedom from “diseases” but freedom from sin.

Isaiah 53:6 says, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all”.  Scottish preacher John Brown said, “Christ was sent with the general design of removing, by the sacrifice of Himself, the evil which sin introduced into our world. This He accomplished, in the first place when He removed corporal diseases (sins). In this He pointed also to His principle aim, which was, with the same power to take away spiritual evil from men through the vicarious satisfaction”.

Jesus Christ is the one who as Isaiah says carried our sorrows and suffered the shame of the cross to relieve us of the burdens of our sins. This is the answer to the plight of all mankind. God is not distant from us but offers His love to us through His beloved Son if we would but repent of our sins and seek a relationship with Him.

Quoting again from David Wells, “Today though we need a fresh vision of God and His character of holy–love, our understanding of His greatness gets worn down, sometimes worn out by the constant rubbing against our highly modernized life. It is this vision, though, this knowing of God, that puts steel in the spines and fire in the Christian hearts. When we  are God-centered in our thoughts,  God-fearing in our hearts,  when we see with clarity what His character of holy-love is like, He begins to have weight in our lives. When that happens we become, not just occasional visitors to the eternal, but its permanent residents, its citizens. And that is when the church becomes more than just another organization but, in fact, the outpost of eternity in this wounded world. May the church indeed be all that it is in Christ, so that through its life the glory of God will be seen anew in all its splendor!”

The Dignity of Worship

I shared with you before that I have been reading a wonderful book by David Wells entitled God in the Whirlwind. I am thankful that I have the privilege to share with you some of the rich nuggets I find in this and other books. Wells has a chapter in this book entitled “Come, Let Us Bow Down”. It is about our worship. I will share excerpts of this but I recommend the book to you. In this chapter he talks about the growing Biblical illiteracy in our churches meaning that the content has often become highly eroded. Doctrine has largely been replaced by self-focused interests. Today’s worshiper does not have necessarily a deep knowledge of God but is more interested in the form of worship. This boils down largely to music.

Many who come to the worship service feel that they cannot worship adequately if they dislike the music, its style, its beat, or the instruments that are being used. This may not be because they have thought carefully about what kind of music is appropriate to worship. It may simply be a matter of personal taste.

Wells says: “Somewhere along the line of musical styles taste for most people has settled down. That line goes from Patti Page, to Frank Sinatra, to the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd to the Grateful Dead, to Pink, to Jazz, Blues and Bluegrass to Mozart, Chopin and Beethoven. Somewhere along this line taste comes down. He says that for many this is reinforced daily by hours of listening. Our ability to hear music, to hear exactly the type of music we want to hear, is unprecedented because taste has thus been reinforced, and because our listening becomes habitual, our preferences become fixed, immovable, and invincible. Whatever taste has come down along this line is where we are comfortable. This, or something like it, is what we want to hear in worship on Sunday.” The problem is we come down at different places.

Worship has become more me-focused than God-focused. The minister preaching in a Geneva gown has been replaced by a T-shirt and tattered blue jeans. The pulpit has been replaced  by one that is either Plexiglas, a music stand or no pulpit it at all. The message has become less of “Thus says the Lord” and more therapeutic for people who want to know how to cope in a “make me feel good, entertainment world”.

The church needs to find once again its purpose and its mission. Why do we exist? To preach the whole counsel of God. We exist to celebrate, declare and live out the truths of the Gospel in a genuinely counter-cultural way.

Wells says: “The arguments about whether or not we should toss out the pews, abandon the pulpit, bring in the drums, or offer coffee, important though they are, are not as important as why people are in church in the first place”.

Let me give you one more quote from Wells on worship: “We falsely imagine that to be successful as a church we must be more consumer friendly, not just in our manner but in the substance of the faith. From Biblical sermons we have therefore moved to inspirational, how-to-do-it, therapeutically-driven talks. Are we then surprised that Biblical illiteracy, by every measure is sky rocketing in the evangelical church, and the knowledge of God, of His character and works, is plummeting”?

As a pastor of almost 40 years, I always believed in the dignity of worship. I do not believe that we should seek to imitate the world in our worship nor do I think that we should remain inflexible just for the sake of tradition. Worship as you know is to be Christ focused and Bible centered. I do not care if a hymn was written 500 years ago or five minutes ago, as long as God is glorified. I do not care if we use a piano, organ, guitar, or bass drums, if those instruments will enhance our worship of God. The issue for me is, and always has been, God-centered worship. If people visit us and leave because they do not like the music or do not like the preaching, that tells me that their heart is in the wrong place. The modern trends of worship today may be gone in ten years. Where then will many of those worshipers be?

I’ll end with this. In 2 Timothy 2: “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all long suffering and teaching”.

The Purposelessness of Atheism

Steven J. Gould, the late evolutionary biologist and paleontologist, of Harvard University said that humanity has no purposeful origin and thus there is no objective purpose to our existence.

He wrote: “We are here because one odd group of fishes had a peculiar fin anatomy that could transform into legs for terrestrial creatures; because comets struck the earth and wiped out dinosaurs, thereby giving mammals a chance not otherwise available (so thank your lucky stars in a literal sense); because the earth never froze entirely during an ice age; because a small tenuous species, arising in Africa a quarter of a million years ago, has managed, so far, to survive by hook or by crook. We may yearn for a ‘higher answer’—but none exists”.

If there is no God who created us, then Gould is right. Life has no meaning or purpose. We call this naturalism or secular humanism.

Woody Allen sums up his view of life in his film Annie Hall with these words: “Life is divided into the horrible and the miserable”.

Artists Paul Gauguin wrote on his last painting shortly before he tried to commit suicide: “Whence come we? What are we? Wither do we go? The answers are nowhere, nothing, and nowhere”.

In 1965 John Lennon wrote the song Nowhere Man. Here’s part of the song:


He’s a real nowhere man

Sitting in his nowhere land

Making all his nowhere plans for nobody


Doesn’t have a point of view

Knows not where he’s going to

Isn’t he a bit like you and me?


Sadly he is like many people but not us who are believers. People yearn for purpose for their lives.

The Atheist Association in London several years ago placed prominent signs on buses which read: “There is probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life”. How can you enjoy life with no purpose that comes from God? Naturalists yearn for intrinsic value  and purpose for their life.

The psalmist said in Psalm 139:13, 14: “For you formed my inward parts; you covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise You for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvelous are Your works, and that my soul knows very well”. The psalmist is telling us that because of God we are precious and that God created us for His glory. Ecclesiastes 3:11 states: “God put eternity in the hearts of men”. As Augustine said our hearts are restless until we find rest in Thee.

Michael Horton in his book The Christian Faith says:

“Who am I? I am one who exists as a result of being spoken by God. Furthermore, I am one of God’s covenant children whom He delivered out of Egypt, sin and death…Because human beings are by nature created in covenant with God, self identity itself depends on one’s relation to God. It is not because I think, feel, experience, express, observe, or will, but because in the totality of my existence I hear God’s command and promise that I recognize that I am, with my fellow image bearers, a real self who stands in relation to God and the rest of creation.

No one can escape the reality of God in his or her experience, because there is no human existence that is possible or actual apart from the ineradicable covenant identity that belongs to us all, whether we flee the summons or rather we reply, ‘here I am’ (Page 405, 406)”.


This is the answer to anyone who asks you who are you?

Near Death Experiences

I would talk to you today about misconceptions that people have about death and heaven. First of all, I am not a believer in what are called “NDE’s” (Near Death Experiences). Why not? Two reasons: first of all many people who say they have died have been reported to have seen a great light. They talk about a peaceful experience. These reports are from people who had, by their own admission, no relationship with the church and thus with Christ. I am reminded of what Paul said in 2 Corinthians 11:14: “that the devil can disguise himself ‘as an angel of light.’” Other people have reported that when they died they left their body and saw themselves floating above and saw their relatives mourning their passing or doctors trying to revive them. I do not believe these people were clinically dead and that our mind can imagine anything. For example one of our first elders had a severe heart attack. His heart stopped beating for about 10 minutes. After he was revived, I asked him if he experienced anything and he said no. Hebrews 9:27 says: “It is appointed once for man to die and then comes judgment.” (emphasis mine)

What do we know about heaven? I think very little. One of the joys of the Christian life is anticipating God’s Kingdom. In John 14:1, Jesus said: “In my Father’s house are many mansions.” The word for mansion literally means “dwelling”. It does not describe exactly what that is like. We are studying the book of Revelation on Sunday morning and are seeing glimpses of heaven but certainly not its fullness. What we do know is that we will see God and the Lord Jesus Christ in bodily form. We will see all the saints and angels and enjoy a sinless eternity.

We do know however that many speculate about heaven with unbiblical teachings. For example, evangelist Jesse Duplantis in his book Heaven, Close Encounters of the God Kindsaid that he went to heaven in 1988 in something like a cable car. He claims that when there he put out his hand to comfort Jesus who seemed to be hurting only to tell him: “I need you, Jesse!” This is blasphemous.

In 2004 Randy Alcorn published a book entitled Heaven. He uses words such as maybe, likely, could be, perhaps, in describing heaven. He says “We may not set foot on the new earth until ‘the sixth day of the new creation’ and perhaps ‘watch God at work for another creative week.’ We may ‘look back at the present earth and conclude, creatively speaking, that God was just ‘warming up’ and getting started.’ He also said that God may create new races of intelligent beings, either on earth or on other planets spread across the new universe.” This is very unlikely.

He also says there may be talking animals and intelligent non-human beings. He says animals will be seen to have “non-human souls” but then he says that although humans continue to exist after death this may not be the case for animals but he says God may have a future plan for animals. He continues, “extinct animals may be brought back so that we can imagine ourselves riding a brontosaurus, or flying on the back of a pterodactyl.”

What we should know about heaven is only what the Scripture tells us and what St. John tells us in Revelation 21:1-4: “Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself with be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.’”

Recent Christian Movies

There have been a lot of movies made this spring that claim to have strong Christian messages. So far there has been Son of God, God is Not Dead and Noah. Having seen all three of these movies, I can honestly say that none of them were good portrayals of the Gospel. The movie Noah was far more fiction than fact. For example, Noah believed that “the Creator” (the name God was never used) wanted him to see that all the humans in the ark were killed before it hit land. This was because men were evil. That is true (Genesis 6:5) but God saved Noah and his family out of His grace to the human race. Genesis 9:8, 9: “And God spoke to Noah and to his sons with him, saying: ‘And as for Me, behold, I will establish My covenant with you and with your descendants after you”’. There is no talk here of God eliminating Noah and his family.  In the movie, Seth’s wife had twin daughters. Noah was to put them to death. He disobeyed the Creator and did not kill the babies for “love”.  This is an unbiblical movie.

The one that would come closest to the truth was the Son of God but it was still lacking. For example, the person playing Jesus quoted the first part of John 14:6 “I am the way, the truth and the life” but he did not say the end of the verse “No one comes to the Father  but through Me”. (an oversight?)

I do not know why Hollywood cannot simply make the Gospel story true to the Biblical text. What is wrong with saying that first of all God so loved the world (John 3:16)? This means that He offers His love to all who receive Him. He offers His Gospel of hope to hopeless people. How did God find us? We believe in the doctrine of unconditional election which means that God chose us based on nothing that we have done. In Deuteronomy 7:7, 8 God said to Israel, “The Lord did not send His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any other people, for you are the least of all peoples but because the Lord loves you, and because He would keep the oath which He swore to your fathers, the Lord brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of bondage, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.”

It is the grace of God that our salvation is not based upon our looks, our income, our education, or our status in society or our goodness. If that were the case, we would all perish. There are many people who believe that they are not good enough for God. Again, if that’s the case, we would all be lost.

The end of John 3:16 says, “whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life”. What a wonderful promise Jesus makes to those who repent.  Sadly the only reason that such a movie would not be popular is because of our sinful pride. We want to be autonomous people in charge of not only our life but our salvation. As Paul said in Ephesians 2:1: “We are dead in trespasses and sins until  God in His mercy  savesus”. Therefore, the purpose of a Gospel movie should be evangelism telling people the good news of Jesus Christ and praying that God would change their hard hearts and show them that what they are seeking is only found in the Lord Jesus.

Regardless of how a movie true to the Gospel is received, this is the only way that such a movie should be presented.