One of my favorite films when I was younger was the classic 80’s flick, The Karate Kid. Filled with iconic scenes and memorable lines, the film garnered a cult following that recently inspired YouTube to produce a spinoff series that catches up with the characters years after the events of the film. Out of all the familiar catchphrases, the one still is recited in pop-culture is the mysterious directive of Karate master, Mr. Miyagi, “Wax on, wax off.” Not understanding why he was told to clean cars and paint fences, (Daniel came here to learn to fight!) he followed the old man’s orders until he could take it no longer. Finally Mr. Miyagi revealed the movements Daniel was repeatedly doing were not simply cleaning motions but were self-defense moves that he could use to protect himself. This changed his outlook and his attitude.
“Why are we doing this? What is our end goal?” Knowing the reason why you do something is important; it affects your outlook on life. So let me ask you, why go to church? What is the point? Is it just an optional bonus for some people? The question could be further posed, “What is the point of Christianity as a whole?” Now, obviously your world-view will dictate how you respond.
In turns out, perhaps unsurprisingly, many people have a view of Christianity that is not Biblical or historic, especially many teenagers who grew up going to church. Sociologists Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton spent many hours interviewing approximately 3,000 teenagers only to discover that, although most of them self-identified as Christians, the way they expressed their beliefs opposed orthodox Christianity. Smith writes, “To the extent that the teens we interviewed did manage to articulate what they understood and believed religiously, it became clear that most religious teenagers either do not really comprehend what their own religious traditions say they are supposed to believe, or they do understand it and simply do not care to believe it.” In other words, perhaps churches have not been clear about the “point” and goal of it all.
In order to classify what these teens were espousing, Smith and Denton were forced to coin a new phrase: Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. The basic ideas are that a god does exist, created the world, and wants everyone to be nice and happy. However this god doesn’t really need to be a part of your life unless you need help with a problem. And finally, good people go to heaven when they die.
Unfortunately, it has been my experience that it is not simply teenagers who believe like this, but the vast majority of people who have even the smallest form of a religious background. Dr. Albert Mohler comments, “Let’s be very clear, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is religion, but it isn’t Christianity. It’s nowhere close to biblical Christianity.” Yet it seems that many people assume the above ideas do accurately reflect Christian belief.
While many people will never use a term like Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (or any form of Deism) to describe their world-view, it seems to be that the basic tenets are widely-held by many people. In the past, I have simply regarded people who would espouse these types of beliefs as irreligious or indifferent. Yes, they would say they believe in a god, but they simply can’t be bothered by this god. Yes, they would pray if they were in a bind, but to join a group of like-minded people seems preposterous. Yes, they think that they deserve to go to heaven when they die, but solely to be with lost loved ones in a type of paradise not to be with God. According to this mindset, life is primarily about one’s self-fulfillment and happiness while on this earth. It all sounds good, right? So what’s the problem?
My question to anyone who holds these types of beliefs is first and foremost, “According to what?” Meaning, where do you get these ideas? I clearly remember a moment speaking with a person about the kind of god she believed in, to which I responded, “Where are you getting this information from? Aren’t you just making this up?” She thought for a moment and admitted, “I guess you’re right.” However, she didn’t seem to be troubled by this self-realization. An entire world-view created in one’s imagination, with no foundation and yet, she doesn’t care… I don’t understand this type of thinking.
We must examine our motives. Are we doing something over and over, like Daniel in the Karate Kid, simply because someone told us to do so? Do we know our motive, our end goal? One must remember that growing up in a Christian church and having Christian family members does not make one a Christian ipso facto. And what we believe does ultimately matter. Yes, knowledge of God is only truly achieved through His sovereign hand. Knowing God is what Christian salvation is all about (cf. John 17:3). However, Christians must strive to be evermore clear about the truth of God and the gospel of Christ as revealed in the Bible. We must not allow tradition or culture to get in the way of what is truly Biblical. We must not be like Mr. Miyagi and hide our motives and purposes; instead we must make sure we are understood as we forthrightly proclaim truth to our children, to our community, and to the ends of the earth.
Add your voice to the conversation. Questions, concerns, clarifications can be sent to AskPastorJones@gmail.com.
By Pastor Nick Jones
Maranatha Baptist Church
1320 E. Saguaro Dr. Globe, AZ