Over the last two decades, Christian Smith has helped us understand what is in the heads and hearts of young people. He is the co-author of such books at Soul Searching, Souls in Transition, and Lost in Transition. In his books, he coined the now famous term “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.” The term came up in a discussion on my radio program with Kara Powell about her book, Growing Young. She and her co-authors have identified a number of strategies that will attract young people to your church.
The term “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” came up in the discussion because it is a good way to identify the beliefs of so many youths and young adults. It includes five key points: (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.”
As you can see, this viewpoint is not exactly orthodox Christianity and certainly does not encompass the gospel. Instead, young people want to be moral and believe in a God who is removed from their daily lives.
An important question is whether this “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” viewpoint is in the heads of young people because of bad theological teaching or poor listening. The co-authors in Growing Young argue that it is probably both. Sometimes pastors have not taught good theology, but we also must admit that most young people today are captive to the culture (Colossians 2:8). That is why we must work harder to teach a biblical worldview to adults and youths.