Like many well-meaning parents, I look for opportunities to teach my kids truth from the Bible. We talk about Jesus, read stories from the Scriptures, and talk about what it looks like to honor God with our lives. But so many parents inadvertently dummy-down the Bible in the process. The result is toxic.
The other day I read this blog post. Later that same day I was still thinking about it. I thought the author made such a tremendous point I wanted to pass along a little of what was said.
“Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” is the term used in The National Study of Youth and Religion by Christian Smith and Melinda Denton. The term describes the way the Bible has been communicated to young people in recent decades. What has been taught, this thing called Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, can be best described as a “how-to” faith centered on the needs of an individual over the redemptive plan of the Creator God.
My wife and I have noticed that we break apart Scripture and use it for too simple a purpose far too often. We remind our sons to “live together in unity” and “to do all things with excellence.” But the Bible is not simply a guide for morality. The Bible describes a loving God who is on mission redeeming the world back to himself.
So what is this term used in the study, “moralistic therapeutic deism?”
Moralistic - Our focus can become teaching the Bible as a book of rules of being good. In a moralistic framework, our focus is getting people to act right instead of believing right. The bottom line of this is that it is focused on behavioral modification.
Therapeutic - Through this lens, we tend to focus our time reading the Bible on surface change. While we read we think, “What’s in it for me?” This approach turns the Bible into more of a counseling manual for the individual more than the revelation of God.
Deism - Without realizing it, we can slip into thinking that the triune God who is intimately involved in the lives of believers isn’t actually involved at all. We think that he exists, but that he is distant and really exists to bring us happiness, especially in our spiritual lives.
When we focus so much on morality, we can actually hinder our kids from seeing the lifelong implications of their faith. Our kids receive the Scriptures like the posters with different character qualities written on them. A relationship with God is boiled down into merely changing our behavior, or doing the right things, as opposed to a life of faith in the living God.
I love this point here:
This does not mean that behavioral change is unimportant. Our morality marks a vital part of being conformed to the image of Christ. But a growing sense of moral uprightness and concomitant behavior reflecting this is a result of our faith; it simply cannot be the prime motivator. We have confused the point (the indicative) with the result (the imperative)…”
That last line is worth repeating: “We have confused the point (the indicative) with the result (the imperative).” All too often we take the short cut, skipping straight to the resulting action. We can maintain laser-like focus on teaching our kids to obey. But what if we backed up and taught them to love us, and that loving us results in obeying us (John 14:15)?
Another paragraph from the article:
The practical result of turning the Bible into a series of moral truths is to make assumptions about the gospel and minimize its role in our lives. We move the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection to the category of “lost person only,” so that the gospel is for unbelievers, not believers. So we have our mega youth events and we share the gospel (or often tack it on at the end), but we do not teach the impact of the gospel for the believer and the redemptive story of God in all of the Bible, and thus its impact on all of life. So students grow up in church, learn a lot of stories, and live their lives with Jesus at the periphery. Many become the dechurched—those who grow up in the church but walk away when separated from the familiar (family, home church, etc.). Others limp their way through life spiritually, never getting the great plan of God for creation and for their lives.
This is why I love the Jesus Storybook Bible so much. I have read it to all our kids, and plan on using it all summer with kids in our summer program. With each of the 44 stories it covers, it constantly brings the reader back to the greater story of Jesus throughout the entire Bible. I highly recommend it.
Let’s remember the Bible is full of history, poetry, prophecy, letters and revelations. It is full of truth to be applied. But there is a greater story being unfolded throughout it. We need to do everything we can as parents to tell our kids that story.
How do you share the story of the Bible with your kids?