Moralistic Therapeutic Deism Promotes Self-Righteousness

by Mike Ratliff

The five points of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism as defined by Christian Smith are these:

  1. A God exists who created and orders 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 he is needed to resolve a problem.
  5. Good people go to heaven when they die.

However, this is the basis of the “theology” predominantly preached and taught throughout the “seeker movement” as my friend Lane Chaplin made clear here. I pray that you do follow that link and read Lane’s post from 2008 and also read Christian Smith’s article from The Christian Post, which is also included at the bottom.

Again, as I have often stated here, I grew up in and served in the SBC until 2006. Not all of the churches I served in were as extreme as some. Not all preachers were either. However, just as I was in those formative years of spiritual growth after my salvation in 1986 I came under some well-meaning SBC leaders who would have taken issue with much of the series on Romans I just completed. They would disagree of course, but as I look back on their leadership I see that they were leading us into an understanding of theology and our walk that could only lead to self-righteousness. When I heard my first sermon after my salvation that correctly laid out the Law and the Gospel I was stunned at how different it was to the Moralistic Therapeutic Deism leaning stuff that was being continually preached to us. I was a teacher and the program and literature I was given to use was filled with it.

If you read my series on Romans then you know where I stand on this. We have nothing to offer God. We do not look inside to find our special someone God created there to find our purpose, et cetera. However, you will find this throughout the “seeker movement.” For instance, read this recent article by Rick Warren. How could our destinies as Christians be discovered like this or how could it be “contained” in something like this? How about this instead:

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.” (Matthew 16:24-27 ESV)

Or, how about this:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2 ESV)

I’m sure you could think of other passages. In any case, this internal focus instead of denying self, taking up our cross and following Jesus because of our total lack of merit or eternal worth outside of the grace of God, has taken on an even more troubling turn lately with Rick Warren. He is endorsing the book Driven by Destiny by LaVerne Adams. Here is his endorsement:

Here is the back cover of the book:

The reason I have been focusing on theology, law, and gospel so much lately is so that you will know the truth and recognize what is not the truth, but looks pretty good to the flesh. This is the latter. This is the natural byproduct of the philosophy or humanistic religious system called Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. It is all about “me.” Rick Warren and LaVerne Adams and their friends know a lot of Biblical lingo and words and and can make this stuff sound oh so right to those who are on the wrong side of the law and gospel fence. Read the focus of this. Again, our destiny as Christians is found in Christ, living for God’s glory, and spending eternity with Him forever. God will work out His will for me in this life and it may very well be not so exciting in terms these people would like. I may have to struggle with some chronic illness for the rest of my life (I will). I may have to be continually finding myself in the refining fires of sanctification because God is working in me to get me ready for an even greater test. Who knows, it is all in His capable and perfect hands. What these people are peddling is rubbish and is it not Christian. All it will do is continue to feed Moralistic Therapeutic Deism in the visible church which will only continue to promote self-righteousness, not the genuine righteousness that is imputed to those who believe the Gospel by grace through faith. You see, those who preach Moralistic Therapeutic Deism have also abandoned preaching the real Gospel.

Soli Deo Gloria!

13 thoughts on “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism Promotes Self-Righteousness

  1. Every time I try to ‘put every effort into (my) growth’ I end up in futile exhaustion and hideous pride. God is constantly putting barriers in my path to self help ( mercifully), and graciously keeps telling me to just shut up, sit down, listen and wait. We do so like to be thinking about our own ideas and concepts. We love to have discussions about how God has made us ‘feel’ and the experiences we’ve had. But we are so blind and insane living in this assylum, we can’t rely on ourselves for judgement.Theres just no way that this one woman can hold a solution to anyones spiritual problems. If they both really think that you can’t do it in your own strength the book would just have one page saying ‘ Close this book , open your bible and ask God’, ( or would at least be a biblical exposition about ‘our destiny’. Being a Christian is about now, here, where you are; not where you are going. There is good reason God commands us not to be concearned about tomorrow ( our destiny). And in our practical plans to always be in an attitude of ‘ if God is wills’.Because its not for us to be concearned about how we’ll be being christian tomorrow. Thats Gods business.

    ‘..yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes’

    James 4 :14

    Thanks Mike.
    Glory be to God alone.


  2. Praying for you in the battle, Mike. When the Lord convicts us, we must obey. Thank you for obeying His call to proclaim the truth in the midst of the deception!


  3. I believe that as long as we are in these earthly, fleshly temples we will be in the refining fires of sanctification. I was raised in a denomination (Nazarene) that believed that when you received sanctification (a one time deal, not a process) that your “sin nature was eradicated”……. can you imagine!?
    What a lie.
    The only consolation is that most never attained “entire sanctification”, but the ones that did only thought that they did because they had such pride in the fact that they’d attained it proved that the sin nature was indeed intact!

    Praise God for the truth of the Word, and for plucking me from this false religion.


  4. Berean Gal, thanks for sharing that. I have heard that “doctrine” before. Forms of it had seeped into the SBC as well. At one time in our church we had two pastors. One believed that doctrine while the other believed very much like you and I do now. I loved them both, but it was very difficult for me to go to the one who believed you no longer had a sin nature when you were struggling with a sin problem… We lost both these pastors within a just a couple of weeks of each other. The one who was solid became a pastor at another church and is still doing very well. The one who believed we no longer had a sin nature got caught in adultery, got divorced, and is no longer in the ministry. That left the door open for the pastor who came in and converted our church into one of the first Purpose Driven churches in Oklahoma. He had all of the leadership go to training at Bill Hybel’s church in Chicago for a week then a week at Saddleback Valley at Rick Warren’s church in CA. Sigh, I do not miss that time one bit. Our church went from a real church to a multi-media center geared for one thing, to reach the predominate age group in our city, which was not ours. Almost all of our friends left. The theme for everything was constant change. I was so glad when God moved us to another city and away from that. That was why when our pastor here in Kansas wanted our church to go PDC I was able to recognize it up front and get out before it all hit.

    I digress. Sorry, but you are right. My dad, who died earlier this year, told me about a fellow he worked with whose dad was a leader in the largest Nazarene church in Bethany, OK. He claimed that since his conversion he had never sinned. My dad was not perfect, nor was he a theologian, but he knew enough of the Bible to know that that was just a bunch of self-righteous hogwash.


  5. Amen. Truth mixed with lies is deadly – there is going to be a lot of “good, nice, and fair” professing Christians that end up in Hell. A person is not a Christians unless their affections have been changed. A professing Christian can have all the external looks of a Christian, they can be “good, nice, and fair”, yet it is out of wrong motives, it is not out of love to God, but love to self.


  6. I agree with you Linda.
    I would add, that they can even go to “church”, read their Bible, sing hymns, help out at the soup kitchen, adopt children from foreign lands, rescue kitties out of trees……does not make them Holy Spirit filled saints!


  7. Amen, Mike.
    On the blue back cover of the Destiny (I am starting to really dislike that word- destimeeee) book you wrote about, you can read at the top: Are You Unsure About Your Future? I looked right below that expecting the answer to read—-Then Read This: Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways ackowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.
    Proverbs 3:5-6
    Probably wouldn’t sell many books but sure would get people on the right track.
    God bless you today!


  8. The sliding scale of comparisons in Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is on a scale of 1 to 6 Billion…as many as there are humans but as soon as you cross over into Christ, the comparison ends. There is none righteous but One.
    John 5:24
    “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; HE HAS CROSSED OVER FROM DEATH TO LIFE.
    Thanks for the good discussion, Mike. I particularly smiled when I read Christian Smith’s 4th point on MTD:
    God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when he is needed to resolve a problem.
    ….just because I have seen it so often!!!


Comments are closed.