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Almost Christian 3

KendaDean.jpgThe youth in the church reflect a Christianity of niceness

Kenda Dean’s new book is called Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church
, and it is a hard-hitting critique of the American church (and therefore of parents) for the condition of the faith of its youth. Kenda Dean’s got some very quotable lines.
Her 2d chp is about the triumph of the “cult of nice.” American youth are devoted to nonjudgmental openness, self-determination, and the authority of personal experience.
Religion, she argues, has always polarized and identified people in particularities, but moralistic therapeutic deism’s new version permits the youth to use religion to homogenize instead of polarize.
Christianity is about a particular God and a particular Lord and a particular kind of behavior. It is “radical particularity”: made possible only by taking part in God’s particularity and openness through Jesus Christ.
Her complaint?

The Church has handed on MTD to its youth because MTD is the vision it is itself living.

Jesus demands not niceness but holiness, a life conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. And the Apostles’ Creed is a dramatic sweeping description of God’s wildest dreams but MTD is like reciting the Declaration of Independence in a Sunday School class. Happiness is not the point.
“MTD is what is left once Christianity has been drained of its missional impulse, once holiness has given way to acculturation, and once cautious self-preservation has supplanted the divine abandon of self-giving love” (39-40).
Hard-hitting indeed.
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Greg Laughery

posted August 27, 2010 at 7:00 am

“Radical particularity” seems the only way to maintain a real pluralism, where the Christian faith remains unique and distinct.

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James Cox

posted August 27, 2010 at 9:11 am

Only life experience and a faith journey can produce the delicate balance required in the Christian life. Otherwise we as human beings tend to shift to either of the polarized extremes of MTD or ‘religious zealotry’ – the latter not necessarily being the embodiment of the life that God intends us to live. That extreme can lead to the further abuse of wounded individuals who only need real Christ-like compassion and love to survive and ultimately flourish. Likewise the former will only induce mediocrity and stagnation of the soul and spirit.

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Andy Cornett

posted August 27, 2010 at 10:16 am

Scot –
“The Church has handed on MTD to its youth because MTD is the vision it is itself living.”
Exactly. This is why gospel-shaped youth ministries flail around in MTD churches. This is also why youth ministries have as much work to do in training and discipling their adult leaders (who often come out of a defacto MTD) as they do discipling the students themselves! Sticking good-hearted MTD leaders with students who know nothing but MTD doesn’t advance the gospel of grace.

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Brian McL

posted August 27, 2010 at 10:24 am

I have an honest question (I’ve been away for a couple weeks so I hope this isn’t redundant on this blog): Recently Scot has blogged through a book about evangelical myths. The basic thrust, as I remember, is that things aren’t as doom and gloom as many evangelicals make it out to be. We are almost harder on ourselves than others are. Now we come to this…
I like Smith’s (and Dean’s) thoughts on MTD and have some anecdotes on it, but how do we know this isn’t more doom and gloom? I personally have even more anecdotes of solid Christian teens in my ministry. Is MTD another myth…or is it just a part of evangelical diversity that has always and will always be present?

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posted August 27, 2010 at 11:14 am

Now for those of use late or new to this conversation, what does MTD stand for or refer to?

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posted August 27, 2010 at 1:13 pm

“Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, a set of factors that emerged from the National Study of Youth and Religion (see Christian Smith’s writings). What is MTD?
1. God exists, God created, and watches over the world.
2. God wants us to be good, nice and fair to each other.
3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
4. God is not involved except when I need God to solve a problem.
5. Good people go to heaven when they die.”

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Mike W

posted August 27, 2010 at 3:44 pm

Awesome Post. I am convicted.

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Ann Voskamp@Holy Experience

posted August 27, 2010 at 10:50 pm

I read the recent article on CNN highlighting Dean’s work/book/thesis and sat down with my husband to re-read the piece and discuss what this means for us as parents (of six, two of them teenagers with four more to go). We resonated profoundly with Dean’s conclusions in the article and had to ask ourselves: What about our faith is consequential? How is it radical? What and how are we sacrificing that our children would find compelling, inspiring — worthwhile?
And then the quote you’ve blocked out for us here, Scot: “MTD is what is left once Christianity has been drained of its missional impulse, once holiness has given way to acculturation, and once cautious self-preservation has supplanted the divine abandon of self-giving love.”
What if we all genuinely wrestled hard with that one sentence? Am I missional? Pursuing holiness? Self-sacrificing in tangible, meaningful ways?
Keep blogging this, Scot.
Necessary, needful and direly important….
Thank you….
All’s grace,
Ann Voskamp

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Henry Zonio

posted August 31, 2010 at 3:02 pm

I’m inclined to ask the same questions as Brian (#4). Now that we have a term, MTD, to describe the current worldview, have we simply used it as a red herring to a greater problem in churches than “right teaching” or even being “Biblical?” We like to grab onto terms (terms which are great and accurately descriptive) and use those terms to push our cause and sound a battle cry. I am getting the queasy feeling that this is what Almost Christian is doing. I could be wrong.

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