Gene Edward Veith has written a great commentary on a study that I’ve discussed on the radio show and quoted recently in a sermon ("The Gospel According to John") about the spiritual lives of American youth.
After interviewing over 3,000 teenagers, the social scientists summed up their beliefs:
(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."
Even these secular researchers recognized that this creed is a far cry
from Christianity, with no place for sin, judgment, salvation, or
Christ. Instead, most teenagers believe in a combination of works
righteousness, religion as psychological well-being, and a distant
non-interfering god. Or, to use a technical term, "Moralistic
Ironically, many of these young deists are active in their churches.
"Most religious teenagers either do not really comprehend what their
own religious traditions say they are supposed to believe," conclude
Mr. Smith and Ms. Denton, "or they do understand it and simply do not
care to believe it."
Veith accurately suggests another option:
Another possibility is that they have learned what their churches are
teaching all too well. It is not just teenagers who are moralistic
therapeutic deists. This describes the beliefs of many adults too, and
even what is taught in many supposedly evangelical churches.
The "God that exists to make me feel good about myself and give me a couple of (not too hard) rules to live by" is exactly what is being preached in many churches (and not just preached, I might add, but sung about as well – just listen to the insipid self-focused praise songs that churches are so fond of these days.) As Veith rightly concludes, this is not the gospel:
Christianity is about grace, not moralism; changing lives, not making
people feel better about themselves; the God made flesh, not an
uninvolved deity. And that is better news than Moralistic Therapeutic