There is a new feature on the latest i-Phone that Apple is promoting—the slow-motion selfie. I confess that watching the commercial makes me cringe. I told my wife the last thing our culture needs is another reason to focus on themselves. Yet, I am sure the “slofie” will be popular because our culture is about as me-centered as it could be.
Last year, I wrote about the dangers of the ME culture in which we find ourselves, how that can impact our relationships with Jesus. But the ME culture not only can impact us on a spiritual level personally, but it can indeed affect our theology, what we believe about God.
In research for an upcoming book, I read Almost Christian, by Kenda Creasy Dean. In the book, Dean summarizes The National Study on Youth and Religion, 2003-2005. One conclusion drawn from this study more than 15 years ago was that youth overwhelmingly embraced a “watered-down” version of the Christian faith—Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. Here is how Dean summarizes this set of theological beliefs: “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is all about us. God’s primary role in Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is to stand back and approvingly watch us evolve.”
Perhaps the key word in this description is “approvingly.” The ME culture desperately wants to be able to do whatever it wants, and wants God’s approval in doing so. I believe we are seeing the results of this belief system as it has infiltrated and solidified in many churches. Because we want the freedom to do what WE want, then we begin to shape our beliefs about God around our desires. Rather than submitting our desires to him, we project our desires onto him.
Here are some ways this plays out in the church and in our lives. Homosexuality and transgenderism, considered immoral and unbiblical throughout church history, suddenly is now, not only accepted as an alternative lifestyle, but embraced as good by an increasing number of churches and believers. There is not one Scriptural reference that is positive in any way toward these lifestyles; yet many are projecting their own desires for these behaviors to become accepted and mainstreamed onto the Scriptures through creative interpretations of the original languages, or by ignoring relevant biblical teaching. When the driving force of one’s life is to do what I want, then I become the sole authority governing my life, and I will justify doing what I want to do.
Decades ago, some church leaders sought to make following Jesus simple and straight forward. A prayer was developed called the “sinners’ prayer. Here is Billy Graham’s version: “Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner, and I ask for Your forgiveness. I believe You died for my sins and rose from the dead. I turn from my sins and invite You to come into my heart and life. I want to trust and follow You as my Lord and Savior. Amen.”
It is not in the Bible, but became the normative prayer of conversion. I don’t have a problem with the prayer itself; it hits the right notes of belief, faith, and repentance. However, in the ME culture it has had a devastating spiritual effect. Instead of leading people to true repentance and the giving up of the old life to embrace a totally new one lived for Jesus, it has become a means to “punch one’s ticket” to heaven while remaining solely or primarily devoted to self rather than Jesus. In my work with college students, I have seen this countless times. Students tell me they “prayed the prayer” while a teenager, or “accepted Christ,” but it is obvious they live life with themselves at the center and the ones to be served rather than to serve.
In the Scriptures, we will find no evidence to support a ME-centered theology of any sort. I don’t get to do whatever I want to do as a Christian unless the Lord approves. I can’t be a gossip, a worrier, a liar, a thief. I can’t hate my enemies or hold onto grudges. I can’t horde my wealth for myself or only for my family. I am not entitled to believe whatever I want. No, once I submit my life to Jesus, it is no longer mine but his. I submit my beliefs to his Word and my desires to his will. In contrast to Moral Therapeutic Deism, I live to honor him by making him the center of my life rather than fitting him into the life I want to live.
Let me be clear. There is abundant grace and forgiveness from the Lord when we fall into sin. However, it is quite a different thing to redefine various sins as appropriate, acceptable behavior. The former is grounded in humility; the latter in arrogance.
I encourage you to do an inventory of your life—what you believe and how you live. Ask yourself if how you live and what you believe is supported by the Scriptures. If so, then keep on doing what you’re doing and hold fast to those beliefs. But if not, then humble yourself before the Lord and repent. Align your thinking and living with his will. If you want to be a disciple of Jesus, then he must lead and you must follow. There are no other options for you.
© Jim Musser 2020