Monday, April 30, 2012

Confronting Deism with the Realities of God

This post is part of our series on the cultural trend coined "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism". Check out the rest of the posts in the series here.

Avoidance.  We’re all pretty good at it, and we’ve got plenty of excuses in our toolbox which allow us to live in our own realities for a while.  But the God of Scripture is merciful; He breaks in and confronts us with realities bigger than ourselves (such as love and death), and the Man/God Himself asks us each, “Who do you say that I am?”

This is one of the most amazing blessings of the Christian faith: God confronts.  He breaks into humanity and ushers in a new reality- the Kingdom of God.  He upturns tables, defeats death, and brings a new way of life- The Way of life, Jesus.   “How offensive,” some may say.  “No one can tell me what’s right and good.  No one can claim that Jesus is the only way- or that Christianity is what’s right.”  

We think we know best.  And this is only magnified in the teen population we work with.  We want to be the ones in control of our lives.  We think that the world revolves around us, and no one else can or should tell us that there is one thing on which everything else hinges.  The cross is offensive.   But praise be to God, Jesus came to interrupt our cycles of self-righteousness and self-trust; He came to rescue us from ourselves.  As much as we really think that we want to be left alone in the mess of our own sin and others’, God breaks in.

The “deism” which has become the sort-of religion of youth culture today hinges on the belief that God remains at a distance.  He doesn’t confront anyone; He’s really nice, He’s really big, and He’s inaccessible.  He might be on-call for when someone needs something, and sometimes He helps us feel better about ourselves, but He certainly isn’t personal.  He’s so grand and powerful, even, that he “can’t fit into any one religion.”

Although many kids have other roadblocks when considering Jesus, the avoiding, wishy-washy, non-committal attitude of the “deism” which has consumed our teens can be more dangerous than the stances of some extremists: kids are left with nothing to stand on, nothing to hope in, and a real misunderstanding (or ignorance) of who God is.  They have painted their own image onto Him, making Him into a pleasant mirage, of sorts, and in the process have lost or missed the fierce love and goodness Jesus interrupts the world with.  

So, how can we help students confront the realities of who God is and uncover the pattern of avoidance? We must dive into those areas they see as ambiguous and those they are unsure/conflicted about and allow them to point to God’s power and sovereignty.  Why is it that fearing God is a good thing?  How can fear be right and helpful?  (It can help us remember that the goodness and love we have presently in Jesus are bigger than the worst, scariest, and most horrible things we face here on Earth, etc.)  How is it that God’s goodness can be seen in both creation and destruction in the Bible?  Let us sit in the mystery and tension with our kids in some of these issues, and let us ask the questions that force us to dig through Scripture and pray for the Holy Spirit to reveal.   He is our Rock; He does not change.  And He is a personal God who confronts each one of us with invitation unto Himself.  

Avoidance.  It’s easy to do.  But how can we avoid the One who offers His hands for Thomas to see and His wounds to touch if we have seen and touched them ourselves?  I pray that He would give us wisdom and courage in entering into the lukewarm atmosphere of deism in youth culture today.

Liz Edrington is a youth minister at Christ Episcopal Church in Charlottesville, VA and will begin pursuing her Master of Arts in Counseling from Reformed Theological Seminary in July, 2012.  She is the author of 'Feast' - a quiet time book/small group devotional for teens.


  1. Belief in a deity who is " on-call for when someone needs something" is by definition not 'Deism' at all; but simply 'Theism.' That is its definition; Deism is belief based on logic and reason in a Creator who need not intervene in the affairs of our Universe AT ALL. The variant, Pandeism, is belief based on logic and reason in a Creator who has become our Universe (and naturally need not intervene actively in the affairs of our Universe); Pandeism fully accounts for the experience generated by human vanity and selfishness to believe in a 'personal' deity.

  2. Thank you for your comment; just to clarify, the way 'deism' is being used in this article refers to Christian Smith et al.'s phrase, "moralistic therapeutic deism." This religious atmosphere Smith describes includes both Theism and Pandeism, it sounds like. He uses the term 'deism' with much qualification in his book (click on the link at the beginning of this article on MTD) to paint the picture of the status of youth religiosity.