Moralistic Therapeutic Deism

Christian Smith, a Notre Dame sociologist, described this generation’s gospel, at least for many who grew up in church and hold to some form of belief, with the terms Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.

Smith demonstrates in his work Soul Searching, published in 2009, that students have redefined God to better fit their needs and ambitions. Others who write in the area of youth religiosity have expressed grave pessimism related to the church drop out rate of students following high school graduation.

In sharing some of these concerns at a parent seminar recently I was asked to give a short list of recommended resources in thinking about and addressing these issues. Before we get to the list, here are a few points I believe are of far greater importance than any book I might recommend:

1. The Gospel: The antidote for apostasy from the gospel is the gospel. The Apostle Paul prayed for young believers in Colossae to be encouraged, united through love, and focused on the gospel as the means by which they would not be deceived by plausible arguments (Colossians 2:1-10). Though he warned them of persuasive arguments and deceptive philosophy, he rejoiced that their faith was well ordered, rooted, established, built up and overflowing with thanksgiving.

2. Prayer: Paul countered the cultural challenges of his day through struggling on behalf of believers in prayer: he prayed that their faith would stand strong. The gospel and prayer are the greatest weapons in the parent’s arsenal for supporting their children in spiritual warfare.

3. Teaching: The third way we prepare students to deal with the objections to the gospel that they may encounter is through direct teaching. We see this pattern clearly in Scripture. For example, in Colossae a heresy known as gnosticism was threatening the integrity of the church’s beliefs. Paul, at several points, provides specific doctrinal refutations to this emerging ideology. As parents we should follow Paul’s example in dealing directly with contemporary challenges, first, and most importantly, from Scripture, and then through the use of trustworthy resources.

Resources: Here are ten important books related to these topics, either directly or indirectly, that I think are worthy of parents’ investment of time to read (listed in no specific order):

Total Truth by Nancy Pearcy

The Universe Next Door by James Sire

The Making of An Atheist by James Spiegel

Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart by J.D. Greear

Atheism Remix by Albert Mohler

Soul Searching by Christian Smith

Exposing Myths About Christianity by Jeffrey Russell

God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God by John Lennox

Has Christianity Failed You by Ravi Zacharias


Boyce College- Worldview Studies Program from Southern Seminary on Vimeo.