“The discerning sets his face toward wisdom, but the eyes of a fool are on the ends of the earth.” – Proverbs 17:24
The plight of the Christian college is to determine the best way to raise up young men and women of the highest caliber—in intellect, in faith, and in preparedness for leadership worldwide. This charge can be simplified to graduating young men and women who are strong in their faith and possess wisdom. The beginning of faith and wisdom – two factors necessary to cultivate prepared leadership- is a fear of the LORD.
Fear of the LORD is both a term and practice that has been slowly regulated to the back burner of our current Christian vernacular. Modern American Christianity has moved away from discussing the vital pillars of service and sacrifice. Both pillars demand outward and inward reflection and action that is centered around the teachings of Scriptures – Old and New. Instead, there has been a new lens through which people, primarily younger, view God. This view has been labeled Moral Therapeutic Deism.
The term Moral Therapeutic Deism comes from a research team (Christian Smith, Melinda Lundquist Denton, et. al) that analyzed this trend in Christian teens in America. From their research they compiled the tenets of this form of religious expression:
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 ones self.”
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.””
The god described here, who is worshipped by many young American Christians, bears no resemblance to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and no resemblance to the God who died on the cross, who then rose again to reign forever. Why is this warped view of god growing in power among our generation?
While each of these tenets possess different capabilities to create danger not only for our private life, but in how we act publicly as well, the second tenet is where I will focus.
The word “nice” in the second statement, has become the catch-all for human, and specifically Christian interactions. Yet it implies a shallow moral ethic. That one must lead their life being a “nice” Christian has become synonymous with being a “good” Christian. In the Scriptures however, the word “nice” does not appear once in the most common English translations (ESV, NIV, NLV, nor the NRSV). In the Message Version of the Bible, it does appear 19 times. 16 of those times it was used as a characteristic qualifier, twice it was used to refer to God (both times sarcastically), and once it was used as an action referring to how people act “nice” to your face and then stab you in the back.2 So, if Scripture does not use this term, why is it permeating our discussions?
The call to the Christian life, as stated by Christ, is one that is full of tribulation. To stand firm against the trials life presents, there must be more to one’s understanding of faith than an ethic of “Nice.” We are called to be strong and courageous. We are called to be lights to the world. We are called to seek justice and love mercy. We are called to spread the Good News and make disciples. None of those charges are answered when we are concerned with personal and political niceties. They are lost in translation when exchanged for the shallow morality MTD provides.
While at its face, “Nice” should not be seen as a red flag, the sum of its practical implications has led to increased divisions inside the Church and outside of it. Even though there has been a downturn in theological understanding and knowledge of formational Christian doctrine, the trend today is to utilize the name of Christ to moralize to others to act “nice.”
Here at Gordon, we often hear the same overtures on the issue of COVID-19. To be truly clear, I am not arguing for or against the vaccine or mask mandates. What I am saying however, is that as a Christian institution, if we are to use the Lord’s name, we better be quite clear that we are rooted in Scripture. If we cannot go back to Scripture and with proper exegesis demonstrate why we are invoking our Savior’s Name regarding modern issues then we have to seek an alternative foundation.
A better statement would be one that takes into account the valid fears and concerns of our brothers and sisters regarding sickness. What would be better is to discuss the scientific studies in support or against the wearing of masks and receiving of vaccines, rather than abjectly adhere to moral platitudes. But taking the Name of our Savior to bully or manipulate conformity is improper. We make a mockery of His name when we shamelessly utilize it for our own purposes and doing so falls into the trap of the shallow moral system found in Moral Therapeutic Deism.
As referenced in the Proverb above, the fool is concerned about the matters of the Earth to the detriment of their focus on the Lord. Gordon College has taken on the responsibility of molding and shaping the next generation of Christian minds. If we as a college, as brothers and sisters in the faith, cannot avoid moralism when discussing important issues, are we acting in a posture of fearing the Lord?
We need to be clear with our language, and on Whom we worship, thereby creating a community of believers who are so much more than “nice.” Otherwise, what is the difference between us and those who have not been reformed by the Almighty?