I ended Part 1 of this post with a question—what is the church to do about the growing ranks of the de-churched? I believe the answer depends on which de-churched group one is talking about. In Part 1 I identified two sides of the de-churched population—those who have left the church because they had received a false gospel, and those who have left because they've encountered the true gospel.
Let's start with the false gospel side. As Matt Chandler explained, these de-churched are fed, knowingly or unknowingly, a false gospel of morality. They believe that if they just follow God's rules he will bless their lives. When things fail to work out as promised, they bail on the church. Christian Smith, a sociologist of religion, has called this belief MTD—moralistic therapeutic deism. I prefer a more sinister and downright damnable name: Moralistic Divination—the belief that one can control and manipulate God's actions through moral behaviors.
While there are many churches that promote this sort of false thinking, including those within the prosperity gospel crowd, I believe most do not. So why do so many Christians, particularly the young, carry these beliefs? In most cases the problem isn't what the church is preaching, but in what it is assuming.
For example, the popular summarization of the gospel known as "The Four Spiritual Laws" begins with the statement, "God love you and has a wonderful plan for your life." This idea, drawn from scripture and rooted in orthodoxy, may be faithfully preached in your church. But how is it received? How does a person formed and hardened for decades in the furnaces of consumerism hear this statement?
The biblical understanding of a "wonderful life" looks dramatically different than the consumer culture's definition of a "wonderful life." If this assumption is never identified, named, and deconstructed, a person may hear "God love you and has a wonderful plan for your life" very differently than we intend. This is the problem we must begin to address if we hope to slow the exodus of people from the church. It's not that we are failing to preach the gospel, but that we are failing to deconstruct the consumer filter through which people twist and receive it. The result is a hybrid consumer gospel in which God exists to serve me and accomplish my desires in exchange for my obedience—voila, Moralistic Divination.
When this consumer gospel fails to deliver on its assumed promises, as it inevitably does, frustration, disappointment, and disillusionment quickly follow. And the pool of the de-churched gains another swimmer.
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