Saturday, April 09, 2016

Beyond Therapeutic Christianity


There has been much talk of late about what has been termed "moral therapeutic deism." In MTD content doesn't really matter when it comes to religion. What matters is that it makes one a better person and it enables one to get through life. It's understandable that such a vision has taken root in our society, and its understandable that churches and preachers, seeking to survive in this environment have taken our cues from MTD. But the question is, will such a vision transform lives? Will it make a difference, or does it simply allow me to make due with the status quo? 


I can be a pragmatist when it comes to life in this world. I've lived long enough to know that change often comes slowly and incrementally. Even when a revolution occurs, it may take years before the full implications are realized. So sometimes the slow pace of the tortoise gets you to where you want to be rather then speed of the hare. At the same time, I am a firm believer that what we believe about God affects how we live our lives. In other words, content matters, which is why I have a problem with MTD. It tends to dispense with the content. I share this for a number of reasons, some of which I'm not at liberty to share. One of the reasons is that as I sat at lunch today after a long and important Elders meeting, I finished reading Tripp Fuller's provocative The Homebrewed Christianity Guide to Jesus.  Tripp is a friend and an important emerging theological voice. In the closing chapter of this introduction to Christology -- (study of Jesus) Tripp took up this idea of therapeutic religion.  I wanted to share this word from Tripp, and invite you my reader to consider with Tripp and me what it would mean to leave behind the comfort of therapeutic religion so that we might not just make this world a little better, but commit ourselves to God's realm and its unfolding in this world.  

Tripp writes:

A Christianity with a robust account of Jesus will be heretical to the idolatrous religion that dominates so many of our hearts. To embrace this Christianity, therapeutic “believing” must die. Therapeutic belief is about the existential shape of one’s faith and not (primarily) about its content. It begins by accepting the “as is” structure of our world, church, and self and then asks how we can function better as individuals and how we can make our world a bit better than we found it. In doing so, it takes for granted the very world we received and ignores the kin-dom’s challenge to religion, culture, and politics.  
My assertion is that therapeutic Christianity became possible because of modernity’s secularizing trends, and it ended up as the religious ally of the very structures whose outcomes threaten life on our planet. Should the church retain its therapeutic form of life, its professed connection to Christ will become more and more tenuous.  [Fuller, Tripp (2015-11-01). The Homebrewed Christianity Guide to Jesus: Lord, Liar, Lunatic, Or Awesome? (Kindle Locations 2277-2283). Fortress Press. Kindle Edition.] 
We may not have chosen to ally ourselves with the structures that threaten the earth, including especially environmental degradation, but it would seem that our religion may have allowed us to do so.  

A little bit later Tripp writes 
Perhaps the most problematic belief in Christianity isn’t the inerrancy of Scripture, strict Calvinism, religious exclusivism, or “open but not affirming.” Perhaps life on our planet is most threatened by our unconscious faith to the as is assumptions integral to therapeutic Christianity. Christianity must be freed from its role atop the symbolic chain of being and take another form that doesn’t assume the as is structures of our suicidal machine are final. This is the very pattern of engagement Jesus has with his own historical situation and one to which we are being called by crucified people today. [Fuller, Tripp (2015-11-01). The Homebrewed Christianity Guide to Jesus: Lord, Liar, Lunatic, Or Awesome? (Kindle Locations 2320-2325). Fortress Press. Kindle Edition. 

Thus, to what is God calling us? To answer that question likely requires asking the question -- who is God? For Christians, like me, the question continues: Who is Jesus and what does his life have to say to our existence today?   

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