Chapter 14 – Countercultural Comfort

From the book: “Uncomfortable: The Awkward and Essential Challenge of Christian Community” by Brett McCracken

  • With a few quotes, let me summarize the contents of not only this last chapter, but also this book.

“Christianity with no teeth, no offensiveness, no cost, and no discomfort is not really Christianity at all. It attracts the masses to something vaguely moralistic and therapeutic, but mostly just affirms their ‘eat whatever fruit you want’ freedom and status-quo comfort.” (p. 187)

“Christianity became more about apologizing for itself and affirming the culture than about extolling Christ and transforming the culture. (p.186)

“Christianity’s true relevance lies not in the gospel’s comfortable trendiness but in its uncomfortable transcendence, as a truth with the power to rebuff, renew, and restore wayward humanity at every epoch of history.” (p. 188)

“The church that will change your life is the one that challenges you to grow rather than affirms you as you are.” (p. 188)

But this is beyond us as individuals.

“Regardless of its routine, the reality of the church is revolutionary. However unpopular we are, our purpose is profound. As salt and light, we are the hope of the world.” (p. 191)

  • The first quote above references a ‘vaguely moralistic and therapeutic’ Christianity.

Christian Smith and a group of researchers studied the spiritual attitudes of adolescents. They came up with a term to describe their spiritual attitudes: Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. This was previously mentioned in Chapter 1 – Embrace the Discomfort (p. 35).

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism consists of beliefs like these:

  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 oneself.
  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.

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism presents a unique understanding of God. As Smith explains, this amorphous faith ‘is about belief in a particular kind of God: one who exists, created the world, and defines our general moral order, but not one who is particularly personally involved in one’s affairs – especially affairs in which one would prefer not to have God involved. Most of the time, the God of this faith keeps a safe distance.’” [1]

What does this actually mean? We have replaced God with a system of moral attributes that everyone should follow to be ‘good people.’ It is no longer about a relationship with God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. It is about feel-good emotions.

Since this study was published, there has been much discussion as to where our adolescents got this belief system. The consensus is that this is also the belief system of their parents.

“The casual ‘whatever’ that marks so much of the American moral and theological landscapes – adolescent and otherwise – is a substitute for serious and responsible thinking. More importantly, it is a verbal cover for an embrace of relativism.” [2]

  • This leads us to more than just a wrong theology about God. It ultimately leads to not being able to talk about God or religion at all.

When all is relative, nothing is objective. When there is nothing absolute, then everything that is not in agreement with what someone thinks becomes offensive. Offensive topics cannot be discussed.

“Our culture has become so acutely aware of difference that we deal with diversity by refusing to talk about it. This matters greatly, says Smith, because the disinclination of teenagers to discuss differences (as if noting differences and asserting that one thing is better or more true than another were offensive) makes it impossible for them to reason morally, because they won’t allow themselves to think in terms of comparing and contrasting moral positions.” [3]

This is not how it has always been.

“I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend.” (Thomas Jefferson to William Hamilton, 22 April 1800)

But this is the result.

“Being taught to avoid talking about politics and religion has led to a lack of understanding of politics and religion. What needs to be taught is how to have civil conversations about difficult topics.” (Anonymous)

However, there is still a chance to turn things around. Not through adopting the secular culture or apologizing for who we are, but by “rallying around the true, costly pursuit of Christ as believers committed to the imperfect but essential local church. (p. 37)”

The following article shows what might be a bit of an opportunity. But we must be salt and light, not an excuse.

Report: Campus Crusade Says There is a “Growing Hunger for Christianity” on American College Campuses. https://notthebee.com/article/campus-crusade-says-they-have-seen-more-students-coming-to-christ-than-they-have-in-over-13-years

  • One last thought.

The author states, “But if the church is to thrive…” Well, the CHURCH will thrive regardless of how many people are part of it. The real question is whether our secular culture will embrace the CHURCH. It is up to us to model Jesus and offer the culture the gospel in living form.

So, I end this chapter and the book by quoting from the Introduction.

“This book is about the comforting gospel of Jesus Christ that leads us to live uncomfortable lives for him. It’s about recovering a willingness to do hard things, to embrace hard truths, to do life with hard people for the sake and glory of the One who did the hardest thing.” (p. 27)

[1] R. Albert Mohler, Jr., Moralistic Therapeutic Deism – The New American Religion, The Christian Post, 18 April 2005. https://www.christianpost.com/news/moralistic-therapeutic-deism-the-new-american-religion.html

[2] Ibid.

[3]  Rob Dreher, The Language of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, Beliefnet, https://www.beliefnet.com/columnists/roddreher/2010/02/the-language-of-moralistic-therapeutic-deism.html

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