Moralistic, Therapeutic, Deism vs the Spirit of Christmas, by Pastor David Oberdieck

December 15th, 2011 Post by

By Pr. David Oberdieck

Thanks to Pastor Oberdieck for submitting this to us for posting here on BJS. Pastor Oberdieck wrote the original explanation of the parts of the liturgy that we have posted here on BJS for insertion into your bulletins or newsletters.



One study of religious views among American young adults described their spirituality as moralistic, therapeutic, deism (Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers). Moralistic – God just wants us to be good. That is what religion is about. Therapeutic – When I feel the need then I’ll turn to God. God is my therapist and comforter when life gets really bad, but otherwise I have little contact with Him. Deism – God is not active in my life. The message of Christmas gives us a contrary spirituality. Christianity is far different than these common beliefs.

Moralistic – Being good is not enough. Humanity isn’t good before God. The Father in heaven did not send us a teacher of morality, but He sent us Jesus. The importance of the name “Jesus” is explained by an angel of the LORD who declared, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (Matt 1:20-21 NASB). This naturally ties into the next heading.

Therapeutic – Going to a marriage and family counselor or a psychologist can be quite helpful. They can be masks of God in which the Creator blesses His creation, but we must never reduce God down to someone who helps us with our mental health when we feel the need. The greatest need is the one we often do not feel. Many people don’t sense the gravity of their sin nor the need for deliverance from the judgment of the Law of God. People often think that because they are good in their own eyes that they are also good in God’s eyes. Christmas teaches us differently as Paul writes, “But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons” (Gal 4:4-5).

Deism – This element may seem to conflict with the therapeutic understanding of spirituality, but not too much. The young adult may believe he/she can turn to God in a crisis but otherwise God is absent. The incarnation says something different. God is active in our life in the person of Jesus Christ. “BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL,” which translated means, “GOD WITH US” (Matt 1:23 NASB). God is with us in Jesus. He is active in our life and that means today as well. A problem is that people don’t bother asking, “Where has God promised to work?” The LORD promises to work in our lives through the Word and the Sacrament. God is present working for us, in us, and through us.

The Spirit of Christmas is far different than the moralistic, therapeutic, deism common among many younger adults today. Instead of moralism we have grace. Instead of therapy we have salvation. Instead of Deism we have Immanuel, “God with us.”

David Oberdieck, pastor

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  1. #4 Kitty
    December 15th, 2011 at 17:37 | #1

    One study of religious views among American young adults described their spirituality as moralistic, therapeutic, deism (Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers).
    Which study?

  2. December 15th, 2011 at 20:08 | #2

    I saw somewhere on FB today the question, did you get your Christmas gift under a tree or on one?

  3. Rob
    December 15th, 2011 at 20:46 | #3

    @#4 Kitty #1
    The National Survey of Youth and Religion, led by sociologist Christian Smith while he was at UNC and published in the book Soul Searching which the post (somewhat unclearly) indicated. Smith was at Notre Dame last I knew and a follow-up longitudinal study had been published entitled Souls in Transition. Both books should be easy to find. I’ve read the first and it’s extremely solid research (over 1,000 surveys, hundreds of in-depth personal interviews) – the largest survey of its kind.

  4. Tim S
    December 16th, 2011 at 09:51 | #4

    An example of this distortion of the Spirit of Christmas by this moralistic, therapeutic deism is totally captured in the understated last words of the Christmas pageant script to be used by our children on Christmas Eve this year: “And the baby Jesus grew up into a fine young man.”

    That’s from a script published by Faith Inkubators Australia titled “Reader’s Theatre Script – Good News 03 – The Birth of Jesus”.

    My wife raised her concerns and the end of the script is going to be edited in some way now for our kids.

  5. David Oberdieck
    December 16th, 2011 at 17:17 | #5

    @Tim S #4 Good for your wife! I trust the rest of the program was rich in Gospel.

  6. December 16th, 2011 at 17:37 | #6

    Here is a link to a White Horse Inn interview on this topic. Check it out.

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