Wednesday, September 24, 2014


The Place of Theology

This piece by Dale Coulter is tough sledding. It is mostly a defense on the Wesleyan tradtions in what he views as an onslaught from the Reformed tradition:
In 2005 Christian Smith and Melinda Denton published a study of American teenagers in which they offered a “conjecture” that the dominant religion among adolescents was “moralistic therapeutic deism” (MTD). Suggesting that the MTD creed was operative among mainline and evangelical Protestants as well as Catholics, they reduced it to three basic claims: 1) being a good and moral person is central to a happy life; 2) religion is mainly concerned with feeling good, happiness, or being at peace with oneself and thus has therapeutic benefits; 3) God establishes a moral order for the universe and intervenes to take care of human needs.

This study launched a small publishing enterprise in which evangelical writers employed MTD to critique evangelicalism. The criticisms came especially from the Reformed branch of evangelicalism with Michael Horton , Mark Driscoll and Gary Breshears , and others using MTD to talk about “Christless Christianity,” or writers like Collin Hansen employing it as a descriptor in his journey from Methodism to Calvinism.


I know that I’m getting into the weeds a little here, but my larger point is that there is a tradition of therapeutic Christianity that some versions of Reformed Christianity tend to equate with semi-Pelagianism, Gnosticism, or some modern spirituality because it does not fit with a strong equation of the gospel and justification by faith alone. Smith’s and Denton’s use of MTD to describe the modern adolescent approach to religion merely complicates any discussion of this historic tradition of a therapy of the soul. Wesleyans should resist the tendency of certain Reformed theologians to see the Wesleyan vision of Christianity, whether in its Methodist, Holiness, or Pentecostal versions, as part of the problem rather than an important contribution to the solution.
I'll but that but only to a point - the "don't throw out the baby with the bathwater" point. All traditions have something good to offer and we sold seek what is best from them. But we should also not overplay our hands. Coming from and being firmly rooted in the Reformed tradition, I do not doubt the contributions of the Wesleyan traditions, nor do I have a problem with acknowledging the shortcomings of my own.

None of Coulter's discussion acknowledges the fact that the MTD trend is real. I for one do not want to blame Wesleyans and I have one heck of a problems with a good bit of Pentecostalism - but that;s not the point. The problem is real and maybe, just maybe the solutions to the problem lie in the Reformed, or even the Lutheran or Catholic traditions. We have to have enough humility about ourselves and our theology to look at things honestly. Why do we try to defend systematic systems when we have a real problem and the solution might just lie in a synthesis of the systems. There is a bit of mental masturbation going on here.

We're sinners and nothing we can conceiove of will capture the whole truth. Get over it and deal with the issues.


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