Along with my regular blog here at seanmcdowell.org, I am now featuring occasional guest posts from some students in the Biola M.A. in Christian Apologetics that I personally had the privilege of teaching. This post is from my friend Ryan Pauly, a high school teacher, who also has an excellent and growing ministry of his own called Coffee House Questions . I simply asked him to write anything on his heart and mind. Check out his ministry and enjoy this post! Sean McDowell
Does God Just Want Me to Be Happy?
It is often said that people become teachers so that they don’t have to work over the summer. Although this may be true for some, it wasn’t true for me this past summer. I spent my vacation working at Summit Ministries and traveling to speak at different youth events. While at one of my speaking events, I was approached by a student who wanted to know my thoughts on drinking and smoking weed. His argument was that it was fine to drink and smoke with his friends because it didn’t negatively affect his behavior or control his life.
Instead of beginning by making a biblical argument explaining why those behaviors were wrong, I began by asking him questions. I first asked why he thought that any action was good or morally neutral simply because he didn’t see it negatively affect his life. This seemed to catch him off guard. It might have been because he was looking for me to give reasons as to why these behaviors did have a negative effect on his life and were therefore wrong. He admitted that pastors had used this approach with him before.
Moralistic Therapeutic Deism
Without even knowing it, this student had adopted a form of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD). One aspect of MTD is the belief that God exists and that the goal of life is to be happy and feel good about oneself. One huge way in which you can tell that someone is following MTD is by the way they respond to sin. When they are committing a sin, they will think that is it an acceptable thing to do as long as they are still happy. They will not look at what God has to say about that sin since they don’t think God really plays a big role in our lives.
Our students use this form of reasoning when arguing for premarital sex as well as drinking and drugs. They hear their pastors, teachers, and parents say that these things are sin and will affect them negatively. Because they don’t immediately see negative effects, they think the behaviors are fine. This leads them to take a non-biblical approach to morality and ethics because their experience causes them to redefine sin. Sin then is defined as something that has harmful consequences on them and others.
The Dominant Religion Today
I believe that MTD has become the dominant religion of youth today as they fall more and more away from founding Christian beliefs. Youth are being exposed through TV, movies, and schools to just living a good life and being happy in oneself. Today, success is seen as being happy and doing well at what you want to do.
So, my goal was to help this student re-evaluate the way that he determined what was ethically right and wrong and return to a biblical view of morality. An action isn’t good because it makes us happy and bad because it affects us negatively. We understand that eating candy feels good but is bad for us. We also know that shots hurt but are good for us. Instead, we need to get back to looking at what God teaches. God doesn’t want us to just be happy; he wants us to be holy. When he realized this point, I was able to look at biblical reasons with this student as to why he shouldn’t be drinking and smoking weed. It is holiness that brings true happiness.