Currently, I am working through Kevin Vanhoozer’s newest book, Faith Speaking Understanding: Performing the Drama of Doctrine. Only three chapters in, and already I recognize that this will be a book to which I will return again and again in my own ministry. In fact, since I have been engaged in the job search as of late, I have had a number of people ask me: “What is your philosophy of ministry?” In the future, my answer (at least in part) will be: “Read Vanhoozer’s, Faith Speaking Understanding.”
At one point in the book, Vanhoozer rightly says: “Doctrine is inevitable. We’ve all been indoctrinated: everyone has absorbed some system of beliefs and values” (53). He then proceeds to summarize Christian Smith’s work, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers. Vanhoozer writes:
[Smith] discovered that the majority of American teenagers are still religious, believers active in their churches. However, they are ‘incredibly inarticulate about their faith, their religious beliefs and practices, and its meaning or place in their lives.’ This does not mean that they do not hold to certain doctrines. On the contrary, Smith says they have an implicit theology: ‘Moralistic Therapeutic Deism,’ or MTD for short (an apt acronym for a socially transmitted disease). Adherents to MTD are often affiliated with traditional faith communities, unaware that they are practicing something very different from their historic faith communities. It has also infected people who no longer go to church, so much so that it may be ‘the new mainstream American religious faith for our culturally post-Christian, individualistic, mass-consumer capitalist society.’ If those who hold this faith could articulate it as a creed, it might go something like this:
I believe in a creator God who orders and watches over life on earth. I believe that God wants people to be good: to act nice to one another [the ‘moralistic’ tenet]. I believe that the central goal of life is to be happy and feel good about oneself [the ‘therapeutic’ tenet]. I believe that God is not involved in my life except when I need God to solve a problem. I believe that good people go to heaven. Virtual worlds without end. Amen.
This, too, is doctrine, but alas: it expresses an unbiblical, non-Trinitarian faith (54-55).