Monday, January 24, 2011

Teaching Series: Almost Christian

Here is a recent three-week teaching series inspired by some of the ideas in Kenda Creasy Dean's phenomenal book Almost Christian. Each week, I unpacked one element of moralistic therapeutic deism, the primary spiritual belief system of American youth, as revealed in the "National Study of Youth and Religion." I summarized each element into a common "myth" that sounds almost Christian, then unpacked a shift from the myth to orthodox Christianity. I wanted to create myths that most teens and adults would initially agree with, hopefully causing some good ol' fashioned disequilibration.

1. God wants us to be nice (moralistic)
Key Verses: Mark 12:28-34, Luke 10:25-37. 
Key ThemeFrom being nice to sacrificial love
The word "nice" never shows up once in the Bible. Instead, the commandment to love God and love our neighbor is central to orthodox Christianity. Love goes beyond being nice or friendly. Being nice is concerned with outer appearances and conformity; sacrificial love requires God-motivated actions. Like the Samaritan in the parable, we move beyond comforts and social norms to a love that requires giving up our time, energy, resources, and even our very lives. Love requires proximity and vulnerability.

2. God wants us to be happy (therapeutic)
Key Verses: 1 Peter 1:14-16
Key ThemeFrom being happy to repentant holiness
God never promises Christianity to be about temporal happiness or a self-esteem booster. He's not a divine candy dispenser, giving us blessings and happiness when we offer our prayers or worship. Instead, God calls us to repentance of our sins, a decidedly unhappy action. After repentance, and finding one's identity in Christ, we are called to be holy, set apart by our sacrificial love and our hopeful joy in the midst of suffering. Peter writes his first epistle to Christians experiencing persecution, not exhorting happiness, but holiness.

3. God is a part of my life (deism)
Key Verses: Colossians 3:1-17
Key ThemeFrom God as part of my life to I am a part of God's story
When we view God as a divine butler or cosmic superhero--a person who is around when we need them during crisis, but mostly absent when we're doing fine--we can compartmentalize our spirituality. One's relationship with God becomes about Sunday worship gatherings and spiritual retreats instead of holistic and all-encompassing. Saying that "God is a part of my life" communicates that we are adding God to an already busy lifestyle, giving Him a comfortable portion. Colossians 3 states that our old lives are dead and gone, that our new lives are found entirely in Christ, that He is our life. Verse 17 declares that all of life is God's, whatever we are doing.

This is the basic outline of the teaching series; you'll have to fill it out with your own stories, examples, and exegesis of the passages to make it your own for your context. If you'd like more info, leave a comment or email me here.

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