Jesus is My Girlfriend and Moralistic Therapeutic Deism

Over the past week, I've heard several people make extensive use of dating metaphor to describe their relationship with God. Jesus is like a boyfriend. I recognize when people talking about dating Jesus - they mean there is intimacy, affection, and attention. These are natural parts of what it means to relate to someone. But part of it makes me uncomfortable. I understand the biblical basis of the metaphor - Ephesians 5 and Revelation paint a picture of Jesus as the groom and the body of Christ, the church, his bride. I have often preached on that image and its certainly a central image of the gospel. But its a little bit of a jump to go from there and say Jesus is my boyfriend (or girlfriend). Dating is a temporary status, is nowhere near as encompassing as marriage, and has no biblical foundation of commitment. Additionally, our betrothal and marriage to Jesus is community to one not 1:1. It is the entire community - the people of God - who are Jesus' bride. Despite that, I'm usually okay with the use of the metaphor because it helps underscore the deeper significance of marriage. Ultimately marriage is about communion with God. Each and every relationship with another person is a reflection of our connection with the Creator.

But what bothers me go deeper than the dating vs. marriage distinction. I'm reading Christian Smith's Soul Searching - its a comprehensive research survey book about the spiritual lives of American teenagers. Its dense and not easy to read but chapter 4 is worth further study. Smith defines a new religious outlook culled from hundreds of interviews that he calls Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD). This is not a stand-alone religion but more like a remora (those suckerfish that attach to sharks and other big fish). Its a parasitic religious belief system that gets life by sucking the life of something bigger. Smith says the five tenets of MTD look like this:
1) A God exists who created, ordered, and watches over the world
2) God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught by all the world religions
3) The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself
4) God does not need to be involved in one's except when He is needed to resolve a problem
5) Good people go to heaven when they die

So you might be an MTD Christian or MTD Jew and you would never call it that but the way you describe faith and live it out in your life, that's exactly what it is. In interviews about religion, teenagers used the term "feel happy" over 2,000 times. Smith says "God is like a combination Divine Butler and Cosmic Therapist" (165). One interesting aspect of MTD is you'll never get in a religious disagreement because you'll probably never have a religious discussion with someone and if you do, you'll just say its ok to believe whatever as long as it helps you be a good person and be happy. That's pretty much the core of MTD, "believe whatever you want about God as long as it makes you happy.

So when we say Jesus is my girlfriend, do we mean we are in relationship with Jesus because he makes us happy? And if that pretty much sums up the relationship - he shows up whenever I'm down so he make me help feel better, then its not Jesus you believe in. I sense many teenagers view dating relationships in a utilitarian way but that's a far cry from us being the bride of Christ. Jesus is not the boyfriend who does whatever you tell him to do, in fact its quite the opposite. You wouldn't be with him unless you surrendered everything. Grace is received by surrender. It cannot be earned nor demanded nor even entitled. You can only come to him offering everything. Happiness and morality are secondary to repentance.


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