Let me preface my post by saying, I hope my thoughts are incorrect, but I do not think I am. You may be in an atypical ministry location that is not concerned about professing believers being “deistic” in their thinking and practice. However, the more I hear, see, and discuss the biblical foundations of Christian Theism, the more convinced I am that men and women in the church today do not have a proper foundation. The natural result is a tendency toward “practical deistic ideas.” Probably all our church members would deny a profession of Deism, but what if their thinking leans toward deistic ideas?
What is a Deist, and how might one be a “practical deist?”
As they relate to God – A Deist is someone who has an abstract concept of a Creator. He ordered the cosmos and then removed Himself. Therefore, He is not personally interested or invested in His universe/creation. That includes you and me. He does not love, judge, or provide but simply exists outside the realm of normalcy. He is the “First Cause,” of the universe. He is not immanent, personal, or providential. He was the architect of the universe, and is now an inactive spectator.
As they relate to the cosmos – God created a “determined” closed system that denies the possibility of the miraculous. Everything taking place is ordered and natural. The natural laws of science govern the universe. The scientific revolution developed during the rise of Deism. While today many church members may verbally profess a belief in the miraculous, they do not possess a real understanding. Deists do not believe that God could or would violate His natural order, or normal order. He is impersonal and therefore unwilling to “tamper” with creation.
As they relate to knowledge – A deist might say that autonomous human reason and methods of science provide all we can know about God and the universe. Your ability to “make sense” coupled with what you understand about science, are sufficient to give you a foundation of knowledge. It provides you enough knowledge to “know” God, His universe, and to function in life. Now once again, most people in the church would agree that we need special revelation in order to have a right knowledge about God and the universe, but how often to they really engage? Do they read it, dig into it, grow from it? For the deist the beginning of all human knowledge is not God, but man. Therefore, we shape and mold our own knowledge. Each person is born with a clean slate, through nature and nurture each one is formed and fashioned.
What happened to the innate responsibility God wrote on every heart? Unless it makes sense, that is, it is rational then it cannot be right.
As they relate to ethics – deists understand that we gathered enough information from general revelation and the normality of the universe to deduce morality. The governing laws of science provide a foundation for ethics. One is not concerned about God’s standard, or any standard, but what culture tells us is right and wrong. A deists might ask what does the broader scope of my geographical location say is right and wrong. Then they will adopt those standards.
Since humankind really is not that bad or even “fallen” he can be trusted. Therefore, each individual is fully capable of performing “good” acts. In fact by nature we are prone to do good, but have to actively choose to perform evil deeds. The question to ask is, evil to whom? Jesus’ teachings are good, moral, and helpful, but they are not the standard by which I should live my life. No standard exists for the deists.
You think these are not practical conclusion of the church, ask them a series of questions.
1. What do you believe about God’s direct involvement in your life?
2. How invested and personal is God with His creation?
3. How do you describe the miraculous in conjunction with normal scientific conclusions?
4. Where does you base of knowledge come from?
5. How important is God’s special revelation, His Word, to your daily life practice?
6. Is it right for one person to place their moral standard upon another?
7. What is the basis for morality in your town, state, or country?
8. Is mankind born prone to evil or good?
This is a short list, but one I think we could use to begin to question our congregations. With this understanding, I think we are seeing a generation of “practical deist” in the church. They verbally affirm Christian Theistic ideas, but the practical application is not!
So what’s the result? James Sire calls it “Popular Deism.” It is a widely held idea the God is simply an omnipotent, impersonal being, or intelligence. You might think I am crazy to assume that many “church” members are practical deists, but when you being to discuss the intricacy and investment of God into every detail of a person’s life, they may back off! These persons are moral persons, good members of society, and think that living a “good” life is all the preparation they need for the “afterlife.” God wants us to be nice, fair, and kind. All of which are true, but they are not the end all, be all. They think the end of God’s desire for us is happiness and comfort. When we know from the Scripture the ultimate end of man is to glorify God!
Maybe I am wrong, but I am not sure I am! Take the time to talk with those persons in the pews and see what they really understand, or believe about God and see if there is not a sense of practical deism floating around today!