Today, I wanted to share a portion of Dr. Timothy Keller’s book, Counterfeit Gods, that I found to be particularly insightful. Enjoy!

“What do you have that you did not receive?” (1 Corinthians 4:6)

Sociologist Christian Smith gave the name “moralistic, therapeutic deism” to the dominant understanding of God he discovered among younger Americans.

In his book Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers, he describes this set of beliefs.

  • God blesses and takes to heaven those who try to live good and decent lives (the “moralistic” belief).
  • The central goal of life is not to sacrifice, or to deny oneself, but to be happy and feel good about yourself (the “therapeutic” belief).
  • Though God exists and created the world, he does not need to be particularly involved in our lives except when there is a problem (that is “deism”).

This view of God (Deism) literally makes you master of your fate and captain of your soul. Salvation and happiness is up to you.

Some have pointed out that “moralistic, therapeutic deism” could only develop in a comfortable, prosperous society among privileged people.

People “at the top” are eager to attribute their position to their own intellect, savvy, and hard work. The reality is much more complicated. Personal connections, family environment, and what appears to be plain luck determine how successful a person is.

We are the product of three things—genetics, environment, and our personal choices—but two of these three factors we have no power over.

We are not nearly as responsible for our success as our popular views of God and reality lead us to think.

Popular culture often tells young people, “You can be anything you set your mind to.” But it is cruel to say that to a five-foot-four-inch eighteen-year-old boy who yearns, more than anything else, to be an NFL linebacker.

To use an extreme example, if you had been born in a yurt in Outer Mongolia, instead of where you were, it wouldn’t have mattered how hard you worked or used your talents—you would have ended up poor and powerless.

To come closer to home, think of the impact of your family background on you. You may spend your younger years telling yourself that you will not be like your parents, you will be your own person. However, somewhere around the middle of your life, it will become clearer how indelibly your family has shaped you.

Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers is filled with case studies that demonstrate how our success is largely the product of our environment. …

…Although, unlike Gladwell, I would grant equal importance to the three factors of heredity, environment, and personal choice, his book makes a strong case that we are not as personally responsible for our success as we would like to think.

Most of the forces that make us who we are lie in the hand of God.

We should not “take pride in one man over against another,” wrote the Apostle Paul. “For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?”

(1 Corinthians 4:6-7) 

(from Counterfeit Gods by Tim Keller – Pages 115-117)

(Highlights mine)