Cafeteria Christianity

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I think every Christian individual, church or institution is guilty of Cafeteria Christianity in some way, shape or form. We like to pick and choose the convenient theology, Bible passages or rationales for our “faith matrixes.” We all have a tendency to read Scripture in order to see our preconceived ideas, understandings and constructs strengthened and fortified. We pick and choose what is convenient or even, dare I say, what works in our limited experience. But can there be times where what works, what tastes good in the cafeteria line up, is not actually what’s good for you? And maybe, just maybe, in a theological and even practical way, down right bad for you?

I remember when I was in college, living on campus and eating in the cafeteria, there was a popular phrase that enter our vernacular. This colloquialism was widespread because it was true: “The Freshmen 15.” It meant that it was common for freshmen to gain 15 pounds in their first year. Although there were choices in the cafeteria line, everyone regularly choose ample portions of fries, pop, ice cream, etc. with each meal. Although there were healthy choices available, few people choose them and went for the easy but not so healthy options.

I think the same is true in Christianity. We choose what we like, what works for our lives, what brings comfort, what bring security (even political security), what brings our definition of success, what puts and keeps people in the pew, what validates our worldview or theology and what simply answers our big questions. But, in the end, we have to ask the question: Am I choosing what is easy and comfortable or could what is easy and comfortable, actually be bad for me?

I am not saying that everything we choose is bad. I think, for example, the current trend to care about justice issues in the evangelical church is good but dare I ask: Do we truly care for the oppressed or do we just like the idea of it because it is trendy to do so, it eases our consciences or maybe just because it is different? In essence, are we pursuing justice, which is biblical, with the right motives? If not, maybe we end up at a good destination but forget that the journey is part of what we are called to as well. As Jesus continually reminded people, it is our heart that truly matters.

Now think of your individual beliefs about God and the Church. In this realm the same temptation applies. I think we can often take the intellectual easy-way-out in the theological buffet. As a result, we like feel-good theology, feel-good teaching, prosperity gospel, and even “escapism eschatology.”

As well, continuing with the cafeteria analogy, I think there are times when we make healthy chooses but do so selectively, often ignore the inconvenient. We accept Jesus’ teachings when they affirm our actions and behavior and ignore the rest that may be good but are hard and costly. So we just pass them by in the cafeteria line, picking and choosing the doctrines and way of life that make us comfortable.

I wonder, however, if the abundant life Jesus taught about consists of a well-balanced diet; a diet that is more than just a buffet of ideas leading to eventual obesity, but integrated with exercise as our faith and beliefs are lived out and practiced in our individual lives.

Maybe we need to stop frequenting the fast-food diet choices and start to engage a fuller theology and life-style, with deeper authentic questions. If life’s biggest questions are something that stir deep in our souls, causing our lives to be consumed with the hunger for its answer, then the answer that is truly satisfying can’t be as simple as a “Happy Meal” that is franchised. Instead, it would be more complex and beautiful, causing, in the end, a satisfaction that can’t be manufactured, measured or franchised.

So, I invite us to rethink our lives, the church and our spirituality, seeking a fuller, healthier, and well-rounded diet.

It will be hard, costly and inconvenient, but aren’t the best things in life?

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2 thoughts on “Cafeteria Christianity”

  1. i agree. (we are the epitome of consumer culture, even church is about selling a product: the sermon is the motivational speech for getting with the program and the spiritual gifts are sold as the path to self-fulfillment)

  2. I too find it interesting how we often use individualistic language for Spiritual Gifts rather than corporate language. I think we need to re-establish the idea that Spiritual Gifts are gifts for the Church and not the individual and the reason we use/practice them is for others and not ourselves. However, in our individualistic world this is a harder sell than self-fulfillment.

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