Cafeteria Christianity refers to the practice of deciding for oneself which parts of the Bible to accept, as one might select certain foods in a cafeteria while rejecting others. This implies that the person is a Christian in name only and, while believing in a deity, does not adhere to any particular creed of Christianity, preferring to decide for themself how to express their faith. Other terms include "salad-bar Christianity" and "cherry-picking Christianity."
This practice is particularly common among liberal denominations, which cite only those passages which show Christ's forgiveness and mercy, but not His justice, in order to deny the existence of Hell and the necessity of faith for redemption. Matt. 7:1, "Judge not, that ye be not judged" is quoted out of context particularly often for this purpose. Likewise, they selectively ignore passages which refute evolution, condemn abortion, make statements about the role of women that refute modern feminist dogmas, and conflict with other liberal views. Liberal Christians are also fond of citing Scripture selectively in order to rebuke only someone else's sins or to explain away the sins of liberal political allies.
However, cafeteria Christianity is not limited to the left side of the political spectrum: conservative Christians are also fond of citing Scripture selectively in order to expose hypocrisy while explaining away the same issues in their own camp (such as criticizing the Catholic Church for covering up child molestation among its priests—arguing that the problem is due to the Church's prohibition against priests marrying—while ignoring similar cases involving married pastors or leaders within major Protestant churches or denominations). A notable example of "right-wing" cafeteria Christianity is the Westboro Baptist Church; their followers quote verses about God's judgment but ignore those about mercy.
Espousing cafeteria Christianity invalidates a person's Christian witness. If a self-proclaimed Christian does not take the entire Bible seriously, unbelievers will assume that they need not do so, either. Also, cafeteria Christians have proved to be such an embarrassment to Christianity that committed Christians are now searching for new terminology to distinguish themselves from cafeteria Christians. A cafeteria Christian can even endanger the faith of others by spreading false doctrine as though it were genuine Christianity.
Bible teaching against cafeteria Christianity
The Bible quotes Jesus as saying:
But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. Matthew 4:4 (KJV)
Note: "every word," not "some words." The counterargument of many cafeteria Christians is to assert, typically without evidence, that the word of the authors of certain parts of the Bible is not necessarily the word of God. However, absent evidence that a certain passage of the Bible is not God's Word (e.g., Paul's explicit statement that he is expressing a personal view), that counterargument is circular, as it assumes the propriety of cherry-picking the Bible in order to justify cherry-picking the Bible.
Confusion as to just how literally Biblical texts should be taken abounds, even amongst those who generally accept the Bible to be the word for God. Few would argue, for example, with the statement: 'However, the bible cannot be interpreted literally, if this was the case then rebellious children would be killed: Deuteronomy 21:18-21. Also, Women may not speak in church: Cor 14:33-36. The bible is not a collection of dogmatic and strict rules, it is a book of God that promotes compassion, faith in God, truth, and love.'
A common tactic used by cafeteria Christians is reliance on proof texts. A proof text (sometimes spelled prooftext) is a short passage from Scripture that is cited, typically out of context, to support a doctrinal position that the Bible when read as a whole may not support.
- "A text without a context is a pretext for a prooftext"
—Evangelical Protestant scholar Dr. Donald A. Carson, who attributed this saying to his father.
- "A text without a context is a pretext for a prooftext"
When cafeteria Christians are confronted with Bible verses that contradict the results of their prooftexting, they typically ignore such Bible verses. If they do respond, they switch quickly from "The Word of God is the Word of God, and it says what it says" to "Yes, that's what it says, but what it means is ...."Conservative Christian historians and apologists are mindful of this statement from the year 1521:
"...there is no one of the heresies which have torn the bosom of the church, which has not derived its origin from the various interpretation of the Scripture. The Bible itself is the arsenal whence each innovator has drawn his deceptive arguments. It was with biblical texts that Pelagius and Arius maintained their doctrines. Arius, for instance, found the negation of the eternity of the Word—an eternity which you admit, in this verse of the New Testament—Joseph knew not his wife till she had brought forth her first-born son; and he said, in the same way that you say, that this passage enchained him. When the fathers of the council of Constance condemned this proposition of John Huss—The church of Jesus Christ is only the community of the elect, they condemned an error; for the church, like a good mother, embraces within her arms all who bear the name of Christian, all who are called to enjoy the celestial beatitude."
- "Cafeteria Christianity," from the Church of God - DFW
- How to Spot a Cafeteria Christian
- Definition of Christian Terms - Prooftexting
- Luther's statement here is supremely ironic in light of his refusal to submit to the judgment of the Church, the emperor Charles V, and the Pope, and the teaching of Paul in Romans 13:1-5.
- Martin Luther. Life of Luther (Luther by Martin Luther).