Twenty Ways to Help Cafeteria Christians

post date: December 21, 2008

A recent USA Today article told of new research regarding who goes to heaven.

Most American religious believers, including most Christians, say eternal life is not exclusively for those who accept Christ as their savior, a new survey finds.
Of the 65% of people who held this open view of heaven’s gates, 80% named at least one non-Christian group — Jews, Muslims, Hindus, atheists or people with no religion at all — who may also be saved, according to a new survey released today by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

The survey confirms what we’ve known for a long time–that American churchgoers are really nice people who aren’t into the details of theology, especially the part about who goes to heaven and who goes to hell. Clearly we’ve got a lot of “cafeteria Christians” who pick and choose what doctrines they will believe. Naturally they tend not to choose the doctrines with hard edges. 

I wonder what we should do about this given that it’s hard to get rid of those pesky statements like "No one come to Father except through me" (John 14:6). A straightforward reading of the Bible leads to some very inconvenient doctrines.

One God
One Son
One sacrifice
One hope
One gospel
One way

It’s not easy to draw a straight line from the Bible to the sort of “soft universalism” that pervades many churches. That said, I don’t deny that the tide is running in the other direction.

So what should we do? Here are a few suggestions . . .

  1. Emphasize the importance of doctrinal preaching.
  2. Embrace the reality that we live in a diverse world.
  3. Encourage hard questions.
  4. Explain what we believe and why we believe it.
  5. Give people a chance to talk back.
  6. Teach through the creeds and confessions.
  7. Offer courses in church history and world religions.
  8. Use the Internet as a way to engage others.
  9. Tell people that world missions now begins next door.
  10. Teach doctrine down to the details.
  11. Start with the children. 
  12. Don’t shave off the “hard edges” of the Christian faith.
  13. Smile a lot, don’t frown, and stop shouting.
  14. Provide a reading list for those who want to go deeper.
  15. Teach doctrine through your music.
  16. Get rid of sentimental, squishy songs–or at least pare it down.
  17. Practice Scripture memory as a congregation.
  18. Cheerfully engage others who disagree.
  19. Challenge people to get involved in the community.
  20. Don’t be afraid of what’s happening around you.

This list could obviously be expanded in many ways but the main point is clear. If the survey is right (and I think it is), then we’ve got a long-term project ahead of us. No longer can pastors assume that all our people share our convictions, even on important issues. We’ve got a lot of nice folks in our churches who are also “cafeteria Christians.” We must find ways to teach the truth so that our people will know enough and be strong enough and confident enough to engage the world from a biblical foundation. The world is what it is. But the first-century world was pretty messed-up too.

Along that line, we should remember that the angel said to the shepherds, “Fear not.” That’s a good word for the Sunday before Christmas.


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Ray Pritchard
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