Cafeteria Style Religion And Bumper Sticker Theology

Allan Turner

We have a tendency to look for a passage that will substantiate our preconceived ideas. This tendency toward proof-texting might best be described as Smorgasbord or Cafeteria Style Religion. Invariably, this kind of attitude leads us to make serious mistakes concerning what the Bible actually teaches on any given subject. For example, those who believe “faith only” to be a very “wholesome doctrine,” look to John 3:16 as a proof-text. While discussing this subject with a “faith only” advocate, we heard him remark something to this effect: “John 3:16 is the only passage a person needs to know in order to be saved. If a person knew of no other scripture, he would still know enough to be saved.” Of course, when you pin these “faith only” people down, even they don't believe that John 3:16 is all one needs to know in order to be saved. All the “faith only” people we have spoken with believe that repentance is also necessary in order for one to be saved. Repentance, of course, is not mentioned in John 3:16. When we pointed this out to the aforementioned individual, he wanted to change the subject.

The man-made doctrine of “faith only” may make good “bumper sticker theology,” but is so superficial that when taken at face value it will cause those who believe it to reject every other condition God has placed on salvation. This must be seen as the absolute folly it really is. Without the rest of Scripture, it is impossible to know the real nature of the faith taught in John 3:16 and elsewhere. True saving faith is not just “faith only,” but is a faith made perfect by works (James 2:14-26). Far from being the contradiction Cafeteria Style religionists believe these two passages to be, James has simply given us greater insight into the faith John wrote about.

The “saving faith” of John 3:16 is not mere belief, but must be defined in light of repentance (Acts 17:30), confession (Romans 10:10), and baptism (I Peter 3:21). Add to this the concept of being “faithful until death” (Revelation 2:10) and one begins to understand what genuine saving faith is all about.

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