Diner Theology – A Cure for Itching Ears?



While listening to the sermon last Sunday, a phrase used within the context of the message caught my attention, and that was “Diner Theology”.

Now the fact that this phrase wasn’t mentioned until almost 19 minutes into the sermon, didn’t mean I wasn’t listening the rest of the time…just to be clear.

The phrase piqued my interest because I had never heard it before.  As I listened about the inherent traits of “Diner Theology”, and how this doctrine has influenced today’s churches, I was reminded of the scripture found in 2 Timothy 4:3-4, which I’ve read many times, and now find myself reading again.

“For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.”

A myth is defined as “a widely held but false belief or idea“, so the apostle Paul could just as well been warning us about “Diner Theology” in this passage.

In the book “Soul Searching”, authors Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton, provide an analysis of what’s happening in American churches today.

“American teenagers have embraced a “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism”–a hodgepodge of banal, self-serving, feel-good beliefs that bears little resemblance to traditional Christianity. But far from faulting teens, Dean places the blame for this theological watering down squarely on the churches themselves. Instead of proclaiming a God who calls believers to lives of love, service and sacrifice, churches offer instead a bargain religion, easy to use, easy to forget, offering little and demanding less.”

This is the kind of false doctrine that Jon Brown, lead pastor of Pillar Church in Holland, Michigan, says some churches have chosen in exchange for “the kind of faith confessed and embodied in the church’s most long-standing traditions“.

Brown calls this doctrine “… cheap but satisfying, whose gods require little in the way of fidelity or sacrifice.  Diner Theology is much easier to digest than that – and its far safer.  So who can blame churches really for earnestly ladling this stew, filling its congregants with an agreeable porage about the importance of being nice and feeling good about yourself and save God for emergencies.”

In the book “Almost Christian”, author Kenda Creasy Dean  characterizes the Diner Theology phenomenon among teens this way:

God is not involved in my life except when I need God to resolve a problem.” God “grants wishes” and hands out “hall passes” in life.  American young people are devotees of non-judgmental openness, self-determination, and the authority of personal experience. Religion stays in the background of their lives, where God watches over them without making demands of them.”

By contrast, Dean also finds that “the most committed young Christians shared four important traits: they could tell a personal and powerful story about God; they belonged to a significant faith community; they exhibited a sense of vocation; and they possessed a profound sense of hope.

Brown illustrates that sense of vocation and hope with the following words from his sermon:

“We’ve latched ourselves to the letters in front of our name, or the framed diplomas on the wall, or how much we make, or who we know, or the reputation that precedes us, so we work harder and we do more…we got to be better – all the while Peter says “you’re chosen“. Work hard, you know – do your best, not because it defines you, but because you are chosen…to offer your life for the good of the whole.”

Today could very well be the “time” the apostle Paul was referring to.

Our Christian churches would be well-counseled to be vigilant and pro-active against false doctrines like Diner Theology, rather than accommodating them – worst yet, promulgating them, or prepare to be fitted for a millstone.

It’s just that grievous.