Apologetics: ə-pŏl'ə-jĕt'ĭks from the Greek απоλоγία Def: The branch of theology that is concerned with defending or proving the truth of Christian doctrines.

Pragmatism - -

In Other Words, Whatever Works. . .

Written By Esthermay Bentley-Goossen on 10 November 2009

"We Americans are pragmatists to the max.
We want results. And we want them yesterday.
We want them without too much pondering
and too much pain....

We have developed all kinds of Christ-coated remedies that are shallow and short-lived. We are not, by and large, the deeply grounded saints that some of our forefathers were."
~ John Piper

Christian theologian James Packer has compared the Puritans of our early American history to the Great Redwoods of California:

"The Puritans were giants whose roots were incredibly deep in the Bible,
and whose branches reached to the heavens, and whose trunks were so strong and durable they could endure forest fires that scar them but don't kill them. . . "

But then Packer looks out over the pragmatic American landscape of our quick fixes for life's problems and our impatience with depth and complexity and pain and adds,

"Affluence seems for the past generations to have been making dwarfs and deadheads of all of us."

So what exactly is "Pragmatism?"
* See John MacArthur discuss Pragmatism HERE.

The first time I heard the word "Pragmatism," my thoughts were not immediately drawn to the concept of a really bad school of philosophy which is in complete opposition to the Truth of God's Word. No. Instead, I was thinking . . . old-fashion disease. You know, like the story your grandma told you about how she came down with the Pragmatism when she was a girl.

Sadly, this is about as deep as most Christians go when they hear the word. That's alarming since Pragmatism is a completely unbiblical worldview that has been gaining a foothold in churches for the last 100 years. It is destroying the Gospel of Salvation -- replacing it with man-made quick-fixes. And when true Christians are unable to identify it, they can very easily be caught up in its snare!

The Philosophy of Pragmatism was founded by Charles Peirce, popularized by William James and John Dewy and recognized as a movement in the early 1900's. Pragmatism argues that the best way to determine whether or not to embrace a certain idea or proposition is not by its truthfulness but by its usefulness. Essentially, it makes no difference if the idea or proposition is true. The important thing is that it works.

Pragmatism gets its name from the Greek word pragma (δράση) which means action. Consequently, pragmatism is a philosophy of action. It says basically that if an idea or belief does not have some sort of practical application, consequence, or immediate resulting action then it is of no use.

Imagine the implications on the Truth of God's Word?

Pragmatists don't believe in universal Truth. Pragmatists do not embrace the Bible as the inerrant Word of God. Rather, they think that what we know and hold as fact is simply that which works -- not necessarily that which is True.

Again, imagine the implications on the Truth of God's Word?!

Here's one example: If the desired "action" is to get people saved and grow membership, the pragmatic church appeals not to the Truth of Salvation by Grace, but to the idea that receiving Jesus will bring peace to our lives -- completely skipping over the issue of sin and the cost of salvation! After all, preaching that we are sinners might be offensive to someone!!

Jesus' approach was markedly different.
Jesus pointed out sin and the need for repentance and forgiveness.
He also warned those who wanted to follow Him to consider the cost.

I agree with James Packer. "Affluence [or simply living in today's society] seems to have been making dwarfs and deadheads of all of us." I yearn to be the kind of deeply-grounded saint John Piper refers to . . . .

If you think you haven't been affected, here are a few ways that pragmatism has inched its way into our churches:

A great number of churches and denominations have adopted the idea that the Bible is simply not adequate to meet the challenges of today's society, or sufficient for winning people to Christ. So . . . they turn to "felt-need" and "feel-good" sermons, entertainment, drama, and exciting music that can manipulate people's egos and focus on fairly insipid subjects like human relationships, self esteem, successful living, emotional issues and other practical but completely worldly themes. They are providing "Christ-coated remedies" often without any mention of Scripture at all!
Nothing deeply-grounded here.

A great number of churches and denominations have come to believe that God's Word is insufficient for achieving Christian growth, so they turn to therapy groups and popular psychology which rely on worldly methods. Even Bible studies have turned into the study of books written by people about the Bible. To rely solely on God's Word would indicate weakness and a refusal to accept man's scientific advancement and blah, blah, blah . . . Again: "Christ-coated remedies."
Nothing deeply-grounded here.

A great number
of churches and denominations hold that God's Word is insufficient for making God's Will known; so they look for external signs and revelations. "Christ-coated remedies."

A great number of churches and denominations see that God's Word is inadequate for changing our societal and political troubles, so they establish evangelical lobby groups and work to elect "Christian" politicians. They seek to change the status quo by power and politics and money and lose sight completely of the Truth of God's Word. They become as confused as the candidate they fight against. . . .

Don't get me wrong. None of these methods is wrong in and of itself. Even Jesus used parables to get people's attention. But . . .

If any of these "methods" is giving new meaning to -- or replacing -- the Bible's words, pouring secular, therapeutic content into spiritual terminology because that is what seems to work . . . well, that's pragmatism.

If sin has become "dysfunctional" behavior, that's pragmatism.

If the gospel of self-esteem or wholeness has replaced the Gospel of Salvation, that's pragmatism.

If Jesus has become an example of morality and right living and not ". . . the way and the truth and the life. [No one comes to the Father except through me]" . . . that's pragmatism.

If Sunday after Sunday people are told how to have happy marriages and prosper financially and get along with co-workers, but not how to get right with God . . . that's pragmatism.

If the message from the pulpit is tolerance instead of taking the Gospel of Salvation to those we are called to tolerate. . . that's pragmatism.

Do you see the pattern here?

Pragmatism lies to people about what they really need. Pragmatists have no particular interest in the Truth of the Bible because it does not cultivate an immediate fix for any given human predicament at any given moment. . . .

. . . and that brings us back to the very definition of Pragmatism: If an idea or belief does not have some sort of practical application or consequence, then it is of no use. The important thing is that is works.

The number one agenda of the Christian is God's Will. The method for carrying out God's Will is found in Scripture. It's Truth. It's God's Word. The trouble begins when we look for what works best right now instead of what works for God's Glory.

John Piper is absolutely right when he says we want results yesterday and that,

". . .we are not, by and large, the deeply grounded saints that some of our forefathers were."

Lamentably, our forefather's Puritan values have evolved into a satirical label for "what's wrong with America." Some mainline denominations even believe that too much Puritanism survives and that it hinders "free thought" and "tolerance."
Probably the pragmatists.

There are others who sincerely believe that the breakdowns of our society -- including the emergence of pragmatism in the church -- are the direct consequence of the dilution of Puritan disciplines and ideals of our forefathers.
I think I am of this belief.

God's Word is ABSOLUTE TRUTH. Our deeply grounded forefathers understood that.

I'm not sure many of us today really do . . . .

~ Esthermay V. Bentley-Goossen
© 2009 The Heart of a Pastor's Wife

* For more on the Dangers of Pragmatism,
Please watch the three-part video series from John MacArthur in the previous post.
Or click HERE.

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Denise said...

Such a great post sweetie.

Ben said...

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness. II Timothy 3:6

Ben said...

MacArthur videos are GREAT!
I had not seen these. So good.

MiPa said...

Interesting quote and thought-provoking post. Thank you for hosting this week!

Sarah said...

Thank you for a wonderful post and for hosting this week.

Chocolate and Coffee said...

Incredible post! It is so sad to see the condition of our churches today. Blessings!

Karen said...

Wow! I didn't know all that. Thanks so much for the information today it was great and extremely interesting. Its scarey how there are movements out there and we don't even realize it as they do their damage. I might have to go and re-write my piece :)

Joan said...

WoW! Amazing the depth of truth in this post. It is scary. I so appreciate the boldness on your blog. But how do you approach church leaders when pragmatism is working in your own church?

Debbie said...

AMEN! I guess I didn't fully understand the concept of pragmatism completely. I looked it up in the dictionary but I'm so thankful I read your post and that you chose this topic. I will return to watch the videos. Thank you for causing me to sit back and think much on this one. I needed that.


Barbara said...

Oh mY! Why-oh- why is this kind of thing so misunderstood? Satan does roam about like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour." 1 Peter 5:8 It is heartbreaking to know that so many Christians are blind to it! Thank you once again for a most enlightening post. I'm going back to watch the videos. I love John MacArthur's teaching.

I'm sharing this post with my Bible Study ladies tomorrow.

mamas*little*treasures said...

Thanks for giving us a wonderful, deeply thought-provoking quote to work with . . . . . your observations are so encouraging! I have studied pragmatism as a secular philosophy, and I have often recognized the deception that even as believers we have embraced. But when it comes right down to the reality of our individual lives, each one of us needs to see where it has "tricked" us into accepting the devastating consequences of this way of thinking. Bless you today, and may God use your words to bring blessings to so many others. Love, N

kalopoieo said...

Amen and amen to a wonderful lesson here, Esthermay. In secular pursuit, the philosophy of pragmatism may be well and good. The philosophy of pragmatism in the realm of business is one thing. The philosophy of pragmatism in the realm of coaching is one thing. But Pragmatism in the realm and presence of GOD is an entirely different thing. True Christians worship in spirit and in TRUTH. In order to worship in spirit and in truth we must follow the directions given us in the Truth of Scripture. It cannot be compromised in the name of pragmatism. The emergent church, new evangelicals, pragmatists: have sacrificed Truth for pragmatism and as a result have sacrificed true salvation.

mholgate said...

So good...so true.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us.


Kate said...

"felt-need" and "feel-good" sermons, entertainment, drama, and exciting music that can manipulate people's egos AMEN!! Thank you for a wonderful truth-filled post. The worship-wars are raging in our church again and I cannot help but be completely convinced that the entire modern church music movement is nothing but pragmatism. I remember a quote from a book: “If they took away the music, would they still want Jesus?” Are we really grounded enough to appreciate the Gospel for just the Gospel. I don’t think so and that’s sad. Great post.

Anonymous said...

This was a great quote (& I always like John Piper) to ponder on. Thank you for sharing & hosting.

Rachel M. said...

I'm so encouraged to read this post! I've been writing about secular philosophies in the church for over a year now. I've never gotten to pragmatism, so I'm glad to see you covering it. Secularism in the church is definitely not a topic many people want to hear, but it needs to be said. Keep up the good work! (Galatians 1: 6-10).


I have missed you dear Woman of GOD! You have captured such profound thoughts - and TRUTH here today! Oh - how the church of Jesus has let go of the TRUTH of God's Word being relevant for today! I dare say that it is even MORE relevant than ever before and we must heed its warnings as well as enjoy its promises and blessings! The TRUTH of God's WORD does WORK. It's just that most of us are not willing to live it out to the fullest as God intended! Oh - I pray that your message here today will have a great impact on the hearts of those who read it - BEGINNING with mine!

I pray that we will let go of all the fluff and gimmicks to entice - and instead offer the delicacy of the Word of God as the platter of the richest of foods that it truly is! May we feast and be filled!

Bless you for bringing this message.

Leaping [in faith] for JOY,
[JESUS - the One I Wait For]

Betsy Markman said...

Great preaching, girl!

Our definition of "what works" clearly reveals our goals, doesn't it? If I'm trying to make a lasagna, a screwdriver doesn't work. Pragmatists love screwdrivers because they work FOR WHAT THE PRAGMATISTS LOVE...ease and worldly success. Biblical truths and preaching do work, for bringing about the glory of God, for bringing some to repentance, and for increasing the judgment against those who are hardened. But the pragmatists aren't interested in those things, so of course the Bible "doesn't work."

LauraLee Shaw said...

Incredible, powerful teaching, Esthermay. You laid this out so well, gave me much to chew on, dear sister. Rich stuff.

Anonymous said...

Do you know if everything is all right over at writing canvas? I didn't see the IOW post Friday and I began to worry. :)
Jessie at Blog Schmog

Anonymous said...

Thank you Maam!
Jessie at Blog Schmog

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