Idolatry: Pragmatism

I’ve had this thought bumping around in my head for a long time now. The church in nearly all of its North American flavors has a debilitating love affair with pragmatism. This love affair needs to be named, shamed, and ended.

We see this when we judge a pastor’s faithfulness by the size of his or her church. We see this when we hear some emerging church types justify their alternative modes of worship by saying that the inherited models don’t work for them. We see this when we hear postmodernists decrying modernism because it didn’t live up to its promises. We see this every time any Christian makes any decision on the basis of what will work.

Frankly, I’m tired of all of this. It’s not that I want to blissfully skip through life without thinking about wisdom and consequences; far from it. The problem is, mere pragmatism leaves us standing on thin air. This leaves us with no basis to critique anything subChristian in ourselves and others.

I want to make decisions because of love, because I believe that Jesus was telling the truth when he summed up the wisdom of the whole Scriptures in the command to love God and to love others. Love doesn’t always work. Love is work. Love is the work of putting others before myself, and that is negatively pragmatic towards the embedded North American cultural goal of the self-seeking pursuit of personal gain.

Love fails the practical test of pragmatism. I could sincerely love others without producing change in them. This is even why so many dismiss love—it just doesn’t seem to work. And any line of thinking in which love is not credible is not Christian thinking.

Lord, help me to love even when it doesn’t seem to work. Help me to have eyes of faith that see beyond the problems of the present to the promise of the future. Help me Lord, to see You, and to learn to love You and to love others in all that I do.

8 responses to “Idolatry: Pragmatism”

  1. Eff sake. Several times I have left a comment on here only to have it erase on me! Like my gmail, when I’m finished and ready to send I quickly tab enter as a shortcut over scrolling with the mouse to the “submit”. But tab seems to instead function as a “home” shortcut. Argghh.

    Here we go again.

    My knee-jerk reaction is to say pragmatism is not at all bad. But I then think of two conflicting scriptures.

    Jesus said a tree is known by its fruit which, in context, I believe serves to warn his disciples over false teachers and prophets who come to them in “sheep’s clothing”. But I think one can deduce a pragmatic principle from it too. If you’re not producing fruit, perhaps you need to reevaluate (be pragmatic) and see what else you should do, or how you can better do what you’re doing.

    Paul, on the other hand, says that we shouldn’t look for results in ministry/life. “Neither he who sows nor he who reaps is anything, but only God who makes things grow” (not bad, did that one from memory….). This seems to suggest a non-pragmatic principle. One should seek to love, be faithful, etc., and not be concerned by results (fruit).

  2. Yo

    I dunno what’s up with your tab thingy… are you using safari or firefox?

    As to pragmatism, my wife chastised me for not being as clear as I should have been here: what I’m annoyed about is pragmatism as a way of knowing the truth based upon what works.

    That aside, you brought some good scriptures into the mix here… Jesus statement, to me, is more about wisdom and discernment than pragmatism.

    Pragmatism appeals to the experience end of things, and is extremely helpful, but it makes a poor master and is a terrible method of discovering the truth.

  3. Ahhhhhhhhh, well that’s an entirely different matter. I agree, Jesus’ statement is about wisdom and discernment. And yes, pragmatism is not a gauge for knowing truth.

    I’m using firefox – only used Safari to download Firefox the first day I bought my Mac.

  4. Just tried it again. When I push tab, again hoping that it will take me to the submit icon, it takes me to the search engine at the top of the page. But when it does it it erases my text.

  5. what matt is trying to say here, and in so being too abstract and distanced from real life circumstances in the name of academics (once again), is that models of church that are huge in number and therefore successful from a pragmatic viewpoint, have the corner on truth. they must have the “right method” of ministry because it “works”.
    and what he is saying, is that just because something appears to work (often even just on the surface) doesn’t mean we should all copy their theology and methodology.

    the reason i think this is what he is saying is not because i understand his post, but because i asked him, what the heck do you mean by this post?

  6. Well, this is definitely one of my less successful posts in terms of clarity. I couldn’t even properly explain it to her in real life…

    Ah well, that’s the point of blogs I guess… throw out ideas, and sometimes they just drop.

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