Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Pragmatism and Christian Doctrine

Pragmatism is a very easy philosophy to fall into. By pragmatism I mean, loosely, the idea that whatever works is correct. Too many people in Christianity have fallen into this. It especially occurs in the realm of biblical interpretation or preaching.

In one particular instance, someone read a passage of Scripture and concluded all sorts of truths were present. Truths such as serving others, praying, reading the Bible, and faith in God were all mentioned from various words within the text. The only problem is that the text did not indicate these things at all! Instead, they were things that “sounded good” and were even true (in other biblical texts), but they were not present in the immediate text. Why does this matter?

First, it matters because we must be faithful to the biblical text. If the Bible is God’s inspired Word, then why do we think we have the right to change the intent of the passage? We shouldn’t.

Next, it matters because if we do not arrive at the conclusion in a sound manner we risk being incorrect. While it is true that a poor method of reasoning does not ensure a false conclusion, it does make one more likely. Some of the more damaging teachings of the independent Baptist movement over the years have come from reading into the text things that “sounded good” but were not actually there.

Finally, it matters because pragmatism cannot itself be justified by pragmatic purposes. At least it is the case that it cannot be done in a non-circular fashion. If one says pragmatism is justified because it works, then one is simply assuming some form of pragmatism is true. If one seeks to justify it with logic and reason, then the reality is that logic and reason are superior to pragmatism. In either case, pragmatism takes a back seat to truth.

The only takeaway from this for most Christians will be to ensure truths that shape their lives are based on the Bible. They should not be based on what they feel to be true or what sounds good to them at the time. The development of foundational beliefs is especially important to this idea and will be explored at a later time. Until then, feel free to comment below!
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  1. Randy,

    It certainly seems to me that there is a tremendous amount of truths that shape our lives that are not based on the Bible and texts being used to justify those truths. I will look forward to your future posts hopefully dealing with some of these foundational beliefs.

    Happy New Year.

    Grateful to be in His Grip!


  2. Hi Randy,
    Thank you for sharing your insight concerning pragmatism.
    I just ended a friendship that lasted 6-7 years over this very issue.
    She has two master's degrees (education & behavioral sciences) that are saturated with pragmatism. Her "prophetic" statements did not come to pass, her teaching did not line up with Scripture.
    When questioned, she rationalized her behavior in terms of what works and what doesn't work.
    I concluded that her pragmatism had poinsoned her Christianity.
    Thank you for the confirmation....


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