Friday, 31 July 2015

Pragmatism: Conflict with Christianity?

                What is Pragmatism?1 Why is it important? What relationship does it have with the Christian? Despite sounding complex and confusing, pragmatism is very essential for the Christian to learn about as it has been and continues to be very influential in the world in which we live. The concept and meaning of pragmatism is actually quite easy to understand – but the problems come when pragmatics becomes a system of belief and way of life.

                So what is Pragmatism? Many people think that pragmatism is simply being practical. To a degree that is true, but pragmatism simply means the spirit of problem solving. In other words, when there is a problem, what is the solution – what brings results? Pragmatism came out of a growing skepticism of theology, more precisely, a worldview which believed that we cannot know ultimate truth. And if ultimate truth cannot be known, we fall into a spirit of pragmatism as we try figure out what works for us – a solution to our problems. 

                On the one hand, pragmatism is a good thing. Being able to solve problems quickly and readily, and having the ability in our work to come up with decisions in important choices, that is where a pragmatic approach, used appropriately in everyday life, is a good thing. However, the problems begin to come thick and fast when we mix up pragmatics and practicality in seeking to understand the meta-physical: the eternal and divine. Pragmatism tends to focus on short term solutions and consequences, not on eternal and ultimate results.

                The conflict between Christianity and Pragmatism is the conflict between what is right and true, and what is expedient. If we decide what is true by what works for us, then ultimate truth is decided by ourselves, leading to great subjectivism and disregard for ultimate authority. On the other hand, if we understand that truth is that which works, but that which works must still be determined by the eternal statutes of God, then we have a firm grounding in that which counts eternally.

                A pragmatic approach to life will not change our eternal destiny. It is true that life has problems, and we must understand that we cannot fix them ourselves. Is God worthy of consideration or not? The impact of that choice is huge. "There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.2" Either our lives are determined by the unchanging and pure commands and laws of God, or we choose what seems right and works for us. "Choose this day whom you will serve,3" say the Scriptures. We must either choose to serve ourselves and solve our life problems now, or we will look to the One who alone can save us from eternal death, and who gives us strength to carry on with the hope of future glory.

Written by William A Moore

1 Much of the material in this essay is based upon notes taken during a lecture by R.C. Sproul entitled, ‘Pragmatism’.
2 Proverbs 14:12, ESV.
3 Joshua 24:15, ESV.

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