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Theology Thursdays: Our Pragmatic Gospel

Have you ever walked into a Christian bookstore or even the Christian book section of a popular bookstore and really looked at most of the titles. Something that will immediately catch your eye is that about 75% of the titles are focused on how to apply Christianity to your life. Almost every single title is focused on how the reader will be impacted by the gospel. There are very few titles that actually focus simply on the objective truths of Christianity. This in large part is due to the effects of Pragmatism on our culture in America. According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary Pragmatism states that “truth is preeminently to be tested by the practical consequences of belief”. What this means is that “something is true insofar as it works”.

What is so interesting about this philosophy is that it is really the only philosophy that was produced in the U.S. and it seems to have a very strong impact on the way that Americans think.

What I want to address in this blog post is the effects that Pragmatism has had on the Christian Gospel in America. Much of what I am going to write was influenced by a podcast that I have recently listened to called “The Gospel of Pragmatism” and can be found by following this link http://www.whitehorseinn.org/blog/2011/11/20/whi-1076-the-gospel-of-pragmatism/.

In America we are very much concerned with somethings “cash value”.

“Ok so your saying that this is a great company. But will I make money if I invest in it?”

“Oh, you say that is a great movie? How many awards did it win?”

“Your child is good at soccer? What is their team ranked and how many goals have they scored?”

These are the types of questions that Americans ask. We are usually only convinced of the truth of something if it proves itself in the context that we live in. The problem is that many within the Christian church have accepted this view of the world and applied it to the Gospel of Jesus.

What I mean by this is that many people believe the proof of the gospel’s validity is found in whether it is successful in changing people’s lives or not. However, from a biblical perspective The Gospel is literally “good news”. It is a declaration of a historical fact that has taken place. The Gospel is the news that “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). This means that the validity of the gospel comes not from whether it is effective in changing someone’s life but in its historical factuality.

Unfortunately many churches in America have focused solely on what they see as the pragmatic effects of the gospel. What I mean by this is that instead of heralding the good news of the gospel there is a heralding of peoples lives who have apparently “applied the gospel to their lives”. This is a very dangerous thing. The reason that this is so dangerous is that it is not the gospel. Contrary to what many people believe someone’s changed life is not the gospel. As I have stated before the gospel is a literal, historical event that happened outside of any individual.

Now, what I am not saying is that the gospel should not change people’s lives, it should, in fact it always does if it truly takes root in someone’s heart. However, what I want to stress is that simply because someone’s life has been changed does not validate the gospel. The gospel was validated 2,000 years ago when Christ rose from the gave.

The thing that worries me most about American church’s pragmatic approach to the gospel is the fact that they are in fact not heralding the true gospel, they are in many cases heralding themselves. Paul says in Romans 10:14 “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” In Paul’s mind you can only believe if you hear and if you are not truly hearing the gospel you cannot believe it. What I suspect is happening in many churches across our nation is not the proclamation of the gospel but instead the proclamation of how you can have your life changed. This is very scary because if people are impacted by this it does not mean they have been impacted by the gospel. I mean...Who doesn’t want their best life now?

Until next time.





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