Pragmatism and the Wisdom of God

By Mike Ratliff

Thus sayeth the Lord thy redeemer and he that formed thee from the wombe, I am the Lord, that made all things, that spred out the heauens alone, and stretched out the earth by my selfe. I destroy the tokens of ye southsayers, and make them that coniecture, fooles, and turne the wise men backwarde, and make their knowledge foolishnesse. (Isaiah 44:24-25 Geneva)

In the exchange between Emergent leader Doug Pagitt and myself and several of you who commented on this post, I found myself, again, utterly amazed at the work of God in the hearts of His people. Those who are truly in Christ, have a kernel of faith that listens to and obeys God. It learns His truth and, according to His will, causes the believer to stand firm against all attempts of those in unbelief to “reeducate” and draw them into the same darkness of a wavering faith that they uphold as virtuous. This unbelief is based in wisdom for sure, but it is not the wisdom of God, which is true wisdom, but a false wisdom. Of course, some do fall into the trap and apostatize. That is a shame, but I firmly believe that anyone who does possess the Wisdom God in his or her heart will not do so. 

If you have not read Pragmatism and the Purpose of the Gospel and Pragmatism and Mustard Seed Faith, I implore that you do so before reading the rest of this post. You may also want to read through the comments in both posts. Why? It is through the progressive work of God through these teachings that we have come to this place where we will now look at the contrast between true and false wisdom. We will look at how the worldly wisdom, which is false wisdom, is the root of pragmatism. On the other hand, true wisdom, which is God’s wisdom, is foolishness or folly to those in the darkness of pragmatism, but is displayed by God in the message of the cross. The Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is neglected and ignored by those who, in their unbelief, are ministering pragmatically. They see the foolishness of preaching the Gospel as folly while their approach of seeker-sensitivity and “missional thinking” as true wisdom.

For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. (1 Corinthians 1:17 ESV)

17ου γαρ απεστειλεν με χριστος βαπτιζειν αλλα ευαγγελιζεσθαι ουκ εν σοφια λογου ινα μη κενωθη ο σταυρος του χριστου  (1 Corinthians 1:17 WHNU)

Not (ου) for (γαρ) delegated (απεστειλεν) me (με) Christ (χριστος) to immerse (βαπτιζειν) but (αλλα) to tell good message (ευαγγελιζεσθαι), not (ουκ) in (εν) wisdom (σοφια) of word (λογου), that (ινα) not (μη) might be emptied (κενωθη) the (ο) cross (σταυρος) of the (του) Christ (χριστου). (1 Corinthians 1:17 word-for-word translation from Koine Greek to English)

What a theologically rich passage! Paul in effect tells the Corinthians that he was sent (απεστειλεν) by Christ to preach the gospel (ευαγγελιζεσθαι) to them. The verb απεστειλεν, “to send forth on a certain mission,” is in present tense, infinitive mood, and active voice. This is describing action that is continuous or continually repeating done by the subject, who is Paul. In other words, he is commanded by Christ to never stop ministering to the Corinthians. How is he to minister? He is to ευαγγελιζεσθαι to them. He is to announce the good news to them. This is, of course, the message of the cross, the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is the law of God and the truth that no one can keep it and all need a deliverer or Saviour, who is Christ, et cetera.

However, there is another part of the command to go and preach the gospel to the Corinthians. What is it? He must do so ουκ εν σοφια λογου ινα μη κενωθη ο σταυρος του χριστου, that is, not with “wisdom of word.” Why? To interject the wisdom from another source other than God is to cause the cross of Christ to be emptied of its power. What does this mean? Paul was talking about preaching using the words of eloquent wisdom like a great orator. Paul probably was gifted enough to do this, but he did not preach this way. When people put him down because of the simplicity of his “message” compared to that of the great orators, he failed to measure up. However, it is the manipulation of the message of the Cross using this sort of rhetoric that diluted it of its saving power. Hearing and believing the Gospel is essential to salvation (Romans 10:17), however, diverting the message to self-aggrandizement may be part of the wisdom of the world, but it diverts attention from the true Gospel message. When Paul preached the simple Gospel message, the good news, the Holy Spirit so empowered his sermon that those who heard it were regenerated, awakened in faith and changed forever (James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:23-25).

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (1 Corinthians 1:18 ESV)

18ο λογος γαρ ο του σταυρου τοις μεν απολλυμενοις μωρια εστιν τοις δε σωζομενοις ημιν δυναμις θεου εστιν (1 Corinthians 1:18 WHNU)

The (ο) word (λογος) for (γαρ) the (ο) of the (του) cross (σταυρου) to the (τοις) indeed (μεν) ones being destroyed (απολλυμενοις) foolishness (μωρια) is (εστιν), to the (τοις) but (δε) ones being delivered (σωζομενοις) to us (ημιν) power (δυναμις) of God (θεου) it is (εστιν). (1 Corinthians 1:18 word-for-word translation from Koine Greek to English)

Here we have a great truth. We have two groups of people. We have the ones who are perishing, μεν απολλυμενοις, who see the Gospel as folly or foolishness, μωρια. The other group is made of those who are the ones being saved or delivered, σωζομενοις. To them the Gospel message is not foolishness or folly at all, but ημιν δυναμις θεου εστιν, “to us power of God it is!” Do you see the vast difference my brethren? This is why those who are deceived into ministering pragmatically thereby de-emphasizing the Gospel, do not see it as δυναμις θεου, but as foolishness and a waste of time. To them, it is much more effective to “think missional” and attempt to serve God through works righteousness. Genuine Christians see the Gospel as the power of God because it is through it that God saved them. They know they are not now nor were they ever worthy of justification. They know that without the Grace of God and regeneration they had no faith to believe. Only the power of God is capable of making the spiritually dead alive in Christ. This is the miracle of the Gospel for those alive in Christ have eternal life while those who do not are condemned already for they are those who are perishing, μεν απολλυμενοις.

For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (1 Corinthians 1:19-25 ESV)

There you have it my brethren. Pragmatism, which is rooted in unbelief, is practiced ministerially by those who consider the message of the Cross to be something that is foolish. However, God has taken the crucifixion of Christ and used that to destroy the wisdom of those who believe like that. I have been a Christian a long time and before that, I went to Church with my parents until I was old enough to stay away. In all that time, I saw so many well-intentioned people attempt to earn their salvation through good works. They even came up with a way “to judge” others who did not meet their standards in these good works, using that to say one is not really a Christian while others are based entirely on these works measured according to that standard. This is what I thought Church was all about. Well, this is not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Gospel is very simple. It is so simple a small child can understand it. That is why the simply religious have such a problem with it. They are too wise for their own good. They must change it or de-emphasize it and thereby become less of a threat to the unchurched. After all, they perceive that the preaching of the Gospel is offensive to some and they do not want to drive them away. This is worldly wisdom and it leads people to attempt to be Christians or “Christ followers” through their morality or their works. It is sans gospel and it is not of the wisdom of God.

In which group are you my brethren?

Soli Deo Gloria!





16 thoughts on “Pragmatism and the Wisdom of God

  1. Praise be to God for His great encouragement! Mike, I too was struck by the godly wisdom displayed in response to your godly posts. Admittedly, I was beginning to feel like Elijah after his Mt. Carmel encounter with the prophets of Baal thinking he was the only faithful one left. But God graciously informed Elijah “Yet I will leave 7000 in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal and every mouth that has not kissed him.” 1 Kings 19:18 *Not that I am being prideful, it just seems that there are a shortage of God fearing, Bible believing, fruit bearing people about. I know that I am a disgusting sinner saved by grace and that only things I do through the power of the Holy Spirit living in me are worthy (to glorify God).
    It is uplifting to witness God’s people in action : “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, PATIENTLY ENDURING EVIL,correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.” 2 Timothy 2:24-26 “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent.” Rev. 3:19 Oh, to not loose our love of seeing people come to faith and repentance through Christ Jesus!!!!!


  2. Hi Mike 😀
    Praise God for his leading in the whole series in this topic.

    Hearing the words along the lines of – “making the Gospel relevant for today’s times” always makes me sad and angry at the same time. God is always relevant, it is just the way ‘He’ is taken to the world and lived out in lives that is irrelevant. That is where the great change in ‘relevant’ is desperately needed. It is often taken out in a way that God never, ever intended His Gospel to be taken. It sadly becomes almost unrecognisable.

    The passage in 1Cor 17-25 you refer to above, Oswald Chambers refers to it as the Wisdom of the Greeks. He refers to the Wisdom of the Hebrews in proverbs 8. His definition/explanation of the differences between the Greek and Hebrew wisdom is this:

    “It is important to notice the difference between the Wisdom of the Hebrews and the Wisdom of the Greeks.
    The Wisdom of the Hebrews is based on an accepted belief in God; that is, it does not try to find out whether or not God exists, all its beliefs are based on God, and in the actual whirl of things as they are, all its mental energy is bent on practical living. The Wisdom of the Greeks, which is the wisdom of our day, is speculative; that is, it is concerned with the origin of things, with the riddle of the universe, etc., consequently the best of our wits is not given to practical living.”
    Chambers, O. 1996, c1936. Shade of His hand : Talks on the book of ecclesiastes. Marshall, Morgan & Scott: Hants UK

    The Hebrew Wisdom in direct contrast to the Greek Wisdom is as follows: Proverbs 8:22-36 (ESV)
    Pro 8:22 “The LORD possessed me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old.
    Pro 8:23 Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
    Pro 8:24 When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water.
    Pro 8:25 Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth,
    Pro 8:26 before he had made the earth with its fields, or the first of the dust of the world.
    Pro 8:27 When he established the heavens, I was there; when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
    Pro 8:28 when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep,
    Pro 8:29 when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
    Pro 8:30 then I was beside him, like a master workman, and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always,
    Pro 8:31 rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the children of man.
    Pro 8:32 “And now, O sons, listen to me: blessed are those who keep my ways.
    Pro 8:33 Hear instruction and be wise, and do not neglect it.
    Pro 8:34 Blessed is the one who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting beside my doors.
    Pro 8:35 For whoever finds me finds life and obtains favour from the LORD,
    Pro 8:36 but he who fails to find me injures himself; all who hate me love death.”

    If people do not hear the full, offending Gospel which has been designed by God Himself to be so exactingly offensive to the flesh, and one that strips us bare of even thinking we are anything or of any use, outside of Jesus and Him crucified, the salvation folks think they have, is sadly just a tragic myth. I know so many whose lives still are and and was in this place myself, for many years.

    Tragically more often than not, all they actually have is based solely in the fleshly response to emotional hype by so-called pastors who do not know the Gospel or are not prepared to offend with it, These folks are left with their feelings in response to that ‘ministry’ and perceived experiences of the ‘Holy Spirit’. Yes, their lives may be filled to overflowing with doing, doing, doing, as mine was and feeling like they are after all, ‘something’ to be puffed up about, as shamefully as I too was back then.

    When the Lord in His mercy does reach them and holds His mirror up to them, all they ever knew will be left as sand in their mouths and in that moment of Godly revelation, they will know the difference and fall at His feet.

    No-one can manipulate anyone into true salvation by fancy showmanship or eloquence of speech or frighten anyone into truly seeing Christ and Him crucified and his or her lack without Him. Only the Holy Spirit can evoke this response in people. If more looked to the Lord for understanding of these things, then all the power and manipulative gaming in the church would stop and the Gospel in its purity could be preached with the power of the Holy Spirit and many more sons and daughters would be brought unto glory.

    Why does man always, always think he has a handle on the things of God outside of His Word and not only that, but can improve things too? It is quite revolting…

    We need to cry out to the Lord for both ourselves and them with: 2 Timothy 2:24-26 (ESV) 24And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, 26and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.

    Oh, that more might preach the Lord in all his terrible Glory and Truth in His love. This life is not a casual game and the Lord Jesus is not a casual ‘homeboy’ as ‘He’ is known by some.

    Bless you dear brother


  3. Charisse,

    Thank you Charisse and I pray for your encouragement and I also praise God for how He is opening the eyes of His people as this Truth War continues. To God be the Glory!

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff


  4. Mike, correct me if I’m wrong, but I have relied on 1 Corinthians 15 to define the Gospel. Paul says that this is the message he preached through which they received Christ: “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Peter” etc… (The etc also being important in that Paul was saying that the resurrection was bodily.)

    The Gospel, then, begins with sin. Does the gospel according to Doug Pagitt and the Emergents begin with sin? “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures…” What is the Good News if no one believes there’s any bad news? Man must see his sin before the Cross has any real meaning to him.

    This Gospel has no need of being couched in culturally relevant terms. The message of sin, Christ’s payment for sin, and His resurrection, is not difficult to understand. It is plain English. I believe it is an utter lack of faith on the part of the emergent/seeker-sensitive/purpose-driven crowd to believe that God cannot open the ears of the lost soul who hears this simple Gospel. Having to create all manner of methodologies based on the culture says to me that these people do not believe God or take Him at His word that the Gospel is His power unto salvation (Romans 1:16).


  5. AMEN Carol & Mike


    Yes, Pragmatism is rooted in unbelief — practiced ministerially by those who consider the message of the Cross to be something that is foolish.

    Keep on fighting the good fight of The Truth War, dear brother.


  6. Hi Mike,
    This was great, Mike; so uplifting and encouraging. May God be glorified and honored for your dedication to teach and encourage us in these things and in His keeping you by His power to persevere and defend His gospel.
    1 Corinthians 1:19-25 is such an affirmation of what your article is about. Yet, there are some who dare to say….did God really say…?
    May God have mercy and grant repentance to those who do not delight in His Word; may they hear and understand the Father’s declaration about Jesus so as to listen and obey.
    “And a voice came out of the cloud, saying; This is My Son, my Chosen One; listen to Him.” (Luke 9:35)
    Bless you.


  7. Now, it appears, we have an opportunity to stand for The Lord’s Truth, as revealled in Holy Scripture.
    Hang in there, folks!
    The Salvation of so many unsaved people lies in the balance. We must be faithful to the Lord’s Great Commission, so that they may lay hold of Eternal Life, as have we.
    Let’s make sure we are not selfish.
    To use a modern expression:
    “Pay it Forward” to the others who need to know!


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