Pragmatism and Proclaiming Christ Crucified

by Mike Ratliff

But God forbid that I should reioyce, but in ye crosse of our Lord Iesus Christ, whereby the world is crucified vnto me, & I vnto ye world. (Galatians 6:14 Geneva)

My original plan was to read and review three of John MacArthur’s books over a three or four week span. Those three books are The Jesus You Can’t Ignore (done), The Truth War (done), and Ashamed of the Gospel. However, two things have transpired which have delayed the third review. The first is that it took a bit longer to get my hands on a copy of Ashamed of the Gospel than I had anticipated.  I did not begin reading it until late last week. The second is, I believe according to an intervention by the hand of God, an escalation in the truth war. The writing of the last several articles on Pragmatism as it relates to the biblical Gospel were in response to some increased “activity” by certain Emergents, which I believed God commanded me to “counter.” These types of articles or “apologies” take a lot of time and work on my part to put together. This took time away from the reading of Ashamed of the Gospel. However, interestingly, today I have arrived in the section of the book dealing with “contextualization” as it relates to the pragmatists’ handling of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

I will be taking a short Sabbatical from the 27th through the 31st of January so I should complete the book during that time and have the review ready shortly after that.

In this post I would like to concentrate on a very short passage, 1 Corinthians 2:1-5.  This section of Paul’s first epistle to the church at Corinth, beginning at 1:18 and running through 2:16, deals with and contrasts worldly wisdom and godly wisdom. He also deals with the consequences of ministering or walking as a Christian according to pragmatism, which is rooted in worldly or false wisdom. He contrasts that with ministering and walking as a Christian according to true wisdom, which is from God alone. 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 is a short exposition of Paul’s description of how he preached the Gospel to the Corinthians when he planted that church. From this exposition, we will see that he was most certainly not a proponent of gospel contextualization as many of today’s pragmatists insist. We will also see that the Emergent’s insistence that “preaching the message of the Cross is wrong and a distortion of the true gospel” is a fallacy because that assumption is not biblical. The following is an excerpt from the introduction to 1 Corinthians 2 from the 1560 Geneva Bible:

“He putteth for example his maner of preaching, which was according to the tenor of the Gospel. Which Gospel was contemptible & hid to the carnal. And again honorable and manifest to the Spiritual.”

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. (1 Corinthians 2:1 ESV)

1καγω ελθων προς υμας αδελφοι ηλθον ου καθ υπεροχην λογου η σοφιας καταγγελλων υμιν το μυστηριον του θεου (1 Corinthians 2:1 WHNU)

And I (καγω) having come (ελθων) to (προς) you (υμας), brothers (αδελφοι), came (ηλθον) not (ου) by (καθ) excellence (υπεροχην) of word (λογου) or (η) wisdom (σοφιας) proclaiming (καταγγελλων) to you (υμιν) the (το) testimony (μυστηριον) of the (του) God (θεου). (1 Corinthians 2:1 word-for-word translation from Koine Greek to English)

This passage is similar to 1 Corinthians 1:17 in which Paul explains that he was sent by Christ to the Corinthians to preach the Gospel without words of eloquent wisdom. Why? Doing so empties the cross of Christ of its power. However, in v2:1 we read that that the message Paul preached was the μυστηριον του θεου, the “testimony of the God.” The New Testament usage of μυστηριον refers to the preaching of the gospel as a narrative of actual and practical truth, a declaration of facts. These facts consist of the truth from God pertaining to the message of the cross of Christ. Paul did not use the wisdom of the world or pragmatism in preaching it. That is what he was talking about in both 1:17 and 2:1. Instead, he preached according to the “tenor of the Gospel.” To do it any other way would be disobedience on his part and would have emptied the cross of Christ of its power (1 Corinthians 1:17). This “tenor of the Gospel” is given to us in v2.

For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. (1 Corinthians 2:2 ESV)

2ου γαρ εκρινα τι ειδεναι εν υμιν ει μη ιησουν χριστον και τουτον εσταυρωμενον (1 Corinthians 2:2 WHNU)

Not (ου) for (γαρ) I judged (εκρινα) some (τι) to know (ειδεναι) in (εν) you (υμιν) except (ει μη) Jesus (ιησουν) Christ (χριστον) and (και) this (τουτον) one having been crucified (εσταυρωμενον). (1 Corinthians 2:2 word-for-word translation from Koine Greek to English)

This message according to the “tenor of the Gospel” is most offensive to the carnel, which is the world. Paul tells the Corinthians and us plainly that the way he approached preaching the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ was ONLY according to this. The pragmatic “gospel” is not this gospel. It never emphasizes the redemptive work of Christ on that cross. It never discusses the eternal damnation awaiting those who reject the gospel. It lies about what a transformed life is. When we talk about one of the purposes of the gospel is the transformed life (Romans 12) of those whom are saved through it, they insist that the purpose is wholly somewhere else. Their version of a transformed life is one who serves and makes the world a better place. Not according to the Bible! Read Romans 12 for a biblical definition of transformed life. Also, Paul preached the gospel of the bloody cross so that the message he preached would have the saving power within to break hearts and draw sinners to saving belief in Christ as Saviour and Lord.

And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. (1 Corinthians 2:3-5 ESV)

Do you see anywhere in this passage where Paul “contextualized” the gospel message to meet the “cultural context” of the Corinthians? No, he simply came to them in weakness, fear, and much trembling. His speaking was not done with anything added to the “tenor of the Gospel.” No, he simply preached the Gospel and the Holy Spirit worked through this in demonstration of the Spirit and of power. There were no theatrics or techniques to manipulate people’s response. What was this demonstration of the Spirit and of power? This was the moving of the Holy Spirit in their hearts to open them to the truth of God. They were lost in darkness, heard Paul preach the gospel and the Lord turned their hearts to believe and be saved. Of course, they were regenerated so they were changed. They were new creations. They went from temporally focused people to eternally focused, Christ loving people in an instant. I remember that day for me, don’t you remember when God did this in you?

If people’s faith rests in the wisdom of men instead of in the power of God then they are simply religious and are not in Christ. This is why pragmatism, the root of this, must be exposed for what it is.

Soli Deo Gloria!

2 thoughts on “Pragmatism and Proclaiming Christ Crucified

  1. Hi Mike
    Lovely post – may the Lord encourage and bless you as you carry on.

    The whole manner of preaching the Gospel and the Gospel itself, without any of the extras that so many other pseudo-christian religions add, is just so simple when it is properly done as God intended, that it is seen to be almost too simple for the incredible ‘cleverness’ of man. And so what has man done from the beginning to improve the Gospel? He has added the many extras to make it appear and feel more religious or palatable or both, which is why there is no Holy Spirit, saving power in that pseudo-gospel at all. This is in my understanding which is why what I will call, the visible church, is in such a tragic mess…

    Jesus and His finished work on the Cross of Calvary PLUS nothing else EQUALS the ONLY way to Salvation, is how God planned it. God has not made any mistakes in His plan. His way or no way – immensely simple.

    Bless you


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