Pragmatism and preaching the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ

by Mike Ratliff

14 But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. (Galatians 6:14 NASB)

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.”

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

1 Κἀγὼ ἐλθὼν πρὸς ὑμᾶς, ἀδελφοί, ἦλθον οὐ καθʼ ὑπεροχὴν λόγου ἢ σοφίας καταγγέλλων ὑμῖν τὸ μυστήριον τοῦ θεοῦ. (1 Corinthians 2:1 NA28)


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 μυστήριον τοῦ θεοῦ, the “testimony of the God.” The New Testament usage of μυστήριον 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.

2 For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. (1 Corinthians 2:2 NASB)

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.

3 I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, 4 and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God. (1 Corinthians 2:3-5 NASB)

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!

6 thoughts on “Pragmatism and preaching the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ

  1. Pragmatism and the echoes of Finney are the norm in most churches. For far too many, the cult of personality is embraced, leading to the man called “lead pastor” (as if the Bible knows of such) being as important as the Word.


  2. I always give them the best rating. I know what that person is saying (technology), but also it is impossible to like them because you can only “love” them! (pun intended) (( ;

    Without the cross, there is no gospel. There is no anything for that matter, it’s all about the cross. It’s just another tactic of satan working through the apostate church system.



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