What’s Wrong with Pragmatism?


by Mike Ratliff

1 I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom:2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. 5 As for you, always be sober- minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. (2 Timothy 4:1-5 ESV)

The proponents of the seeker-sensitive church growth model may very well have had good intentions when through it was spawned the rise of contemporary mega-churches such as Willow Creek and Saddleback Valley Baptist and their clones. The focus was outreach to the unchurched. While that appears to be a proper function of the New Testament Church one of the model’s fundamental components is actually an antithesis of the clear instruction to Church leaders found in God’s Word. That component is pragmatism.  Continue reading

What causes deception?


by Mike Ratliff

10 For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond- servant of Christ. (Galatians 1:10 NASB)

 

What causes deception? We like to believe that people lying to those they deceive causes deception. However, if we think critically about that (yes, I know that post-modernists have lost that ability, but humor me) deception is not the direct result of the lie, but is only takes effect when the one being deceived desires something from the deceiver such as a relationship or something else that is offered. The deceived believe the lie in order to receive something else that they want. What has this to do with compromise in ministry? When theologians, preachers, or Christian leaders who once were not compromised suddenly appear to make these strange decisions, if we take the effort to dig into what is going on, invariably we will find that they are doing what they are doing in order to please someone else in a pragmatic way. The motive is that of gaining the approval of man. Yes, there will be some with discernment who will notice and make an issue of it, but these people go ahead and do what they do because they see the gain they will receive as being higher than what they will have lost by not doing so. Of course, that gain is from man not God and the heat they will take from those with discernment, well, who listens to them anymore anyway? Continue reading

Pragmatism and Postmodernism


by Mike Ratliff

28 For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? (Luke 14:28 NASB)

Postmodernism : A general and wide-ranging term which is applied to literature, art, philosophy, architecture, fiction, and cultural and literary criticism, among others. Postmodernism is largely a reaction to the assumed certainty of scientific, or objective, efforts to explain reality. In essence, it stems from a recognition that reality is not simply mirrored in human understanding of it, but rather, is constructed as the mind tries to understand its own particular and personal reality. For this reason, postmodernism is highly skeptical of explanations which claim to be valid for all groups, cultures, traditions, or races, and instead focuses on the relative truths of each person. In the postmodern understanding, interpretation is everything; reality only comes into being through our interpretations of what the world means to us individually. Postmodernism relies on concrete experience over abstract principles, knowing always that the outcome of one’s own experience will necessarily be fallible and relative, rather than certain and universal.

Postmodernism is “post” because it is denies the existence of any ultimate principles, and it lacks the optimism of there being a scientific, philosophical, or religious truth which will explain everything for everybody – a characteristic of the so-called “modern” mind. The paradox of the postmodern position is that, in placing all principles under the scrutiny of its skepticism, it must realize that even its own principles are not beyond questioning. As the philosopher Richard Tarnas states, postmodernism “cannot on its own principles ultimately justify itself any more than can the various metaphysical overviews against which the postmodern mind has defined itself.” – From Faith and Reason

Pragmatism:
Function:
noun
Date:
circa 1864

1 : a practical approach to problems and affairs <tried to strike a balance between principles and pragmatism> 2 : an American movement in philosophy founded by C. S. Peirce and William James and marked by the doctrines that the meaning of conceptions is to be sought in their practical bearings, that the function of thought is to guide action, and that truth is preeminently to be tested by the practical consequences of belief

Postmodernism is a term that that is claimed by the Emergent Church movement. This philosophy in the first part of the 21st Century has come to dominate Western thinking. In each area of thought within it we find that, invariably, pragmatism is its root. Pragmatic philosophy says that everything is relative because ultimate, transcendent truth does not exist. This makes reasoning with a pragmatist extremely frustrating. Also, there are moral and absolute standards in our society that are continually under attack and, seemingly, are crumbling under our feet all around us. The culprit behind this is Pragmatic philosophy coupled with postmodernist thinking.  Continue reading

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. Continue reading

Ashamed Of The Gospel


by Mike Ratliff

I completed reading John MacArthur’s book Ashamed Of The Gospel over the weekend. This fine book has the following subtitle, “When The Church Becomes Like The World.” There are several editions of this book. The one I have was marketed in 1993 as the Expanded Edition for it contains several Appendix sections. While this is not a “new” book, I still found it very up-to-date for MacArthur paralleled the trend in our time of “church marketing,” “seeker-sensitivity,” and “soft-selling the Gospel” with the Down-Grade Controversy that consumed the last several years of the ministry of C.H. Spurgeon in the 19th Century. Our enemy may enlist his followers because of their supposed innovations in ministry, but honestly, there is nothing new under the Sun. The very same error being made by seeker-sensitive ministers such as Rick Warren and emergents like Doug Pagitt is simply a repeat of the very same errors made by the liberals in Spurgeon’s day, which is to attempt to minister pragmatically rather than by faith.

 

 

 

 

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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. Continue reading

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.  Continue reading

Pragmatism and Mustard Seed Faith


by Mike Ratliff

And he said to his disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin. Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. (Luke 17:1-6 ESV)

There are many parallels between what is going on the visible church at this time with what Charles Spurgeon called “the Down-Grade Controversy” in his time. In the latter part of the 19th Century, he began addressing the growing apostasy in the Baptist Union in Great Britain. This apostasy was fueled by those leaders who wished to move Christianity from its historical focus, i.e. preaching the Gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit with emphasis on sin and the need of a Saviour, to one that was more in line with “Modernism.” He compared Biblical truth to the pinnacle of a steep, slippery mountain. The margin for error is very precise because one step away, and you find yourself on the downgrade. The following excerpt is from one of his sermons preached at the height of this controversy.

Doth that man love his Lord who would be willing to see Jesus wearing a crown of thorns, while for himself he craves a chaplet of laurel? Shall Jesus ascend to his throne by the cross, and do we expect to be carried there on the shoulders of applauding crowds? Be not so vain in your imagination. Count you the cost, and if you are not willing to bear Christ’s cross, go away to your farm and to your merchandise, and make the most of them; only let me whisper this in your ear; “What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul? 1

Spurgeon preached the sermon from which this excerpt is taken just after he was censured by the Baptist Union for his stance against the majority’s efforts to “modernize” their churches with de-emphasis of the biblical gospel in favor of being more open to those who would be offended by the cross and the insistence that they were sinners in need of a Saviour.  Continue reading

Pragmatism and the Purpose of the Gospel


by Mike Ratliff

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2 ESV)

pragmatic  adj. dealing with matters with regard to their practical requirements or consequences.1

pragmatism n. 1 pragmatic attitude or procedure. 2 philosophy that evaluates assertions solely by their practical consequences and bearing on human interests. 2

Over the last several days I have been struggling with how I should address, or even if I should, the growing influence of the Acts 29 Network. This push to plant churches across the globe has as its primary proponent Mark Driscoll. I must admit that Driscoll has been somewhat of an enigma for me. There are times that he says, preaches, and teaches all the right things from a Soteriological (doctrinal) basis, but then I will read of him being part of the birth of the Emergent Church movement. Then I see where he promotes Spiritual Formation. Sigh…  Continue reading

A Rest for the People of God


by Mike Ratliff

For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness, when your fathers put me to the test and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work. For forty years I loathed that generation and said, “They are a people who go astray in their heart, and they have not known my ways.” Therefore I swore in my wrath, “They shall not enter my rest.” (Psalms 95:7-11 ESV)

Those who insist that we are in a ‘post-evangelical era’ and must, therefore, radically alter not only how we do church in order to reach unbelieving people in our time, also insist that this must be accompanied by a toning down of one’s Christian convictions about the truth. We are told that the culture we are in now will not respond to those who are militant, aggressive, preachy, and extremely sure of their convictions. I ask, since when has pragmatism become how the Gospel works? Did Jesus preach and teach pragmatically or did what He taught cause a huge division between those who believed and those who didn’t? You know the answer to that. He pulled no punches. The reality of His ministry was the epitome of God’s ways not being man’s ways. All we are told to do until our Lord returns is make disciples, teaching them all that He has taught us. In the meantime we are to abide in Christ, love one another, deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow Jesus. We are to be the antithesis of world and its ways, not conforming to it in how we minister. Continue reading

Pragmatic Expediency


by Mike Ratliff 

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. (2 Timothy 4:1-5 ESV) 

The proponents of the seeker-sensitive church growth model may very well have had good intentions when through it was spawned the rise of contemporary mega-churches such as Willow Creek and Saddleback Valley Baptist and their clones. The focus was outreach to the unchurched. That is a proper function of the New Testament Church, however, one of the model’s fundamental components is actually an antithesis of the clear instruction to Church leaders found in God’s Word. That component is pragmatism.  Continue reading

Pragmatism


by Mike Ratliff

For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? (Luke 14:28 ESV)

Postmodernism : A general and wide-ranging term which is applied to literature, art, philosophy, architecture, fiction, and cultural and literary criticism, among others. Postmodernism is largely a reaction to the assumed certainty of scientific, or objective, efforts to explain reality. In essence, it stems from a recognition that reality is not simply mirrored in human understanding of it, but rather, is constructed as the mind tries to understand its own particular and personal reality. For this reason, postmodernism is highly skeptical of explanations which claim to be valid for all groups, cultures, traditions, or races, and instead focuses on the relative truths of each person. In the postmodern understanding, interpretation is everything; reality only comes into being through our interpretations of what the world means to us individually. Postmodernism relies on concrete experience over abstract principles, knowing always that the outcome of one’s own experience will necessarily be fallible and relative, rather than certain and universal.

Postmodernism is “post” because it is denies the existence of any ultimate principles, and it lacks the optimism of there being a scientific, philosophical, or religious truth which will explain everything for everybody – a characteristic of the so-called “modern” mind. The paradox of the postmodern position is that, in placing all principles under the scrutiny of its skepticism, it must realize that even its own principles are not beyond questioning. As the philosopher Richard Tarnas states, postmodernism “cannot on its own principles ultimately justify itself any more than can the various metaphysical overviews against which the postmodern mind has defined itself.” – From Faith and Reason

Pragmatism:
Function:
noun
Date:
circa 1864

1 : a practical approach to problems and affairs <tried to strike a balance between principles and pragmatism> 2 : an American movement in philosophy founded by C. S. Peirce and William James and marked by the doctrines that the meaning of conceptions is to be sought in their practical bearings, that the function of thought is to guide action, and that truth is preeminently to be tested by the practical consequences of belief

Postmodernism is a term that that is claimed by the Emergent Church movement. This philosophy in the first part of the 21st Century has come to dominate Western thinking. In each area of thought within it we find that, invariably, pragmatism is its root. Pragmatic philosophy says that everything is relative because ultimate, transcendent truth does not exist. This makes reasoning with a pragmatist extremely frustrating. Continue reading

The Root of Pragmatism


by Mike Ratliff

God is an expert at cutting through the blindness and hardness in our hearts. In 1995 I was a Deacon at a church in Oklahoma. I had been a Christian about 10 years at that time. I was at a point in my walk at that time that I am actually ashamed to discuss. I was active in Church, but the rest of the time, I functioned almost as an unbeliever. Then on April 19th I had a huge intervention into my life. While I was in my office at Bank of Oklahoma in downtown Oklahoma City, Timothy McVee set off a massive truck bomb just a block or so North of our building all but wiping out the Federal Building. I wrote about my experiences from this in Do Not Grow Weary. Continue reading