“Blessed be the God and father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ.” Ephesians 1:3
The word pragmatism simply means, “practical.” Noah Webster includes as one of its synonyms the word “politics.” The basic tenet of politics is: “The ends justify the means,” or “If it gets the desired results, then it must be right.” In other words, it’s all about making compromises in order to achieve the desired goal.
Of course this is not always wrong. To be successful, practicality and compromise is an absolute requirement in the everyday affairs of life. In relationships, for instance, this is always true. In order for harmony to be achieved in any relationship, both parties must be willing to make compromises (adjustments) in their attitudes and desires.
There is, however, one particular area where the pragmatic approach is always wrong: One’s faith and beliefs. Therefore, the title of this article, “Christian Pragmatism,” is an oxymoron.1 Yet there is a rapidly growing movement in this country, presently, called the “emerging church,” which claims to be a Christian movement, that is obviously employing pragmatism in a very prominent way. Dr. R. Albert Mohler, in an article in BPNEWS,2 gives us a description of what this movement is about:
“Unwilling to affirm that the Bible contains propositional truths that form the framework for Christian belief, this movement argues that we can have Christian symbolism and substance without those thorny questions of truthfulness that have so vexed the modern mind.”
“The worldview of postmodernism—complete with an epistemology that denies the possibility of or need for propositional truth—affords the movement an opportunity to hop, skip and jump throughout the Bible and the history (of) Christian thought in order to take whatever pieces they want from one theology and attach them, like doctrinal post-it notes, to whatever picture they would want to draw.” 2
Well, what else is new, Doctor? Hasn’t most of the Christian Religious Establishment been about the business of accommodation and adaptation in the interest of growth and proliferation? The only difference I can see is that this new movement has “moved” the process forward in a more bold-faced, unabashed fashion in recent times.
The most prominent showcase ministry in the doing of this has to be Lakewood Church, in Houston, Texas, with its charismatic young pastor, Joel Osteen. Osteen and his church claim to now be the largest single congregation in the U.S., touting a membership of 30,000, with that many or more attending their two Sunday meetings. Osteen also has a book out, “Your Best Life Now,” which has now been at the top of the New York Times, Non-fiction, best-seller list for several months, and will most likely supplant “The Purpose Driven Life,” and “The Prayer of Jabez,” as the best selling, single, “faith-based” book in recent times. A Nationwide “concert” tour is also part of the package, where one must buy a ticket at rock concert prices just to gain entrance. 3 Osteen and his church are also being given the royal treatment by the mainstream electronic media, garnering an interview on the popular “Larry King Live” show, and getting showcased on all the various national news shows, e.g., “Good Morning America,” etc.4
In all of these venues Osteen makes no bones about what he is offering in his message and why: Health, wealth and happiness in this life, i.e., how one can maximize their life experience now. He also openly admits that Scripture is subordinate in his message. When Larry King commented that very little Scripture was quoted until the end of his book , he (Osteen) answered:
“It doesn’t do a whole lot of it. My message…. I wanted to reach the mainstream. We’ve reached the church audience. So I just try to….what I do is just try to teach practical principles. I may not bring the scripture in until the end of my sermon and I might feel bad about that. (my emphasis) Here’s the thought. I talked yesterday about living to give. That’s what a life should be about. I brought in at the end about some of the scriptures that talk about that. But same principal in the book.” 5
What he (Joel) means by the statement, “I wanted to reach the mainstream,” is that he has fashioned his message in a way that will appeal to “the mainstream,” i.e., not offend them. He always says at the beginning of every sermon that he wants to make them feel “right at home.”. In order to do this one cannot teach Christian doctrine, because it is highly offensive to the mainstream (those on the outside, and—frankly—to many on the inside). Therefore, with the exception of a few Scripture references here and there, establishing universal (but not doctrinal) truths, his message is void of any foundational, doctrinal teaching, including the gospel of Christ. At the end of his performances he recites the standard Neo-evangelical “gospel:” “repent of your sins and ask Jesus to come into your heart, and you’ll be “born again,” but offers no explanation for this instruction, and sites zero Scripture to substantiate it.
The true gospel, in referring to unsaved people, calls them “lost,” “damned,” “unrighteous,” “ungodly,” “no good,” “vain” “sinners;” all highly offensive terms. Concerning the word “sinners,” King asked him:”
“Is that a word you don’t use? “
“I don’t use it. I never thought about it. But I probably don’t. But most people already know what they’re doing wrong. 6 When I get them to church I want to tell them that you can change. There can be a difference in your life. So I don’t go down the road of condemning.”
It may be true that most people know about their wrong doing, but it is equally true that most of them have rationalized it away, or decided that, after all, they’ve done a lot more good than bad, which makes them “good” people, and thus acceptable to God. The fact is, acknowledging oneself as a sinner, indeed, unrighteous, damned and on the way to hell, is requisite to receiving the gospel. The very words of the gospel, “..that Christ died for our sins…while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us…by one man sin entered into the world and death by sin, and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned”7 establishes the need to confess (admit and acknowledge) your sinful condition.
This idea (or proposition, as Dr. Mohler likes to call it) of man’s sinful condition is absolutely integral to the gospel and the preaching of the Cross.8 Anyone who does not see themselves as Scripture depicts them in their natural human state, cannot possibly be in a position to receive the forgiveness of their sins. To leave this out of your preaching, or to even subordinate it, perverts the gospel of Christ, and what you end up with is a lot of people who become converts to a religious movement—i.e., “vain” believers 9 —but who never see their need to be saved, and are therefore just as lost as they were before they became converts.
What this movement is really preaching is a type of “I’m Okay, You’re Okay,” brand of Christianity. Osteen, in his interview on Good Morning America, claimed his message to be “a message of hope.” The “hope” he is preaching is for this earthly life. It’s: “If you’re sick, broke and unhappy,” God (through us) will change all that for you.
In the first place God, in Scripture, never promises any such thing. What he does promise is the hope of salvation, redemption and eternal life—at the appearing of the Lord Jesus Christ—to those who have trusted him and his vicarious death at Calvary, which paid for all their sins. Save for food and raiment, the church, the body of Christ, isn’t promised anything (of a material nature) here on this earth–all our promises/blessings are heavenly ((Eph. 1:3))—in fact, Scripture says to believers that, “all who live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution”10, and therefore we are to “set our affections on things above, not on things on the earth.”11
This message is the last thing the ”mainstream” wants to hear, therefore it gets short shrift by “Emerging Church” preaching. What does get preached is this: “God has a wonderful plan for your life…” or “Let Jesus give you a hand..” or “God desires that you have (material) abundance in this life…”, none of which can be substantiated by Scripture, rightly divided, which explains why it is subordinated (or completely eliminated) in this message.
By doing this, Joel Osteen, and others who are preaching this message, are guilty of doing what Paul speaks of in Romans 1:18 and Galatians 1:7: they “hold (withhold) the truth in unrigtheousness…from their hearers, and thus…pervert the gospel of Christ.”
You don’t get big followings by telling people the truth, folks; you get them by finding out what they want to hear, and telling (selling?) that to them. This is commonly referred to as marketing, not gospel preaching. The message these folks are selling is: “what can Jesus do for you now?” Instead of this, the questions should be asked (preached): 1. “what did Jesus already do for you, and 2. what can you do to obtain what that produced (the forgiveness of sins)? The answer to number one is: “he died for our sins…was buried….and was raised again the third day….for our justification”,12 and number two: Give up. Stop trying to reach God through self effort, admit you are lost and without hope, and then, “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved”…and sealed….and bound for heaven. 13 And then, my friend, you will possess “that blessed hope” (Titus 2:13)) ( of eternal life, which can never be taken from you. 14
All Scripture references taken from the King James Bible. Feel free to distribute this essay as you see fit.
Two or more things that cancel each other out—or are mutually exclusive—e.g., “dry water,” “black light,” etc. ↩
see www.ticketsnow.com ↩
His latest showcase was on a segment of “60 Minutes”. ↩
The entire transcript of this interview is at: http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0507/03/lkl.01.html ↩
This assertion was repeated in his 60 Minutes interview. ↩
1 Cor. 15:3; Rom. 5:8, 12 ↩
1 Cor. 1:18 ↩
Ref. 1 Cor. 15:2 ↩
2 Tim. 3:12 ↩
Col. 3:2 ↩
1 Co. 15:3,4; Rom. 4:25 ↩
Acts 16:31; Eph. 1:14; 1 Thess. 4:13-18 ↩
Romans 8:38,39 ↩