Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Pragmatism and Principles

"Does it work?" This is the standard question of the world today. Even Christians can fall into seeing this as their final standard for judging things. Now it must be stated that this is one thing to consider when judging an idea. But is it the only or even the most important question to consider? One of the first things to be noted is that there is the question, works to do what? Unless we have some idea of what we want to accomplish, we cannot evaluate what works to produce it. If I were to stand up, jump up and down three times, and spin around, it would work in the sense that I could perform the actions. But unless I had some end in mind, it would be meaningless. Unless you know what your goal is (and pragmatism does not tell you this), all pragmatism does is encourage you to eliminate the impossible. Everything else works if you do not know what the goal is. Often this goal can become the thing that is easiest or most convenient, regardless of how it fits with any higher principles. But this assumes that ease and convenience (ultimately what gives us the most pleasure) are the chief goals of life. But this conclusion is debatable at best. And it cannot, as an absolute, be reconciled with Christian morality.

Now Christianity is based on principles, and these principles are things that should be held to even if they do not produce immediate positive results in the present time (John 16:1-4; 1 Peter 4:12,13; 2 Corinthians 12:7-10). We are convinced that Christianity will work to give us eternal life in the presence of God, but we do not currently see that (2 Corinthians 4:17,18; Hebrews 11:24-27; Romans 8:18-25). This is the fundamental definition of what faith is (Hebrews 11:1; Romans 4:16-22; 2 Corinthians 5:7). Therefore, while there may be some place for asking what works in forwarding Christian principles, we need to beware of watering Christianity down to simply what is convenient for us. This is ultimately a matter for careful evaluation. We do not want to be impractical just to be impractical. But we cannot change Christianity into something that works from a worldly perspective (1 John 2:16-17; Romans 12:1,2; James 4:4). And ultimately, we must speak against the world's pragmatism if we expect them to embrace Christian faith. For as an ultimate criterion, what works will not work. It must be informed by something higher than itself. 

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