Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Pragmatism Verses Theologism

I do not think that Theologism is a word, but I hope that it captures my thought well. In his new book, Southern Baptist Consensus and Renewal (which I am enjoying, but have not finished), David Dockery says:

The theological consensus of 1900 had become a pragmatic consensus by the 1950's. This shift brought about a generation of leaders committed to programmatic expansion. The programmatic and pragmatic outlook was central for growing a successful denominiation in the post-World War II era. Orthodoxy was understood in terms of "doing the right program" rather than articulating the right belief system. What resulted was not so much a heterodox people but and "a-theological" generation.

Of course, Dockery is referencing the liberalism that had invaded the SBC in the middle of the Twentieth Century, but that statement really sparked some thoughts that I believe are very relevant to ministry today. Essentially, though I'm sure unintended initially, the pragmattic approach began to border on an "ends justifies the means," mentality.

So, in the case of the SBC, since unity had been maintained up to the 1950's, many believed that the boat should not have been rocked. What we are doing seems to have been working, so let's just continue down the path we are on. Of course, the dangers inherit in neo-orthodox theology and liberal versions of higher criticism were undermining the basic orthodoxy of the convention at the seminary level and had begun to leak out into the broader population through the publication of the Broadman Commentary on Genesis.

Stepping away from that, however, I see many similarities in this argument with felt-needs preaching that prevades today. In many who espouse a "felt-needs" kind of preaching, the theory is that the ends justifies the means (I'm not making this up, I've had the conversation with friends who espouse this theory). In other words, "people show up if as long as I preach on things they want to hear about, sex, money, rock and roll, current movies, etc... If they are showing up, we must be doing something right, so don't argue with it."

The attempt to plant one's feet on the slippery slope of "the end justifies the means," will lead only to a slide away from God-centeredness to people-centeredness in our ministries. God and his glory should always be the focal point of our ministry. God is glorified in the salvation of sinners, but when our ministry focuses more on the sinner than on the God who saves, we have lost focus. When that focus is lost, the decline is quick, and attracting people suddenly becomes priority number one.

Attracting people is the number one priority for a tourist attraction, but not for the church of the Living God. I know some will disagree with me on this issue, but we must work to center our churches on strong orthodox theology before we ever build on pragmatics. The message of the gospel IS more important than the way it is presented. I am thankful for churches large and small that faithfully and contextually proclaim the gospel message with excellence, but a packed house does not necessarily mean that God is glorified.

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1 comment:

Brandon said...

Craig, encouraging post!