Pragmatism Goes to Church - by A.W. Tozer
It is not by accident
that the philosophy of pragmatism
around the turn of the century
achieved such wide popularity in the United States.
The American temperament was perfect for it, and still is.
Pragmatism has a number of facets
and can mean various things to various people,
but basically it is the doctrine of the utility of truth.
For the pragmatist there are no absolutes;
nothing is absolutely good or absolutely true.
Truth and morality float on a sea of human experience.
If an exhausted swimmer can lay hold
of a belief or an ethic, well and good;
it may keep him afloat till he can get to shore;
then it only encumbers him, so he tosses it away.
He feels no responsibility to cherish truth for its own sake.
It is there to serve him; he has no obligation to serve it.
Truth is to use.
Whatever is useful is true for the user,
though for someone else it may not be useful, so not true.
The truth of any idea is its ability to produce desirable results.
If it can show no such results it is false.
That is pragmatism stripped of its jargon.
Now, since practicality is a marked characteristic of the American people
they naturally lean strongly toward the philosophy of utility.
Whatever will get things done immediately with a maximum of effeciency
and a minimum of undesirable side effects must be good.
The proof is that it succeeds; no one wants to argue with success.
It is useless to plead for the human soul,
to insist that what a man can do
is less important than what he is.
When there are
wars to be one,
forests to be cleared,
rivers to be harnessed,
factories to be built,
planets to be visited,
the quieter claims
of the human spirit
are likely to go unregarded.
The spectacular drama of successful deeds
leaves the beholder breathless.
Deeds you can see.
are there in plain sight,
and they got there
by the practical application
of means to ends.
So who cares about ideals
and character and morals?
These things are for poets,
nice old ladies and philosophers.
Let's get on with the job.
Now all this
has been said,
and said better,
a few dozen times before,
and I would not waste space on it here
except that this philosophy of pragmatism
has had and is having a power influence
upon Christianity in the middle years of this century.
And whatever touches the faith of Christ
immediately becomes a matter of interest
to me and, I hope, to my readers also.
The nervous compulsion to get things done
is found everywhere among us.
We are affected by a kind of religious tic,
a deep inner necessity to accomplish something
that can be seen and photographed
and evaluated in terms of size,
numbers, speed and distance.
We travel a prodigious number of miles,
talk to unbelievably large crowds,
publish an astonishing amount
of religious literature,
collect huge sums of money,
build vast numbers of churches
and amass staggering debts
for our children to pay.
Christian leaders compete with each other
in the field of impressive statistics,
and in so doing often
acquire peptic ulcers,
have nervous breaks
or die of heart attacks
while still relatively young.
Right here is where the pragmatic philosophy comes into its own.
It asks no embarrassing questions about the wisdom
of what we are doing or even about the morality of it.
It accepts our chosen ends as right and good
and casts about for efficient means and ways
to get them accomplished.
When it discovers something that works
it soon finds a text to justify it,
"consecrates" it to the Lord and plunges ahead.
Next a magazine article is written about it,
then a book, and finally the inventor
is granted an honorary degree.
After that any question
about the scripturalness of things
or even the moral validity of them
is completely swept away.
You cannot argue with success.
The method works;
ergo, it must be good.
The weakness of all this is its tragic shortsightedness.
It never takes the long view of religious activity,
indeed it dare not do so, but goes cheerfully on
believing that because it works it is both good and true.
It is satisfied with present success and shakes off any suggestion
that its works may go up in smoke in the day of Christ.
As one fairly familiar with the contemporary religious scene,
I say without hesitation that a part, a vely large part,
of the activities carried on today in evangelical circles
are not only influenced by pragmatism
but almost completely controlled by it.
Religious methodology is geared to it;
it appears large in our youth meetings;
magazines and books constantly glorify it;
conventions are dominated by it;
and the whole religious atmosphere is alive with it.
What shall we do
to break its power over us?
The answer is simple.
We must acknowledge the right
of Jesus Christ to control the activities of His church.
The New Testament contains full instructions,
not only about what we are to believe
but what we are to do
and how we are to go about doing it.
Any deviation from those instructions
is a denial of the Lordship of Christ.
I say the answer is simple, but is not easy
for it requires that we obey God rather than man,
and that always brings down the wrath of the religious majority.
It is not a question of knowing what to do;
we can easily learn that from the Scriptures.
It is a question of whether or not
we have the courage to do it.
God Tells the Man Who Cares
by A.W. Tozer