Why Pragmatism Does Not Work

by Tim Chaffey

     Pragmatism is a philosophical view that bases its test for truth on whether or not an idea "works."  If a certain ideas seems to correspond to reality [i.e. - it works] then that view is deemed to be true.  On the other hand, if a certain idea does not seem to correspond [i.e. - it does not work] to reality then that view must be false.  The fact that pragmatism demands a correlation between ideas and reality is commendable and Christians should take take note.

     Pragmatism has invaded every area of life - from automobile mechanics to education, and even in the church.  A good example of this type of thinking can be seen in the modern church growth methods proposed by numerous "experts."  The so-called "seeker-sensitive" movement is creating huge congregations and is deemed to be true by many because of the large numbers of churchgoers.  Methods for evangelism are based on what brings in the biggest crowds.  Success is measured by what "works" rather than what God's Word says is true.

    Ultimately, pragmatism fails as a test for truth.  First, different ideas have seemingly "worked" for different people.  For example, pantheism has allegedly "worked" for millions of people throughout history and Islam has "worked" for countless Muslims.  At the same time, Christianity has seemingly "worked" for countless millions.  Which of these opposing views is true, if any?  The pragmatist cannot offer a satisfactory answer to this question.  

     Second, pragmatism is often limited by time.  An idea may seem to be true throughout ones lifetime but may ultimately prove to be disastrous long after ones death.  Once again, the seeker-sensitive church growth movement is a perfect example.  It is seemingly commendable that thousands, if not millions, of people are joining the church due to this movement.  The problem is the shortsightedness of this approach.  This movement is creating thousands of immature Christians at best and probably creating thousands of false converts.  Either way, this movement will have disastrous results for generations to come.

     Finally, pragmatism fails because it's "truth" is relative.  As stated in the previous paragraph, what "works" (or is "true" according to the pragmatist) may change from time to time.  Yet truth is absolute and therefore unchanging.  Also, "truth" for the pragmatist is dependent upon the situation and setting.  Opinions change but truth does not.  Pragmatism is often short-sighted and often a "quick fix" solution to problems.  Christians need to stand upon the Truth (John 14: 6), the One who is the "same today, yesterday and forever" (Heb 13: 8).

(4/27/05)

(Back to articles