Wednesday, October 18, 2006

"Pietism & Pragmatism: The Demonization of the Intellect" Part 1.

You probably remember the very popular and successful song recorded in 1985, "We Are the World" by USA for Africa. Following the Grammys on the night of January 28th an all-star cast of singers and actors gathered in a recording studio in Los Angeles, California to record a song to help make us aware of the need for famine relief in Africa.

The effort brought in millions of dollars and spawned many legends about the whole evening. We’ve heard about some celebrities who would not participate and about some who tried to upstage the others. And who can forget Lionel Ritchie’s thumb? One thing that is particularly memorable is the sign that Quincy Jones (the coordinator of the event) is said to have posted at the entrance to the studio. Jones was obviously aware of the possible conflicts that might occur with such a group of superstars, so he posted a warning that read: "Please check your ego at the door!"

Something not very different from this seems to occur every Sunday at many churches in our country. Thousands of people facing the ordeals of life crowd into churches across the country seeking their own personal "famine" relief. Judging by what many of them are satisfied with, there seems to be another sign posted at many churches: "Please check your intellect at the door!"

"Thought" has become a four-letter word for many Christians today. Christianity is seen to be a "heart" religion and too much thinking somehow inhibits the "flow" of the Holy Spirit. There is also a premium on results. If something is working, it must be true. Neither of these ideas are entirely new. These approaches to Christianity and church have been around for centuries. They are called, "Pietism" and "Pragmatism."

For now let’s define them. Pietism stresses the primary importance of subjective personal experience. While Pietism holds to the doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture, the premium it places on "feelings" tends to undermine the objective authority of Scripture. The bottom line is: "it must be true, because it feels so right".

Pietism is closely related to Liberalism (religious, not political) in that the basis of religion is found in experience. Pietism/Liberalism basically believe that truth and falsity do not apply to religion, they only apply to ideas. Religion, according to Pietism, is a feeling, a dependency. Pietism stresses the devotional over the doctrinal and believes that religion is primarily communicated by personal example. Under this paradigm, faith is "better caught than taught". By these standards it is easy to understand how biblical authority is easily compromised, if not obliterated.

Pragmatism holds that the first and foremost testing ground for truth is human experience. Does it work? If it does then it must be true. The implications of this approach are obvious when applied to "prosperity" teaching. If I speak wealth over myself and claim verses of Scripture even out of their proper context and receive a windfall of money; then "name it and claim it" must be true. With Pragmatism theology gives way to technique. "Know-whom has faded before know-how. Serving God has subtly been deformed into servicing the self. At its worst, the result is a shift from faith to the ‘faith in faith,’ which-along with faith in religion-is a perniciously distinctive American heresy."- Os Guinness. Worldliness is the foremost danger of this approach to Christianity.


B. L. B. B!

(Be Like the Bereans, Baby!)

Information for this blog was obtained from the following: "Christian Apologetics"(1976) and "Systematic Theology"(2002) by Dr. Norman Geisler, and "Fit Bodies, Fat Minds"(1994) by Os Guinness.


ajcarter said...

Hey Keith, my man. Welcome to the blog jungle. I am much encouraged by your starting of this blog. It should prove to be quite edifying and challenging. Keep it up, my man.

Keith L. Tolbert said...

Thanks, Tony. You'll have to tell me how to set up a link to your blog. Still learning this stuff!

I appreciate your encouragement!