How to Motivate Christians to Change: Authoritarianism, Pragmatism, or Gospelism?

December 30, 2013

“…On the left are the errors of pragmatism, and on the right are the errors of authoritarianism. What’s most striking to me is what they share in common.

At first glance, they look pretty different. Pragmatism is flexible. It says, “Let’s try this, or this, or this, or this, or this!” Authoritarianism is rigid. It says, “Do what I told you, now!” Pragmatism respects autonomy and the role of assent…Authoritarianism respects order and efficiency and completion…

Look beyond the surface and you will find a surprising number of commonalities:”

GG: 12 Similarities of Authoritarianism and Pragmatism

“1. Both pragmatism and authoritarianism are fixated on results.

2. Both define success by outward or visible change, and therefore they subject their methods to any number of metrics for measuring visible fruit.

3. Both depend upon human ingenuity to get the job done. They rely upon brains, brawn, or beauty to accomplish their ends. One strong-arms. The other strong-charms.

4. In the area of Christian ministry, unlike authoritarianism, pragmatism does not assume there is a “right way” to get things done but that God has left these things to us. So it sheepishly concludes, “My way is as good as any, I suppose.” But this, ironically, is not totally unrelated to the authoritarian’s “My way or the highway!” Both can overlook “God’s way.”

5. Listen to either the pragmatist’s sermon (“Seven Steps to a Healthy Marriage”) or the authoritarian’s sermon (“Repent or Else”). What might you hear?

6. Both exploit the flesh (whether through fear or appealing to appetite) in order to motivate action instead of appealing to the spiritual new man in the gospel.

7. Both start with the imperatives (GG: commands) of Scripture, not the indicatives of what Christ has accomplished.

8. Both loom heavily over the will, doing all they can to make the will choose rightly, apart from a consideration of where the will has its roots planted—in the heart’s desires. Shame and moralism are the favorite tools of both methodologies.

9. Both require outward conformity rather than repentance of heart. In so doing, they create only Pharisees.

10. Both overstep the boundaries of where the Bible has given us permission to go, whether by expanding the scope of corporate worship and Christian mission or by laying down commands where none exist. Both routes bind the conscience where the gospel does not.

11. Both are impatient, and want to see decisions made “today!” Since they do not recognize that decisions have their ultimate foundation in the heart’s desires, they feel successful whenever they produce a right decision, whether or not that decision was forced or manipulated.

12. Both rely on their own strength, rather than leaning on the Spirit by faith…

In short, Christian ministry works by the power of the Spirit and the Word, not by the power of the flesh.

Like a pragmatic approach, it makes appeals to people. It asks for their consent. It recognizes that a true act of faith cannot be coerced.

But like an authoritarian approach, it recognizes that Jesus is king and possesses authority. True actions of faith do not proceed from autonomous but manipulated actors. Rather, people must lovingly submit to his royal word.

Christian ministry loves and confronts. It honors and challenges. More than anything, perhaps, it speaks…and waits.” The Twin Temptations of Pragmatism and Authoritarianism by Jonathan Leeman

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