The Theological Necessity for Pragmatism

This year is the 30th anniversary of the landmark address given by Phillip Jensen at the U.K. Proclamation Trust’s Evangelical Ministry Assembly, titled. It is entitled “The Theological Necessity for Pragamatism” (though this wouldn’t fit on something called a tape, so the official title is “We Must be Pragmatic”). The talk is brilliant, in my view, and worth listening to in full. It is as relevant today as it was then.

Here are some notes to give you an idea of the trajectory of Jensen’s talk.

Introductory comments

Theology and practice are necessarily intertwined.ski-rope-nylon-tying-towing-45873.jpeg

Most of the time we tend to inherit our ministry patterns by watching others. But these must be thought out from a theological foundation.

Pragmatism without theology is terrible. At the same time, we can be under a different tyranny – theology without pragmatism. Evangelicals can be caught up in upholding a past glory, yet must continually reform under the Word of God.

It is the Word of God that changes people.

A brief theological framework from 1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1

  1. We learn the purpose and the limitation: “Everything is to be done for the glory of God”.
  2. Paul seeks to please everybody for their good – i.e., that they be saved (c.f. 1 Cor 9:19).
  3. An appeal to follow Paul’s example in putting yourself out in order for other’s to be saved.

What it means in practice

1.  Note the “Glory rubric”

Because something works does not mean that it is right (similarly because something does not work, also does not mean it is right!). We can’t hold onto traditions that get in the way of preaching the Gospel of the glorious Jesus.

2. Concern for salvation

Concern for salvation should be the aim of ministry – both rescuing the perishing and teaching people to maturity.

a) We can’t lose sight of this critical focus, and the key is preaching the Gospel of Christ. We must preach and act for conversion. This is not the age of small things. It is the age of great victory through the preaching of the Word of God, and we must work to make it accessible for non-believers.

b) This entails a plan for change in use of time, resources, and priorities in line with an agenda to reach the world with the Gospel. And change can be expensive. We should have a big vision, and constant change reflects the message of change because of the Gospel.

c) We must build bridges and cross them. pexels-photo-638481.jpegRemember that our internal squabblesare heard by those who wonder past and they don’t understand what we are talking about, and keep walking. Our power is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We should be driven by the 97% who are not saved, rather than competition with one another.

d) We must never allow ourselves to be distracted from the task of the evangelisation of the world. Jesus constantly turned away from doing good to do the best.

3. The pleasing of others

We must put aside our own preferences to adapt to the light-bulb-current-light-glow-40889.jpegneed of other people’s salvation. Church life shoud be governed by those who are not yet  there, that they may hear the Gospel.

We must think about the generations that are not here and be innovative with new forms and new patterns that preserve the truth of the Gospel. We should act like missionaries in a mission field, who adapt to the pagan state of the nation.

4. The necessity of flexibility and pragmatics

The preservation of the truth of the Gospel means we must be flexible. Evangelicals are very good at picking the Gospel minus people, but not good at picking the Gospel plus people. We must preserve the truth of the Gospel by getting back to “bed rock” Gospel, and stripping other things off. We can so easily use words and practices that alienate people from the Gospel. But we must lay aside ourselves for the sake of others, and we must learn how to put on different packages in which to present the Gospel.

[In 1988], most Australians thought that Jesus was God. Their issue was the church. Therefore, what needs to change? We do.

 

These notes are my own summary of Jensen’s outstanding talk. 30 years down the track, in a world that is changing more quickly than ever before, the process and re-evaluation must continue.

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