Christian Education: Pragmatic Junkies

The first two posts in this series, Educational Paradigms and Christian Thinking, set the stage for discussing a rising danger within Christianity and Christian education. After addressing the issues raised in those posts, I’d like to take a more concentrated look at a potential pitfall. A great temptation in our American culture is to view and use ideas as a means to our expedited ends. R.C. Sproul, one of my favorite theologians, has pointed out that ideas have consequences. The results of thinking poorly about Christ, culture, and the classroom can be devastating. Alfie Kohn in Punished By Rewards sends a stark warning against letting ideas reign over us:

There is a time to admire the grace and persuasive power of an influential idea, and there is a time to fear its hold over us. The time to worry is when the idea is so widely shared that we no longer even notice it, when it is so deeply rooted that it feels to us like plain common sense. At the point when objections are not answered anymore because they are no longer even raised, we are not in control: we do not have the idea; it has us.

One such “idea” is actually an outlook that shapes all our ideas. Pragmatism might be defined as a philosophical outlook which emphasizes practicality over principles. A pragmatist is interested in what works and allows what works to shape belief, conviction, and action. Biblically examining this system of thought can help identify the dangers and curb our addiction to “results.”

The assumption that here and now is the pinnacle of our existence, and that immediate results are the epitome of success, is the antithesis to the apostle Paul’s worldview.

If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Cor. 15:19)

Paul is arguing here that our supreme hope is in the resurrection of Christ and our future resurrection. Our obsession with comfort, profit, prosperity and instant positive outcomes seems to be in conflict with the risky and eternally focused Christianity that Paul advocated and Christ preached. Christ repeatedly called us to sacrifice in this life in order to impact eternity (Lk. 9:24, Jn. 12:25, Lk. 14:25-33, Matt. 6:19-33).

So in what ways are we pragmatic junkies and how does this relate to Christian education?

  • We are pragmatic junkies when we fail to develop a philosophy of education that is grounded in biblical truth.
  • We are pragmatic junkies when we search for instant results with issues that arise without considering long-term and eternal consequences.
  • We are pragmatic junkies when we adopt strategies of education that parallel secular education because its easier than thinking about, writing, and implementing distinctly Christian strategies.
  • We are pragmatic junkies when we fail to guide students into thinking globally and biblically in all areas of study.
  • We are pragmatic junkies when we live and teach comfortably at the expense of eternity.
  • We are pragmatic junkies when we settle for modifying a students behavior instead of seeking to see them transformed.

The implications of being a pragmatic junkie span much further than just Christian education. Christian ministry and the Christian life in general are just as susceptible to the clever traps which may sound and even look good at first. However, as believers we can’t settle for such short-term thinking and goals. Our high calling is to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. We cannot omit “forever” from the scope of our thought, actions, ministries, or educational practices. To do so may result in an immediate (though temporary) and visible success, but undermine the eternal and invisible will of God.

Pragmatic junkies have to be weaned from listless acceptance of ideas and find their minds captivated by the truths of an infinitely wise God. Once addiction to immediacy has waned, then love for eternity and how that intersects with today can begin.

In what other ways might we be considered pragmatic junkies? Share your thoughts.

Recommended Resources:

Punished By Rewards by Alfie Kohn
Brothers, We Are Not Professionals by John Piper
Giving Up Gimmicks “Reclaiming Youth Ministry From an Entertainment Culture” by Brian H. Cosby
The Consequences of Ideas by R.C. Sproul

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