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Pragmatism runs rampant in American Christianity. If faith does not "work," it lacks value. We expect prompt and measurable results from knowing Christ. Concrete, visible changes in our lives show that the gospel is relevant and its transforming power is for real: bad habits broken, strained relationships restored, church attendance figures on the rise, giving that's ahead of last year's. If you can't graph positive results, what is the point?

Following Christ makes a difference, and we take special pleasure in the dramatic before and after of practical spiritual progress.

In recent decades, pragmatism has been recycled in the form of self-esteem doctrines, the therapeutic gospel, and the health-and-wealth message proclaimed by prosperity teachers. More recently we have seen outcome-based education and the endless stream of mission statements we must fashion to spell out in advance just how God may transform our lives. Thoughtful challenges to these teachings have been made, but we keep leaning in the pragmatic direction.

In The Pressure's Off, Larry Crabb gives a sobering rebuke to American evangelicals.

"I have no strategies in mind to give you a better marriage, better kids, a more complete recovery from sexual abuse, or quicker healing after your divorce. Nor, I believe, does God." He adds, "We can't get life to work; it never will until heaven." Instead of a better life, we're offered a better hope of intimacy with God—a relationship that carries us through and not around pain and loss. Crabb may paint too bleak a picture at times, but can-do American believers caught up in the cultural trappings of visible success need to grapple with his sobering words.

The Great Gulf

In "Baptism + Fire", Mark Galli writes, "God loves ...

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In the Magazine

September 2005

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