Tag Archives: pragmatism

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Russell Brand. Idealist. And what his “revolution” teaches Christians.

Have you seen Russell Brand articulate what his socialist egalitarian revolution will not be like?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xGxFJ5nL9gg

It’s compelling and uncomfortable television. Brand is a smart guy. Interviewing him would terrify me. He has form in this area. Making interviewers uncomfortable is part of his schtick.

This video is spreading like wildfire – because he’s captured the essence of a particular zeitgeist, and articulated an ideal, without getting bogged down by details.

Imagine if he spelled out, moment by moment, detail by detail, how this revolution was going to happen. It’d kill the communication moment. It would kill the story. It would stop this viral video in its tracks.

Idealism gets bogged down in details. But there’s still a place for idealism – without it, the status quo – unhelpful or otherwise – will simply be maintained.

And there’s something in that. Brand is a storyteller. A humourist. A satirist. A raconteur. A provocateur. A preacher. It isn’t his job to work out the details simply because he’s identified a problem. That would be ridiculous. As smart and articulate as he is – he’d be a horrible dictator.

I’m not signing up to Brand’s revolution – though it is potentially more palatable to me than the status quo where our politicians are selected for us by special interests and party machines that churn out apparatchiks with sausage like regularity, in a process you don’t really want to see. Replacing matter with anti-matter isn’t particularly compelling to me.

But.

There’s something to his method that is worth learning from – as Christians.

Because as Christians – unless you’re committed to installing Christian governments in the here and now – our job in the political process is to speak as idealists.

Idealists who care for the weak and the vulnerable.

Idealists who want to see change made to protect the voiceless and the marginalised.

But ultimately idealists who are hanging out for something better.

Our citizenship in the new creation – with our creator – where king Jesus reigns with his father. King Jesus who started his reign – who was enthroned – on a cross. A cross where he gave up his life in an act of sacrificial love. We live in the world of the cross – while we wait for this future.

We’re storytellers too. We’re telling a story of self-denial. We’re talking about a revolution. We’re sharing a message that is foolish and unpalatable to the political mainstream. And it’s the nature of this foolishness – the counter cultural nature of our message that shapes our approach, and our expectation in this sphere.

People speaking as Christians, as participants in God’s people, the church, aren’t legislators (unless you’ve been elected as a legislator, in which case you probably should think about legislation and practical stuff).

It’s not our job to make things work. To turn the cogs of government.

It’s our job to influence the thinking of the people who are governed so that the government they elect makes things work for people. It’s our job to get people thinking about virtues, about values – and our virtues and values are shaped by Jesus, and found in the person and life of Jesus.

This means that for Christians our job isn’t to address nut and bolt concerns when it comes to implementing the stuff we’re calling for. That would make the politicians’ job easier, and there’s some merit in that if we want a box ticked here and now.

We do need to be prepared to equip people who are living as followers of Jesus to live the life we’re calling others to live – but that’s different. The Occupy Movement that Brand cites in the video had to work out some house rules so that they could all live together in various public spaces. But when it comes to us doing our job as ambassadors for Jesus in spheres – the areas that in the past were called the estates of the realm – it’s not our job to offer hard and fast solutions beyond Jesus. When it comes to being story tellers – being people who are trying to shape values – being people who are calling for a revolution – it’s not our job to sweat the details. They’ll be sorted out when there’s a will for the changes.

Here’s a concrete example. I’ve written a fair bit here, and on Facebook, about Australia’s refugee situation. More people are trying to get here than we are currently prepared to handle. Some people are trying to get here via a dangerous, non-authorised, boat journey. Our government has shut the door in their faces, and insists on dehumanising these folk by calling them “Illegal maritime arrivals” – turning the victims into criminals (victims of both whatever forced these people out of their home countries, and of people smugglers who charge them too much for a dangerous journey). In my writings on these matters I have toyed with offering better solutions. But these solutions are inadequate. I am not a policy maker. It would be silly for me to continue pretending that I am. I can, however, call people to remember the human faces behind this tragedy – the tragedy that so many people need to seek asylum. The tragedy that we are unprepared, as a nation, to open our doors and welcome as many people as possible – occasionally for explicitly selfish reasons, sometimes simply because we haven’t thought through our selfishness. I can tell this story, over and over again, using whatever means possible – in the hope that pressure will mount on policy makers.

But this isn’t my story. How we treat those seeking asylum – the weak and vulnerable – isn’t my story. It is only part of my story. That it is part of my story means that it isn’t opportunistic or manipulative to use asylum seekers to tell a bigger story. And this should function as something like an editorial policy for Christians engaging in politics – if the issue doesn’t relate to the Gospel story, then it’s an issue for someone else. It’s possibly also a way to figure out what issues are our priorities.

Asylum seekers are not my story. They are part of it. As I am a character in God’s story, my story is about the value these people have to God. We can see they have value to God because they bear his image – distorted as it is, by sin and death – and we can see the value he places on them because we see he would send his son into the world to live their stories, to potentially change the end of their stories. God writes himself into their story. He sent Jesus as a vulnerable person, who became stateless and statusless before a powerful empire (first rejected by his own people), to die. For them. For us. So that when we seek asylum with God there is a home for us. The story of asylum seekers is part of the story of humanity – and speaking into this story, idealistically, is part of speaking of the idealistic story. The greatest story. My story. God’s story.

Brand is on to something. If we want to achieve politically driven change in a broken system, if we’ve seen a problem that we can’t figure out how to fix, it isn’t our job to provide all the solutions. It is our job to point out the brokenness. To tell the story. There is a place for idealism. Idealism is a necessary point on the road towards change.

When it comes to issues like refugees – I think there’s a place for us, as Christians, to participate in political discussions as idealists. Agitating for change, articulating different priorities and concerns, without solutions. Both because the change we advocate is loving – and because it provides an opportunity for us to communicate about a greater ideal. A greater story. A greater problem.

If we want to achieve spiritually driven change in a broken world we’ve first got to help others see the problem. But we’re not the solution to the problem. God is. It’s never our job to solve the problem. It’s God’s. Our job, as it always is, is to be agitators. Story tellers. Provocateurs. Preachers.

Sometimes pragmatism is held up as the desirable alternative to idealism. As though they’re in binary opposition. But here’s the thing – when it comes to imitating Jesus, pragmatism and idealism get mixed up in the crucible of the cross. The cross makes the impractical practical. Imitating Jesus makes the idealistic the pragmatic. This is also where we differ from Brand – because, in a sense the mode of our storytelling, and the content of our story, is so compelling that it becomes part of the solution.

We’re called to imitate Jesus. Jesus, who renounced status and made himself nothing… Jesus, who proclaimed a better kingdom, Jesus, who was humiliated and crucified and humiliated some more by the ruling authorities. Cross shaped idealism from people whose hearts and minds are captivated and transformed by Jesus and the priorities of the gospel that points people to Jesus is the best form of pragmatism. It’s the only thing that’s going to achieve eternal results. It’s the only thing that really works. It’s the only thing that really changes anything.

That’s revolutionary. A world full of people renouncing their own status and wealth, taking up their crosses and following Jesus is how to achieve real revolution. It’s also how to achieve the kind of revolution Brand gets so passionate about in the video.

More on pragmatism

Mark Baddely on Pragmatism after a comment from Tony Payne on this Solapanel post

“But a church or Christian who engages in life apart from the knowledge of God and ourselves that the Word gives us will also go nowhere. A pragmatism that abstracts ends from the gospel, and then sees the getting of those ends as a practical, and not theological, matter can’t be the process for growth in the knowledge of God either.”

I think the problem people are suggesting with pragmatism is academic rather than practical. Tony’s comment is perhaps echoing my thinking…

“It seems to me that as I observe those pastors and/or churches that I really admire, they have this constant running interplay between theological principle and smart practice. On the one hand, they are always being driven by the Bible and the gospel and the ‘strategies’ that God himself lays down in Scripture (knowledge of God), and they recognize their utter dependency on these. But on the other hand they keep noticing things about themselves and people and the way church and ministry ‘works’, and adjusting their practice accordingly (knowledge of ourselves). And the two aren’t separate, non-overlapping magisteria. The knowledge of God feeds into and informs the the understanding of people and how they tick, and the understanding of people and how they tick seems only to reinforce and foster more growth in the knowledge of God.”

Is pragmatism a dirty word?

It seems pragmatism is on the nose. I’ve read a few posts around the Christian blogosphere that bag out a “pragmatic” approach to ministry.

Why is this? Am I missing something? I would have thought a ministry based on the ability to know and proclaim an absolute truth, where the methodology of communication is based roughly on “that which works” was both right and Biblical – those would seem to be key areas of the pragmatic school of thought – and yet, we seem to be so keen for our ministries not to be ego boosting that we’re fleeing the notion of pragmatism having a bearing on what we do.

Didn’t God give us the innate ability to strategise, plan for the future, and gifts to equip us for ministry. Shouldn’t we work with these gifts in a way that maximises our return (while being faithful to other imperatives – like not being proud etc). Does pragmatism necessarily lead to people planting churches with big screen video links?

This whole anti-pragmatism thing is strange to me. Perhaps I’m getting the wrong end of the stick… your thoughts? 

YouTube Twosday: Ricky Gervais on Christianity

Anyone who checked out the iMonk’s post on atheism may have seen this already… but this is the “new” new atheism. Not rabid, but friendly. Not insulting, but funny. Not arrogant, but “humble”, not scientific, but cultural…

How do you counter these arguments of religion as a positive form of social control that isn’t necessary for “enlightened” people?

I’d suggest it’s not like the Pyromaniac Centuri0n would have us do it… he suggests, in a series of posts, that we move away from apologetics, and just preach the gospel – both the iMonk and Frank Turk (Centuri0n) suggest the likes of William Lane Craig have the approach wrong – and we should either be cultural or biblical – not philosophical.

Me, being a pragmatist, I think we need to have a balance of all three. You can’t use the Bible on people who reject the fundamental premise of a book authored by God. Especially if they insist on deduction rather than induction. So you need to take the philosophical apologetic when arguing for the existence of God. And you can’t do any of this without getting the cultural element right – and I’d say one of the big issues there is the damage done to our reputation by nominal or apathetic Christians. So don’t be one of those.

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Theological Smackdown: All’s fair

WCF classes took a new turn this week as we looked at the issue of Government. As long time readers will be aware, I get a bit excited about the subject of church and state. I don’t think it’s an issue the church handles particularly well, generally speaking. And it’s to our detriment.

My thoughts in a nutshell are that the church should let the state be the state and we should make sure our own house is in order. Who are we to complain about the legalisation of gay marriage when the global church is ordaining gay ministers? This sort of inconsistency is unhelpful. People will ultimately choose whatever lifestyle they like. That’s their decision. Not the government. The church needs to be free to be the church, we particularly need to be free from state oversight on particular matters (like who we can employ). But gay people should be just as free to be gay, and atheists should be just as free to be atheists, and so on, and so forth. The WCF was written in a time where the predominant social paradigm was “Christian” and the complexity of a modern liberal democracy is too much to bear – but there are some good points in the chapter about war, respecting government, and being part of government.

The best part of our discussion on Tuesday was about war. Just war vs pacifism. We were talking about when it’s “right” for a nation to invade, what makes a nation’s claim to nationhood legitimate, and whether leaders who are obviously on the nose with their people (eg Mugabe) should be removed. And then we talked about whether popular but evil leaders (eg Hitler) should be removed. While Germans got behind Hitler and his cause this couldn’t be said for the nations he invaded. We talked about whether Bonhoeffer (K-Rudd’s hero) was right to join a plot to assassinate Hitler. I was surprised that people could consider that wrong.

I came to the conclusion that pragmatism and pacifism are binary opponents. You can’t be both. The pragmatic solution to questions of international relations and human rights will almost always require an exercise of force.

I am a pragmatist.