eclectic religious pragmatism



          In an ethnically diverse country like the United States, various ideologies and world-views abound. Prominent philosophies of preceding centuries, including rationalism, empiricism, and postmodernism, have left a noticeable impact on contemporary American thought. An objection to scriptural authority is expressed in the contemporary idea that every person should decide for himself how the Bible applies to his own life. However, Scripture has central importance in defining how it applies to every person because of sin’s effects on the human mind and Scripture’s divine authorship.

          The idea that every person should decide for himself how the Bible applies to his own life will be referred to as eclectic religious pragmatism in this discussion. This ideology elevates human autonomy by making a person’s opinion the deciding factor, and it embraces human rationalism by believing a person’s reasoning will lead to a correct conclusion. Eclectic religious pragmatism well reflects the thinking of modern man, whose “commitment is first and foremost to the self and is inwardly directed.” [1] People who hold to this philosophy often believe one religion can’t be completely right, to the exclusion of all others. They seek to be open minded, peaceable, and respectful of all religious ideas by not having firm convictions on biblical teachings. An emphasis is placed on people embracing whichever biblical teachings feel right to them.

          Contrary to the idea of eclectic religious pragmatism, Scripture has central importance in defining how it applies to every person because of sin’s effects on the human mind. The Bible makes it clear that every person is a sinner: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23 ESV). The sin nature present in every person can lead to manifestations including “sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Col 3:5 ESV). The effects of sin are extensive, and “every feature of human existence is distorted by sin, life becomes entangled in deliberate evils, thoughtless malice, and ignorant folly”. [2] Scripture describes sin’s cognitive effects, stating “those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh” (Rom 8:5 ESV), and one consequence is “the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot” (Rom 8:7 ESV). The Bible’s description of sin’s influence on the human mind is vivid and robust. Human thinking is fundamentally corrupted and naturally rejects God and his laws. In light of this truth, how can any person trust in his own reasoning to decide how the Bible applies to his life? He cannot; because his thinking is not neutral but naturally hostile to God’s laws. What is the solution? Rather than attempting to be a judge over Scripture; every person must submit to Scripture and learn from it. As Proverbs exhorts us, we should trust in the Lord (3:5), and not think of ourselves as being wise but rather obey God (3:7).

          Scripture also has central importance in defining how it applies to every person because of its divine authorship. As 2 Peter states, “no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (1:20-21 ESV). Because God is the author of Scripture, it bears divine authority. What the Bible says is what God says. All Scripture is authoritative for life and “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16 ESV). Consequently, nobody is at liberty to pick apart the Bible and decide which parts he believes applies to him. Scripture’s “authority is comprehensive and total, down to the very words themselves.” [3] Therefore, it shouldn’t surprise us that many times throughout redemptive-history, Scripture warns against adding to or taking away from God’s words and laws (Deut 4:2; Prov 30:6; Rev 22:18-19). Every person must humbly learn from and appropriately submit to all God’s Word; as all Scripture has divine authority and is truth (Ps 119:160). For God, through his Word, gives wisdom and knowledge (Prov 2:6), and all man’s finite knowledge is ultimately derived from God’s comprehensive knowledge. [4]

          The idea that every person should decide for himself how the Bible applies to his own life conflicts with the values its adherents claim to embrace. Advocates of this philosophy seek to be open minded and respectful of all religious ideas. However, this idea disrespects Scripture’s teachings on the cognitive effects of sin and Scripture’s divine authorship. One cannot respect the Bible without also respecting its teachings. Being able to draw attention to this inconsistency, and articulate Scripture’s central importance in defining how it applies to every person, is important for Christians. It would allow us to more effectively dialogue with the many adherents of eclectic religious pragmatism; who would be compelled to either acknowledge they don’t respect all religious ideas or to reckon with the Bible’s teachings on the cognitive effects of sin. Ultimately, Christians would become better equipped to share the gospel and make disciples.



[1] Carl R. Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2020), 49.

[2] John McLean, “Humanity: The Need of Theological Anthropology for Everyday Ministry,” in Theology for Ministry: How Doctrine Affects Pastoral Life and Practice, ed. William R. Edwards, John C. A. Ferguson, and Chad Van Dixhoorn (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2022), 101.

[3] Derek W. H. Thomas, “The Authority of Scripture,” in Sola Scriptura: The Protestant Position on the Bible, ed. Don Kistler (Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust, 2009), 60.

[4] Cornelius Van Til, An Introduction to Systematic Theology: Prolegomena and the Doctrines of Revelation, Scripture, and God (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1974), 33.