In a recent commissioning service for IMB missionaries, Jerry Rankin challenged his audience to follow the example of the apostle Paul. That is, they should adopt a “‘wigtake’ attitude – to do ‘whatever it's going to take’ to get the Gospel to all peoples.” Whether “wigtake” will become the next new buzzword in missions I don’t know (I’ve heard at least one professor at Southern Seminary use it in class), but it does suggest to me an interesting question: What is the role of pragmatism in missions and evangelism?
I for one believe the word “pragmatism” has unfairly gotten a bed rep. Perhaps it is because many define pragmatism by the old maxim “the end justifies the means.” Perhaps it is because we blame pragmatism for the many excesses and examples of outrageous outreach practices among some evangelicals. Perhaps it is because we have become leery of meaningless numbers -- inflated statistics, large numbers of “decisions” or even baptisms that do not result in real church growth -- all seemingly as a result of pragmatism. Put that all together and you find that for many, pragmatism has become something of a dirty word.
I am sympathetic to those who try to avoid the pragmatic approach in favor of a strictly biblical one. Those of a theological mindset might say things like “just preach the Word” or “All I have to do is be obedient and leave the results up to God.” I should not focus on being pragmatic, rather, I should be focus on being “biblical.” While this attitude is pious and well intended, in my opinion it is overly simplistic. I say this because no matter how biblical we become, we still have practical choices to make for which we have no clear biblical direction. Take for instance the person who says “Just preach the word.” Great! I’m all for it. Now, which Scripture(s) are you going to preach? In what language? Which translation? Where will you preach? To whom? At what time of day? What will you wear while preaching? The choices go on and on.
Try another. “All I have to do is be obedient in evangelism.” Ok, now the practical questions: Whom will I evangelize? How will I approach them? When and where? How will I gain a hearing? Should I find a way to build a relationship? How? What approach will I take in conversation? How will I begin my gospel presentation? Will I use a Bible or tract? Should I call first or just cold call? Should I pop in a breath mint? Should my wife and I speak to this couple individually or together? Each circumstance has its own set of questions and choices to be made -- and most of them are biblically neutral.
At this point you have a decision to make. You can say that these questions (and others like them) are irrelevant as long as you are obedient to the biblical command. Or, you can say that at least some of these decisions may have a bearing on the effectiveness of the effort. If you choose the options you think will be more effective, like it or not, you are a pragmatist.
Now, I will grant that not every choice is appropriate – some ideas are unbiblical and should be avoided. I am not suggesting that we should ever do something unbiblical just because it works. At the same time, if given the choice between two equally biblical alternatives—one that might work and one that probably won’t—am I more spiritual if I choose the latter and appeal to Divine sovereignty? In such a case, I will choose what works. The glory still belongs to the Lord. As one of my professors often reminded us, pragmatic means practical. Is it more spiritual to be impractical?
Here, then, is my two cents: Let us be diligent in evaluating everything we do by the words of Scripture. Let us also do whatever it’s going to take to bring the gospel to the world. Let us be biblical and pragmatic. Let us be biblical pragmatists.
 Admit it, you thought that wigtake meant “whatever it’s going to take to have impressive statistics to report on the