Recently a loved one labeled me an “idealist”: I think he intended it as a rebuke–as something I should be ashamed of, and change. But I am happy to accept this label, because it is Biblical to be an idealist. Let me explain why.
1. a person who cherishes or pursues high or noble principles, purposes, goals, etc. Synonyms: optimist, perfectionist, reformer, visionary, utopianist. Antonyms: pragmatist, skeptic, cynic.
2. a visionary or impractical person. Synonyms: romantic, romanticist, dreamer, stargazer. Antonyms: realist, materialist.
3. a person who represents things as they might or should be rather than as they are: “My friend is an idealist, who somehow thinks that we always agree.”
4. a writer or artist who treats subjects imaginatively.
5. a person who accepts the doctrines of philosophical idealism, as by representing things in an ideal form, or as they might or should be rather than as they are.
Obviously, there are bad forms of idealism: being overly optimistic, failing to account for negative realities; being impractical with regard to economic, social, and domestic responsibilities, etc.
But I want to identify with Biblical idealism, especially when it comes to the Christian life and ministry (theology; especially practical theology–what we DO with our lives). Like Jesus, who said, “Be perfect, even as your Father in Heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48), I seek to strive for perfection of spiritual life, morally, Biblically, economically, domestically, socially, evangelistically, and ministerially. I want to LIVE BY THE BIBLE as much as I can. That’s the ideal. That’s the reform I feel responsible to before God my Father and my Judge. This is very idealistic, I admit; but I refuse to succumb to the less-than-ideal for the sake of an easy, convenient American church religion; or an American economic dream life. This is why, at the age of 29, I am so bent toward Christian spirituality or mysticism. I am pursuing sainthood, because the Bible says, “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). How can I not be an idealist? Why should I compromise with the less-than-ideal vision of the Christian life that seeker-sensitive pastors would have me buy into? Or the antinomians, universalists, and friendship evangelists? I have to LIVE BY THE BIBLE:–that is my upward calling; that is my idealism. Biblical Christian idealists practice self-perfection; they try to improve themselves by means of Biblical obedience, or progressive sanctification.
Pragmatists, on the other hand, skip over the self-improvement idea; and just default to whatever option is the most reasonable and easy for their immediate benefit or pleasure. The opposite view of Biblical idealism would be that of the common stock American pragmatist.
1. a person who is oriented toward the success or failure of a particular line of action, thought, etc.; a practical person.
2. action or policy dictated by consideration of the immediate practical consequences rather than by theory or dogma.
Pragmatism is not of faith; it is practical rationalism; it is of “immediate” gratification, and not “by dogma” or theology, or Scripture, or the wisdom of the Christian tradition. It is earthly-minded decision making, and not faith-based. It does not pray; it does not rely on the guidance of the Holy Spirit. It only asks, “What is the most logical and easiest way for me to solve this economic or physical problem?” It draws conclusions and takes action on that thought alone. There is no prayer; no faith; no God to follow, mind you—in the pragmatic lifestyle. All is your own mind guiding your actions; all is for the American Dream, and coveting, and greed, and feeling a sense of security. There are no radical steps of faith in Christ (for that would be too “idealistic”). Pragmatists don’t understand religious idealists, Christian or otherwise. All they understand is what works for them, to make life easy. And if life is not easy, then they get depressed (or even suicidal, as in the Great Depression). Pragmatists only go with what is logically CONVENIENT; and ECONOMICALLY and SOCIALLY EASY. They do not have the patience to wait for deliverance by God’s hand; THEY DO NOT LIVE BY FAITH IN GOD; and they are usually LOVERS OF MONEY. They succumb to the evils of the world system and do not stand up against those evils. They are easy prey for ill-gotten gain; in their mind, THE END ALWAYS JUSTIFIES THE MEANS–AND MIGHT ALWAYS MAKES RIGHT. They are (sometimes) put to shame by the idealists, because all too often they’ve had to make moral compromises (sins) for the sake of their pragmatism–to get into their physically comforting, yet spiritually and morally destitute condition.
Biblical Idealists I Intend to Imitate for the Rest of My Life
Abraham – follows God’s Spirit instead of pragmatically settling in a prosperous city like Sodom.
Moses – follows God’s Spirit instead of pragmatically settling for an easy life in Egypt.
Elijah – Old Testament prophet; follows God’s Spirit and confronts the king’s prophets of Baal in a time of widespread apostasy, risking his life.
John the Baptist – confronts the hypocrisy, adultery, and worldliness of Herod and the Pharisees, risking his life, costing him his head.
Jesus – the same; the reason why they crucified Him.
Francis of Assisi – Catholic saint; seeks a life of Christlike perfection in a time of moral compromise among the clergy.
Martin Luther – Protestant reformer; remains faithful to Scripture regarding the doctrines of salvation–even though all the clergy said different; and were mostly corrupt.
Richard Baxter – ejected Puritan; the same.
John Wesley – revivalist; the same.
Charles Finney – revivalist; the same.
Leonard Ravenhill – revivalist; the same.