The Story of Pietism: Part Four

No historical movement is ever born in a vacuum and Pietism is no exception to this rule. Indeed, every historical movements is the product of many different forces and people all converging to create something new that is worthy of our serious attention and reflection.

Although figures like Johann Arndt and Jacob Boehme would lay the spiritual foundation upon which the renewal movement of Pietism would be built, it is very possible that Pietism would have never arisen if it had not been for the terrible Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648)

The Thirty Years’ War was one of the most devastating conflicts
that Europe had ever seen. Germany was affected more so than any other nation losing roughly one-third of its’ population due to the conflict and a later plague.

No aspect of German life was left untouched by the conflict.
Germany’s economic, social, moral, political, and spiritual life were all in shambles. Only exacerbating matters, the German Lutheran Church was largely unable to ameliorate the many problems that Germany faced. Beset by many problems, the Lutheran Church was consistently unable to be a vibrant witness to the larger culture.

Spiritual health at all levels of society was at a strikingly low ebb with drunkenness, debauchery, and various other sins
common amongst even professing Christians. Some Lutherans during
this period were even convinced that occasional church attendance and
passive participation in the sacrament of communion were sufficient
grounds for salvation and a right standing with God.

The Lutheran clergy were hardly immune themselves from these
problems. While most Lutheran pastors during this time were very well
educated, their lifestyles were often little better than the laity’s.
Furthermore, the preaching of many Lutheran pastors during this era
was dry, academic, and frequently ineffective. Lutheran pastors often
spent an inordinate amount of time preaching on doctrinal matters of
minimal importance and sermons were rarely practical and helpful. In short, the Lutheran Church that emerged from Thirty Years’ War was
in desperate need of renewal.

Few Lutheran pastors grasped the church’s need of renewal more than Phillip Jacob Spener. His first pastoral position was in Frankfurt, Germany and here he experienced firsthand the widespread spiritual problems of the Lutheran Church. Desirous of correcting the errors of the church, Spener published a short book entitled Pia Desideria or “Heartfelt Desire for a God-pleasing Reform” which provided an outline for renewing the Lutheran Church.

Few texts better represent the ethos of Pietism than the Pia Desideria and its’ seminal place in the history of Pietism has led many scholars to dub Spener the “Father” of Pietism. The first half of Spener’s Pia Desideria is a critique of the morally and spiritually moribund Lutheran Church of his day. In it Spener
critiques both the laity and the clergy for their lack of sincere piety. Spener takes up a far more constructive tone in the latter half of the work and gives instructions on how the spiritual and moral life of the Lutheran Church might be improved.

At this point I don’t want to go into any more detail about Spener and his ministry although he is an incredibly significant figure in the story of Pietism. At a later date I will explore Spener’s contribution to Pietism more thoroughly. However, I believe this part of the story should wait to be told as developments that were taking place in the Dutch Protestant Churches during Spener’s day played a significant role in the rise of Pietism as well.

In The Story of Pietism: Part Five I will tell the story of the somewhat eccentric Dutch Catholic Priest turned Calvinist Pastor Jean De Labadie (1610-1674). De Labadie would eventually become an influential Pietist mystic with a fairly large following. Until next time, Julian.

The Story of Pietism: Part Three

Sorry it has been a long time since I have posted to this blog. Pastoring and writing a dissertation have kept me busy. Thank you for your patience.

No discussion of Pietism would be complete without mentioning two important forerunners of the Pietist movement. These two important thinkers, authors, and important “Proto-Pietists” are Jacob Boehme (1575-1624) and Johann Arndt (1555-1621).

Boehme was originally a shoemaker who resided in the little village of Gorlitz, Germany (now Poland). Pious from a young age, Boehme was a dedicated Bible reader and was spiritually sensitive throughout his life. Though he was a reasonably successful shoemaker, two powerful visions would radically change the course of his life.

In 1600 and 1610 Boehme reportedly experienced being overwhelmed by light. The first time for less than an hour, but the second lasting more than a day. These powerful experiences convinced Boehme that he was called to a spiritual vocation. He soon began to write on theological and devotional topics. Furthermore, after giving up shoemaking in 1613 he became a traveling yarn salesman which allowed him to spread his beliefs far from his hometown.

Some of Boehme’s books are the Aurora, The Threefold Life of Man, Answers to Forty Questions On The Soul, and The Incarnation of Jesus Christ. Boehme’s output is decidedly mystical and occasionally strays outside of Lutheran Orthodoxy. He seemingly rejected sola fide and though he loved Martin Luther’s Bible, he valued personal experience in the task of constructive theology far more than most Protestants would. For these reasons, Boehme was persecuted by the Lutheran authorities and would influence fewer Pietists than the more traditional Arndt.

On the other hand, Arndt was a rather traditional Lutheran who served as a pastor in several parishes. Arndt’s influence on the Pietist movement would be through his devotional classic True Christianity. Entirely consistent with Lutheran orthodoxy but focused on the development of the interior life, Arndt thought the focus of the Christian life should be mystical union with Jesus Christ.

For Arndt, faith meant far more than simply believing in the doctrines of the Christian Faith. Rather, a faith that was “true, living, and active” (See Arndt’s Preface in True Christianity) would result in a transformed life marked by love for Christ, love for others, and love for holiness. While such beliefs may not seem novel to contemporary Christians (particularly authentic Protestant Evangelicals), they were in Arndt’s day as many leading Lutherans had seemingly equated Christian faith with mental assent to Christian doctrine.

True Christianity was almost immediately popular and was translated into many languages. The book was warmly received by Pietists. Phillip Jacob Spener (1635-1705), who perhaps more than any other figure deserves the title of “Father of Pietism,” heartily endorsed True Christianity and it’s teachings. In many Pietist households, True Christianity was read almost as much as Luther’s Bible. Though Arndt would not live to see it, his book would have a major impact on Pietist spirituality.

F. Ernest Stoeffler, perhaps the most distinguished historian of Pietism in the 20th century, pictured Boehme as the Father of Radical Pietism (Pietism that was more separatist and mystical in it’s bent) and Arndt as the Father of Churchly Pietism (Pietism that was not separatist and orthodox). While there are some problems with such characterizations (Some radical groups such as the Brethren had little use for Boehme and his writings) there is some truth to it. Although Arndt almost certainly influenced more Pietists than Boehme, both figures were important spiritual influences on the movement.

A Review of Luke J. Wilson’s 40 Days With The Fathers

Hi readers, I’m taking a short break from my series on Pietism to share a review of a book I recently read. I will return to my series on Pietism next week. God Bless!

Luke J. Wilson’s 40 Days With The Fathers: A Journey Through Church History is an interesting work that connects modern readers with the Church Fathers in a creative way. A major goal of Wilson’s book is to introduce readers unfamiliar with the Patristic era to the writings of some of its most significant and influential figures. Wilson does this by carefully arranging excerpts of the Church Fathers’ writings into bite-sized readings that can be easily consumed over a forty-day period.

Wilson’s selections extend all the way from the earliest Patristic sources up to the ante-Nicene Fathers. Along with these excerpts of the Father’s writings, Wilson provides considerable background information as well as thoughtful commentary of his own. This helpful information allows readers unfamiliar with the Patristic era to situate the Church Fathers in their proper historical and cultural context, thus greatly increasing the reader’s understanding of these very important voices in church history.

Wilson writes passionately about the Church Fathers, and he has clearly invested a significant amount of time in reading and reflecting on their writings. He has also engaged in significant study of the relevant secondary literature. This project is obviously a labor of love and while Wilson is clearly appreciative of the Fathers and their tremendous impact on the church, this is not a work of hagiography. A few readers may find his writing style somewhat colloquial. However, most will probably find his conversational writing style refreshing. Readers who are unfamiliar with the Church Fathers, as well as theology and church history more generally, will find Wilson’s writing clear, approachable, informative, and often enjoyable.

While any survey of the Church Fathers’ writings will necessarily be somewhat piecemeal, all of Wilson’s selections are worthy of inclusion and they give the reader illuminating insight into the thought of the Patristic Church. After digging into Wilson’s book, readers will be introduced in an accessible way to the writings of Ignatius of Antioch, Athanasius of Alexandria, Ambrose of Milan and many more besides. By making careful selections about which Patristic voices to include and providing helpful guidance along the way, Wilson has made it easier to digest the writings of the some of the greatest minds the church has ever produced.

I only have a few critiques of Wilson’s book. Occasionally, Wilson will appeal to church tradition somewhat uncritically. One example would be where he seemingly accepts the (likely legendary) account that the Didache was written by the twelve Apostles. This is remarkable as very few professional church historians would support such a view. Wilson also relies on Irenaeus of Lyons to provide historical insight into the writings of the Apostolic Fathers even while some scholars have seriously questioned how reliable of a source he is about this era. Furthermore, I think Wilson is sometimes more optimistic than I would be about the potential of Patristic exegesis to illuminate the New Testament when greater attention to the immediate historical, cultural, and linguistic background of the text would actually be more helpful.

Nevertheless, Wilson’s 40 Days With The Fathers: A Journey Through Church History is a good introduction to the writings and thought of the Patristic Church. Individuals and small groups will find the format of the book very helpful as it allows readers to absorb the writings of the Church Fathers over a longer period of time thus increasing reading comprehension. Accessible and clear, I will recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn more about the Church Fathers and is new to the study of church history. I look forward to revisiting 40 Days With The Fathers anytime I need to be reacquainted with the great and spiritually enriching voices of the Church Fathers.

The Pietist Story: Part Two

So just what is Pietism? Is it the fount of all heresy within Protestantism due to it’s overemphasis on individual connection with God rather than sound doctrine? Some Protestant theologians and historians certainly think so. Is it a spirituality type that produces Christians who are “so heavenly minded they are no earthly good.” Once more, some Protestant theologians and historians certainly think so. Are such characterizations really accurate?

In my judgement, they are not.

Indeed, if my study of Church History over the last five years has taught me anything it is that Pietism is often deeply misunderstood. Despite how important this movement is to the development of Protestantism, many Christians have little knowledge or understanding of it. Thus, it has often become the punching bag of heresy-hunters.

So once again, what is Pietism? I would suggest that this term can be understood in two distinct but intimately interrelated ways. First, Pietism is a historical movement that was born during the early 1600s. Beginning in the Netherlands and flourishing in Germany, the movement emphasized Bible study in private and in small groups, personal connection to God, a life of holiness, charity amongst Christians of different denominations, church renewal, and social concern for the poor.

Second, Pietism is a distinct ethos that lives on in Christianity to this day. While Pietism as a discernible historical movement has probably run its course, its ethos very much continues. Christians who embrace the Pietist ethos will value many of the same things that the Pietists of old did. Some prominent Christian theologians who I think are good representations of the Pietist ethos would be Stanley Grenz, Roger Olson, and Donald Bloesch. Billy Graham displayed many Pietist tendencies, though I doubt he ever called himself a Pietist. I think the founder of my denomination A.B. Simpson displayed some Pietist tendencies (this is not surprising as he voraciously read and appreciated many Pietist authors).

Now some scholars would argue that my definition of Pietism as a historical movement is too narrow. Indeed, scholars such as Justin A. Davis and F. Ernest Stoeffler (perhaps the most important 20th century historian of Pietism) use Pietism as an umbrella term that covers a whole host of European church renewal movements in the 1500s, 1600s, and 1700s. These scholars would see Jansenism, Quietism, Puritanism, Quakerism, and many smaller renewal movements as various “species” of Pietism. However, I wonder if using the term “Pietism” in this way is somewhat artificial and stretches the term to its very breaking point. However, I will grant that many of these movements display at least some aspects of the Pietist ethos (and perhaps that is what these scholars are really trying to say).

Thus, the story of Pietism that I will tell will primarily focus on Pietism as it developed in the Netherlands and Germany and how it eventually became a worldwide movement. I will also look at how its ethos continues to this day. God Bless!

The Pietist Story: Part One

Greetings readers, it has been some time since I posted to this blog. However, I have hardly stopped writing. In fact I am writing more than ever before as I am currently in the process of writing my doctoral dissertation. Despite the heavy load of doctoral work I have no intentions of abandoning this blog. In fact, my research has motivated me to write all the more. After much prayer and reflection, I have decided to write a series on “Pietism” which has been my primary research focus over the last 3 years. For those unfamiliar with Pietism, this movement is perhaps the most significant renewal movement to ever be born out of Protestant Christianity. Despite this, many Christians are largely unaware of it.

Pietism was a Protestant Renewal movement that thrived within German Lutheranism during the 1600s and 1700s. Although many Pietists were Lutherans, the movement also included many Reformed and Anglican Christians as well. Pietists emphasized the study of scripture in private and in small groups. They also deeply valued the spiritual life and one’s personal connection to God. Furthermore, while most Pietists valued the orthodox Christian tradition, they emphasized that right doctrine alone did not make one an authentic Christian. Rather, a holy and transformed life was needed as well.

Why do I feel called to write this series on Pietism? First, I feel called to write this series because I am absolutely passionate about Church history and renewal movements in particular. I believe that learning about our past is an essential spiritual exercise for the Christian. By learning about our history we are introduced the great spiritual masters and minds of the Church. We are introduced to perspectives that challenge and convict us. Perspectives that deliver us from the “tyranny of the present.”

Furthermore, as a an Evangelical Christian of a Wesleyan-Holiness bent, I recognize that I am an inheritor of the Pietist tradition and that it has shaped my own traditions quite substantially. Indeed, the movement started by the Wesleys, Jonathan Edwards, and George Whitfield (which we have come to call Evangelicalism) is essentially a fusion of Puritanism and Pietism with a strong emphasis on revival. Thus, I write on Pietism to understand my own heritage better. I hope that other Evangelical Christians will read this series and come to understand their heritage better as well.

Finally, I write this series on Pietism because I believe the Pietists have much to teach us. Wracked by scandal, denominational strife, and accommodation to the worst aspects of American culture, the Evangelical church in America is in desperate need of renewal. The Pietists were faced with similar challenges in the churches of their day too. However, with time and effort (and I think the help of Almighty God) they managed to infuse their churches with renewed life and vigor. Perhaps its time we take a page from their playbook.

I hope you enjoy reading this series as much I look forward to writing it. God Bless!

Every Christian a Priest?: Exploring the Common Priesthood Doctrine

As some of my readers already know, over the last two years I have been studying the seventeenth and eighteenth century renewal movement known as “Pietism.” The Pietists took the doctrine of the “Priesthood of every believer” very seriously and believed that a widespread revival of lay-driven ministry would be necessary if the Church was to be renewed. (If you would like to learn more about this story I recently published an article on this very subject in a scholarly journal. You can find that article at this link The Pietist Revival’s Implications for Church Ministry in the Post-Pandemic Church | Pace IV | Jurnal Jaffray (sttjaffray.ac.id) The Pietists’ emphasis on this doctrine inspired me to study what Scripture says about it more thoroughly and this article is the result of my studies. I hope you enjoy reading it. God Bless! – Julian Pace.

I have long been fascinated by the doctrine of the priesthood of every believer so championed by the Protestant Reformers and their Pietist descendants. Both the Reformers (particularly Luther) and the Pietists thought that by placing more emphasis on this doctrine a widespread revival of lay-driven ministry might be unleashed. What New Testament references undergird this doctrine the Reformers and Pietists so cherished?  For starters, there are roughly 150 references to the terms priest(s) and priesthood in Acts and the Gospel narratives. During Jesus of Nazareth’s day, a large priestly class continued to play a vital role in the administration of the old covenant sacrificial system. They were also important religious leaders and had an often-tempestuous relationship with Jesus of Nazareth. (Matt 21:23, Luke 20:1-8)

The priesthood image was clearly an important concept to some New Testament authors. 1 Peter 2:5-9 addresses the new covenant concept of the priesthood most explicitly. In this passage, the author of 1 Peter notes that believers form “a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession.” who are empowered to make “spiritual sacrifices” and proclaim the person of Jesus of Nazareth to the world. The author of Hebrews (Paul, Apollos, Barnabas, Priscilla?) envisions Jesus as the unmatchable and glorious “Great, High Priest” flanked by a priestly corps composed of the faithful. Revelation 1:6 and 5:10 both refer to believers a “kingdom of priests” and Revelation 20:6 notes that those who share in the first resurrection (namely believers) will be “priests of God and of Christ.” Tying in closely with the thought of 1 Peter 2:5-9 the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans notes that he has the “priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God.”

The Old Testament is also replete with mentions of the terms priest(s), priestly, and priesthood warranting more than 500 mentions. Featured most frequently in the Old Testament record is the “Levitical” or “Aaronic” Priesthood. This priestly corps played a central role in Jewish religion serving as intermediaries between the Jewish people and Jehovah. Probably the most central task of this priestly corps was to perform offerings and sacrifices on behalf of the people so that their infractions against God’s law might be forgiven (Leviticus chapters 1-9). Priests also had the responsibility of declaring people and material things ritually/ceremonially clean and unclean (Leviticus chapters 13-15).

Occasionally, members of the Levitical priesthood functioned as prophets and all were expected to be “stewards of the knowledge of God.”[1] The biblical evidence suggests that Aaron (Exodus 7:1-7) and Samuel (1 Samuel 3:1, 7:9, 13:1-15) performed both priestly and prophetic roles. Recent scholarship demonstrates that the Levitical Priesthood contributed to the corpus of the Old Testament, preserved the text of the Old Testament, and contributed substantially to the religious ideology and identity of the Jewish people.[2]

The Old Testament does not only mention the Levitical Priesthood. Moses’s father-in-law Jethro is notable for being the “priest of Midian” (Exodus 2:16). Jethro and his people were likely monotheists, and the Biblical narrative portrays him as a wise man (Exodus 18:14). However, the Old Testament is silent on the precise contours of his role as a priest. Genesis chapter 14 tells us of the fascinating figure of Melchizedek who was both a king, priest, and perhaps even a prophet (likely typologically foreshadowing Jesus who is “prophet, priest and king.”) In Hebrews, Jesus Christ is explicitly called a priest in the order of Melchizedek. Finally, Job appears to have performed a priestly role for his family (Job 1:5).

Interpreting the New Testament concept of the priesthood without reference to the Old Testament concept of the image is surely unwise. The authors of the New Testament would have been familiar with the Levitical Priesthood as well as other priestly figures (namely Melchizedek) of the Old Testament era. Furthermore, they lived in a historical period where their culture and religious life was dominated by a powerful priestly class centered around the Temple at Jerusalem. As such, the New Testament authors built on Old Testament concepts and tropes about the priesthood to form a new concept of priesthood better suited for the body of Christ.[3]

Biblical scholar Ben Witherington has argued in his work that the New Testament authors entirely “spiritualize” the priesthood image.[4] Whereas Levitical Priests once sacrificed flesh and blood bulls, goats, and doves as acts of worship to God, New Testament priests worship God by performing “spiritual sacrifices.” Christians from some traditions will almost certainly bristle at Witherington’s assertion that the New Testament authors entirely spiritualize (as well as democratize) the priesthood concept as Roman Catholics, Anglicans, and others have ostensibly and quite self-consciously sought to apply tropes and concepts from the Levitical Priesthood more concretely in their respective ministerial contexts.

But if the priesthood concept has indeed been entirely spiritualized, and if every believer is a member of the new covenant priesthood, then this truth has radical and important implications for the Church’s self-understanding as well as the role it must play in the world. Throughout history, priests have been viewed as intermediary figures connecting people to the divine. Likewise, believers today have the priestly privilege and task of “proclaiming the gospel of God” to those who have not heard (Matthew 28, Romans 15:16, 1 Peter 2:5-9). Thus, the Church must consciously seek to live up to its’ identity as a priesthood set apart for the purpose of proclaiming the Gospel to a world that desperately needs it. Believers must view themselves as priests who have been powerfully equipped for ministry by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12).

The priesthood image also has radical implications for the internal functioning of the body of Christ. As already noted, Levitical Priests performed sacrifices on behalf of the Jewish people so their sins might be absolved. They also had the power to certify people and items as either ritually/ceremonially clean or unclean. Christians now have the priestly role of performing “spiritual sacrifices” on behalf of their fellow believers by “incarnating” the spiritual reality that God’s forgiveness rests on their lives even declaring them “clean” and “right” in the sight of God.

When Jesus gives instructions about Church discipline in Matthew 18:15-20 and declares in John 20:21-23 to his disciples that they have the power to forgive sins, he is quite likely giving concrete examples as to how believers might exercise their ministries as priests. Applied practically, this means that all Christians enjoy the priestly privilege of “pronouncing forgiveness” over the truly repentant and such a privilege does not only belong to a small sacerdotal class within the larger Christian family. Ultimately, forgiveness of sins comes only from Jesus “the Great, High Priest” who takes away the sins of the world. However, God can use the faithful in a “sacramental” sense, as a “channel” for his grace, to impart forgiveness upon the truly repentant.

Does the priesthood idea say anything about the church’s mission and how its members should minister to and interact with the world? In Matthew 28 Jesus gave his followers the clear command to “go and make disciples.” Ironically, since that time, various Christian churches and traditions have sought after pithy and memorable mission statements when Jesus has already provided us one! An essential aspect of making disciples is declaring the Gospel of God to those who do not know Jesus Christ. Thus, Jesus’s call to make disciples and the Christian’s priestly duty of proclaiming the Gospel go hand in hand. Furthermore, in a world wracked by sin, strife and broken relationships, our priestly mission of channeling reconciliation and forgiveness on behalf of God is surely the healing salve our hurting world needs.[5]

If all believers are honored priests worthy of reverence and respect, such a reality must surely be balanced by the fact that believers are likewise called to be “servants” in the scriptures (John 13:1-17). The reality of our honored place in God’s economy must not lead the believer to a place of arrogant pride. Rather, the believer should see their priestly office as a calling to serve the Church and the world in a truly “sacrificial” manner (Galatians 6:10).

Recognizing that all believers are a part of a new priesthood, set apart and equipped for Spirit-empowered ministry also provides a helpful balance to the reality that the Church requires a ministerial class within its midst composed of elders and deacons for its good functioning (1 Timothy 3:1-13). Unfortunately, an unhelpful dynamic has arisen in some Christian traditions (particularly in many mega-churches that operate more like businesses than churches) where ministry is almost entirely performed and directed by the officers of the Church and the lay faithful are merely expected to “pray, pay, and obey.” Such a dynamic surely cannot be a Biblically faithful model.

But if we are to move away from such an unhealthy ministry paradigm, and if a widespread revival of lay-driven ministry is to be accomplished, then the doctrine of the priesthood of every believer must be recovered in all its’ richness and depth. Returning to the Pietists, Phillip Jacob Spener (1605-1635) was confronted with a spiritually moribund Lutheran Church where the clergy were out of touch and the laity were increasingly disengaged. However, he reemphasized the priesthood doctrine in his writings and ministry to impressive effect. In his books Pia Desideria and The Spiritual Priesthood Spener emphasizes the spiritual equality of all Christians as well as their concomitant privilege and ability to minister on behalf of the Church and God himself.

In Spener’s very own Lutheran Church, lay believers inspired by the priesthood doctrine created small groups for the purpose of Bible study and dedicated themselves more thoroughly to the pursuit of holiness. Some even taught themselves Hebrew and Greek so they might better understand the scriptures and teach them more effectively to their fellow believers. I believe that a renewal of lay-driven ministry is needed within the American Evangelical Church as our effectiveness has waned considerably in recent years. Perhaps we should follow the example of the Pietists and remind believers of their privileges and responsibilities as priests.

On a personal level, I feel that my church, the Christian and Missionary Alliance, needs to revive the priesthood image desperately, especially as we debate the place of women within the ministry of the Church. We need to be reminded that God has equipped all Christians (irrespective of gender) to perform Spirit-empowered ministry (1 Corinthians 12). Furthermore, whether God has called women to be elders, pastors, or otherwise within his Church, he has certainly called all women to be priests and powerfully “proclaim the gospel of God.” Other Churches may benefit from reviving this doctrine as well.

Mega-churches that increasingly function like businesses where professional pastors dispense spiritual services may need to revisit the priesthood image in their context. Too many believers in this context see the extent of their Christian commitment as believing the right things and attending services occasionally. Such a truncated faith simply will not do (James 2:14-26).

Smaller churches will also benefit from reviving the priesthood image in their local context. Many smaller churches (particularly those in rural areas) are served by part-time pastors who may only be able to dedicate 10 hours a week to ministry there. Pastors in these contexts will need to reemphasize the priesthood doctrine and remind the laity that their ministries are desperately needed and incredibly consequential.

Para-church ministries may benefit by intentionally envisioning themselves as playing a priestly role within and towards the larger church and the world it inhabits. Many para-church organizations like the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and CRU (formerly Campus Crusade For Christ) exist to perform the priestly role of “proclaiming the Gospel of God (Romans 15:16).” By intentionally reviving the language and category of priesthood, these organizations may come to enjoy a richer understanding of their evangelistic calling.  

In conclusion, I believe the priesthood image is one of the most fascinating and rich images of the Church in scripture. It reminds every believer of their honored place within God’s family. It reminds us that all of our ministries, no matter how humble, have consequence and worth. Throughout history, Christians have revived the priesthood image in their contemporary context and seen God do wondrous things. Could it be that by reviving the priesthood image in our local ministry contexts God might use us in ways we never thought possible?

Footnotes

[1] Christopher J.H. Wright, The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2006), 124.

[2] Mark Leuchter and Jeremy Michael Hutton, Levites and Priests in Biblical History and Tradition(Atlanta, GA: The Society of Biblical Literature, 2011), 1-2.

[3] Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament(Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2014), 689-690.

[4] Ben Witherington, “Why Arguments Against Women in Ministry Aren’t Biblical,” The Bible and Culture, Patheos, last modified June 2, 2015, https://www.patheos.com/blogs/bibleandculture/.

[5] John R.W. Stott, Christian Mission in the Modern World: What the Church should be doing now! (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1975), 20-34.

Bibliography

Keener, Craig S. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2014.

Leuchter, Mark and Jeremy Michael Hutton, Levites and Priests in Biblical History and Tradition. Atlanta, GA: The Society of Biblical Literature, 2011. 

Minear, Paul S. Images of the Church in the New Testament. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004.

Spener, Phillip Jacob. Pia Desideria, translated by Theodore G. Tappert. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1964.

Stott, John R.W. Christian Mission in the Modern World: What the Church should be doing now! Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1975.

Wright, Christopher J.H. The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2006.

John Wesley: Pietist Theologian

John Wesley has been quoted as saying that doctrine is but a “slender part” of true religion. judging by this statement, especially in isolation, one might assume that Wesley was a doctrinal indifferentist. However, upon further investigation we find that this could not be further from the truth. Wesley was hardly indifferent when it came to the task of articulating Christian doctrine.  We see this in his numerous tracts and sermons that deal with lofty concepts of Christian theology such as the Trinity, the person of Christ, the means of grace, original sin, prevenient grace and so forth.

To understand this statement of Wesley’s, we must understand him as in many ways a “Pietist theologian.” John Wesley was strongly influenced by Pietist thought through the writings of Johan Arndt as well as by the Moravians whom he met on his voyage to Savannah and with whom he spent much time with in England and Germany. The Pietists communicated to Wesley, through both personal correspondence and in their writings, that the Christian life did not consist solely of affirming certain theological propositions, heartfelt relationship with Jesus of Nazareth was necessary for a robust Christian life as well. Christianity consisted of both illumination and transformation. That is, transformation of the individual who though once isolated and alienated from God could now enjoy deep fellowship with God, who could grow into real, scriptural holiness and truly be more like Jesus!

Wesley understood this reality all too well. Prior to his “Aldersgate” experience, Wesley was more than ready to affirm the doctrines affirmed in the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds. Wesley had plenty of good theology and yet his spiritual life was empty, he had no real relationship with Jesus, he had not yet come to recognize Christ as his “personal” Savior. Wesley could affirm many truths about Christ but only when he had a vital relationship with Christ did he finally experience spiritual peace.

I think the experience of Wesley, and the other Pietists, provide us with valuable lessons for today. Good theology is important no doubt, and without good theology we will not have good spirituality. However, rational assent to scriptural truths (though extremely important) is not the whole of the Christian life, it is but a part. Our task as Christians today is to balance the rational and relational aspects of the Christian life. If we drop but one we will have a truncated and perhaps even counterfeit Christianity. With the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the Scriptures I am convinced that we can balance these two aspects of the Christian faith quite well and present a robust version of the Christian faith that speaks well to both the head, and the heart.

Why Pietism?

Recently I published an article on my blog about the renewal movement called “Pietism” that grew out of German Lutheranism in the 1600s and 1700s. Lately I have been immersing myself in the writings of the great leaders of the Pietist movement such as Philipp Jakob Spener and August Herman Franke. Furthermore, I have been reading the work of modern scholars of the Pietist movement such as Roger Olson, Dale Brown, F. Ernest Stoeffler, and Christian Collins-Winn. With so much of my time being spent on this study, and with it being the subject of my doctoral dissertation, my wife understandably asked me “why are you so interested in studying Pietism?”

Pietism in not a well-known term amongst Evangelical Christians even though it might be the most influential renewal movement of the Protestant tradition. Pietism as a movement emphasized the necessity of conversion, the importance of individual as well as small group Bible Study, and that authentic, vibrant Christian faith was more than just mental assent to core Christian doctrines. The Pietists firmly believed that Christianity was a “heart” religion and not just a “head” religion. The Pietists were also people of great social concern. Something of a rallying cry of theirs was that they existed for “God’s glory and their neighbor’s good.”

Pietism as an ethos has influenced Lutheranism as well as the Anabaptist movement in Christianity. Indeed, the Church of the Brethren in the United States has been especially influenced by Pietism. The Evangelical Covenant Church (one of the fastest growing Protestant denominations in the United States) is a distinctly Pietistic denomination. John and Charles Wesley were profoundly influenced by the Moravians who were a Pietistic people. It is hard to find a Protestant tradition that has not been touched by the Pietist ethos. It is remarkable that it is so little known when it’s influence has been so wide.

“Why am I studying Pietism?” I study Pietism in part because it brought revival to German Lutheranism when it was desperately needed. Mainstream German Lutheranism in the 1600s and 1700s had become stale and arid. The Pietists did much to revive German Lutheranism. The Pietists cared for thousands of orphans, printed millions of Bibles, and sent out many effective missionaries all over the world. The idea that they lived for “God’s glory and their neighbor’s good” was more than just a slogan, it was a way of life.

I also study Pietism for greater self-understanding. Pietist emphases have deeply influenced Evangelicalism and I want to know more about this trans-denominational movement that has deeply shaped what I believe and how I live my life. Finally, I believe Pietism may contain valuable insights for renewal in Evangelicalism today. The Evangelical Church in the United States needs renewal. We need to mobilize for the 21st century and reach the one-third of the world that still has not heard the Gospel. Who better to draw inspiration from than the Pietists? Pietistic Lutherans were some of the first to send missionaries to the native peoples of Greenland and Canada. Pietists missionaries were the first people to translate the Bible into Tamil. A language spoken by many people in India.

In short, I believe that the Pietists can show Evangelicals what it truly means to live a life for “God’s glory and our neighbor’s good.” Is there a more authentically Christian way of life than this? Is any other kind of life even worth living?

On Pietists and Preaching

Recently I have been doing a tremendous amount of research on the Christian renewal movement known as Pietism. Pietism was a church renewal movement that grew out of German Lutheranism during the 1600s and 1700s. The German Pietists were convinced that the church would only experience broad renewal when both the clergy and the laity more deeply engrossed themselves in the Holy Scriptures and moved beyond a mere “head knowledge” of the Christian faith into a Christian faith of the “heart”

Pietism as an ethos deeply influenced the Anabaptist, Moravian, and Methodist movements. Indeed, even today, Pietism’s influence can be felt in modern Evangelicalism even if it is rarely acknowledged or recognized.

Perhaps the greatest manifesto of early Pietism was a book entitled Pia Desideria or “Pious Desires” by Philipp Jakob Spener. Spener was a Lutheran clergyman who, though devoted to the Lutheran Church, nevertheless found that his native church was severely lacking in many areas. Interestingly, a problem that Spener found especially troubling within his native church was the poor state of the clergy.

It was not that the clergy were poorly educated. Indeed, the average Lutheran clergyman had received rigorous training in Biblical languages, systematic theology, and logical reasoning, yet for all this training and knowledge, the preaching of many a Lutheran clergyman during Spener’s day was dull and ineffective.

Sermons had become highly academic affairs where pastors would wax eloquent over the most minor of theological matters. They would often lapse into long soliloquys in foreign languages the common people little hope of understanding. Sermons were often seen as opportunities for the pastor to show off their rhetorical prowess with little thought given to whether the sermon would be of any practical value to the laity. Sermons were primarily informational and rarely transformational.

Whenever I read church history, I read with an eye to discover wisdom for the modern church. There is “nothing new under the sun” and a careful reading of the church’s past can give us insight for how to deal with the problems of the present. As a preacher myself, I have often found Spener’s critique of poor quality preaching rather convicting. It has led me to ask questions such as “How does the preaching of the modern Evangelical church compare with that of the Lutheran church of Spener’s day ?” “Do I repeat many of the errors of Spener’s day when I get behind the pulpit?”

I must confess that I too have been guilty of simply wanting to show off what I know when I preach. I study hard and work diligently at being a competent speaker. I am proud of my work ethic and I am passionate about teaching theology. Sometimes pride creeps in. I’m convinced that when this happens, I am not as effective as I could be. It becomes about me rather than pointing people to Jesus Christ. This is never good.

Furthermore, I have personally experienced preaching that was seemingly just about dispensing information to the congregation. It was like listening to a seminary lecture only far less interesting. Worse still, I have experienced preachers that were warped with pride by their intelligence, education, and rhetorical prowess. I remember one in particular who would not cease reminding everyone that he had four degrees including one from a prestigious research university. Fellow preachers, if we are guilty of this sin of pride in our education and abilities then we need to repent. We have an important job to do. Jesus Christ must be proclaimed! We can’t get in the way.

Now, I do not want anyone to think that I am teaching against seminary education or intellectually engaging preaching. I believe very strongly in both of these things and frequently in Evangelicalism we have the very opposite problem. Preaching in many Evangelical churches is often an emotionally charged spectacle, yet simultaneously a doctrinal mess with little to no good content. Indeed, an anti-intellectual strain runs deeply within Evangelical preaching and it negatively affects our witness. This is not the kind of preaching I am advocating for.

Spener and the Pietists thought that preaching was vitally important. If revival and renewal were to take place in their time, better preaching was required. As preachers we must daily seek to preach more effectively by presenting sermons that while thoughtful and theologically sound, are also deeply practical. We need to preach sermons that provide for our people practical instruction in righteousness. We need sermons that point people to Jesus rather than our prowess and abilities. We need to be conscious of where our people are spiritually and intellectually so that we can gradually and carefully grow them into mature and theologically informed Christians.

I understand that this balancing act of the informational and the practical will not always be easy, but it is something we must strive for. I want my preaching to be effective and powerful, I want it to be transformational. When my eulogy is spoken, I want it to be said that my preaching pointed people to Jesus Christ rather than my abilities.

The Christian as Historian

According to many historians of a secular bent, a Christian’s religious convictions should play little to no role in their work as a historian. In his book The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship, George Marsden notes that the academy sees the “Christian historian” in much the same way they see the historian who happens to be a bridge player. It is just fine to be a Christian or a bridge player, but these “extracurricular” activities ought to have no role in your work as a historian.[1] Furthermore, historian Jay Green notes that within the academy there is a profound bent towards thoroughgoing “methodological naturalism” which tends to view religious phenomena skeptically, even dismissively.[2] Within such a thoroughly secularized milieu is there any “room” for the Christian historian to bring their faith convictions and their work together in a positive way? It is my contention that there is a way to accomplish this and I will attempt to sketch out very briefly what this might look like.

If we are to have an intellectually robust understanding of what it means to be both a Christian and a historian, a logical place to begin would be discussing the concept of historical study as a “vocation.” In his book, Christian Historiography: Five Rival Versions Jay Green notes that the term “vocation” comes from the Latin verb “vocare” which means “to call.”[3] Green suggests that the Christian historian can view their work in a spiritually richer way by realizing their work is not simply a means of providing for oneself, but rather a genuine, holy, and vital calling from God. Green further develops this line of thinking and suggests that perhaps one of the greatest blessings of the Reformation was the expansion of the concept of “vocation.” In the Medieval Catholic tradition, the concept of “vocation” or “calling” was closely tied to pursuing church related work while ordinary labor was often seen as morally neutral. The Reformers and their descendants eschewed this strong bifurcation between “holy” and merely “secular” work. To them, all work had “eternal and divinely appointed worth.”[4]

So, if all work (including historical work) has “worth” as 1 Corinthians 7:20 would seem to teach, what does it look like for a Christian historian to “live out” their “calling” in a way that brings God glory. Historian Douglas A. Sweeney sees the historian’s calling as essentially one of service to both their academic peers as well as their students.[5] Seeing their work in this light, the Christian historian should strive to be the best historian they can be. They should seek to serve their respective guilds by making healthy contributions to the field. They should do careful, balanced research that strives for objectivity, even if this is ultimately only an unattainable ideal.[6] The Christian historian must actively look for ways to serve their students, the church, and even the voices of the past. Christian historians should apply the golden rule to the historical sources they survey by interpreting them in the way we would want our words to be interpreted: In context and on their own terms.

Armed with a robust theology of vocation, the Christian historian can view their work in a more enriching and motivating light. They realize they there is a call on their lives to work for the betterment of society and to the glory of God. The Christian historian is uniquely motivated to search for the beautiful and true.[7] Can the historian working out of purely naturalistic and secular motivations boast of such an enriching and rewarding view of their work?

Now that we have established how the Christian historian’s motivations may differ from that of his more secularly inclined counterpart, we must explore whether the methodologies they espouse will look any different. On many points the Christian historian and their secularly inclined counterpart will probably espouse very similar methodologies. Both will display an appreciation for objectivity, careful and rigorous analysis of primary and relevant secondary sources, and (hopefully) modesty about their conclusions.[8]

However, the conclusion cannot be avoided that large swathes of the academy remain enamored with reductionist views of history that tend to rest on a deeply flawed “empiricist” epistemology.[9] This methodology insists that only things proven by observation can be considered factual. Historians of a Marxist bent have embraced such a method and have tended to boil down all religious phenomena to underlying issues of economics, class, and race.[10] Religion’s role in history has often been trivialized in modern historiography.

Within such a milieu, the Christian historian can offer a perspective that seeks to correct this “flattening” of the human experience. Fortunately, historians working in the recent past such as Kenneth Scott Latourette, Timothy L. Smith, George Marsden, and Mark Noll have offered such correctives in the largely secularized academy. These scholars, and many more, have sought to show that religion should be seen as the defining and vital force in people’s lives that it truly is. Quoting Catholic historian Philip Gleason, Jay Green suggests that religion has shaped history just as much and perhaps even more than “ethnicity, race, class, gender, or power.”[11] Thus, it could be argued that the Christian historian can take a broader, fuller, richer view of history that truly does justice to the complexity of the human experience. To ignore the effect religion has had on humanity in the past is to write truncated history.

Now, taking religion seriously in historical investigation is one thing, but can the Christian historian expand their method even further? Can the Christian historian posit divine causation or influence behind the events of history? Perhaps before we can answer such a question it would be wise to mark off what is almost certainly “out of bounds” methodologically for the serious Christian historian.

In his book Why Study History? Reflecting on the Importance of the Past, John Fea documents well the problems associated with writing so called “providential history.” This kind of history seeks to show definitively God’s “mind” and “will” behind history. This method has flourished amongst those who wish to prove that the United States was founded as a uniquely and explicitly Christian nation. Unfortunately, this methodology tends to distort the historical record in favor of its’ predetermined interpretive paradigm and presumes to know too much about the mind and will of God. Fea suggests that the Christian historian must practice restraint in their craft. When positing the divine will behind history they must season their conclusions with words such as “perhaps,” “maybe” or “might.”[12]

Nevertheless, many notable Christian academics believe that there is a responsible way to posit God’s “breaking into history” whilst avoiding the egregious errors of providential history. Historian Mark Noll has suggested enlisting the “missiologists” to help decipher God’s activity in the past.[13] Furthermore, C. Stephen Evans has convincingly argued that historical texts replete with miracle accounts should not a priori be dismissed as unreliable and without historical value.[14]

Christianity is fundamentally a historical religion. Thus, it is unsurprising that many Christian scholars have stepped up to defend its’ most central historical claims and the Resurrection of Jesus has received intense focus.[15] Can the Christian historian legitimately seek to demonstrate the historical veracity of miracles? I believe they can if they are willing to jump into discussions about metaphysics and show that belief in the possibility of miracles is more reasonable than the belief that miracles demonstrably cannot occur. To be sure, the Christian historian will need to be cautious when investigating the veracity of supernatural phenomena in history. Nevertheless, I believe that the Christian historian can investigate miracle claims responsibly. Furthermore, I believe we can affirm with Wolfhart Pannenberg that the Resurrection of Jesus, Christianity’s central miracle, has “good historical foundation.”[16]

In conclusion, the Christian historian can bring their faith convictions and their work together in a positive way. They may recognize that their work as historians is a “holy calling” imbued with eternal worth. Furthermore, they are uniquely positioned to take the phenomenon of religion in history seriously and thus achieve a broader and fuller understanding of the human experience. Finally, The Christian historian may be able to “glimpse” God’s working in history. However, exercising thoroughgoing caution in such investigations cannot be overstated.

Footnotes

[1] George M. Marsden, The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998) 20.

[2] Jay D. Green, Christian Historiography: Five Rival Versions (Waco: Baylor University Press, 2015), 12-13.

[3] Ibid, 150.

[4] Ibid, 151-154.

[5] Douglas A. Sweeney, “On The Vocation Of Historians To The Priesthood of Believers: A Plea to Christians in the Academy,” in Confessing History: Explorations in Christian Faith and the Historian’s Vocation, ed. John Fea, Jay Green, and Eric Miller (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2010), 300.

[6] James E. Bradley and Richard A. Muller, Church History: An Introduction to Research Methods and Resources (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2016) 46-50.

[7] D.H. Williams, “Protestantism and the Vocation of Higher Education,” in Revisiting the Idea of Vocation: Theological Explorations, ed. John C. Haughey, S.J. (Washington: The Catholic University of America Press, 2012), 162.

[8] Bradley and Muller, Church History: An Introduction to Research Methods and Resources, 146-148.

[9] Marsden, The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship, 29-31.

[10] Green, Christian Historiography: Five Rival Versions, 12-17.

[11] Ibid, 33.

[12] John Fea, Why Study History? Reflecting on the Importance of the Past (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013), 64-84.

[13] Mark A. Noll, “The Potential of Missiology for the Crises of History,” in History and the Christian Historian, ed. Ronald A. Wells (Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1998), 120-123.

[14] C. Stephen Evans, “Critical Historical Judgement and Biblical Faith,” in History and the Christian Historian, ed. Ronald A. Wells (Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1998), 41-68.

[15] See Michael R. Licona’s The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach

[16] Wolfhart Pannenberg, Jesus-God and Man (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1977), 91.

Bibliography

Bradley, James E., and Richard A. Muller. Church History: An Introduction to Research Methods and Resources. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2016.

Fea, John., Jay Green, and Eric Miller. Confessing History: Explorations in Christian Faith and the Historians Vocation. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2010.

Fea, John. Why Study History?: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013.

Green, Jay D. Christian Historiography – Five Rival Versions. Baylor University Press, 2015.

Haughey, John C. Revisiting the Idea of Vocation Theological Explorations. Washington: Catholic University of America Press, 2012.

Marsden, George M. The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Pannenberg, Wolfhart. Jesus – God and Man. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1977.

Wells, Ronald. History and the Christian Historian. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1998.