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!
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?