Exploring Pietism

I admit to knowing very little about the pietist movement and its legacy in the faith and practice of many Christians today – I never took a course on post-Reformation Lutheran history, for example.  But as I mentioned in my last post, I am increasingly becoming convinced that some sort of piety or practiced spirituality is an essential element of the Christian life.  I do know that pietism itself originated as a pejorative label (much as Methodism or Lutheranism were also pejorative labels), and many today scoff at pietism as neo-works righteousness that results in a dumbed-down, mega-emotional, me-and-Jesus faith that smacks of self-righteousness and kills the church and its traditions (I know the critique better than I know the actual movement and its practices, for I’ve heard this critique throughout much of my life in my heady East Coast Lutheran circles).

On my Amazon.com wish list (available at right) I’ve added a book on pietism recommended to me by a Methodist pastor and professor whose expertise includes the history of pietism.  But until I get that book (wink, wink, nudge, nudge) I found this simple paragraph from Carter Lindberg’s The European Reformations (1996, Blackwell Publishers, page 16) helpful as I begin exploring pietism:

The Pietists of the seventeenth century and later saw the orthodox emphasis upon correct doctrine and its systematic exposition in classroom and pulpit as a rationalistic head trip that shrivelled the hearts of the faithful.  To the Pietists, Luther’s great contribution was the recovery of faith as trust in God’s mercy.  Pietism saw itself as the continuation of the Reformation or as the second Reformation, i.e. the reform of life following upon the initial reform of doctrine.  There was a tendency, however, in the Pietist emphasis upon personal spiritual regeneration or rebirth to associate sin (against which it urged constant battle) with nature or the "world."  In this regard Pietists were disturbed by Luther’s earthy interpretations of the Bible, not to mention his personal earthiness.  The Pietists rationalized his joy as a gift of God, and covered his toleration of dancing with the cloak of his unending merit, but they could not excuse his reputed comment that if God does not have a sense of humor he did not want to go to heaven.

About Chris Duckworth

Spouse. Parent. Lutheran Pastor. National Guardsman. Political Junkie. Baseball Fan.
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5 Responses to Exploring Pietism

  1. If you want to learn pietism there no substitute for reading Spener himself. Another great Lutheran pietist is Johannes Arndt who is read not nearly enough in my estimation…

  2. LP says:

    I’ve read that Brown book. It is a good, very basic introduction. I really encourage you to go right to the source for your info on the movement. Read Arndt and Spener at a minimum. The compilation available from Classics of Western Spirituality on the movement is also pretty good. I took a really great class on this at my seminary and enjoyed the reading. The prof specialized in the movement, and was a helpful guide.

  3. Pastor Scott says:

    The Historical Pietist movement might be interesting, but for today and now – I believe some of the post-modern emphasis connecting heart and experience is a pietist movement compared to the modern emphasis on academic theological point of view.
    Have you any familiarity with a Christian pietist movement of the last 60 years that originated in the Spanish Catholic church – called “Cursillo” – now in Lutheran circles in the US since the early 70’s – and known by the name, Via de Cristo. This short course in Christianity and Christian living – has a flavor of piety. I could say more – but will refrain for now.

  4. Lee says:

    The Brown book is good: he connects Lutheran pietism with other movements that had roots in the Radical Reformation. I believe the author is a Mennonite/Anabaptist.
    I’m currently reading Bradley Hanson’s book on Lutheran spirituality and he clearly thinks that the Pietists have gotten a bad rap.

  5. Rick Ritchie says:

    A novelistic presentation can be found in the novel The Hammer of God by Bo Giertz. This historical novel covers three different generations of Lutheran clergy and their struggles. The second section of the three was on Pietism. Giertz does not accept Lindberg’s appraisal. Rationalism came before Pietism. Pietism may have been supplied some needed corrections to Rationalism, but was not on that account better than the original Reformation piety.

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