Tuesday, October 10, 2006

On pietism

When I was a young believer, I learned about about Philip Jacob Spener and the "pietistic" movement he started. At the core of it, more or less, is the assumption that faith isn't real if it's not expressed in daily devotion, acts of personal holiness, and the like. In its historical context, it confronted a church where even gross violations of moral law were common, especially among the clergy and aristocracy--in many regards much like today.

More recently, I've learned that "pietism" has become something of a dirty word to many, but also that the definition appears to have changed somewhat. The pietistic insistence on personal piety and evidence of one's salvation (by their fruit shall you know them) is transformed into works salvation.

Not fair, IMO, as Spener and his colleagues by and large remained in fellowship with orthodox churches. Yes, some of his followers, such as the "Holy Rollers," did give cause to believe they believed this, but a man can hardly be blamed for what happens with sinful men centuries after his death, can he?

Never mind that we again today find ourselves in situations where pastors and the elites (not to mention ordinary folk) are increasingly plagued by modernized versions of the same besetting sins Spener fought.

Perhaps, instead of fighting pietism, we ought to endorse a bit of it.


Mercy Now said...

The world can be a lot better if we live out more piety. The prob that it has gotten a bad rep is cuz it is being used to look down upon others. What if we become more honest, more trusting, more modest, less sexual, less abusive, less uncaring?

Anonymous said...

I hope to be a pietist, not because it gains me salvation, but because I want to do what my Lord would have me do. Mercy Now mentions some of those things. Off the top of my head I would add 'less vulgar' and 'more positive'.

Bike Bubba said...

Keep in mind here, for what it's worth, that pietism is not just plain piety. As it appears that Spener and others formulated it, pietism is the insistence that true faith must be accompanied by actual evidence of devotion.

Interestingly, my dictionary describes it as "affected or exaggerated piety," which is how those attacking it are using the word. In my book, it appears to be yet another case where the detractors have succeeded in redefining terms in a different way than they were originally used.

Anonymous said...


I'm assuming you recieved your inspiration for this post from DW's post recently. I posed the very same question there.

I think we need to draw a distinction between a false pietism and true piety. True piety comes about, I believe, when you realize your thoughts and actions have eternal consequences and you are careful and deliberate in all you say and do.

Anonymous said...

This is a test.

Bike Bubba said...

Exactly--and your response suggests that the proper question ought not be whether or not we should have piety, or insist on its evidence for church members (true pietism), but rather what we should do when people are not asking the same questions that Spener asked.

Of course, I understand fully that others have managed to change the official definition from Spener's to that of his detractors, so this is probably something of a semantic question. Even so, it brilliantly illustrates the harm that can be done when a movement's detractors or successors manage to define it.

Anonymous said...

"He who defines the language, controls the conversation." ~ I'm sure I'm not the first to say this.