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Reclaiming Pietism (more controversial than you might think)

Reclaiming Pietism (more controversial than you might think) November 13, 2010

My next few posts here will deal with Pietism.  Who cares?  Well, my research leads me to believe true, historical, classical Pietism is very different from the false impression of the meaning of Pietism generally held today. 

This is parallel with my concern to reclaim “Arminianism.”  I have shown in Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities that many Reformed and even some Arminian theologians (to say nothing of pastors!) have distorted the true, historical meaning of that label so that even classical Pietists are afraid to embrace the term because evangelical administrators generally have a (false) negative impression of it.

Many of the same people who are responsible for distorting the true meaning of Arminianism have contributed to a generally negative impression of Pietism even among evangelicals.  But the evangelical movement is rooted in Pietism (as well as in Protestant scholastic orthodoxy). 

I have always considered myself a Pietist, but I have heard and read terrible things about Pietism.  My professor Wolfhart Pannenberg used to say (and perhaps still does) “There is one thing I am NOT!–a Pietist.”  To him, Pietism is subjectivist and anti-intellectual.  Many others have the same impression.  Others accuse it of being disengaged from involvement in social activism which is Quietism, not Pietism (although many Pietists have been guilty of Quietism).

Wheaton philosophy professor Mark Talbot slammed Pietism in ”
What’s wrong with Pietism?” in Modern Reformation (July/August, 2002).  A leading Calvinist pastor and writer told me to my face (while I was teaching at Bethel College which is rooted in the Pietist tradition) “Pietism is just a mask for doctrinal indifference.”  (This pastor pastors a church affiliated with a denomination founded by Pietists!)

One of my projects is to reclaim Pietism for evangelicals (and others).  Like every good movement, Pietism has had and still has its lunatic fringes.  And in too many cases it has led to distorted expressions.  One question is whether these distortions are necessary outworkings of Pietism?  In other words, does Pietism itself, as a historical movement, stand at the top of a slippery slope that leads down into anti-intellectual, subjectivist, disengaged, privatistic, individualistic, doctrinally indifferent (etc.) Christianity? Or are these all-too-common features of all-too-much American Christianity unnecessary deformations of true, historical, classical Pietism?

These are questions I want to explore here in the near future.  If you’re interested, please post your questions about Pietism and I will do my best to answer them.  (Perhaps not immediately in response to your question but in the body of future posts about Pietism.)

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