The Pietist Impulse: Benediction

The Pietist Impulse in Christianity coverToday we wrap up our series previewing The Pietist Impulse in Christianity with a piece from Emilie Griffin that we’re calling our “benediction,” since it’s less a work of formal research than a blessing on those who have stuck with the book to its end and wonder where this impulse might be taking the Church.

First a word of introduction about Emilie Griffin, a Catholic writer, speaker, and spiritual retreat director. Her website hasn’t been updated in a while, but you can find a complete list of her many authored and edited books at her Amazon page. Some of the most popular include Souls in Full Sail: A Christian Spirituality for the Later Years and Doors into Prayer: An Invitation. She has also worked closely with Richard Foster and the Renovaré organization (e.g., co-editing Spiritual Classics with Foster) and has edited several entries in the HarperCollins Spiritual Classics line, including short collections from Bernard of Clairvaux, John Calvin, the Quakers, and the Pietists (the last with Peter Erb, author of one of our forewords).

All of which gives her a unique perspective on the “Pietist impulse”: both Catholic (as someone who converted to Roman Catholicism just before Vatican II — a story she tells early on in this piece) and catholic (as she came to Rome anticipating a reunion of the Christian churches by the end of the 20th century). Of course, that kind of reconciliation has yet to be realized, and she admits that “It would be easy… to become discouraged about the splintering of Christianity: our seeming inability to obey the Lord’s command ‘that all may be one.'”

Emilie Griffin
Emilie Griffin

While she had originally anticipated Christian unity spreading from top-down (“I imagined that the churches at the highest level of their authority—bishops, archbishops, elders and prelates—would enter into dialogue and reconcile their differences…”), she now finds herself taking another perspective:

…when we look from the ground up, taking into account the grass roots experience of Christians, I see there is much cause for hope—not only theological hope, but even a practical confidence that by God’s grace we are moving in a good direction. Not only that, it seems to me that Pietism itself as a historical movement with continuing influence in our time—Pietism itself can serve as a clue to this grass roots revival I am speaking of.

Two reasons that Pietism can serve as such a “clue”:

  1. Attributes associated with Pietism like “active love, inwardness, the experience of subjective conversion and transforming grace, and a personal devotion to Jesus” are “not exclusive to Pietism, but in fact should be formative for every Christian believer. They constitute aspects of what Jesus himself practiced and taught for true righteousness and faithfulness to God.”
  2. Since it is “not a denomination but a movement… principally seen as a historical tradition [but] nevertheless [exerting] a profound influence in Christian life today,” paying little heed to confessional boundaries and not so much concerned with organizational structures as the renewal that begins with personal devotion.

In both respects, we echo Griffin in our editors’ introduction, where we indicate our sympathies with those who would define Pietism as “a living tradition which still has a significant contribution to make to contemporary Christian communities,” namely, a “dynamic” centered on experience, conversion, devotional life, holiness, missions, and social reform “that needs to be recovered and rearticulated to further equip the Christian church to face the many contemporary challenges of our era.”

Carl Lundquist
Carl H. Lundquist (1916-1991)

As an example of how those two facets of Pietism might tend towards her goal of reconciliation from bottom-up, Griffin first looks at the Pietist impulse in the Baptist General Conference (see my recent post on Pietist denominations and their colleges for more on the BGC) and the longtime president of Bethel College and Seminary, Carl H. Lundquist (whom I’ll no doubt be discussing or quoting from time to time on this blog, since he’s central to my research). Griffin focuses on the latter years of Lundquist’s tenure at Bethel, when he sought to enrich Protestant devotional life by drawing on Catholic and other traditions, a quest that, in retirement, led him to found the Evangelical Order of the Burning Heart:

Understand, Lundquist was not looking at the church institutionally. He was not looking from the vantage point of church development or theological definition. He was not focused on organizational leadership. His concern was personal. It was pastoral. And it was practical. He was intent on a deeper spirituality for himself and for the sake of the flock. He saw that Christians need these times of intimacy with Jesus—times of silence and solitude—if we are to enter into his friendship and follow him.

On Lundquist, Griffin relies heavily on her reading of The Baptist Pietist Clarion, a newsletter put out by one of our co-editors, G. William Carlson. You can find most back issues here in PDF form.

These Pietist emphases on love, inwardness, conversion, transforming grace, and personal devotion continue to echo for Griffin in the history of other renewal movements (Wesleyans, medieval mystics, Quakers, the Charismatic movement, Renovaré itself), but the theme of “Christian friendship” moves to the center as she looks to more recent ecumenical efforts, such as those seeking to bridge the gap between Canterbury and Rome. (She notes Walter Cardinal Kasper’s address to the Anglican Lambeth conference in 2008, the 2006 meeting between Pope Benedict XVI and Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, and the 1995 encyclical of John Paul II, Ut unum sint.)

Avery Cardinal Dulles
Avery Cardinal Dulles (1918-2008) – Fordham University

Griffin’s guide to such ecumenical dialogues is the great American convert to Catholicism Avery Cardinal Dulles, who (in Griffin’s view) was less concerned with the “church as institution” than as mystical communion, herald, servant, sacrament, and community of disciples. As such, he came to propose a less institutional ecumenism towards the end of his life, in a 2007 article for First Things that Griffin quotes: “To surmount the remaining barriers we need a method… that invites a deeper conversion on the part of the churches themselves…. an ecumenism of mutual enrichment by means of testimony.”

Beyond the kinds of dialogues involving scholars and clergy in which Dulles participated, Griffin especially encourages a grassroots “exchange of gifts” through study of devotional writings from multiple traditions. (See the edited collections linked above.) “What does this kind of reading do? It does not deliberate on the divisions in Christianity. Instead it speaks to the heart and encourages a deeper conversion of heart. This deeper conversion shows us what we hold in common. This deeper conversion is what is needed to make a way forward in piety and reconciliation.”

She closes by wishing on the reader “the gift of piety… the gift and grace of reconciliation” and by inviting us “to a further mending of the broken body, a piety of hope and reconciliation,” closing with these words from John Wesley: “If your heart beats with my heart in love and loyalty to Jesus Christ, then take my hand.”

<<Read the previous entry in this series


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