Glen Scorgie: Why Pietism Still Matters

In the newest issue of the Baptist Pietist Clarion, I was especially struck by Glen Scorgie‘s article, “Religion of the Heart: The Enduring Value of Pietism,” in which he asks “whether Pietism should still matter to the Baptist General Conference—to Converge Worldwide.” Even beyond that particular denomination, I think it’s a valuable question for several churches and church-related institutions (like colleges and universities), one that will be the subject of the afternoon roundtable at our colloquium next Friday.

(And, of course, there’s the larger question, for Pietists and non-Pietists alike, of whether any historical tradition should still matter to contemporary churches.)

Glen ScorgieGlen (who teaches at Bethel Seminary San Diego, contributed a chapter to our Pietist Impulse book, and edited the new Dictionary of Christian Spirituality) borrows a definition of Pietism from our colleague G.W. Carlson‘s entry on the subject in the aforementioned dictionary: “…a religion of the heart, where the heart is understood as the controlling and affective center of the self.”

Why is that kind of Christianity still significant? Glen makes four arguments:

1. “Jesus said it was important”

Glen stresses Jesus’ focus “on the condition of a person’s heart…. He understood how easy it is for religious people to perform flawlessly from an external perspective, but insincerely on the inside.” To correct this “secret disconnect,” Jesus emphasized a “religion of the heart,” teaching his followers (then and now) to love God with heart, soul, mind, and strength.

2. “The world longs for it”

Disillusioned by a church they view “as chiefly a money-driven sociological or political organization,” seekers and unbelievers are looking for “an authentic, genuine spirituality,” for “a genuine encounter with the transcendent, for meaning and purpose in their lives, for freedom from guilt feelings and regrets, and hope for life after death.” Glen suggests that Pietism might help churches like those of the Converge movement meet those people where they’re at.

3. “Our own spiritual vitality depends upon it”

Glen points out that Great Commission churches are energetic in their evangelistic efforts, but that such energy is easily depleted (“ministry fatigue can set in”). The only solution for Glen is to embrace a heart-religion: to be “sustained by a deep connection to God and [be] infused by his love flowing outward from one’s own transformed heart.”

4. “It is our special testimony to the larger body of Christ”

Glen strongly affirms the Pietist emphasis on conversion (“giving one’s heart to Jesus Christ” — a cliché, “but when it is unpacked it still conveys profound truth”) and describes it as one of Pietism’s many contributions to the broader evangelical tradition. But it is more than a historical link: Glen sees evangelicalism as a big tent, a “confluence of multiple earlier traditions,” and the BGC (as “one of just a handful of churches that still preserve a Pietist heritage”) is uniquely suited to “keep alive a particular emphasis that the larger evangelical movement still needs, and without which it will become the poorer and weaker.”

You can read the entire article (and the rest of the issue) by downloading this PDF.

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