The Swedish Pietists: A New Book from Mark Safstrom

Carl Olof Rosenius
C. O. Rosenius preaching at Bethlehem Church in Stockholm – Wikimedia

I suspect that even before they found this blog or the books I’ve edited, most of my readers were already familiar with the German Pietists who started the movement known as Pietism: Philipp Spener, August Francke, Nicolaus von Zinzendorf, perhaps even Johanna Petersen, Gottfried Arnold, Alexander Mack, and other Radical Pietists. But if we consider why a Pietist ethos is alive and well in 21st century America, I’m convinced that we need to better understand a much less familiar story: that of the religious revival that swept Sweden in the mid-to-late 19th century.

Not only did that outbreak of Pietism reshape that country in that time, but because of emigration, it led to the creation of American Christian institutions like Bethel University and the Evangelical Covenant Church that — unique in their circles — continue to draw on their Pietist roots to this day.

Unfortunately, most of that history is buried in institutional histories and rather hagiographic biographies that are mostly unknown outside of those institutions. Even Christian Collins Winn and Roger Olson’s otherwise admirable attempt to reclaim Pietism — which takes the story into the 19th and 20th centuries — almost totally neglects the Swedish revival.

So I’m thrilled to announce that Wipf & Stock has published The Swedish Pietists, edited by my fellow Covenant scholar Mark Safstrom!

Safstrom (ed. and trans.), The Swedish PietistsThe reader features Mark’s original translations of sermons, speeches, and writings by the two leading Pietists of the revival: C. O. Rosenius (editor of the newspaper Pietisten, a revived version of which Mark now edits) and P. P. Waldenström. (Mark previously contributed a chapter on the political theology of Waldenström to our 2011 collection, The Pietist Impulse in Christianity.) The excerpts cluster around four central themes: Knowing God as Father; Knowing Jesus as Christ; Invitation to Christian Congregation; and Invitation to Experience the Life of Faith.

Save two 1842 essays on Pietism likely co-written by Rosenius and the British missionary George Scott (previously published by Mark in the modern-day Pietisten and discussed here in an October 2012 post), almost none of this material have been translated into English before. So I can’t recommend it strongly enough to any readers curious in learning about Pietism beyond its origins.

As I have a chance to dig into the reader this summer, I’m sure it will spark new posts. Here let me just tease it with an excerpt from Mark’s introduction, which makes the case that Rosenius and Waldenström are meaningful well beyond denominations like ours:

…as the significance of denominational identities now seems to be waning in our day… it is perhaps especially relevant now to understand the significance of these two men who were “ecumenical” before it was commonplace. At the same time as they inspired the formation of new denominations and institutions, they simultaneously problematized the very concept of institutionalized, formalized Christianity. Though fully aware of and firmly rooted in the traditions and unfinished project of the Protestant Reformation and Pietism, both of these preachers were concerned first and foremost in cultivating an abiding and living faith among their readers and parishioners, regardless of denominational affiliation. Two questions that were ubiquitous in the communities that these preachers served were “How goes your walk with the Lord?” and “Are you living yet/still in Jesus?” Rosenius and Waldenström encouraged their readers to ponder such questions, as they invited them to discover the joys of congregational life and the experience of a relational faith with God. (p. 7)

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