What It Means to Say “I’m a Pietist” in 2016

Before I write too many posts for The Anxious Bench, I thought I ought to explain “what I mean by ‘Pietist’ — and why I associate myself with a term that tends to inspire blank looks or antipathy.”

A lot of what I have to say in that post should be familiar to readers of this blog, and to listeners of the recently-concluded second season of The Pietist Schoolman Podcast. But here’s a taste of what’s likely to be the least historical post I’ll ever write for Anxious Bench:

…when I say that I’m a Pietist, I can’t possibly mean it in anything like the way that John does when he identifies as a Presbyterian or my in-laws do as Lutherans. Several American denominations can be connected back to German Pietism — none claiming this heritage so vocally as my own, the Evangelical Covenant Church — but here in the 21st century there is no organized Pietist movement tracing a centuries-long theological, organizational, or other kind of line back to Philipp Jakob Spener, August Hermann Francke, or their more radical counterparts.

But if nothing like a global communion of churches, denominations, and other institutions, Pietism nonetheless endures. “The Pietist movement,” observe theologians Roger Olson and Christian Collins Winn, “was energized by a spiritual ethos that outlived it and can be seen in many sectors of contemporary Christianity…. This ethos transcends denominations and even traditions; it ‘pops up’ in all kinds of Christian movements, organizations, and individuals.”

Memorial plaque for Phillip Spener
Memorial plaque erected in Frankfurt on the 275th anniversary of the death of Phillip Jakob Spener – Creative Commons (Flacus)

…for better and worse, Pietist describes me better than any other term.

And at a time when pressures from within and without the church tempt Christians to live in fear rather than hope, to focus more on guarding the boundaries of faith than making it active out of a love that can reconcile every estrangement, I suspect that Pietism can again help to renew individuals, churches, and the world.

Read the full post here.


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