For today’s sneak peek at the working draft of Hope for Better Times: Pietism and the Future of Christianity, I’m happy to share an excerpt from my co-author Mark Pattie.
Following the lead of Philipp Jakob Spener, we’ll start by encouraging Christians to listen more attentively to the Word of God. In this excerpt from early in ch. 3, Mark argues that while “the Bible is all around us, we do not invite it to be alive within us.”
The Guinness Book of World Records tells us that year after year the Bible is the world’s best selling book; it is everywhere available and accessible. Over 5 billion copies have been printed in hundreds of languages, and millions of people go online to read Scripture via websites and apps like Bible Gateway.
Yet, though everywhere present to us, we rarely present ourselves fully to Scripture’s powerful influence. Though the Bible is all around us, we do not invite it to be alive within us. We are slow to welcome God’s Word into our hearts and minds to nourish and transform us, to teach, reprove, correct, and train us in the God designed, God-inspired way of life (2 Tim 3:16-17).
As Mark continues, you’ll see two themes that run through our manuscript. First, that our book will come out during the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses should underscore both that we often are echoing early ideas of that Protestant reformer, and that German Pietism emerged precisely because Protestantism itself was in need of revival. Second, you’ll see Mark quote the 1963 Covenant Church report on “Biblical Authority and Christian Freedom,” whose authors claimed that Pietism sees the Bible as “an altar where we meet the living God.” It’s just one of many times in the manuscript when we’ll delve into our own denomination‘s history to explain how the Pietist ethos remained powerful long after Spener’s initial movement fizzled out.
…Getting “people to seek eagerly and diligently in the book of life for their joy” was a foundational principle for the German Pietists as they sought the spiritual renewal of individual believers, local congregations, and the Church as a whole. In this, Spener and other Pietists were simply following through on a key proposition of the Reformation, one its leaders had taught and worked toward, yet backed off from. When reformers like Luther realized that encouraging the general populace to read, interpret, and apply the Scriptures was leading to challenges to the current order of society, they became alarmed and argued for a more hierarchically controlled communication of the Word of God. By Spener’s time, the teachings of the various churches expressed in their confessions and creeds were generally understood to be synonymous with those of the Scriptures. The Bible’s purpose had become primarily to support what was already believed and understood or, at best, to argue about how best to articulate such things. The idea of the Scriptures having transformative power had long since been left behind.
In sharp contrast, Pietists understood the Bible to be “an altar where we meet the living God.” Far from simply being a receptacle for information — even God-inspired information — the Pietists held that the Scriptures are primarily a God-inspired gift for transformation. They taught that when we reverently approach the Bible, inviting the Holy Spirit to open our minds and hearts and lives to the Word of God, the Scriptures are the powerful means by which God can equip us to live out the good we were created to accomplish. They have the power to transform us by the renewal of our minds, as the Apostle Paul urges, so that we will not be conformed to this world, but rather able to discern and, by God’s grace, do the will of God (Rom 12:2).
Transformation, not just some minor adjustments and tweaks to our lives and world, is what we need. And this is what is offered every time we come to the Scriptures, a transformation that leads us inexorably forward to live out God’s good and loving purposes, to live, as the Pietists often put it, in such a way that we bring glory to God and good to our neighbor. As we come to the Scriptures with a humble, repentant, open, and willing spirit, God is able by the power at work within us “to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine” (Eph 3:20).