Sneak Peeks of Our Pietism Book: Hoping for Better Times

Stein, Philipp Jakob SpenerLet’s end the week on a high note — with one more sneak peek at the working draft of our book on Pietism and the future of Christianity: Mark’s chapter on the Pietist instinct to “hope for better times.” (If no one else needs to read this, I do.)

We’ll dive right in with this excerpt from early in the chapter, which follows a brief summary of the “General Crisis” afflicting Europe in the 17th century:

While most European Christians were demoralized and anxious about the future, the Pietists were convinced that, as Mordecai had advised Esther in another terrible time of testing (Es 4:14), it was precisely “for just such a time as this” that God had given them life and called them to be his people. Their God-given hope was not an otherworldly one, as is often suggested, imagining a future when God’s people would be removed from the suffering and trouble of our world. The Pietists’ hope was for the redemption of this world. It was, as Jesus taught us to pray, a hope that God’s kingdom would come and God’s will would be done on earth as it is in heaven (Mt 6:10).

Like [Philipp Jakob] Spener and his followers, those filled with the Pietist ethos today believe that God is answering this prayer and that we, relying on the grace of God, have the privilege of serving as a part of that answer. They are confident that God is engaged in overcoming the devastating realities of sin, death, and evil. They know that the critical turning point in the battle has already been won through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And they rejoice that Christ’s Church has been called together not to invite people to escape the world, but to serve on the front line of his kingdom’s advance into it.

What’s most striking for me is that Mark’s commitment to hope is rooted in the Pattie family’s experience of one of the great tragedies of the 20th century:

When I think about hope, I think of my Armenian maternal grandmother who lived with us through much of my childhood. I vividly remember the stories she told of her experience in the genocide perpetrated by the Ottoman government against Armenians during World War I. It was horrific. As many as 1.5 million Armenians lost their lives, including most of my grandparents’ family members. Their property, homes, even entire villages were taken away. My grandmother and her children, those who weren’t abducted at the outset, were marched across the desert. Her oldest son, eleven at the time, watched helplessly as his younger brother died of starvation in his arms.  My grandmother finally made her way to the United States with only two remaining children — only to watch one die soon afterward.

Image of God, Mary, and Jesus in Paris' Armenian Cathedral of St. John the Baptist
Inside the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Paris, where thousands of Armenians fleeing the genocide sought refuge

…Some [survivors] became atheists, unable to imagine the possibility that there could be a God, to say nothing of a good God, in a world of such evil. It is an understandable conclusion, but my grandmother made it clear that it wasn’t the only one. In fact, her stories, her witness, and her whole life served as a testimony that faith and hope were not only possible, but enabled one to both notice and boldly participate in God’s loving activity in the midst of our broken world.

This decision to put one’s faith in God and so to allow hope in the fulfillment of God’s promises to blossom and bear the fruit of love is at the heart of the Pietist ethos.

I like this idea of hope as a decision — but even more so, I’m convicted (especially in the wake of yesterday’s moping) by his conclusion that the decision must be made again and again if we are to live (as one later Pietist put it) in Jesus Christ’s future:

…Having put our faith in God’s grace, we can trust “that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ” (Phi 1:6). On a practical level, though, our part is to decide again and again, day after day, whether to trust God’s faithfulness. Choosing to trust God is a recurrent necessity for us, as it was for Abraham and Sarah, for Jesus’ mother, Mary, and his first disciples, and indeed, as it was for Jesus himself. Each and every day, we must choose whether to trust God and, thereby, to “be strong and courageous” (Josh 1:9), trusting God’s faithfulness and setting out to live according to his Word and call in our lives….

This is the bottom-line, foundational decision we need to make. Pietism reminds Christians who imagine themselves to be people of faith to actually be people of faith, to put our hope resolutely in God and live like it. As we choose to hope, the fruit will become evident.

It’s a decision I need to make again today, and many more days to come.

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