The Pietist Option Is Not a Quick Fix

So I stumbled across this T-shirt on Amazon last month and quickly snatched it up:

Black T-shirt with #Pietist in white letters

I’ve worn it in public a couple of times. At some level, I think I even convinced myself that it could provide subtle (subtle?!?) publicity: that people would see a word they didn’t recognize, Google it, and be led to this blog or our forthcoming book.

Alas, the young woman taking my coffee order the other day employed a much older way of getting information:

“‘Pietist’? What’s that?”

After ten years of writing about Pietism, you’d think I’d be primed for that particular question. But instead I just muttered that it’s a kind of Christianity.

“Oh,” she continued, politely confused but still curious. “Is there a book about it?”

My moment to shine! “Well, actually, I wrote one that’s coming out this fall. It’s called The Pietist Option.”

“Great! I’ll look for that.” Royalties! “But what’s the Pietist option?”

I mumbled something I can’t remember, grabbed my coffee, went home, and changed my shirt.

* * * * *

“But what’s the Pietist option?”

All I really want to say is:

Gehrz & Pattie, The Pietist OptionRead the book!

Now, I just went through a version of this with a magazine editor. For an article coming out this fall, she wanted a succinct definition of Pietism and the Pietist option, plus a short list of specific actions for those wanting to take the next step.

It was an eminently fair request for an editor of a general audience publication trying to hold an author to a word count. So I’m sure she didn’t mean it this way, but going back and forth over that article revived an old worry of mine: that we’re publishing a book in an age of instant gratification, when few people read more than a short paragraph of anything written, and nothing can be that persuasive if it can’t be summed up in a few bullet points. Even as a blogger, I’m not really interested in cultivating that kind of readership, in having so superficial an impact.

In the end, I came up with something that the editor liked, and the article is all the better for her notes. But after a practical, hopeful section urging people to read the Bible, make their faith made active in love, and strive for Christian unity, I added this conclusion:

Of course, that kind of change won’t happen overnight. But churches that are “reformed, and always reforming” don’t offer quick fixes. Instead, we must study God’s Word, live out our faith in love, and strive for unity with patience, and in hope.

For in the end, the Pietist option is to live in active expectation that the God of the Resurrection works through people as imperfect as us, to reform his flawed church and, through it, to renew the weary world he loves so much.

The Pietist option is not a quick fix. No individual or group will read our (short) book and suddenly have all the answers. Almost every chapter is about taking up practices — Bible study, prayer, service, worship, education, listening, befriending — that have enormous power for transformation… in God’s time, not ours.

Early in the book, I borrow historian Steve Nolt’s description of Pietism as a kind of religious leavening agent, which reminded Mark of one of Jesus’ shortest parables: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened” (Matt 13:33). “In bread making,” I continue, “yeast does its magic subtly, bringing out the potential of the other ingredients while leaving little of its own presence behind. Likewise, Pietism can work its way into a Christian movement, enhancing what’s already there while leaving few traces of itself.”

Part of our point there was to make clear right off the bat “that the aim of this book is not to produce Pietists!” If readers never embrace the term “Pietist” but nonetheless find themselves “better equipped to fulfill what we Covenanters call the whole mission of the church,” then Mark and I will be thrilled. But the yeast metaphor also underscores that change takes time. As every baker (or fan of The Great British Baking Show) knows, you can’t rush the rising and proofing of dough. After doing the hard work of mixing and kneading, you simply have to wait, for hours, as the yeast slowly, imperceptibly works its magic. The same thing is true with Pietism.

So whether it’s because you’re a reader of this blog, a friend or relative, or because you saw some goofy, gangly guy wearing a #Pietist T-shirt, please do read our (short!) book.

Just remember:

The Pietist option is not a quick fix.