Why You Should Read The Pietist Option: My Co-Author

No more waiting: October 3rd is here and The Pietist Option: Hope for the Renewal of Christianity is available! I’m excited to hear what you all think of it. Please register your opinion at Amazon and other retailers: it only takes a few minutes, but writing a review gives us valuable feedback and helps the book get wider attention.

In the run-up to today, I’ve shared our acknowledgments and explained our dedication to Glen Wiberg and Jim Hawkinson. But there’s one person I haven’t thanked adequately…

Mark preaching at Salem Covenant
Mark Pattie preaching in the traditional service at Salem Covenant Church in New Brighton, MN – photo courtesy of Heather Brumbaugh

I first met Rev. Mark Pattie sometime in 2006. Though fairly new to Salem myself, I wound up on the committee searching for our new senior pastor, and Mark came to our attention. The more we talked to him, the more I wanted us to call him. At some point late in the process, I finally launched into a decently long speech that could be summed up with five words: “He’s the pastor we need.”

I joined our Leadership Team a couple years after Mark came, then another two years after that I started the first of two terms as church chair. Over those eight years in leadership — and in countless conversations over coffee and lunch — I got to see Mark as more than just a gifted preacher and teacher: he’s a leader of leaders with a vision for the church in the 21st century.

But I also got to hear his annual goals, and noticed that one always got pushed to the back of the line: “I want to write a book.”

Cover of The Pietist Vision of Christian Higher EducationThat was in the back of my mind on January 2, 2015.

My book on Pietism and higher education had just come out, and I was already thinking ahead to the general-audience Pietism book that I really wanted to write: a 21st century update of Pia Desideria, the 1675 booklet by Philipp Spener that served as a springboard for the Pietist movement. I had the whole thing outlined in my mind, but couldn’t shake the feeling that I wasn’t the person to write several of the chapters: in particular those on the Bible and on preaching.

Suddenly, it dawned on me that I knew someone who could do justice to those topics, and more. So I wrote an email to Mark. Here’s part of it:

Much as I enjoyed the higher ed book, it’s basically written by academics for other academics: a narrow tone for a small niche. But I suspect that there’s a book to be written making the case that Pietism is not just a historical curiosity but a living ethos that has a great deal of relevance for 21st century American Christianity. I’ve been thinking of pitching to a publisher like InterVarsity Press a book articulating a grander Pietist vision — not just one for education, but for the church.
For several reasons, I’d like to do that with a collaborator, and you came right to mind. In general, I like the idea of working with a pastor, as someone more connected to the church, conversant with a wider array of Christian concerns, and accustomed to communicating with broad audiences. And I can’t think of a pastor I’d rather work with you than you!

Thank God he agreed!

I mean, I hope it was a good challenge for Mark. But I have zero doubt that the book is much better for his having written half of it — and done much to shape the other half.

If you don’t know Mark, here’s why you should be excited about reading a book that he co-wrote:

When he first came to the attention of our search committee, someone told us, “Mark Pattie is one of the top 10 preachers in the denomination.” Turns out that was insufficiently high praise. I’ve never heard a better preacher. I’ve told him a few times that his sermons are “evangelical” in the best possible sense: they always proclaim the Evangel, the Good News, of the grace and peace of Jesus Christ.

(And that’s not just for adults: what actually made up my mind when we interviewed Mark in 2006 was listening to him talk about how he approaches children’s sermons. Having now seen him in that mode with own children, I actually think his next book should be a collection of his best children’s sermons.)

Mark preaching a children's sermon in Salem's contemporary service
Courtesy of Mark (well, I hope — I’m borrowing it from his Facebook page but didn’t tell him in order to preserve the element of surprise… I think he’ll be fine with this)

What makes him such a fine preacher? What he writes in ch. 8 is revealing:

For the pastor, expectant faith is what we must bring not only to our preaching but to our sermon preparation, our personal devotional times, and all we do. It is a faith that is needed not only when we stand in the pulpit but when we open up the Scriptures or kneel down to pray. In this we lead the way in inviting every member of Christ’s body to practice living all of life in the transformative presence of God. Preparing to preach or preaching, preparing to serve or serving—in all that we do and invite others to do, we do it before God with a sense of wonder and hope. We trust that God is with us, speaks to us, empowers us, guides us, is at work within and around us. We come before God in faith, our senses alert and our spirits eager to join in with the gracious work of the Holy Spirit in us, the church, and the world. (p. 108)

“Living all of life in the transformative presence of God” is a wonderfully apt description for the author of those words. Mark comes as close as anyone I know to living out Paul’s exhortation to pray without ceasing. It’s not just that prayer bookends any conversation or meeting I’ve ever had with Mark. It’s that talking to him is like joining an ongoing conversation between a man and his Maker.

(It struck me once that prayer, for Mark, is not an interruption of his normal daily activities. Prayer is his normal daily activity. He just adds the rest of us to the conversation from time to time.)

So you’ll especially want to read his discussion of that spiritual discipline on pp. 75-77. But to read anything Mark contributed to this book is to join him in God’s presence, full of wonder and hope.

Mark and me
Courtesy of Donna Pattie

So finally, know that Mark writes about the Pietist option as one who has lived it. When I tried to define our “option” in the introduction, I had Mark in mind:

The Pietist option is to opt in to a distinctively hopeful way of coming back to Jesus: growing to be more and more like him, living at peace as part of his body, and fulfilling his mission in service to others. (p. 9)

Not to embarrass him too much, but Mark embodies all the hallmarks of the Pietist ethos. His faith has been shaped by devotion to God, but is invariably made active in love of others. When I’m too prone to get lost in thought, Mark calls me back to an integrated, holistic understanding of Christianity in which heart and hands join head (see ch. 5). Humble, compassionate, and hopeful that peace will always prevail, Mark is the irenic one in our partnership. (I may have written that chapter — no. 6 — but I’m too irritable and impatient to be truly peaceable.)

I’m glad to have had the chance to help Mark fulfill a long-standing goal, and in the process to bring him to a wider audience.