The Englewood Review of Books on The Pietist Option

Yesterday I shared a review of The Pietist Option from someone who doesn’t share our religious instincts. (John Fea thinks my response was itself a model of Pietism.) Today, a review from someone who does: Covenant pastor David Swanson wrote a lengthy piece on our book for the Englewood Review of Books, a wide-ranging weekly review published by a church in Indianapolis.

After setting the stage with summary of Pietism’s history, Swanson comes to our book:

Rev. David Swanson
David Swanson – New Community Covenant Church

Though writing from within historically pietistic institutions – Bethel University and the Evangelical Covenant Church – [Gehrz and Pattie] want their readers to see Spener’s legacy as transcending such organizations so as to see that, after hundreds of years and regular mischaracterization, it remains an option for a faithful response to the circumstances of our own tumultuous days.

To be sure, not every Christian is going to be satisfied with our list of four Pietist instincts. “For them,” Swanson concludes, “Pietism may offer a few spiritual resources but cannot be the option the authors want it to be.” (To wit.)

“But for others,” he continues, “like myself, who share Gehrz and Pattie’s four Pietist instincts, the rest of the book proves to be, like Spener’s original, a useful signpost into an uncertain future.”

I’m especially glad that my chapter on Christian unity resonated so strongly with Swanson. Not only did he pick up on the argument that “Such an irenic spirit becomes our unexpected witness to Jesus within a fractured world,” but he emphasized something that I think most reviewers have perhaps missed:

What makes Gehrz and Pattie’s proposal uniquely pietistic is their belief that unity is the work of spiritual formation. It is not simply the result of right belief but something that Christians choose over the course of generations. Worship, they suggest, could be the starting point. Rather than retreat to worship styles that suit our preference, we can choose to sing songs that represent the wider tradition to which we belong. As we hear one another sing – a challenge when congregational worship sounds more like a concert – we are oriented toward one another, a posture that continues as we come to the Lord’s Supper together. Our children can also be discipled in this irenic spirit as they are raised in the faith alongside their elders, rather than always being segregated by age. Listening in as adults disagree in love and learning to engage their own questions and doubts is a way to pursue the church’s unity over the course of generations. None of this is inevitable, but it is an option.

In addition to worship, what we say here has obvious implications for those of us who work in Christian education. I would just reiterate what I wrote in the book: this is not only an act of formation, but of counter-formation, the church’s necessary response to a world that is forming us in a myriad of ways for disunity.

Anyway, thanks to Rev. Swanson for his engaging review and to ERB editor Chris Smith for publishing it!