Hard to believe, but today marks exactly six months since The Pietist Option: Hope for the Renewal of Christianity, my book with Mark Pattie, officially came out.
In that half-year, The Pietist Option has sold far more copies than the other books I’ve been part of, been reviewed by Christianity Today (very positively) and The Gospel Coalition (less so), been given away to most of the clergy of my denomination, been discussed by all sorts of small groups and book clubs, and inspired a Lenten devotional. By any measure of success, it’s been dwarfed by many books by more famous authors, but it’s achieved pretty much everything Mark and I hoped for it.
So where do we go from here? After all, I’m already deep into researching a new book that has absolutely nothing to do with Pietism, and Mark has a church to pastor. Is it simply time for us to turn the page on The Pietist Option?
Not exactly. Here’s what I hope to see happen with our “option” in the months and years to come:
The book will continue to bring about (slow) renewal.
I hope that our subtitle wasn’t mere hubris. If we’re right about Pietism — and, more importantly, about the Christ whose Resurrection we just celebrated — then we should fully expect to see our book contributing to a badly-needed renewal of Christianity in America, long after our share of the work is largely done and we’ve shifted focus.
But this will take time. Not months, but years.
When a book first comes out, it’s tempting to track sales figures, social media mentions, and reviews. As if you can measure influence and impact immediately — and numerically. But as the weeks and months have passed, I’ve had to realize more clearly something I wrote last summer, as I anxiously awaited publication:
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.
It’s something I should know from my day job, which I tend to describe with metaphors of slow growth. If I’m right that teaching students can till soil and plant seeds, then I can do little better than hope for similar — and similarly subtle — results when writing a book.
I’ll still get to talk about it.
I’m quite sure that my third book about Pietism is also my last on that subject. (At least for the foreseeable future.) But while I’ll continue to write about Pietism at this blog and perhaps in other venues (and could be talked into doing another devotional or perhaps some small group curriculum), I think that the chief way that I can continue to help people think through the Pietist Option is by talking with them about it.
Not only is conversation at the historic heart of Pietist renewal, but taking part in worship and Christian formation with individual congregations lets me think anew about what our relatively broad ideas mean in the specific contexts of local churches.
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all the Pietist Option talks and classes I’ve already had a chance to do. And I’ve got three more already on my schedule for 2018:
- Sunday, April 29: I’ll be preaching (“Generosity in an Age of Distraction”) and teaching (“The Pietist Option for a Multiethnic Church”) at First Covenant Church in St. Paul, MN
- August: I’ll lead a four-week adult Sunday School class on Pietism at Central Baptist Church, also in St. Paul
- November: Incarnation Lutheran Church in Shoreview, MN will host me on either side of Thanksgiving for a two-week Kairos class on Pietism
(And not just in Minnesota. For example, I’d be very happy to add a couple more Sundays to my summer schedule, in case readers in the Northeast are interested in having me speak at their church during my June/July research trip to Connecticut.)
More books will be published.
Again, I’m not interested in writing another book on Pietism.
But I would be interested in helping to edit one. A few even.
Ideally, it would start with Mark writing a less academic, more pastoral book of his own — perhaps an expansion of his chapter (5) on the inward and outward journeys of the Christian life, or a deeper dive into Pietist approaches to the spiritual disciplines or evangelism.
But at least two of my chapters are begging for sequels from people who know the topics better:
- Taking Dale Brown’s notion of “Christ the Servant of Culture” (ch. 4) and expanding it into a book-length reflection on what the Pietist Option would mean for Christian engagement in culture, society, and politics (in other words, a true response to Rod Dreher’s option, out today in paperback)
- Taking the three principles of Christian formation (ch. 7) that I’ve derived from my study of Pietist colleges and universities and applying them more meaningfully to Christian formation of children and youth in churches and homes.
If you’re interested in talking more about writing for such a series, let me know.