Learn More about Pietism

“What kind of schoolman?”

If you’re not familiar with Pietists and Pietism — or if you’ve only heard those words as synonyms for anti-intellectual, legalistic, hypocritical, overly emotional, or other-worldly, you’ll find plenty of posts here exploring the history of Pietism and its relevance today. And my new book with Mark Pattie, The Pietist Option, offers one particular application of that “usable past” for 21st century American Christianity.

But if you’d like to learn more, here’s a preliminary set of readings to get you started:

Olson and Collins Winn, Reclaiming Pietism• I think Roger Olson and Christian Collins Winn’s Reclaiming Pietism: Retrieving an Evangelical Tradition has overtaken Dale Brown’s Understanding Pietism as the place to start for general audiences. A shorter introduction, emphasizing Pietist ethics, is Michelle Clifton-Soderstrom’s Angels, Worms, and Bogeys. (Pricier, but also relatively concise is Harry Yeide, Jr., Studies in Classical Pietism.)

• For a more scholarly treatment that expands the story a bit and draws on more recent scholarship, see Douglas Shantz’s An Introduction to German Pietism: Protestant Renewal at the Dawn of Modern Europe. Shantz is also the editor of the lively, exceedingly expensive Companion to German Pietism from the Dutch publisher Brill.

• Or if you’re not yet sure you want to actually spend money on this, but want a place to start: the 1986 issue of Christian History magazine on Pietism is available as full-text, with articles by scholars like Don Durnbaugh, John Weborg, Gary Sattler, and Ernest Stoeffler and excerpts from Pietist writings and hymns.

• You can find good chapters on German Pietism embedded in larger narratives or collections, which helpfully puts the movement in context. My favorite is “Pietists Seek to Renew Lutheran Theology,” in Roger Olson’s hefty, but brilliantly readable historical theology text, The Story of Christian Theology. John Weborg contributed “Pietism: Theology in Service of Living toward God” to The Variety of American Evangelicalism, eds. Donald W. Dayton and Robert K. Johnston.

• At risk of engaging in rank self-promotion, I do think that the 2011 book I edited with Christian Collins Winn, G.W. Carlson, and Eric Holst, The Pietist Impulse in Christianity, is a good place to start if you’re not afraid to dig into some scholarly work on a wide variety of aspects of Pietism (broadly defined). If you want a preview… after the book came out I wrote a series of posts summarizing each section of the book. And if you have lots of money to spend and want to sample the current scholarship on Pietism studies, you couldn’t do much better than Pietism in Germany and North America 1680-1820, eds. Jonathan Strom et al.

• To keep up with contemporary scholarship in this area, you can follow the Pietism Studies Group on Twitter or subscribe to its listserv, H-Pietism.

• Three books by F. Ernest Stoeffler did much to introduce Pietism to English-reading audiences in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The Rise of Evangelical Pietism and German Pietism during the Eighteenth Century are out of print but available from used bookstores, and the collection he edited on Continental Pietism and Early American Christianity was reissued a few years ago by Wipf & Stock.

The Life of Lady Johanna Elenora Petersen• Biographies and autobiographies include K. James Stein’s on Philipp Jakob Spener and Gary Sattler’s on August Hermann Francke (both published by the Evangelical Covenant Church; both out of print, but not too hard to find used), Friedrich Zündel’s of Johann Christoph Blumhardt (a translation edited by my colleague Christian Collins Winn), and Barbara Becker-Cantarino’s translation of The Life of Lady Johanna Eleonora Petersen.

• If you feel ready to dive into the German Pietists themselves… Start with Theodore Tappert’s translation of Philip Jakob Spener’s Pia Desideria. Or browse a more diverse group of Pietist writings: the Paulist Press collection edited by Peter Erb (The Pietists: Selected Writings), which includes Spener alongside A.H. Francke, Nicolaus von Zinzendorf, Gottfried Arnold, Gerhard Tersteegen, J.A. Bengel, and F.C. Oetinger. The collection edited by Carter Lindberg (The Pietist Theologians: An Introduction) is both more expensive (over $40, even in paperback or on Kindle) and extensive, with all of those in the Erb collection plus several others, some well within the German Pietist tradition (Johanna Eleonora Petersen) and others pushing into Anglo-American evangelicalism (Cotton Mather, John Wesley).

• For later manifestations of Pietism… Mark Safstrom and Mark Granquist have both published edited collections featuring Scandinavian Pietists like C.O. Rosenius and Lina Sandell. Those interested in the Blumhardts could try the free e-books published by the Bruderhof (e.g., Christoph Blumhardt’s Action in Waiting) or track down a used copy of the Vernard Eller-edited reader Thy Kingdom Come.

• Some of my favorite reading advice (from Alan Jacobs) is to read what your favorite writers read. So if you apply that principle to Spener… Start with Johann Arndt’s True Christianity, since Pia was originally a preface to a collection of Arndt sermons, and Martin Luther’s “Preface to Romans” (with its enthusiasm for a living, active faith). Some of the devotional and mystical works recommended in Pia are the anonymously authored Theologia Germanica, Thomas à Kempis’ venerable Imitation of Christ, and the sermons of Johannes Tauler. The Puritan bishop Lewis Bayly was another influence on Spener – his Practice of Piety remains in print.

Olsson, By One Spirit• No American denomination has more explicitly embraced its Pietist roots than my own, the Evangelical Covenant Church, which has produced excellent histories by Karl Olsson (By One Spirit; Into One Body… by the Cross) and Philip Anderson (One Body, Many Members; A Precious Heritage), among others. And have some fun exploring Jim Hawkinson’s sampler of Covenant literature, Glad Hearts, which — Jim having been Jim — has lots of Pietists and Pietism in it.

• But the Covenant is but one of many denominations influenced by Pietism: e.g., the Augustana Lutheran Church (Maria Erling and Mark Granquist, The Augustana Story); the Baptist General Conference (start by perusing back issues of The Baptist Pietist Clarion); the Evangelical Free Church (see David Gustafson’s chapter in The Pietist Impulse in Christianity); the Brethren in Christ (Carlton Wittlinger, Quest for Piety and Obedience — and see the similarly-titled blog published by the BIC Historical Society); and the Church of the Brethren (Donald Durnbaugh, Fruit of the Vine; Carl Bowman, Brethren Society).

• My fellow Pietist Schoolman Jared Burkholder and Mark Norris bring Pietism into their new institutional history of Grace College and Seminary, sponsored by the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches.

• Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point people towards Pietisten, a journal (to which I often contribute a column) that “[draws] heavy inspiration from the collective heritage of Lutheran Pietism, as represented in a congenial flock of historically-related traditions” (including several of those listed above that share the aforementioned Rosenius as a founder — he edited the original Pietisten).

3 thoughts on “Learn More about Pietism

  1. Google “Chatfield Evangelical Pietist Church” and you will find a Blurb book telling the story of a church with Pietist heritage, and still going today.

  2. This is an impressive array of resources reflecting the thoughtfulness and conviviality at the heart of Pietism. I want to note that Pietisten is a journal. It was revived in 1985 by David Hawkinson, Peter Sandstrom, Tommy Carlson, and Phil and Sandy Johnson. Karl Nelson became publisher in 2010 and Mark Safstrom Chief Editor. Currently it is published twice a year. Visit pietisten.org for a plethora of back issues and subscription information. Phil Johnson, Editor Emeritus

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