If any one of Philipp Spener’s six “pious wishes” is most central, or does the most to set Pietism apart from other Christian traditions that place a high value on Scripture and a “common priesthood,” it’s probably this one:
…the people must have it impressed upon them and must accustom themselves to believing that it is by no means enough to have knowledge of the Christian faith, for Christianity consists rather of practice.
To know Christian faith, in other words, is insufficient, for “the only thing that counts is faith working through love” (Gal 5:6). After all, the great bugaboo of post-Reformation Protestantism for Spener and his followers was the “dead orthodoxy” of state churches whose clergy and laity could affirm creeds and confessions, but seemed to have no life in them.
In this episode, Mark, Sam, and I work through the implications of this position today and how it hearkens back to two of our defining “instincts”: that we know God less through propositions than through prepositions, and that Christianity is both less (fewer doctrinal essentials) and more (new birth, new life, new church, new world) than we think. While we had a lot to say about the importance of “faith made active in love” (and how that connects back to the virtue of hope), we also wrestled with the relationship between belief and action, how Pietists understand conversion, the role of contemplation in an “active” Christian life, and the place of grace in all of this. We even considered how the Pietist idea of “Christianity as life” might play with the growing number of Americans who describe themselves as “spiritual, but not religious.”
All that — and an announcement about an exciting event coming to Bethel University later this year…
You can find this episode on iTunes — along with a place to leave your rating and comments. Please take some time to review our podcast; it helps spread the word to other podcast listeners.
- Michelle A. Clifton-Soderstrom, Angels, Worms, and Bogeys: The Christian Ethic of Pietism (Cascade, 2010)
- Evangelical Covenant Church, “The necessity of the new birth,” Covenant Affirmations
- Jay Phelan, review of Diana Butler Bass, Christianity after Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening, The Covenant Companion, Aug. 2012 [Jay’s piece isn’t available online, but you can read my summary and response here]
- Pew Research Center, “‘Nones’ on the Rise: Religion and the Unaffiliated,” Oct. 9, 2012
Image Credit: the main house of the Francke Foundations in Halle, Germany, where 18th century Pietists engaged in education, philanthropy, health care, publishing, etc. (Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg)