Pietism has a negative connotation much of the time. But as I went through the book and heard the authors’ description of what they mean by pietism, I realized that I have some strong pietist leanings. And in some ways I think I am probably more accurately described as pietist than evangelical. Pietism is plagued, sometimes rightly, with a reputation for legalism. But pietism, like the term Methodist and Puritan and even Christian was a pejorative that was later adopted by the movement.
The Pietist Option’s title is riffing off of Rod Dreher’s Benedict Option, but the book is much more influenced by Philipp Spener’s 1675 book, Pia Desideria, than a response to Dreher. The themes of that book, which really defined the pietist movement, are worked out here in a modern context.
Pietism, for the authors is focused on:
- A more extensive listening to the Word of God
- The common priesthood for the common good
- Christianity as life
- The irenic spirit
- Whole-person, whole-life formation
- Proclaiming the good news
The authors, a historian of Pietism and a pastor from a pietist influenced denomination, are writing pastorally more than academically. Their orientation is that reform and renewal need to be constant, but the tone and orientation of our faith as well as the visibility of our love for other Christians and those outside the faith needs to take on a greater prominence.
One of the reminders of the book is that it isn’t just what we do, but what we feel that influences how we do something. We may be able to get Christian motivation to feed the hungry from Matt 25 or other passages of scripture, but we don’t just need to feed the hungry, we need to love them. Trying to serve people without loving them is will end up in legalism (as Pietism often has).
The authors are not at all denying the historic problems of pietism (becoming legalistic, too individualistically focused, and too separatist). But they believe that the historic problems aren’t a reason to deny pietism as an option because the theological orientation of pietism is that any movement will calcify and need continual renewal.
I am a little uncomfortable with my thoughts around Pietist Option being so much about tone and orientation. But in some ways I think tone and orientation of our faith really matter. I was reminded in a facebook conversation yesterday about Peter Enns book Sin of Certainty, the focus of that book was that as Christians, Christ wants our trust more than our correct intellectual beliefs. It isn’t that correct belief is unimportant, but correct belief without a loving orientation and practice is not actually correct belief (as I Corinthians 13 and John 13:35 remind us).
A significant part of what I disliked about the Benedict Option was its orientation around fear and withdrawal. Pietist Option has as very different orientation, which matters quite a bit. The book is a bit short and I wanted a bit more from it. But I think it is a great starting point to remind us that the history of Protestant Christianity is not only about separation from others because of fights over beliefs, but also about many renewal movements that were strongly oriented toward drawing the church together.