Saturday, February 27, 2016

In Defense of Pietism

Normally I have been very critical of Pietism. I am very critical of any ideology that vaults "experience" as the primary, even sole, criteria of truth and/or reality. I am very critical of an ideology that tries to draw a boundary line around the self and embraces a full Subjectivism where the World is created from my view-point. I am critical of emotional manipulation and the theatrical staging that mark anything from "praying-the-prayer" to the camp revival. I am critical of any ideology that attends to remove the individual from his social context and a create a non-political movement (which usually means a highly conservative one).

However, I am also critical of any ideology or movement that robs agency from any individual person. I am critical of any philosophy that tries to pretend to separate the mind from the emotions, instead of seeing both flowing from an inner person (what we might call the "heart"). I am critical of pretensions to intellectual superiority to the exclusion of the 'other', where nothing has been determined.

Pietism has many times been guilty of the former list, and the antidote to the latter. I am sick of the cynical-tone that people use the word 'pious'. Even saying the word breathes a vapor of disgust. The pious man is the hypocritical, judgmental, vicious, blind, morlist who crushes others in his selfish quest to insulate a fragile ego. Perhaps there are religions and cults that demand such a disposition. However, true piety as revealed in Christ is His gravity, His weighty presence that sinks deep into our souls as we read His acts.

The early Pietists reacted to recover a truly Christian vision in the quite morbid and moribund status of confessional Protestantisms, one that was marred by the horror of the 30 Years War. Pietism is not an ideology, but a movement to call down God's Spirit to save His Church from becoming a part of a rather disturbed state-church apparatus as it began to forge the beginning of the Nation-State. Pietism was a move towards Christian charity and return to the work of God's Kingdom on Earth.

And the early Pietists were not anti-intellectual, if their dominance at the University of Halle testifies that they were engaged in the mind, but not in the scholastic way that Reformed, Lutheran, and Roman Catholics were trapped in.

Despite all its corruptions over the years, Pietism is a movement to seek God's Likeness, a veritable proclamation of the Christian's goal: theosis.

Yet corruptions there were. The general Pietist attitude towards Christian charity was coopted by the State to subordinate feuding churches (e.g. the Prussian Evangelical Union). The Pietist vision for a Kingdom of God trained many disaffected Christians to build new visions, inspiring not only unorthodox Christians (Schliermacher) but even Romantic philosophers. The culture of the Pietist was turned towards another purpose (corruptio optimi pessima). The Pietist stricture to self-discipline and care for the downtrodden became legalistic and moralistic. The Pietist reconnection of intellect and emotion became emotional manipulation.

But despite the eventual crumbling of the movement, its spirit was truly the Holy Spirit. They sought to know God's Kingdom in fresh ways in their day and it led them to subvert and relativize political and social structures for a greater goal. It led them to missions across the globe. It led towards cultivating disciplines to listen to God's Word in the Scriptures, primarily, but also elsewhere, whether internally or externally, always attentive to God's active and moving will. They truly believed God works among us, and we have the great and glorious privilege of being co-workers with God.

May we also be lit with such a vision for Christ's victory, loving the other and stamping down the Devil's works. May we have hearts burning for a Kingdom that heals the sick, comforts the mourning, gives hope to the hopeless, humbles the arrogant, and raises the dead. May piety be born in us as the Spirit of Christ forms us into the matchless and immortal King, forever blessed.

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