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What Luther Says

Pastor Matt Richard: 'Pietism Made Religious Experience More Important Than Christian Doctrine And Stressed Sanctification More Than Justification'

Pastor Matt Richard, who writes extensively about the journey from American Evangelicalism to becoming a Confessional Lutheran, summarizes Pietism beautifully for us.

In the late 1600’s, after the devastation and moral bankruptcy of the European landscape caused by the 30 year war, a movement came forth called Pietism[1]. Pietism was a movement that was a reaction to many of the weaknesses in the church life of the time. According to Gunner Salmonson,

"The pietistic movement was a spiritual renewal movement. It can be characterized by the following: 1) Emphasis on the New Birth, an inward renewal of the individual of being dead to sin and alive to Christ; 2) Living close to God in daily life with a stand against worldly living; 3) Fellowship and Bible Study groups often led by lay people 4) Emphasis on Sanctification 5) Social reform emphasis; 6) Mission vision; 7) An attempt to return to Luther’s teachings which the church had strayed from, namely the priesthood of believers, a life of repentance, a personal faith and witnessing."[2]

At first glance it looks as if Pietism was a simple reaction or refocus on priorities, therefore why should we be so concerned with it? According to Bengt Hagglund, the impact of Pietism was not merely a shift in priorities but it brought about a new theological position for Christendom.[3] Hagglund states that Jakob Spener, the Father of Pietism, brought a new conception of the, “…inner transformation as the essential basic aspect of faith and expanded the concept of justification to include the inner new creation as well.”[4] Thus, there was a mingling of Justification and Sanctification. The biggest shift of Pietism came about when, “Pietism made religious experience more important than Christian doctrine and stressed sanctification more than justification.”[5] In other words, experience was then embraced (along with the doctrines of the Word) as a legitimate source of knowledge for the Christian’s epistemological framework.[6] As a result Pietism, “…began to change the emphasis from what Christ has done for us to what Christ does in us. They emphasized holy living rather than the forgiveness of sins.” [7]

The crux of the problem is that the shift of Pietism (i.e. from Justification toward Sanctification) brought a completely different set of presuppositional ideas that affected Biblical interpretation.

The new Pietistic presuppositions were different from the orthodox Lutheranism that existed before it.[12] The emphasis shift not only impacted the life of the church but detrimentally had a profound impact on Biblical interpretation.

According to John Brenner the emphasis shift of the 17th and 18th century still impacts our Biblical interpretation today for, “…much of evangelical literature today puts an emphasis on sanctification rather than justification, on what we are to do rather than on what Christ has done for us.”[13] Over 60 years ago, E.H. Wendland stated the fact that, “…modern Protestantism today is saturated with a theology that is basically pietistic.”[14]

In summary, we should never be concerned with piety. Piety is good. Pietism though, along with its presuppositional shifts, is something that we should be concerned with due to its influence upon the church’s exegesis.


No, those aren't the kind of red letters we want to see, are they?

I know, you're probably getting pretty annoyed by all of these posts on Pietism.

I must sound like a broken record by now or I'm preaching to the choir, right?

Forgive me, my dear friends, but I have tasted poisonous Pietism and know how spiritually dangerous it is and am even trying to educate other loved ones to be wary of it too.

In a Lutheran layman's terms, this is why we should be very concerned with the current popularity of Pietism in many of our churches today.

NOTE: As you know, I am a newly converted Confessional Lutheran who recently escaped American Evangelicalism. That being said, please contact me ASAP if you believe that any of my "old beliefs" seem to have crept their way into any of the material you see published here, and especially if any of the content is not consistent with our Confessions and Lutheran doctrine (in other words, if it's not consistent with God's Word, which our Confessions merely summarize and point us back to) so that I can correct those errors immediately and not lead any of His little ones astray. Finally, please be aware that you might also discover that some of the earlier pieces I wrote on this blog back in 2013 definitely fall into that category since I was a Lutheran-In-Name-Only at the time and was completely oblivious to the fact that a "Book of Concord" containing our Confessions even existed. In addition, there are some entries that are a little "out there" so-to-speak since the subject matter was also heavy influenced by common Evangelical concerns/criticisms that perhaps wouldn't be too big a deal for us Lutherans. I know that now and I'm still learning. Anyway, I decided to leave those published posts up on this website and in cyberspace only because we now have this disclaimer and only to demonstrate the continuing work of Christ and the Holy Spirit in my life (Hebrews 12:2; Philippians 1:6). Finally, please know that any time we engage in interpreting a specific portion of Scripture exegetically, it will always follow the verse-by-verse notes from my Lutheran Study Bible unless otherwise noted. Thank you for stopping by and thank you in advance for your time, help, and understanding. Grace and peace to you and yours!


About JKR

Christian. Husband. Father. Friend.

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Thank you for visiting A Lutheran Layman! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question since we do not exercise censorship. We've seen a similar policy with other blogs and it's worth repeating: Please act as if you're a guest in my home, and we'll get along just fine. I think anyone would agree that the kind of back-and-forth that is characteristic of blogs/chat forums and social media is becoming tiresome for all of us. Still, we should confess, edify, and love (and contend and defend when needed). Bottom line? Search the Scriptures! Apply Acts 17:11 to anything and everything you find here and, if you do happen to disagree with something you find here (which is certainly ok), or think I'm "irresponsible" and "wrong" for writing it, then please refute my position by supporting yours with Scripture and/or the Confessions. I don't think that's an unreasonable request, especially for those who identify themselves as "Christians" here, right? Besides, Proverbs 27:17 tells us "Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another" and 2 Timothy 3:16 says, "all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." If you have an opinion that's great, I welcome it, but try to support it using God's Word. I mean, if the goal here is to help us all arrive at the truth of God's Word (myself included), then it should be easy to follow through on this one simple request (I'm talking to all you "Anonymous" visitors out there). Grace and peace to you and yours!

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