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What Luther Says

Why I'm Starting To Hate Pietism...

It's no secret that the more I learn about Pietism, the more I grow to hate it.

Yes, I know that "hate" is such a strong word for a Christian, but that's no hyperbole on my part. I'm really starting to hate Pietism! Why?

1 Timothy 1:19 (ESV) holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith,

"Made shipwreck of their faith" almost applied to me thanks to the influence that Pietism had in my life. This verse is essentially a graphic depiction of what happens to the faith of those who thrust aside the Word of God. This is what I was doing without even realizing it when I fell under Pietism's spell by listening to multiple popular Evangelical voices (non-Lutheran voices too, by the way) for so many years who peddled Pietism to me constantly.

Now, some might think that it's absurd for me to be all upset over this. After all, how could I possibly "shipwreck" a false faith to begin with? I mean, isn't that a good thing -- to get rid of a faith that's no good in the first place?

When I say "shipwreck" in this sense, I mean that I almost abandoned my faith completely and just walked away from it. Naturally, when I couldn't live up to Pietism's potential of what a "true" Christian life should look like, I almost turned my back on the faith completely. "What's the point? I can never do this! I must not be a Christian after all!" are all the thoughts that raced through my head daily. Thank God He held on to me though and pulled me away from American Evangelicalism's brand of Pietism!

I thought about all of that after reading the following commentary by Pastor Matt Richard (except he doesn't use the word "hate" like I do)...

Why I Have Concerns With Pietism

I have spent most of my life in Pietism. Personally, I appreciate the the fervor of Pietism when it comes to studying the Bible and walking in the shadow of the cross. Like C.F.W. Walther, I believe that I will always be impacted by Pietism in my personal life and ministry. However, lately I have been becoming very concerned with aspects of Pietism and have been moving away from it. Now, you may think that I, like so many others, am reacting to some of the external restrictions that often go with Pietism. "Don't drink, go to movies, etc..." Well, I've never been drunk and don't plan on doing this anytime in the future and frankly, I rarely watch television anymore. So, my concerns are not with some of the external restrictions that often accompany Pietism. My concerns are theological. My concerns are with what Pietism does to my interpretive lens of the Bible. Let me explain a bit more.

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? Is Pietism merely a shift in material principle? According to Bengt Hagglund, the impact of Pietism was not merely a shift in priorities but changes 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. These presuppositional shifts are posted below:


As tabled above, 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.


[1] According to Bengt Hagglund on pages 325-326 of his book, “History of Theology” (Concordia Publishing, 1968), he states that the founder and beginning of the Pietistic movement came forth from Jakob Spener and the publishing of his book titled, “Pia desideria” in 1675. On pages 87-118 of Spener’s “Pia desidera” (Introduction and translation by Theodore G. Tappert, (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1964), he suggests the following to the Church: 1) Thought should be given to more extensive use of the Word of God. 2) Attention should be given to the establishment and diligent exercise of the universal priesthood of believers. 3) Christian faith must be put into action. For it is by no means enough to have knowledge of the Christian faith, for Christianity consists rather of practice. 4) We must beware of how we conduct ourselves in religious controversies. 5) In the schools and universities attention must be given to the moral development and moral training of future pastors. 6) Ministerial students should be taught to preach sermons aimed at the heart and directed toward the life of their hearers.

[2] Gunner Salmonson, Lessons for Life ~ Book B (Faith and Fellowship Press, 1998), 74.

[3] Bengt Hagglund, History of Theology (Concordia Publishing, 1968), 325.

[4] Hagglund, 328.

[5] John M. Brennar in the Forward of Valentin Ernst Loescher’s book The Complete Timotheus Verinus (Northwestern Publishing, 2006) , v.

[6] According to Markus Matthias on page 109 of, “The Pietist Theologians,” (Blackwell Publishing, 2005) he states that August Hermann Francke, “…raised personal knowledge of conversion to the criterion for a theologian, this was not simply like the persistent demand of earlier theologians that there be a correspondence of godly teaching and a holy life, but rather it concerned the capability to be able to make declarations about God from one’s own experience and hence with one’s own attestation.”

[7] John Brenner, Pietism: Past and Present ~ Essay delivered at WELS Michigan District Southeastern Pastor/Teacher/Delegate Conference on January 23, 1989 and WELS Michigan District Northern Pastoral Conference on April 3, 1989

[8] As Already Stated by Brenner.

[9] John Brenner in his essay on page 8 states, “they changed the marks of the church from the proclamation of the gospel and the administration of the sacraments to right living. In other words, the Church isn’t necessarily where the gospel is proclaimed, but where people are living correctly.” Furthermore, according to Valentin Loescher on page 63-ff in his book “The Complete Temotheus Verinus” (Northwestern Publishing, 1998) expounds on the Pietistic contempt for the means of grace. Therefore, the means of grace as God’s action and deliver of gifts to us were diminished and the emphasis of right living essentially steered the church away from descent theology and inevitably established ascent theology.

[10] According to Hagglund on page 328, Pietism places a strong emphasis on the sanctified life as a testimony of true faith. This led to what Loescher defines as double justification (pg. 113-114). There became a double grasping of justification. The first justification was one of embracing Christ and the second justification was one where struggling, diligent life of piety was required so as to validate ones justification. Thus righteousness was no longer passive or received but perceived as active; needing to be acquired and confirmed.

[11] According to Brenner’s essay on page 5, “When Pietism shifted the emphasis from the law as mirror (to show us our sins) to the third use of the law (as a rule or guide), legalism resulted. For the pietists the main purpose of the law was to give a set of legal requirements for Christian living. They tried to use the law to motivate Christian living. This is an improper use of the law and a characteristic of Reformed rather than Lutheran theology.” This shift in understanding the Law also led to a diminishing of the doctrine of original sin. Brenner on page 6 states, “Pietism failed to recognize the total depravity of human nature and lost sight of the fact that a Christian is at the same time both a saint and a sinner (simul iustus et peccator). They therefore had an unrealistic optimism for sanctification that bordered on perfectionism.”

[12] Hagglund, 327. [13] Brenner, v. [14] E.H. Wendland, “Present Day Pietism,” Theologische Quartalachrift, Vol 49, #1, January 1952, p. 22-23.

Not much more I could add to that.

However, I will say that his personal experience mirrors my own quite a bit and that's why I share his sentiments regarding Pietism.

In a Lutheran layman's terms, I'm starting to hate Pietism and I pray that you are too after reading through this entire series over the past couple of weeks.

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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