Tag Archives: Pietists

Wise words on reforming our churches and ourselves: Philipp Jakob Spener’s Pia Desideria, pt. II

This is the second part of an annotated summary of Pietist founder Philipp Jakob Spener’s diagnoses and prescription for church reform, the Pia Desideria. The first part may be found here.

PART II—The possibility of better conditions in the church

“In order for the Jews to be converted, the true church must be in a holier state than now if its holy life is to be a means for that conversion, or at least the impediments to such conversion…are to be removed.” (77)

“it is incumbent on all of us to see to it that as much as possible is done, on the one hand, to convert the Jews and weaken the spiritual power of the papacy and, on the other hand, to reform our church.” (78)

[Quoting Erasmus Sarcerius—more than a hundred years before Spener:]  “Is it not a pity that we blind and callous Germans should with our dissolute and disorderly life have driven out real and true religion?  There is no stopping it.  Nobody thinks of bettering himself.” (79)  “Now, as we are concerned about real and true religion, so we also give thought to ways and means of maintaining it.  I have no counsel to offer.  If I knew what to suggest, nobody would pay any heed.…perhaps…on account of our sins and transgressions our dear religion will be lost through God’s disfavor.…” (79)] Continue reading

Wise words on reforming our churches and ourselves: Philipp Jakob Spener’s Pia Desideria, pt. I

[Part II of this article may be found here.]

The Pietists were a powerful reform movement within state-church Lutheranism that began in 17th-century Europe. I sketch some of the basic facts about Pietism in this blog entry and this blog entry. Along with the Puritans, the Pietists were a crucial but today largely forgotten root of modern evangelicalism, recently unearthed and explained by many evangelical scholars–most recently Mark Noll in the early chapters of his The Rise of Evangelicalism.

The Pietists’ founder/leader was Philipp Jakob Spener (1635 – 1705). His most famous book is the Pia Desideria (usually translated “pious wishes,” but more accurately something like “spiritual longings,” if you include in “longings” a sense of an active will to create change).

In the Pia Desideria, Spener put the blame for Europe’s woeful spiritual state–the awful Christian-on-Christian savagery of the Thirty Years War was still fresh in everyone’s minds–squarely on the churches, the preachers, and the seminaries and their professors (oh dear!).

But Spener did not stop with diagnosis, as do so many would-be “prophets” of new modes of church today. He went on to some powerful prescriptions, which he lived out in his own ministry.

Spener also invited critiques of his proposals, and then proceeded to publish them as part of his book! You may suspect this was an exceptional man. You would be right. He was also notable for personal holiness and biblical knowledge, and he knew a gazillion languages.

What follows is an annotated summary of the Pia Desideria that I put together as a fresh-faced grad student in one of my first courses at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, back in 1994. (Be gentle: I was new to graduate study, and while passionate in my questioning, sometimes naive in my analyses.)

The course was “The Pietist Renewal.” It was the sort of small seminar, including around 6 students, that even then were becoming rare as hen’s teeth in seminaries concerned to force students through “core programs” and optimize their bottom lines.

The professor was Dr. Richard Lovelace, whose Dynamics of Spiritual Renewal, though occasionally more allusive than precise in its historiography, is still one of the best surveys of historical and contemporary spirituality I’ve read. And one of my fellow students in the course was Kevin Belmonte, who has now made a career of unearthing, publishing, and interpreting the work and life of the great evangelical politician and opponent of slavery William Wilberforce. Wilberforce and Spener’s Pietists had a great deal in common: both put feet to their faith in world-changing ways.

I hope you who care too much about the church to let her stay the way she is will find this annotated summary useful. Because it is long, I am posting it in two halves. This is the first half: Continue reading

Lived theology: How and why Christian history was added to Protestant seminaries’ curricula

The stories of other Christians are vitally important to our spiritual lives. That, in fact, is why the discipline of church history was added to Protestant seminaries’ curricula. But how and when did this happen? I got to share this story with Bethel Seminary’s trustees and the readers of Christianity Today online a few years back:

When Theology Comes Alive
Living theology: that’s what the 17th-century Pietists wanted to see. And so they invented church history.
Chris Armstrong

An earlier version of this essay was given by Dr. Chris Armstrong (associate professor of church history, Bethel Seminary, St. Paul, and senior editor, Christian History & Biography) as a talk to the trustees of Bethel University on May 5, 2005.

Dorothy Sayers, a 20th-century, Oxford-educated dramatist, novelist, and lay theologian, wrote to wake up her sleeping Anglican church. She saw people inside and outside of the churches of her day completely unaware of how radical and powerful the gospel really is. And so she wrote essays, stories, and dramas that made the gospel come alive for people. She had a phrase she liked to use when she encountered people who thought church doctrine—”dogma” as it is still sometimes called—was dull and irrelevant. She would say, “The dogma is the drama!”

I love that. The dogma is the drama. What Sayers was reminding us was that if we are falling asleep in church, it is because we have no idea what dynamite we are sitting on.

And as I always remind my students, a wonderful place to go to see what happens when the Gospel’s dynamite blows up in people’s lives is Christian history. I’ll put this idea in less violent form: Christian history is where theology comes to life. Continue reading