Tag Archives: revival

Signs of the times: What spiritual and social renewal looked like to the Pietists in the early 1700s

The following is a “progress report” on the famous Pietist renewal. It was published an appendix to a 1716 book by Pietist church reformer August Hermann Francke, Pietas Hallensis. It may be interesting and instructive to ask: are these the sorts of signs of spiritual and social renewal that we would get excited about today? How are we doing in these areas?

Part I of the book itself is a brief account of the “rise, occasion, and progress” of the Halle complex. The complex, in Halle, Germany, was dedicated to renewing society through Christian services offered in a hospital, schools, a printing house, and much more–see this post for an account of Francke’s life and the Halle complex. It starts with descriptions of each part of the complex, then relates instances of financial miracles (unexpected gifts) by which these works were sustained once Francke had committed himself in faith to undertaking them.

You may have heard of the orphanage of 19th-century German minister George Muller, which inspired the “faith missions” of many 19th-century missionaries (that is, missionary works with no visible means of financial support, sustained by prayer and the free-will gifts of “friends”). Halle was Muller’s pattern and inspiration.

Part II of Pietas Hallensis includes many more accounts of individual gifts, in the years 1707 and 1708, including the texts of many touching letters enclosed. The report on the Pietist renewal reproduced below comes from an appendix to part II, titled “Signs of the times since 1688.” The book was printed in 1716, so the period reported on stretches across roughly 28 years.

Here is the report (with a few comments interjected by me); I read the book and made these notes in a 1994 seminar on the Pietists given by Richard Lovelace at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Massachussets: Continue reading

A pioneer of social ministry in an early evangelical revival: August Francke

I’m posting a few things related to that proto-evangelical movement of church reform and revival, German Pietism (17th & 18th c.). A couple of these posts (here and here) relate to one of Pietism’s most intriguing and influential figures, August Hermann Francke. So here is a biographical sketch of Francke:


I want you to note two things: First, his learnedness and commitment to education (though he asserted paradoxically that a learned man is the hardest to get into the kingdom), and second, his pursuit of social ministry (the orphanage and many related enterprises). These facts seem to contradict the common stereotype of Pietism as a movement both brainless and inward-turned.

August Francke was born in 1663 and grew up in an area of Germany that was a stronghold of the teaching of Johann Arndt [on whom, another post for another time! He was a pre-Pietist spiritual teacher whose book True Christianity inspired Pietist leaders]. Something of a child prodigy, Francke had studied, by the age of 16, philology, philosophy, Greek, logic, metaphysics, geography, history, and Hebrew. He was a linguistic genius—by his death he knew some 35 languages. 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