Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Responding to Pietism . . . and Ablaze!

Recently, I was perusing Heinrich Schmid's book, The History of Pietism translated by James L. Langebertels. The following passage (p. 273) struck me as having some parallels with current responses to Dr. Kieschnick's Ablaze! program -- and to certain discussions occurring on other blogs like The Steadfast Lutheran. My comments follow . . .

Pietism is not primarily concerned . . . with doctrinal questions.

The first matter with which Pietism began was not a special false teaching that had to be opposed but with an accusation against abuses prevalent in the church and recommendations to eliminate these abuses. The goal was to attain to a more living piety. Therefore, the first, and not the least error of those opposing Pietism was to overlook the abuses in the church and to accuse the Pietists of doctrinal errors. Something new and different confronted them in Pietism, which surprised them.

The new things, they thought, had to be based on special doctrines. They then became suspicious of every statement of their opponents and branded every statement if it did not conform to the usual dogmatic way of speaking a doctrinal error.

Already in 1695 the Wittenberg faculty counted up 264 doctrinal errors of which Spener was supposed to be guilty. The opponents of Piestism followed the bad habit, which we have already seen in the syncretistic controversies, of making everything that sounded or looked peculiar into a doctrinal question. Loescher was the first to realize that there can be tendencies in theology and in ecclesiastical life from which peculiarities can arise and that one must come to the root of these tendencies. Not one of the earlier opponents of Pietism thought of that.

Accordingly, we cannot let the opponents of Pietism lead us in this book merely to count up all the individual doctrinal errors with which they have reproached the Pietists and then to investigate whether the Pietists had really been guilty of them. . . .

COMMENT: I don't think that the Ablaze! movement is primarily a doctrinal movement -- but nost of the sharp critical responses (such as my own) have been theological, based on orthodox Lutheran understanding of faith and life.

Piestism, if I'm not guilty of summarizing too curtly, was concerned primarily with morals, the outward life of a Christian (not to be entirely dissociated from the inner life of faith and sanctification). It may have been correct in the sense of observing some shortcomings in the lives of Christians -- but ultimately wrong in how it attempted to address those shortcomings.

The Ablaze! movement wants to be zealous about missions. Basically, there isn't anything wrong with that - and that emphasis may well have been lacking in numerous areas. But Ablaze! zeal is utterly wrong-headed in the methods it has chosen to address what was lacking. Ablaze! did not attempt to make a theological correction to the lack of missionary zeal but rather sought (and seeks) to make practical efforts to restore an energy for evangelism.

Those of us who want to respond to Ablaze! have never thought about trying to out-do them with missionary zeal, but we ought to keep in mind what we learn from historical theology regarding a truly appropriate response.


Aimee Natal said...

And you are Lutheran then? We are too, now. LCMS. Our pastor is Walter Harper, just in case you know him. In Connecticut.
Our music minister is Stephen Johnson, of Liturgy Solutions- he right now is in Minnesota at the Wisconsin synod's conference.

Rev. Joel A. Brondos said...

Hi, Aimee. Good to hear from you. Maybe you have some more good resources or a blog of your own? :)

Yes, I'm an LCMS pastor . . . and headmaster of St. Paul's Lutheran School in Brookfield, IL. My e-mail is jbrondos@gmail.com.

Rev. Joel A. Brondos said...

Aimee, I did a bit more internet searching and found out about Arbor Vitae in Downer's Grove. I am in Brookfield (near the zoo). We have a classical Lutheran grade school (which is about filled to capacity, with just over 100 students). But you're in Connecticut now?

I also began a classical Lutheran education listserv years ago called the Sturm list. It's mostly comprised of classical Lutheran education home school families.

Aimee Natal said...

yes, we used to live in Downers Grove, and actually approached a Lutheran church in Westmont (I think it was), that had a school building but had not had a school for years- about starting a classical Christian one. But this was about 8 years ago or so.
We now do live in CT; our kids went to our church's Lutheran school right up until this past school year. It'd be great if our pastor would consider classsical education for the school. I think he went to Concordia in St. Louis- graduated 5 or 6 years ago or so.
I am so glad to hear your school is doing so well- really glad.

Aimee Natal said...

anyway, I happen to be the one you quoted in your June 4 2008 entry...

Anonymous said...

I forget the date of the broadcast, but Pastor Wilken once said, "don't try to out-pietize a pietist." I'm afraid I've forgotten his reasoning, too, but I think he was saying that we oughtn't try to, because we never can, in their eyes; their legalism leads to hypocrisy.