Wednesday, September 13, 2006

American P.I.E. I

Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V

In the spirit of Weird Al Jancovich meeting Augustine, here is a spoof of Don McLean’s classic American Pie in order to introduce the subject matter of this post series.

A long, long time ago
I can still remember
how the ol’ time gospel made me smile.

And with revival’s message tell
how regeneration made me well;
unmediated grace saved me from hell.

But Vantil’s postmils made me think
and from the ancients I did drink.
“Good news” I could see
was about much more than me.

The Anglo-puritan banner had
lost its luster, now I’m glad,
and I knew that I’d been gifted
the day my paradigm shifted.

So bye-bye, Miss American P.I.E.
Had my doctrine in a system but the system was dry.
And the Reformers were drinkin’ whiskey and rye
singin’, it’s about time you came nigh.
It’s about time you came nigh.

Did you make profession yet,
and is salvation immediate,
if Charles Spurgeon tells you so?

Is immaterial bliss the goal,
can gnosticism save your soul,
and should your child regenerate when old?

Well, I know you’re egalitarian
‘cause you think hierarchy is a sin.
Complete churches made us wince.
Man, we downplayed those sacraments.

I was a feisty five point, logic gifted
with a perfect ordo, the Church I sifted.
But modernity’s fog was lifted
the day my paradigm shifted.

I started singin’,
bye-bye, Miss American P.I.E.
Had my doctrine in a system but the system was dry.
And the Reformers were drinkin’ whiskey and rye
singin’, it’s about time you came nigh.
It’s about time you came nigh.

Now for some years I’ve been moving to
the Nicene catholic point of view,
but that’s not how it used to be.

When the preacher taught for the congregation
the systematics of justification
with a voice that shuddered you and me.

Oh, but while the preacher panned sacraments,
Calvin reformed my “common sense.”
My viewpoint was adjourned;
the ancient truth returned.

And while I found a federal vision,
the purists practiced endless schism,
and I sang dirges to pietism
the day my paradigm shifted.

I was singing,
bye-bye, Miss American P.I.E.
Had my doctrine in a system but the system was dry.
And the Reformers were drinkin’ whiskey and rye
singin’, it’s about time you came nigh.
It’s about time you came nigh.

Drums were beating in a pastor’s meeting.
The H-word flew, civility fleeting.
Controversy’s strong and spreading fast.

Some cried foul for the rancor vast.
The pastors tried to invoke the past.
The Baptists in attendance were aghast.

Now the aftermath was fear endowed
with the Southern Pres. tradition loud.
We all tried to explain,
Oh, but the tempest strength it gained!

‘Cause the pastors jumped from the frying pan,
and Machen’s heirs the flames to fan.
Do you recall how it began
The day my paradigm shifted?

I started singing,
bye-bye, Miss American P.I.E.
Had my doctrine in a system but the system was dry.
And the Reformers were drinkin’ whiskey and rye
singin’, it’s about time you came nigh.
It’s about time you came nigh.

Oh, and there we were at the chapel door,
a generation needing more,
with no hope for revivalism’s mend.

So come on: with objective grace endowed,
united sing Te Deum loud
‘cause bitter schism is the devil’s friend.

Oh, and as our covenant is renewed,
individualism is hewed.
Pietism’s concerns,
they are addressed in turn.

And with the ancient faith in sight
we joined in sacramental rite.
I saw angels smile with delight
the day my paradigm shifted.

They were singing,
bye-bye, Miss American P.I.E.
Had his doctrine in a system but the system was dry.
And the Reformers were drinkin’ whiskey and rye
singin’, it’s about time he came nigh.
It’s about time he came nigh.

I met a girl with American views
and defined for her the full “good news,”
But that fullness nearly made her reel.

I saw the old church one more time
where I’d learned my former paradigm,
but the teaching there lost much of its appeal.

And the children needed maturity
before they could come near and feed.
Despite the true words spoken,
modernity was broken.

And the pastors of the years to come
had seen enough to make them numb.
We caught the train to Christendom
the day our paradigm shifted.

And we were singing,
bye-bye, Miss American P.I.E.
Had our doctrine in a system but the system was dry.
And the Reformers were drinkin’ whiskey and rye
singin’, it’s about time you came nigh.


So now that we’ve had a little fun, I wanted to write a few posts summarizing what I sometimes refer to as “Americanized Protestantism.” What is this? It is what I’ll call the American P.I.E. paradigm – the worldview that defines the credenda/agenda (the fundamental beliefs and actions) for the majority of conservative American Protestants. I exclude from American P.I.E. the “non-American” denominations such as the Episcopalians and Lutherans. I include the denominations that either began in the US and/or, because of the nature of American society, had their most significant growth here.

So what is American P.I.E.? I think the core presuppositions of Americanized Protestantism are:

1) Pietism: Within pietism, I see two basic forms – rationalistic pietism and experiential pietism.

2) Individualism: This is right in the middle of the P.I.E. It is the uber-presupposition from which everything else flows.

3) Egalitarianism

The American P.I.E. is the web of pietistic, individualistic, and egalitarian presuppositions that forms the glasses through which Americanized Protestants view theology. (How’s that for a mixed metaphor?)

I plan to have four more posts in this series. This introduction will be followed by posts on:

Pietism in general
Rationalism (as a subspecies of pietism)
Experientialism (as a subspecies of pietism)
Egalitarianism

Individualism will not have a separate post. Since it weaves its way through all of the other presuppositions, it will more or less be defined by them.

The upcoming posts will be organized as follows:

1) Presupposition being addressed
2) A brief statement of how it relates to individualism.
3) Which denominations/communities tend to hold it.
4) The central concerns that it is supposed to address.
5) Core assumptions of the presupposition.
6) Some effects of the presupposition.

Although these posts will contain a few counterpoints here and there and some quick pokes at what I think are problematic features, the point of the posts will not be to argue against American P.I.E. Such an argument, in order to be anywhere near sufficient, would need to be book-length. Instead, I will simply seek to summarize the paradigm. Using some broad and some narrow brush strokes, I will aim to paint a fairly comprehensive and organized picture of Americanized Protestantism – from its core assumptions to a number of its significant effects. This exercise has helped me to become “epistemologically self-conscious” about the theological air I’ve been breathing for years, and I hope I can relay some of that awareness to you.

As always, when dealing with matters like these, there are exceptions to the generalizations. Categories are never air-tight. So for example, some Christians hold views that tend to combine aspects of rationalistic and experiential pietism in a rather dualistic way while others would fall somewhere between the two (i.e., the two poles are blended together in a kind of “middle ground”). But in general, this two-category scheme does seem to capture a good bit of the pietist picture. Moreover, denominations that I refer to for any given concept may not hold to all of the specifics of that concept. There is also variation within the various denominations. So these are generalizations, but they’ve been pretty accurate as far as I can tell.

Additionally, this series is not meant to imply that someone is theologically incompetent or heretical because they hold to the views being described. There are many intelligent and godly people who hold to the general paradigm that I’ll be describing. And I’m not willing to bluntly describe or critique others without giving myself the once over as well. Significant chunks of this series could well be autobiographical (describing previous held views/assumptions as well as current behavioral tendencies). Moreover, I should probably point out what may well be obvious – I’m not much of a diplomat. So especially in a forum like this, my views can seem pretty blunt. But when I use terms like ‘pietism’ and ‘rationalism’ for example, they are being used as descriptions defined by the content of the series. They are not being used as epithets. Like I said, a good bit of this stuff applies to me in some form.

I should also point out that the problems (e.g., “formalism”) that the American P.I.E. paradigm was supposed to solve are real problems. The concerns of Americanized Protestants are quite legitimate and deserve attention from those who hold a different paradigm.

Finally, I would say that this is a work in progress. It started out as really rough notes that I would make over time as I read through American Christian history, visited the worship services and activities of various denominations, etc. So these posts will hardly be polished essays. They will basically be extended outlines and can grow or change as needed.

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5 Comments:

Blogger Andy said...

Weird Al would be proud.
Ok, if he could understand it : )

9/13/2006 11:02 AM  
Blogger Robert said...

Ok so what does P.I.E. stand for?

9/13/2006 4:05 PM  
Blogger Derrick Olliff said...

The P.I.E. is pietism, individualism, and egalitarianism.

9/13/2006 8:14 PM  
Blogger Russell Roberts said...

I really appreciate the work and study you put into this article. That very passage has puzzled me for years. Excellent job!

10/11/2007 8:53 AM  
Blogger Derrick Olliff said...

Thanks! But did you mean this comment for a different article -- the John 3 paper perhaps?

10/11/2007 12:24 PM  

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