Friday, September 15, 2006

American P.I.E. II

Part I
Part III
Part IV
Part V

Continuing from part one of this series, this post will summarize pietism, the first main presupposition of American P.I.E. Following this sketch of pietism in general, the next two posts will take up what I see as the main forms of pietism: rationalism and experientialism.

Individualism runs throughout. The overwhelming focus is on the individual’s unmediated salvific relationship. Everything else is unnecessary and can easily be dismissed (or at least downplayed so that it is unimportant in practice). What really matters is the individual’s immediate (i.e., not mediated), internalized relationship with God.

Held most strongly by: General and Particular Baptists, Restoration movement churches (e.g., Disciples of Christ, Christian churches), some Reformed churches (especially those who identify with 17th and 18th century English and Scottish Puritanism), Bible churches, non-denominational churches, holiness movement and Pentecostal churches, Charismatic churches, vast majority of “generic evangelicals”

The great concern of pietism is: formalism. Pietism is largely a reaction against this foe.

Core Assumptions:

1. internal-spiritual: A false dichotomy is set up between what is internal or “spiritual” (often erroneously defined as “non-physical”) and what is external or physical. The two realms are separated so that they don’t have much to do with one another. Moreover, the internal-spiritual realm is the important one and it is not accessed via the external-physical to any significant degree. Thus, the dichotomy means that the external-physical is of little or no importance. What matters is what happens “in your heart.” Without this dichotomy, formalism is thought to be inevitable. This flows into a certain understanding of personal identity and relationships.

2. personal identity: personhood is understood in terms of the Cartesian “I am.” The individual is seen as a self-contained unit that is defined without reference to anything or anyone external to him. This unit may then interact with the external world, but neither the world nor his interaction with it has any significant part to play in the formation of his personal identity. Even the pietist’s own physical body is not essential; it is assumed to be a container that holds the real person – the immaterial, Cartesian soul. This view meshes well with…

3. unmediated salvation and relationship w/ God: A “personal relationship with Jesus” (or something functionally similar) is the only significant, salvific relationship, and it is interpreted to be a direct, unmediated relationship. Relationships and the physical world are separate things, and relationships exist and are complete apart from that which is physical. In other words, any “physical manifestations” are simply epiphenomena of the relationship, and the relationship would still exist and be fully defined apart from those physical manifestations. Thus, the created order isn’t really important because secondary, mediating causes are at best unnecessary and are often problematic. This produces a low view of the Church as God’s means of grace/salvation (therefore a low view of sacraments, liturgy, etc.).

4. perfectionism: This can take various forms. Combined with rationalism, it tends to produce a pedantic, overly exact doctrinalism. When behavior is a major focus (e.g., the holiness movement), it often produces draconian and legalistic “house rules” (e.g., don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t dance, rock music is necessarily bad). Perfectionism has major consequences for ecclesiology (see effects 7, 8, and 9 below).

5. existentialism: Past history is of little or no importance (past councils, creeds, and theologians mean little) and future earthly history is relatively unimportant (multi-generational thinking is rare; pessimism regarding the future is common; there is no meaningful concept of Christendom; “we’re just pilgrims passing through this land”). What really matters is the now (“getting saved” is a present moment, punctiliar event) and a timeless eternity in heaven.

Some Effects:

1. existential hermeneutic: Timeless and individualistic reading of the Bible where every passage is addressed directly to me today. The redemptive-historical flow of the text is missed as is the original context and audience. Moreover, sola Scriptura is twisted to teach that each individual is the final interpretive standard. Authoritative councils are out. Proper and definitive interpretation does not belong to the community as a whole. It belongs to the individual (the so called doctrine of “private interpretation”).

2. nature-grace dichotomy: Flowing from the spiritual-physical dichotomy, salvation refers to what happens to individuals only. There is almost never any meaningful focus on God’s salvation and restoration of the created order as a whole or the consequences of such. Nature (the created order) and grace/salvation are distinct and one doesn’t have much to do with the other. So while the temporary and weak old covenant may have had some “fleshy” accoutrements, this baggage was discarded in favor of the much more “spiritual” and much less physical new covenant.

3. sacred-secular dichotomy (privatization): Christendom is out of the question in any meaningful sense and the world is viewed as secular territory. With this sacred-secular dichotomy, faith is essentially private and only peripherally public (e.g., we will fight hard for a Ten Commandments monument while our civil laws are blatantly unbiblical).

4. pietistic gospel: The core of Christianity is “the gospel,” and this is defined in a pietistic manner. In Arminian circles, the gospel is the offer of salvation that is given to the individual. The gospel is the offer to each individual that he can be saved from his sins and “go to heaven.” In Particular Baptist and Reformed circles, the gospel is the doctrine of justification by faith alone. It is the doctrine that defines justification (as imputed righteousness) and states the relationship between it, faith (as the sufficient and efficient cause), and works (which are no cause or basis of justification). But while these views are generally true enough (though sometimes they need to be “tweaked” a bit), they are not what the Bible means by “the gospel.” At best, they are significantly truncated and individualistic versions of the true gospel.

5. ritual: Is almost completely useless and in many cases is actually a detriment to be feared. What matters is what happens in your heart. Ritual is basically equated with formalism despite the fact that it is impossible to be ritual-less (being without ritual/routine is the definition of chaos). The result is that a false dichotomy is set up between piety (conceived in modern evangelical terms) and ritualism/formalism. But in practice, pietism just creates its own rituals as it must to avoid chaos. By doing this, it fails to avoid the possibility of formalism while at the same time it downplays effectual biblical rituals (e.g., the sacraments) and distances itself from the historic Church.

6. born-againism: Milder forms see the 1st generation Christian (who was an adult covert) as the standard and norm for conversion. The idea of being a Christian from birth/infancy makes little sense. Each person must mature to some level (usually adolescence) and then go through the same conversion process (which is not necessarily traumatic) as a 1st generation, 1st century gentile from a pagan family. In stronger forms, the conversion process requires an explicit “conversion experience.” In both forms, very strong emphasis is placed on regeneration as a punctiliar, non-repeatable, non-reversible event. A rite of passage must exist and it must take place after a significant amount of maturation has occurred in order to avoid formalism.

7. pure Church: The purity of the Church is paramount. The pietist will usually acknowledge in theory that the Church before the consummation will never be completely pure with all of its members completely faithful and sanctified (i.e., it is not the same as the Church after the consummation). But in practice, he tries to erase this gap by, for example, requiring “true” faith or a conversion experience for church membership. Moreover, the pietist is quite sensitive to impurities in the Church. The rationalistic pietist will fight, die, and split over doctrinal issues at the drop of a hat while the experiential pietist will do the same with respect to issues of behavior and personal holiness. This fits in well with born-againism and usually leads to...

8. sectarianism: In a number of sub-groups within American Protestantism, a schismatic and sectarian spirit has prevailed. And even where the “party spirit” is not grossly obvious, factionalism is still a functional norm. This has produced some 30,000 Protestant denominations including many “non-denominational” denominations. The perfectionist search for the absolutely really true Church cannot help but produce this.

9. credo-only Church w/ credo-only sacraments: Whether pietism is rationalistic, experiential, or some combination, it presupposes maturity. Only a non-mentally handicapped adolescent or adult can have the kind of unmediated, “heartfelt” relationship with God that characterizes pietism. And since the sacraments are viewed as testimonies or reminders of that relationship, they only belong to those who are mentally mature.

10. exaggerated focus on evangelism: Especially common in Arminian circles, an exaggerated focus is placed on “getting saved” with salvation defined as an individualistic, punctiliar event. Evangelism, not worship, is the raison d’etre of the Church. Everything else is a means toward this end (e.g., seeker-sensitive worship). A long-term vision of inter-generational growth leading to a strong Christendom is usually lacking.

11. introspectionism: Undue emphasis is often placed on finding assurance of salvation by looking at oneself (e.g., constantly and minutely inspecting one’s outward behavior or one’s faith to see if it is good enough) instead of looking to Christ.



Blogger Andy said...


Would you be willing to put the series into a Word or PDF document when it is finished? It would make it easier for me to have a copy : )

9/15/2006 11:14 AM  
Blogger Derrick Olliff said...

Sure, I can do that.

9/15/2006 9:02 PM  

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