Gehrz and Pattie Illumine the Pietist Tradition

Christopher Gehrz and Mark Pattie II, The Pietist OptionChristopher Gehrz and Mark Pattie III. 2017. The Pietist Option: Hope for the Renewal of Christianity. Downers Grove: IVP Academic.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

For those of us who spent our youth in rural America, today’s landscape looks fundamentally different. International trade, inspired by the demise of the Bretton-Woods system, undermined local economies previously based on agriculture, manufacturing, and mining and left them without a solid economic base. The interstate highway system, television, Wal-Mart, and the internet all conspired to drive out what remained of local cultures. In postmodernism local churches and their denominations have suffered their own tsunami that has left many Christians and their pastors wondering how to respond.

Introduction

In their book, The Pietist Option, Christopher Gehrz and Mark Pattie III (hereafter G&P) write:

“Why ‘option’? As I’ve written elsewhere, we’re talking about a kind of ietism doesn’t happen accidentally; it requires a conscious choice to respond to God’s grace. The Pietist option is to opt in to a distinctively hopeful way of coming back to Jesus growing to be more and more like him, living at peace as part of his body, and fulfilling his mission in service to others.”(9)

What is curious about their discussion is that pietism is not so much a movement or a revival as a rediscovery of the New Testament (NT) “Hebrew anthropology”,my term for the holistic view of faith that had over the years been corrupted by Greek dualism. If mind and emotions are inseparable, then we cannot respond to the Gospel with one or the other, as is so frequently assumed—a different approach is required. G&P work hard to help the reader rediscover what is essentially ancient Christianity. They call it Pietism.

What is Pietism?

G&P write:

“Some identify Pietism with shared practices (personal devotions, small group meetings, evangelism, charitable work) or share emphases (conversion, right feeling, and action prioritized over right belief, ecumenism, a greater role for the laity). There’s something to both approaches, but we want to propose something a bit different: Pietism share certain instincts.”(5)

G&P summarizes these instincts as follows.

The first instinct focuses on relationship—“We know God more through prepositions than through propositions.” In other words,“we experience life in, with, through, under and for God.” The term,“dead orthodoxy,” is more what they mean by propositions.(6)

The second instinct has to do with community—“We’re better together than apart.” (6)

The third instinct is experiential—“Christianity is both less and more than we think.” G&P expand on this saying:“Pietists who live in, with, and for the person of Jesus probably feel his presence more than they think about the idea of Christ.” (7) They differentiate Jesus the person from Christ the Messiah, believing in both but focusing on the humanity of Jesus.

The fourth instinct takes seriously the eschatological reality of God—“We always have hope for better times.” (8) If the future is in Christ, then Jesus should inform everything we do today.

Organization

Gehrz is a professor of history at Bethel University in Saint Paul; Pattie is the senior pastor at Salem Covenant Church in New Brighton, Minnesota. They write in divided into two parts:

“Part One: Christianity in the Early Twenty-First Century

  1. What’s Wrong?
  2. Hoping for Better Times

 Part Two: Proposals for Renewal

  1. A More Extensive Listening to the Word of God
  2. The Common Priesthood for the Common Good
  3. Christianity as Life
  4. The Irenic Spirit
  5. Whole Person, Whole-Life Formation
  6. Proclaiming the Good News.”(vii)

They begin with an introduction—“Come Back to Jesus”—and end with a benediction, appendix, suggestions for group discussions, notes, and two (names and scripture) indices. Through their book, the names Spener and Francke come up repeatedly (see references below).

Assessment

Christopher Gehrz and Mark Pattie III’s The Pietist Option: Hope for the Renewal of Christianity is a helpful book for anyone who has wondered about the Pietist tradition. Virtually every denomination in America has been influenced in some way by this tradition, yet that influence remains hard to pin down. G&P try their best to sort out this enigma and, taken as a whole, their short book provides ample light.

References

Spener, Philip Jacob. 1964. Pia Desideria(Orig. Pub. 1675). Ed. and Trans. By Theodore G. Tappert. Philadelphia:  Fortress.

Sattler, Gary R. 1982. God’s Glory, Neighbor’s Good: A Brief Introduction to the Life and Writings of August Hermann Francke. Chicago: Covenant Press.

Gehrz and Pattie Illumine the Pietist Tradition

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