Sunday, November 11, 2007

Priorities and the Study of Pietism

In the discussion surrounding my previous post, one commenter suggested that the study of Pietism via Loescher's volume The Complete Timotheus Verinus, was way down the list of books that one should study should one be a newcomer to Lutheran theology.

I understand where he is coming from, but beg to disagree. Of course one should begin with the holy scriptures--well and often read--and follow with Luther's Small and Large Catechisms, and then the other symbolical books. Follow that with a thorough study of and familiarity with one's hymnal--Lutheranism's "third dogmatics book" (Stephenson)--and finally with some degree of familiarity with one of the major Lutheran dogmatics studies: one of the Piepers, or Koren, or Mueller (but not Jensen and Braaten). One should begin there. There are another thirty (to just "summon up" a number, heehee) volumes that could easily follow. Why would one start with something as obscure as the history of Pietism and its "evils"?

Here's one really good reason: Because it systematically lays out not only most of the heresies faced in today's churches, but also the correction to those heresies. And in so doing emphasizes and gives an overview of the minutiae of Lutheran teaching that will follow when one assumes the study of the infamous "thirty volumes". New Lutherans, having had a taste of rich Lutheran hymnody and liturgy, and having completed a compulsory catechism, would do well to introduce themselves to those things which threaten the precious gospel and the structure of teaching and practice which ensure its survival in our churches. A study of Pietism would accomplish this. Just consider this, a comment by blogger Mike Baker (quoted in part):
"Here were the reforms he [Spener] initially introduced (Since Pietism is rampant in the modern church, I have added our current equivelants in parenthesis to point out similar modern thinking):

1. the earnest and thorough study of the Bible in private meetings. (Small Groups and Conventicles)

2. the Christian priesthood being universal, the laity should share in the spiritual government of the Church (semi-congregationalism with weakened pastoral authority)

3. a knowledge of Christianity must be attended by the practice of it as its indispensable sign and supplement (deeds over creeds, proof of faith, and revivalism)

4. instead of merely didactic, and often bitter, attacks on the heterodox and unbelievers, a sympathetic and kindly treatment of them (less Law & Gospel sermons, more tolerance of theological differences, and unionism)

5. a reorganization of the theological training of the universities, giving more prominence to the devotional life (charismatic enthusiasm)

6. a different style of preaching, namely, in the place of pleasing rhetoric, the implanting of Christianity in the inner or new man, the soul of which is faith, and its effects the fruits of life. (Christian lifestyle preaching. Be more relevant. Stop being so Roman Catholic.)"

His full comment, along with more discussion of Pietism, can be found here.
Most new adult Lutherans are going to need much of this decoded for them. Yet most of the ills of modern American Christianity are broached here. In a more expanded study of Pietism, the scale of challenges to the gospel are clearly laid out. (Loescher actually classifes things like this: 1. The coarse teachings of the pietists; 2. The subtle teachings of the pietists; 3. The coarse practices of the pietists; 4. The subtle practices of the pietists.)

Along with some of the postings about Pietism I've already posted here and here, I think a newcomer to Lutheranism would have her curiosity well enough stimulated to look deeper into the things of Lutheranism. And, start work on the Thirty Volumes!

But then, I like a global view of things before diving in.

Anyway. Get reading.


Mike Baker said...

hehe.. touche, Brother Bruce. :)

For the record, I do not consider the "Timotheus Verinus" to be "way down on the list" of books. It is actually "way up on the list". As I eluded to earlier, 30 is pretty high when you are talking about a list of several hundred works. Place 30 out of 30 is low. Place 30 out of 300 is rather high.

Of course this whole thing is a matter of personal opinion. Bruce and I agree more than he thinks. Pietism is dangerous. All Lutherans should be on guard against it. You should know what Pietism is and avoid it. We agree.

We differ on a matter of approach. I say that if one knows confessional Lutheranism backwards and forwards, he will defend himself against Pietism by instinct. The very existance of Pietism in an area indicates that there is a lack of doctrinal truth. There are other Lutheran works that defend against Pietism if properly studied and applied: the Book of Concord for example.

There are two ways to defend against heresy: you can expose a specific error and tell the truth as a response to that error or you can tell the truth and let that expose and defeat all errors at once. Pietism is not the only enemy... get the biggest shield that you can.

Our Creeds are powerful weapons against heresy. This is not because they point out each error in specific detail, but because they establish the truth and anathamize all deviations from it.

Bruce and I both think this way to a certain extent. I am confident that we would both place the Bible and the Book of Concord over the "Timotheus Verinus" in terms of importance ...the difference is that I have a high view of many other Lutheran works. I know that most people will not read many Lutheran books. That makes me very picky. It is not that I do not value the "Timotheus Verinus"... it is that I value many other books more.

I would hardly call it more important than say "The Conservitive Reformation" or "The Proper Distinction of Law and Gospel". I would also say that it would be a hard case to prove that one should read "Sacred Meditiations", "The Loci Theologici" or "This is My Body" before a work against Pietism.

That said, I still say that the "Timotheus Verinus" is a must read. The key is to read everything that you can.

In the end, I regret making that part of my comment. I did not mean to stir the pot or imply that the book had little merit. That is obviously not the case.

...go here for solid lists of great Lutheran books:

Mike Baker said...


I would also say that it would be a hard case to prove that one shouldn't read "Sacred Meditiations", "The Loci Theologici" or "This is My Body" before a work against Pietism.

Bruce Gee said...

Well, I definitely would put Sasse's books THIS IS MY BODY and HERE I STAND and Walther's Law and Gospel on my list of top ten. The other two, for newcomers, I'd slide down the list. I like Krauth and would list his tome in the top fifteen. I'll have to check your reading list.

Anyway, your corrections duly noted.

Mike Baker said...

So I think we can say that we both pretty much agree on the major points... we just seem to be haggling over where it shows up on the favorites list.

The important thing to take away from this wonderful review is that the Timotheus Verinus is a masterful work that is worth the read. There are tons of books on Lutheran theology that are equally good. The key is to try to read them all. Just pick an order and dive in to the deep, wonderful world of Lutheran theology.