It is most often associated with the work of Philipp Spener, a Lutheran theologian who emphasized personal transformation through spiritual rebirth and renewal, individual devotion, and piety. Spener cannot be blamed for those who took pietism to its natural outcome and the quietistic, legalistic, and semi-separatist practices espoused by its advocates, he certainly provided a good spring board for Pietism to develop. The Pietists believe "that any true Christian could point back in his or her life to an inner struggle with sin that culminated in a crisis and ultimately a decision to start a new, Christ-centered life" (see Russell Dawn, 2018). Check out a whole issue of Christianity Today on the role and impact of Pietism upon American Christianity.
Pietism flourished in Scandinavia and through Scandinavian immigrants, Pietism has been a force upon Lutheranism for several hundred years. The idea was that Christianity was not so much a system of doctrine or beliefs as much as it was a guide for practical Christian living. Foremost among such teachers Johann Arndt but centuries later Dietrich Bonhoeffer would suggest that Pietism was the last ditch effort to save Christianity. Methodism borrowed heavily from the Pietists. Indeed, the Pietist ethic of an active but practical Christianity is more responsible for the characteristics of American Protestant religious identity than the more demanding Calvinistic theology of Puritanism.
Few would echo Bonhoeffer's judgment now and Methodism is a shell of its former size and self. One might think that this would translate into less influence from Pietism but such has not been the case. Even Lutheran Confessionalism has lived parallel to the place and influenStilce of Pietism. Perhaps the most current offspring of Pietism is MTD, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. Moralistic, Therapeutic Deism has replaced orthodox Christianity in many of America's churches –both Protestant and Catholic–across the USA.
- Moralistic: In other words, it is the reduction of the Christian faith to good works alone and Christians to respectable people who are more concerned with saving the planet and improving this life than saving souls.
- Therapeutic: Its message is both individual and therapeutic. If you will but turn to Jesus He will fix your tired old marriage, keep your kids from doing drugs or going off the deep end, make your business and, therefore, YOU a success, help you exorcise your personal demons, and help you become the good person you always knew you were.
- Deism: But of course God created the world and got it going. It is just that after that God got tired, retired, and has been mostly a spectator watching what we are doing with His creation. Sure, there is a God, but He is not active and most likely is napping away the time in a comfy chair in the clouds somewhere -- leaving the heavy lifting to us to make the world a better place.
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