After reading this painful dumbing-down of the Trinity/gender debate by Zack Hunt at Evans’ blog — painful for those of us who do not consider trinitarian metaphysics as “boring” — I read the article from Kevin Giles that was linked. In fact, some trinitarian metaphysics may help all of us out.

Both sides are wrong. Let’s first ponder the critical move in Giles’ thesis:

If the Son is eternally subordinated to the Father, and cannot be otherwise, then he does not just function subordinately, he is the subordinated Son. His subordination defines his person or being. Eternal functional subordination implies by necessity ontological subordination. Blustering denials cannot avoid this fact.

First of all, whether subordination “defines his person or being” is not the same thing, but Giles is correct to see the same result. If subordination defines the Son’s being (and not the Father’s being), then there is a division within the being of God — which is heresy. If subordination defines the Son’s person, then the same division occurs in the being of God, because the person (per Nicaea) is wholly God. So, an attribute of the person must necessarily be an attribute of the being, or else the logic of homo-ousia (same-being) breaks down.

However, we must properly define “person.” If we agree with Barth (and John Webster and Lewis Ayres et al.) that “person” in trinitarian metaphysics is not a distinct, self-subsisting subject of operation, then “person” needs to be defined as a mode of the single divine subject. As such, the modal operation of the Son’s subordination can indeed be eternal without causing a division in the being of God — because subordination itself is an attribute of this single divine being. Subordination, thereby, signifies an attribute that is not foreign to the Father. But, in order for this attribute of subordination to exist within the being of God, the persons of Father and Son eternally enact this subordination, of one mode to the other. Otherwise, subordination would be foreign to God altogether, with no immanent ground in God for the work of redemption ad extra.

This “enactment” is derived from the common agency of the singular divine subject, so it is not “forced” upon the Son nor is it proper to say that “the Son cannot do otherwise,” as Giles puts it. This is why Giles (and Hunt and Evans) continually move from subordination to oppression, as if the latter obviously follows from the former. That would be the case if the Son had a distinct agency apart from the Father who may “impose” the subordination of the Son, but it is not the case if we follow Barth (and Nicaea) as defined above.

Schleiermacher and Barth

August 29, 2013

Alasdair I. C. Heron, Professor of Reformed Theology at Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg from 1981 to 2007, wrote a solid introductory survey of Schleiermacher and Barth’s dogmatic projects in an article first published in 1986 and now available for download in HTS Teologiese Studies:

“Barth, Schleiermacher and the task of dogmatics” (pdf link)

For all of their differences, there is “a similar kind of questioning,” as Heron describes it (397). Barth’s counter-achievement “was necessarily related to that which it opposed. Barth and Schleiermacher may indeed be poles apart, but the poles are those of an ellipse, in which the second can best be appreciated in its tension laden relation to the first” (395).

Thankfully, Heron does not slight their differences nor fall prey to the “Barth didn’t understand his relation to modernity” shenanigans. (Yes, on a blog, I can get away with saying, “shenanigans.”) However, Heron focuses on the “God as wholly other” tactic that was most forcefully expressed in Barth’s Römerbrief. While Barth never abandons this orientation and indeed deepens it in profound ways, as Heron acknowledges, there is a conscious shift in Barth’s development away from over-reliance on Idealist categories (temporal/eternal, finite/infinite, etc.), appearing to do some of the exegetical work in Der Römerbrief, and toward specifically dogmatic categories of christological provenance in the Church Dogmatics. But, this goes well beyond the scope of Heron’s essay, which aims to give us a helpful overview from which further discussion can responsibly develop.

Heron does have this balanced insight into both Schleiermacher and Barth’s advancement, from their epoch-making first shot (Reden über die Religion and Der Römerbrief, respectively) to their mature dogmatics:

Further similarities can also be seen in the way that the later work of Barth and Schleiermacher developed. Some would characterize these by saying that both became more “conservative” following their first, radical beginnings. But “conservative” is a slippery concept, whether it is understood politically or theologically. It would be more precise to say that both worked from their starting points to include and gather in, in an essentially consistent development, a wider and deeper appreciation and appropriation of the fruits of earlier Christian theology. Both went on to become, in the strict sense of the word, ecclesiastical theologians, conscious of the responsibility of their work for the life and witness of the wider Christian community. Once called to chairs of theology – Schleiermacher in Berlin, Barth first of all in Göttingen – they found themselves confronted with other tasks and responsibilities than those of relatively independent thinkers. In particular, they were faced with the question of how they were to teach them – a question which can have a sobering effect on the most effervescent spirits if they feel its real force. (400-401)

Barth’s assessment of Schleiermacher can be found (1) in his Göttingen lectures of winter 1923/24, which ends with an autobiographical account, “Concluding Unscientific Postscript on Schleiermacher,” (2) in his Protestant Theology in the Nineteenth Century from 1947/52, and (3) in the many excursuses throughout the Church Dogmatics, in which the index is most helpful for locating Schleiermacher.

Is Christ offensive?

August 26, 2013

Crucifixion by Jan Brueghel the Elder

Yes, but we cannot stop there.

Kierkegaard was fond of our Lord’s pronouncement in Mt 11.6 and Lk 7.23 that blessed is the one who is not offended [μὴ σκανδαλισθῇ] at him. Fred Denbeaux (d. 1995), Presbyterian minister and longtime professor at Wellesley, has a nice summation of Kierkegaard on this point:

What is the offense of faith? It can take many forms. We would welcome a God of light, but he comes to us crucified. We would welcome a God with whom we could be happy, and instead we are confronted with him whom we have slain. We are offended because we can never come before God neutrally but always in guilt. We are offended because the Christ who comes does not come in the form that we expect. We would be happier if he came as a god of war, so that we could join our sword to his in the battle against unrighteousness (always conveniently with the enemy and never with ourselves.) But the Christ does not come with a sword, and he asks us to put our sword away; so we are offended.

Therefore, Christ is always the occasion of either offense or faith. He is the one either before whom we stumble and fall on our knees or else from whom we turn in defensive pride. He is our Saviour, but we shall never know him as such if we become offended, because it is from ourselves that he saves us.

(Ten Makers of Modern Protestant Thought, ed. George L. Hunt, NY: Association Press, p. 55)

Amen. There is more to Kierkegaard than this, as every Kierkegaard scholar is more than anxious to remind us! But this prominent theme is why Kierkegaard is such a necessary stage through which every theology student should pass. I hesitate to say, “stage,” as if we should ever forget this offense — we should not. Yet, Christ is the light that overcomes darkness (Jn 1.5).

Creation is offended at Christ in its rebellion against God — in its desire to secure some other foundation than the love of God in his promises. Yet, this eternal love and these promises of blessing are the true foundation, the original foundation — the light. Thus, faith in Christ is not merely repentance at the offense and a casting aside of the former self; faith in Christ is an embrace of the true creation that was pronounced “good,” including the self made new in him.

This transition from nein to ja is what Barth belabors at numerous points in his Church Dogmatics, as in the doctrine of justification (especially § 61.2, CD IV.1). It requires extensive belaboring because the nein remains a truth of mankind in his opposition to God and God’s opposition to this “impossibility.” Thus, a facile ja that negates the law or wrath has nothing to do with God’s righteousness. The opposition to God is an “impossibility,” in Barth’s terminology, because it is not a possibility of creation. It comes from elsewhere. If there were ever an inscrutable mystery, it is the “non-existence” of evil.

I understand the perplexity at Barth’s designation of evil as das Nichtige, which is nevertheless not das Nichts [nothingness is not nothing]. Evil “exists” in some shadow, false reality, not the reality of God’s creation. While perplexing, this allows Barth to affirm creation with a seriousness that exults in joy, not remaining in a quandary of dialectical tension. Of course, this is framed according to his christology, not some immanent principle discernible within creation. As I see it, Barth fulfills Kierkegaard’s aim at bypassing the dialectical impasse of Idealism — not through faith as such, but through Christ.

This accounts for the pronounced optimism in Barth and his dislike for tragedy. Christ offends, indeed, but there is more. We were created for him.

Hiking with Barth

August 20, 2013

Fred Sanders, theology professor at Biola, has some nice reflections on Barth:

Barth & the Bible in Yosemite

I also appreciated one of his past posts:

Karl Barth’s Methodist Cleaning Service

Enjoy!

Wappen_Deutsches_Reich_-_Wappen_des_Kaisers_mit_Helmkleinod

I have finally finished the “19th century German theology” page, which I had announced two years ago! The page link will be on the top of the blog:

https://dogmatics.wordpress.com/german-theology/

It did not take two years — I just forgot about it until now. I have expanded the number of titles, and I will add more as I come across new discoveries. Where multiple editions are available, I have selected the best quality scan.

What is my justification for providing this resource? Modernity happened, like it or not. Even if your affinities are closer aligned with Protestant scholasticism of the 17th century, your theology will be impoverished by ignoring the intervening development of theology. These works are stimulating, rigorous, fascinating, profound, and — believe it or not — often faithful to our Lord. They are not monolithic, as different schools emerged and contended with each other, and the result is one of the high points in the history of theology. I am aligned with Barth in his criticisms of this period, but there would be no Barth if it were not for this theology. In fact, Barth’s carefully nuanced reading of Schleiermacher — ardent rejection and loving affection — is a model for us all.

Calvin on the sacraments

August 13, 2013

Profile Portrait of John Calvin

The Reformed and the Lutherans parted company over the sacraments. Reformed leaders, like Martin Bucer and then John Calvin, genuinely strove to achieve full doctrinal unity with the Lutherans. In the following excerpt from Calvin, you can see his frustration at being lumped together with “memorialists” and other radical views:

They [the Lutherans] pretend indeed to make it their ground of quarrel, that we do not give the sacraments their due virtue. But when we come to the point, some produce nothing but bad names and blind tumult, while others, with a toss of disdain, condemn, in a word, what they never read. That they quarrel without consideration, the case itself shows.

And now for Calvin’s response, which makes for a perfectly concise statement of the Reformed position:

Without making further mention of a man [Luther] whose memory I revere, and whose honour I am desirous to consult, let me declare my opinion simply. …the sacraments are neither empty figures nor mere external badges of piety, but seals of the divine promises, testimonies of spiritual grace to cherish and confirm faith, and, on the other, that they are instruments by which God acts effectually in his elect; that, therefore, although they are signs distinct from the things signified, they are neither disjoined nor separated from them; that they are given to ratify and confirm what God has promised by his word, and especially to seal the secret communion which we have with Christ; — there certainly remains no reason why they should rank us in their list of enemies.

(John Calvin, Tracts and Treatises on the Doctrine and Worship of the Church, volume 2 of Calvin’s Tracts and Treatises, pp. 223-224)

This was written following a joint statement from the pastors of Zurich (heirs to Zwingli) and Geneva, yielding a united front from the Reformed on the sacraments. If you would like to dig further into these issues, I was helped by Herman Bavinck’s discussion in volume four of his Reformed Dogmatics, especially pertaining to “sign and seal” terminology.

Prayers or Death Knell?

August 9, 2013

One of the criticisms of the PCUSA, by those of us departing for ECO, is the fairly pervasive religious pluralism or, at the least, sloppy inclusivism in the denomination. A fine illustration of this is in the Daily Prayer published by the PCUSA. On the title page, we are assured that it was “commended by the 205th General Assembly (1993) for use in worship.”

Even if you could argue for an orthodox spin to these prayers — quite a theological feat — the average person in the pew will come away with a straightforward message of religious pluralism:

For World Religions

We thank you, God of the universe,
that you call all people to worship you
and to serve your purpose in this world.
We praise you for the gift of faith
we have received in Jesus Christ.
We praise you also for diverse faith
among the people of the earth.

For you have bestowed your grace
that Christians, Jews, Muslims,
Buddhists, and others
may celebrate your goodness,
act upon your truth,
and demonstrate your righteousness.
In wonder and awe
we praise you great God.  Amen.

(Book of Common Worship: Daily Prayer, Louisville: WJK Press, 1993, pp. 409-410)

Hmm, I get a different vibe from Romans 1-3. Anyway, we are then not surprised to find this prayer:

For Muslims

Eternal God,
you are the one God to be worshiped by all,
the one called Allah by your Muslim children,
descendants of Abraham as we are.
Give us grace to hear your truth
in the teachings of Mohammed, the prophet,
and to show your love as disciples of Jesus Christ,
that Christians and Muslims together
may serve you in faith and friendship.  Amen. (p. 430)

Among other problems with this prayer, Mohammed is a “prophet” now for Christians. Once upon a time, the mainline actually prayed for the repentance and conversion of Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus…anywhere “diverse faith” was found.

However, I do not exclude the possibility of salvation outside the church. Suffice it to say, there are more responsible models of inclusivism — here and here for example, or Alister McGrath’s agnosticism here.

calvin-luther

As is often noted, Calvin rarely gave autobiographical reflections. He was busy thinking about God. But, one such autobiographical moment appears in his letter to Jacopo Sadoleto, a bishop in France who had sent a letter to Geneva, appealing for their return to the Roman fold.

Calvin’s response to Sadoleto’s letter is wide-ranging. Much of it deals with Sadoleto’s — obviously hypocritical — charge that the reformers were in it for self-aggrandizement (honor, prestige, wealth)…you know, the sort of thing that Rome had fully institutionalized! For all of his rhetorical finesse, Calvin is livid at this calumny. Elsewhere, Calvin deals with the doctrinal issues that Sadoleto had touched upon, in his touting of the holiness and purity in the way of salvation which Rome had shepherded souls for centuries. Toward the end of the letter, Calvin gives a brief statement of his own Catholic upbringing and what chiefly brought about his evangelical conversion.

I call this his “Luther moment” for the similarity to Luther’s own crisis of conscience in regards to works-righteousness. Often Luther is accused of being overly preoccupied with such matters (doctrine of justification), which may be true, but I am inclined to think that Calvin and Luther are far more similar than not in their view of justification (against N. T. Wright et al.). Here is an excerpt from the letter:

I, O Lord, as I had been educated from a boy, always professed the Christian faith. But at first I had no other reason for my faith than that which then everywhere prevailed. Your Word, which ought to have shone on all your people like a lamp, was taken away, or at least suppressed as to us. …

I believed, as I had been taught, that I was redeemed by the death of your Son from liability to eternal death, but the redemption I thought of was one whose virtue could never reach me. I anticipated a future resurrection, but hated to think of it, as being an event most dreadful. And this feeling not only had dominion over me in private, but was derived from the doctrine which was then uniformly delivered to the people by their Christian teachers. They, indeed, preached of your clemency towards men, but confined it to those who should show themselves deserving of it. They, moreover, placed this desert in the righteousness of works, so that he only was received into your favor who reconciled himself to You by works. Nor, meanwhile, did they disguise the fact, that we are miserable sinners, that we often fall through infirmity of the flesh, and that to all, therefore, your mercy behooved to be the common haven of salvation; but the method of obtaining it, which they pointed out, was by making satisfaction to You for offenses. Then, the satisfaction enjoined was, first, after confessing all our sins to a priest, suppliantly to ask pardon and absolution; and, secondly, by good to efface from your remembrance our bad actions. Lastly, in order to supply what was still wanting, we were to add sacrifices and solemn expiations. Then, because You were a stern judge and strict avenger of iniquity, they showed how dreadful your presence must be. Hence they bade us flee first to the saints, that by their intercession You might be rendered exorable and propitious to us.

When, however, I had performed all these things, though I had some intervals of quiet, I was still far-off from true peace of conscience; for, whenever I descended into myself, or raised my mind to You, extreme terror seized me — terror which no expiations nor satisfactions could cure. And the more closely I examined myself, the sharper the stings with which my conscience was pricked, so that the only solace which remained to me was to delude myself by obliviousness.

(John Calvin, “Reply to Sadoleto,” in A Reformation Debate, pp. 87-88)

Calvin continues to recount his hesitation at such “novelty” as was the evangelical doctrine of Christ’s complete satisfaction. But,

I at length perceived, as if light had broken in upon me, in what a style of error I had wallowed….Being exceedingly alarmed at the misery into which I had fallen, and much more at that which threatened me in the view of eternal death, I, as in duty bound, made it my first business to betake myself to your ways, condemning my past life, not without groans and tears. And now, O Lord, what remains to a wretch like me, but instead of defense, earnestly to supplicate You not to judge according to its deserts that fearful abandonment of your Word, from which, in your wondrous goodness, You have at last delivered me.

(p. 90)

There you have it: Calvin’s terrors of conscience, profound self-examination, the fearful judgment of a holy God — all the makings of a Luther crisis! This is rudimentary for understanding the Reformation and the confessional theology that arose from it. Moreover, the sacramental process — by which the devout are transferred back into a state of grace after mortal sin — is still unequivocally taught in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, under the auspices of Pope John Paul II.

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addendum

Just to be clear, I have no problem with designating the Roman Catholic Church as “Christian,” and I certainly do not question the salvation of Catholics…who will, statistically speaking, far outnumber Protestants in the hereafter. One of the silliest developments in Presbyterian history is when Southern Presbyterians in the 19th century rejected Catholic baptisms!

dome-st-peters

We should put a moratorium on anymore “post” fill-in-the-blank terms, but I have more substantive reasons to find “post-Protestant” objectionable.

Robin Parry likes it because:

I am not protesting Catholicism. Not at all. There are things within the Catholic tradition that I do not agree with but I don’t see them as a major issue and have no particular interest in protesting against them.

Like Parry, there is much that I admire in Catholic theology and practice. I routinely recommend Balthasar, de Lubac, and Gilson, as the archives of this blog will give some indication. And I did my master’s thesis on John Henry Newman’s epistemology.

But, I am protesting Catholicism. If there is no “major issue” that needs protesting, then I would be Catholic. It would be irresponsible to remain separate. Yet, Parry assures us that he is “not at all” protesting Catholicism.

Putting aside justification for a minute, how about the “bodily assumption” of Mary? This is not an “opinion” of Rome. This was defined as de fide, that is, binding on the faithful. That was 1950. How about the “immaculate conception” of Mary? That was defined in 1854. The pope’s authority to define such matters was itself defined at the First Vatican Council in 1870: 

We teach and define that it is a dogma Divinely revealed that the Roman pontiff when he speaks ex cathedra, that is when in discharge of the office of pastor and doctor of all Christians, by virtue of his supreme Apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine regarding faith or morals to be held by the universal Church, by the Divine assistance promised to him in Blessed Peter, is possessed of that infallibility with which the Divine Redeemer willed that his Church should be endowed in defining doctrine regarding faith or morals, and that therefore such definitions of the Roman pontiff are of themselves and not from the consent of the Church irreformable.

So then, should anyone, which God forbid, have the temerity to reject this definition of ours: let him be anathema.

[Pastor Aeternus, Dogmatic Constitution issued on July 18, 1870]

You can also check the recent Catechism of the Catholic Church commissioned by John Paul II: paragraphs 890-892 on papal infallibility and episcopal authority, 490-494 on Mary’s immaculate conception, 499-500 on Mary’s ever-virginity (and virginitas in partu, that is, in the act of giving birth!), and 966 on the bodily assumption of Mary. These are all, in Rome’s understanding, part of the “deposit of faith” divinely revealed to the apostles, thereby de fide and binding on all of the Catholic faithful.

So, Parry has no protests? “Not at all”? We haven’t even looked at justification. But, since Parry has no protests, I guess he thinks the Catholic position (both at Trent and reaffirmed in the recent Catechism) is not a “major issue.” So, works are required to retain our justified standing before God? Yeah, not a big deal. Mortal sin, confession, penance, works of satisfaction…not a big deal?

I am continually amused by the apparent romanticism of Rome by Protestants, like Parry, who should know better. Part of the problem is that his vision of Protestantism is of a highly individualistic, non-sacramental, Bible-thumping affair. But, that was not the Reformation, and it is not Protestantism, properly understood — as I have recently discussed here and here. Otherwise, Anglicanism indeed appears to be a via media between Catholics and Protestants. The problem is that Anglicanism — certainly prior to the Oxford Movement of the 19th century — was a thoroughly Protestant church of the magisterial Reformation. The 39 Articles are Reformed. If anything, the Lutherans have a better claim for retaining catholicity and the patristic witness. Parry doesn’t need to be “post-Protestant” — he needs actual Protestantism.

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Image: St. Peter’s Basilica. Photograph is mine.

Thoughts on Pietism

August 5, 2013

Given our look at Finney and Nevin, I have been inspired to write this post on pietism, considering its validity in part but defective on the whole. I will try to keep this as condensed as possible. I will conclude with some observations on the obvious strengths of pietism.

evangelist-john-wesley-preaching-while-standing-on-top-of-his-fathers-tombstone-from-life-magazine1

History

First, we should define pietism for those who may be new to its usage in theological discourse. “Pietism” originally derives from Lutheran soil, associated with the work of Philipp Spener and others who were dissatisfied with the comfort and complacency of Lutheran ministers and their congregants. Spener charged the establishment with “dead orthodoxy,” where confessional integrity is upheld but genuine conversion is neglected — or so it was perceived by the pietists. Spener and his associates pursued holiness and organized small groups for Bible study, prayer, and mutual accountability. They did not reject the Lutheran confessions, seeking rather to bring life to the form. Moral reform and “authenticity” were their aims, not doctrinal revision. (Of course, their opponents questioned the compatibility of their theology with the confessions.) When we look at John Wesley and his focus on holiness (organizing the “Holy Club” at Oxford for Bible study, prayer, and mutual accountability), his criticism of the comfort and complacency in C of E ministers, and so forth — you see quite clear parallels. And Wesley, like Spener, did not reject the confessions of the established church nor did he seek to disaffiliate. Other pietist movements, however, would separate — including Wesley’s own Methodists soon after his death — and the pietist emphases can be found most clearly in the various “free church” traditions (such as the Baptists, Pentecostals, Nazarene, and the many nondenominational churches of today) that have emerged after the Reformation, as well as among the free churches during the Reformation (Anabaptists/Mennonites).

So, with this historical background, we could define pietism in terms of “experience,” “personal holiness,” “authenticity,” and the like.

Thoughts

The Reformed tradition is not in principle opposed to what pietism originally sought to uphold, nor is it extraneous to Reformed theology. That is, Reformed theology and its piety are not defective. It is not as if “dead orthodoxy” is the default position for Protestant confessional praxis, which then requires a sort of Baptist booster shot. Zwingli, Calvin, and Ursinus — to name three of the most important figures in shaping Reformed confessional identity — certainly had an “experience” of the Risen Lord and a deep, heartfelt piety. Their preaching and writings aimed at conversion and edification, based upon a sound knowledge of the Word of God.

Naturally, the danger of dead orthodoxy is a real danger, often encouraged by material comforts and an institutionalized ministerial process that requires little sacrifice. In such settings, the challenge that arises from a Spener or an Edwards or a Wesley is indeed valid, in part, and rightly analogous to the prophets of Israel. As such, they are recalling the church to the living faith of the Reformation itself. The forms of the Church — liturgical, sacramental, confessional — can become a law without grace and thereby a means for self-righteousness instead of God’s righteousness.

Yet, form is not opposed to content. The form is the conduit, so to speak, ordained by God and therefore has the priority. Once the content — our experience, our “authenticity” — takes priority, then our idolatrous desires will eventually modify the form and substitute the true God for a God of our own making, subject to our own fancies. This, it seems to me, is the greatest danger of pietist movements and especially the revivals associated with them. While the progenitors of these movements and revivals may not have intended this, and indeed may have firmly upheld the Protestant confessions, they have made the decisive switch by elevating anthropology over theology. Finney is a short step away.

Moreover, God has given the church the means of grace, that is, the means by which he converts and sanctifies his people: the proclamation of the Word and the administration of the sacraments. These are, properly understood, out of our control. As Barth repeatedly emphasizes in II.1 of the Church Dogmatics, our words are incapable of bearing the divine Word, but God through his grace uses them nonetheless, capacitating them and sanctifying them for his own purpose. Preaching, as with prayer, is most faithful when it trusts God to do this work, to fulfill his promises. Likewise with the sacraments, we trust God to communicate his grace to the elect, to establish and edify, to increase in love and purity. This is precisely why we do not like the sacraments — they are out of our control — and why we do not like doctrinal preaching — it is out of our control. We would rather use our own sure means of excitement and enthusiasm, whether it be the ostentatious preacher or the rousing rock-n-roll praise band.

Observations

When I look at the evangelical movement of today, pietism is clearly the dominant mood of the day, supplying the basic assumptions of the average Christian in America and in much of the world. While this does indeed make the “antidote” of a Nevin or Schaff or Barth all the more urgent, it would be enormously shortsighted to not take account of the strengths of pietism.

This can be most persuasively illustrated by the overwhelming presence of former Baptists — and other free church evangelicals — within confessional Protestant churches. Evangelical Presbyterians, like myself, are well aware of how many of our elders and membership is supplied by people who grew-up in a pietist environment, full of revivals, youth camps, missions conferences, and the like. This is where they (including myself) first became Christians or where they first took their faith seriously. Even our “cradle Presbyterians” often have stories of Young Life camps or Inter-Varsity meetings which had a decisive influence. Likewise in academic theology programs, seminaries like Princeton or universities like Edinburgh can well testify to the number of evangelicals with pietist backgrounds doing graduate work in theology, often in the process of shedding their pietism for a Christian faith with more historical depth and doctrinal depth. Would they be there if it were not for their pietist evangelical upbringing? Not likely.

Some of the most severe critics of pietism are, of course, former pietists who came to faith in Christ under pietist auspices! This has always baffled me. If pietism is so terrible, then why is pietism doing so much of the initial work among believers who then become confessional Reformed types…or Anglicans or Lutherans (or Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox, for that matter)? Surely pietism is doing something right if nearly every self-consciously Calvinist Presbyterian I meet is a former Baptist.

The primary focus of pietism — at its best — is to make Christ alive and present in a believer’s life. We should be grateful wherever this occurs, as it has in so many of our lives. Protestant orthodoxy makes Christ alive and present as well, albeit normally in less “exciting” ways — but in a more enduring way.