A word for Pietism

Stanley Hauerwas is an influential voice among United Methodist pastors. He is not shy about his dislike of Pietism, which is awkward for United Methodists since John Wesley was one of the most well-known advocates of the heart religion that is the hallmark of Pietism.

Since Hauerwas was influential in my early Christian intellectual formation and still tugs on my head-strings, I have always found his disdain for Pietism — I can still hear in my head his distinctive Texas twang’s mocking way of saying the word in some YouTube lecture I heard long ago — at odds with my understanding of what it means to be a United Methodist.

As a bookish man with a somewhat academic bent and a Midwestern introvert not given to emotionalism, I’ll admit that religion of the heart is not something I would have naturally been inclined to embrace. But, perhaps in good Methodist fashion, my experience tells me that the “heart warming” religion that so changed John Wesley’s life is still at work today.

I had a recent conversation with a man in which he discussed the jaw-dropping experience of discovering that all this church stuff was not just words jangling off his ears, but something that had gotten down in his heart. It was not just something in his head, but it was running through his whole life in an exciting and a little bit of a shocking way.

I know we need to be watchful for the ways Pietism can lead us off the narrow path of Jesus. We need to watch for hyper-individualism and mysticism and things that I’m not aware of, I’m sure. But this kind of deeply felt — yes “felt” — experience of faith seems to me to be one of the gifts of Methodism to the church catholic. It is part of what we exist to offer God’s world.

We won’t find many of our brothers and sisters in the Protestant world embracing Pietism. I’m sure there are orders and movements within the Roman Catholic and Orthodox traditions who speak this heart religion language.

It seems to me that we should be mining and preserving and passing on these forms of Christian spirituality. That is why God raised up our movement in the first place. Or, so it seems to me.

2 thoughts on “A word for Pietism

  1. Hi John!

    As someone who is both solidly Confessional and a pietist in the LCMC, I’m pretty sure I agree with you. When I consider what is different about me now as opposed to when I was in the UMC, it is this…I have feelings, but I am quick to recognize the sinfulness of feelings that are unhinged from the clear witness of Scripture. The heart left to its own devices is deceitful above all things, and it will lead us astray. Healthy pietism is marked principally by a growth in love for God, as shown forth by a love for both the Gospel AND the law of God. A healthy pietist would state that any feeling that runs counter to scripture is sin…period.

    What passes as pietism in many circles of the UMC, in my opinion, is just humanism. It looks to the human experience and seeks to have God sanctify the experience. Original sin is lost, actualized sin is sanctified, and all salt is gone. Such pietism hates the condemnation of sin and softens the holiness of God. It is false, and I don’t miss it.

    Many blessings my friend,

Comments are closed.