22 August 2013

Pietism: Missing the Full Truth

One of the most fascinating themes in Herman Bavinck’s The Catholicity of Christianity and the Church is his conviction that a dualistic view of the world (as found in pietism) is an enemy of the catholicity of Christianity. It’s far from a mute point. Evangelicalism grew in the soil of pietism and continues, to a greater or lesser extent, in that vein today. I’ve already posted on Rookmaaker’s brief description and critique of pietism in Modern Art and the Death of a Culture, where he labels it ‘mysticism’.

Bavinck’s own assessment is that pietism

sin(s) against the catholicity of Christianity and the church and (is) thus incapable of the Reformation to which we are called today. 244

Bavinck has no desire to overstate the case in a critique of pietistic Christianity:

It is not our intention here to deny the gift that God gave to the church in times of decline through such men as Fox and Wesley, Spener and Francke, Von Zinzendorf and Labadie, Darby and Irving, Moody and Booth. And who would deny the rich blessing that often rested on their work? Their passion, courage, faith, and love were admirable. Their protest against the worldliness and corruption of the church was not without foundation. Often they were seized by a holy passion for the honor of God and the salvation of people or else, withdrawing to a life of solitude, they excelled in many Christian virtues… 245-6

He does however, highlights its weaknesses:

Nonetheless, there is something lacking in their Christianity. It immediately makes a different impression on us than the truly Christian and also thoroughly healthy worldview of the Reformers. One misses the genuine catholicity of the Christian faith in them…. 246

It needs to be noted that while this orientation has much about it that is Christian, it is missing the full truth of Christianity. It is a denial of the truth that God loves the world. It is dedicated to conflict with and even rejection of the world but not to "the victory that overcomes it" in faith. 246-7

In a Reformed and Reforming church, we must pursue the ‘full truth of Christianity’ – that God loves the world.