A Summary of Crucial Errors of Pietism

Robert E. Fugate,
Ph.D.

 

A brief history of pietism

Pietism was a 17th and 18th century renewal movement, that
began in German confessional Lutheranism, emphasizing vital spiritual
experience as the heart of Christianity. Its founders were Philipp Jacob Spener (1635-1705) and his student and successor, August
Hermann Francke (1663-1727). The Moravians, led by
Count Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf (1700-1760) (godson of Spener
and student of Francke), were an offshoot of Pietism.
The Moravians, in turn, strongly influenced John Wesley and Methodism.
Subsequently, Methodism, Holiness groups, Brethren churches, and Pentecostal
and many charismatic churches have been influenced by pietistic thinking.

Pietism’s subjectivism fostered an ecumenism of
experience, foreshadowing the Enlightenment. In fact, some of the major figures
of the Enlightenment came from pietist backgrounds (e.g., Gotthold
E. Lessing, Immanuel Kant, Friedrich Schiller, Johann W. Goethe, and Johann G.
Fichte).

Historically, pietism also laid the groundwork for
nineteenth-century Protestant Liberalism. Friederich
Schleiermacher, the father of modern Liberal theology, was educated in pietism
by the Moravians. Schleiermacher grounded theology on the "feeling of
absolute dependence." "The Pietist orientation to religious
experience expressed in its emphasis upon regeneration (a biological image)
instead of justification (a forensic image) prepared the ground for this
development."[1]

Today, the term "pietism" usually refers to a
sentimental, privatized (inward) Christianity, which sees the Christian faith
almost exclusively in terms of an individualized, emotional experience.

With regard to the theological beliefs of pietism, pietism
is individualistic, man-centered (semi-Pelagian), and emotional. It believes
that subjective religious experience is the heart of Christianity.
Pietism’s "religion of the heart" devalues the rational[2]
and intellectual aspects of Christianity ("the religion of the head"[3]),
often becoming mystical (irrational). Truth and doctrine are trivialized.

Pietism has led to a mentality of compartmentalization of
spiritual vs. secular among many professing Christians. Among its more orthodox
adherents, pietism produces cultural irrelevance and retreatism/escapism ("Meet,
eat, retreat," and "don’t polish brass on a sinking ship.") When
liberalism captured the mainline denominations, and Fundamentalism adopted
Dispensationalism and unbiblical pietism, American society and culture began to
rot.

Theological errors

1. Pietism fails to come to grips
with the Biblical doctrine of creation.

God created everything good, and everything belongs to
Him. The earth and all it contains belong to God, not
to the devil — even after the fall (Gn 1-2; Ex 8:22; 9:29; 19:5; Lv 25:23[land]; Dt 10:14; 1 Ch 29:11-12; Job 41:11; Ps 24:1 [the earth and all it
contains, including people]; 50:10-12 [animals]; Hg 2:8 [silver and gold]; 1
Cor 10:26, 28).

The entire created order reflects something of God and
His glory — even after the fall (Ps 19:1-6; 97:6; Ro 1:20; 2:14-15; 1 Cor
11:7). Everything derives its meaning from God’s all-encompassing plan, and
everything exists for the glory of God (Col 1:16; 1 Cor 8:6; Ro 11:36).

2. Pietism depreciates the absolute
Lordship of the resurrected Jesus Christ over all things
, which was the
central message of apostolic preaching.[4]

After His resurrection,[5]
the Lord Jesus Christ is the "King of
kings and Lord of lords" (Rv 19:16; cf. 17:14; Ac 17:6-7; Ps 2; 89:27), "
the
ruler of the kings of the earth" (Rv 1:5). He possesses all authority both in heaven and on
earth (Mt 28:18; Eph 1:20-22; Jn 3:35), and He will "subject all
things
to Himself" (Phil 3:21). "He is Lord of all"
(Ac 10:36). Christ now manifests His triumph through His Church (cf. Ac 1:1-2ff;
2 Cor 2:14; Eph 2:6; 3:10), through which He will "fill all
things
" (Eph 4:10). Jesus Christ is to have the preeminence in all
things
(Col
1:18; Ps 110:1-2ff). Sadly, pietism truncates the chief confession of the New
Testament ("Jesus is Lord").

3. Pietism is oblivious to the
implications of the presence and power of God’s eschatological kingdom in
history
(the "already") (Ps 110:1-3; Dn 2:31, 34-35, 44 stone
that destroyed the four ancient humanistic empires and then fills the earth;
7:13-14; Mt 13:31-32//Mk 4:30-32 mustard seed; Mt 13:33 leaven; Ac 2:34-36; 1
Cor 15:25; cf. Ac 3:21).

 

·      
It is also oblivious to the breadth or scope
of God’s kingdom
:

 

"The object of the divine rule is the redemption
of people and their deliverance from the powers of evil. 1 Corinthians 15:23-28
is definitive. Christ’s reign means the
destruction of all hostile powers
, the last of which is death. The kingdom
of God is the reign of God in Christ destroying
all that is hostile to the divine rule
" (Rv 11:15; Mt 4:8 // Lk 4:5;
Mt 12:26; Lk 11:18; 2 Cor 4:4).[6]

"The scope of his [Christ’s] eschatological
rule, the extent of his realm, is nothing less than the entire creation; all
things are subject to him
(Mt
28:18; 1 Cor 15:27; Heb 2:8). …

Christ is ‘head over everything
for the church’ (Eph 1:22)."[7]

The kingdom
of God
is as comprehensive
as the dominion mandate (Gn 1:26-30),[8] as
the subsequent effects of sin, and as Christ’s redemption.

By failing to embrace the message of Christ’s
eschatological kingdom[9]
pietists weaken "the gospel of the kingdom" (i.e., the good news of
the governmental rule of God mediated through the Person of His Son, King
Jesus).

4. Pietism depreciates the victory
Christ has already won in history
. Jesus Christ has bound and vanquished
Satan and all his demonic hordes (Mt 12:28-29; Col 2:15; Jn 12:31; Heb 2:14-15;
1 Jn 3:8; Rv 1:18), and He is plundering Satan’s kingdom (Lk 11:20-22; Is
53:12; Eph 4:8). Jesus is Lord; Satan and the Antichrist are not Lord. The Lord
Jesus Christ manifests and enforces His conquest in history through His body,
the Church (Lk 10:17-19; Ac 1:2; Ro 16:20 [cp. Josh 10:24-25]; Rv 12:11; 2 Cor
2:14; Eph 1:20-23 + 2:6).

5. Pietism’s theology is rooted
in pagan Greek dualism, which asserts that the material world is evil
and spirit is good.

Evil is viewed as metaphysical, rather than ethical.
On this secular philosophical foundation pietists contrast "spiritual"
things with "secular" things (contrary to: 1 Cor 10:31; Col 3:17, 23;
1 Pt 1:15; Zc 14:20). Thus
they have perverted Jesus’ "gospel of the kingdom" into the gospel of
Neo-Platonism.

6. Many pietists destroy the unity
of Scripture
[10] with
their depreciation of the Old Testament.[11]

Practical consequences

1. Pietists fail to obey the
creation mandate (Gn 1:26-30) — abdicating their God-given stewardship to the
devil and his followers. (This promotes cultural lawlessness, not holiness. It
produces a church that has lost its preserving influence [Mt 5:13].)

2. Pietists fail to fulfill the
great commission (Mt 28:18-20),[12]
since they are oblivious to the scope of discipling nations.[13]
Pietists usually avoid involvement in politics.

3. Pietists rob God of glory.

4. Pietists often develop
unbiblical standards of holiness and separation[14]
from the world (defining "world" in an unbiblical manner[15]),
resulting in legalism (if not asceticism).

5. Pietists tend toward moral
perfectionism,[16]
separating and forming a church within the church.

6. Pietists do not develop a
comprehensive worldview, leaving them powerless to confront Satan’s kingdom.
(You can’t beat something with nothing.) In so doing they fail to "take every thought captive to make it obey Christ"
(2 Cor 10:5) and to love God with all their mind (Mk 12:30, part of the
greatest commandment), "so that in everything He [Jesus Christ] might have
the supremacy" (Col 1:18).

7. Pietism produces religious
parasites who live off the fruit of those who labored to produce a more
Biblical worldview (e.g., civil liberty,[17]
medical and technological developments, protection from thugs, etc.).

8. Pietism fosters a feminized
church.[18]
Most men are repulsed by a religion that is anti-intellectual, feeling-based,
and that tells them they are second-class Christians because most of their time
and energy are spent in a secular (i.e., non-spiritual) vocation.

9. Pietism is impotent to prevent
or to oppose tyranny, as demonstrated by the militaristic Prussian state with
its compulsory statist education system.[19]
Their retreat from culture and their unwillingness to confront the messianic,
all-encompassing state gives tacit approval to it.

10. Because pietism reduced the
gospel to soul-saving, it put man at the center of its gospel, thereby becoming
humanistic and impotent to oppose the religion of secular humanism.[20]
Even worse, "By surrendering entire areas of life to the humanists,
pietism has unintentionally contributed to the spread of the humanist malady…a
massive betrayal!"[21]

"It is not an accident that Pietism and the
Enlightenment arose at the same time. As Christian thinkers retreated from the
world and regarded the inner, spiritual realm as the only valid sphere for the
faith, so the vacuum which remained was occupied by the new humanists, the men
of the Enlightenment."[22]

Through their abdication, pietists inadvertently glorify
Satan’s power and abet Satan’s kingdom! (Is their "gospel of the kingdom,"
in effect, the gospel of Satan’s kingdom, which they believe controls the
world?)

 

 

In light of the theological errors and bad fruit of
pietism, it comes as no surprise that Francis Schaeffer described pietism as: "a
defective view of Christianity"; "platonic spirituality"; "giving
little, or no, importance to the material world"; "it neglected the
intellectual dimension of Christianity."[23]
He adds, "The mistaken pietists thought battles in the area of government
were ‘unspiritual’. … [Pietism’s Christianity is] shut up to a removed and
isolated spirituality. … Evangelicals were right in their rejection of a poor
pietism which shut Christianity up into a very narrow area of spiritual life."[24]

 

 

[The above errors do not mean that we cannot appreciate
Biblical aspects of pietism, such as the importance of conversion, a personal
relationship with God cultivated through personal prayer and Bible study, holy
living, and missions. Neither do such errors mean that God did not use pietism
for any good purposes.]

 

 

© Robert E. Fugate,
2006

 

Endnotes

 



[1] "Pietism," Encyclopedia
of Christianity
, eds. Erwin Fahlbusch, et
al
., 5 vols. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1999-2008), 4:222.

[2]
Christianity is rational and logically consistent. Rationality is part of the
image of God. Pietists confused rationality with non-Christian philosophical
rationalism, which has as its starting point man’s reason unaided by divine
revelation.

[3] "An
antithesis between head and heart is nowhere found in Scripture" (Gordon
H. Clark, Religion, Reason, and Revelation [Jefferson, MD:
Trinity Foundation, 1986], pp. 92f.

[4]
See the numerous quotations of Pss 2 and 110 by Christ and the Apostles in the
New Testament.

[5] "In
his ascension, however, Jesus entered into a new exercise of His messiahship.
This is expounded in Acts 2:24-35. Jesus has been seated at the right hand of
God and installed upon the throne of
David
(2:30). Here Peter under inspiration reinterprets the prophecy of Ps
110:1. The throne of David is no longer in Jerusalem; it is in heaven at the right hand
of God. Jesus is even now reigning as
messianic king
(Messiah)" (George E. Ladd, "Kingdom of God,"
in ISBE, rev., 3:29).

[6]
George E. Ladd, "Kingdom of God, Heaven," Evangelical Dictionary
of Theology
, ed. Walter A. Elwell, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI:
Baker, 2001), p. 658. Note that these Scriptures teach that this reign of the
Lord Jesus Christ has already begun in history (as recognized by premillennialist
Ladd).

[7]
Richard B. Gaffin, "Kingdom of God," in New Dictionary of Theology, eds., Sinclair B. Ferguson, David E.
Wright, and J.I. Packer (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1988), p. 369.
(Gaffin is an amillennialist.) See also: Geerhardus Vos, The Teaching of Jesus Concerning the Kingdom and the Church (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1951), pp.
50, 87-89; Archibald A. Hodge, Evangelical
Theology
(Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1976), pp. 283f.

[8]
John M. Frame, Salvation Belongs to the Lord (Phillipsburg, NJ:
P&R, 2006), pp. 249-251, 307.

[9] To this
end they twist Christ’s statement, "My kingdom is not of this world"
(Jn 18:36). What did Christ mean by this statement?

"Kingdom" (βασιλεία) denotes "the act of ruling,
kingship, royal power, royal rule" (BDAG, p. 269; cf. Rudolf Schnackenburg, Gospel According to St. John, 3:249). "The essential meaning
is reign rather than realm" (TDNT, 1:582
; cf. L-N # 37:64).

"Of" (ἐκ "out
of," "from") is a "marker denoting origin"; "to
denote derivation" (BDAG, p. 296). This is confirmed later in the same
verse when Jesus reiterates, "My
kingdom is not from here" [
ἐντεῦθεν] (BDAG, p. 339, noting that the two
expressions "from here" and "from this world" are
equivalent). F.F. Bruce translates these two
phrases, "My kingship does not proceed from this world. … My
kingship proceeds from another source" (Gospel of John, p.
353). Similarly, D.A. Carson comments, "Jesus’ reign does not have its source
or origin in this world" (Gospel According to John, p.
594).
Jesus is telling Pilate that the origin and authority
of his kingly rule are from God (cf. Jn 19:11); they do not come from the world
(just as Jesus himself did not come from the world, but "from above,"
Jn 8:23 [ἐκ, 4
times], i.e., from God in heaven). Jesus is not saying that his kingdom does
not rule over the world. Carson
adds, "It is important to see that
Jesus’ statement should not be misconstrued as meaning that his kingdom is not
active in this world, or has nothing to do with this world. John certainly
expects the power of the inbreaking kingdom to affect this world; elsewhere he
insists that the world is conquered by those who believe in Jesus (1 Jn 5:4)."
R.J. Rushdoony adds, "Our Lord does not deny that His Kingdom is over
the world, only that its origin and authority are from
this world: the origin is God" (Gospel
of John
, p. 249).

Jesus uses this
language because he "wants to make clear to the Roman who is used to
thinking in terms of power politics, that he is not planning a rebellion which
would be achieved by ‘worldly’ means, with weapons" (Rudolf Schnackenburg,
Gospel According to St. John, 3:249). By his statement,
Jesus
rejects revolt and revolution as the means of establishing his kingship. He
also rejected the Jewish national expectation of a military messiah who would
deliver them from Roman military oppression (instead of first dying on the
cross). (Contrast militant Communism and Islam.)

(For the meaning of "world" see note 15.)

[10]
One of the clearest ways of demonstrating the unity of Scripture is through
covenant theology (see O. Palmer Robertson, The Christ of the Covenants[Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1980). Yet,
God’s covenants refute the Neo-Platonist/pietist matter/world vs. spirit
dualism. "Every covenant God makes—with Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and
Jesus—there are these three elements [that were found in the Creation Mandate,
Gn 1:26-28]: a divine blessing, a seed, and a land. God blesses his people by
giving them descendants to live in a land, subduing that land to bring glory to
God" (John M. Frame, Salvation Belongs to the Lord, p. 250).

[11] "Over
the centuries, virtually all heresies have been hostile to the Old Testament,
or have decreed that it is now an ended dispensation, or in one way or another
have down-graded it in part or in whole. … Down-grading the Old Testament is a
way of re-writing the New, because the meaning of the New is destroyed if the
Old Testament is set aside in any fashion. As a result, the ‘New Testament
Christianity’ of such heretics winds up being no Christianity at all"
(Rousas J. Rushdoony, "Gnosticism," Chalcedon Position Paper # 74[May 1986]; reprinted in: The Roots of
Reconstruction
[Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1991], p. 325; and in An
Informed Faith: The Position Papers of R.J. Rushdoony
, 3 vols. [Vallecito,
CA: Chalcedon / Ross House Books, 2017], 3:681).

[12]
Note that the Great Commission literally says "disciple all the nations" (Greek text; Young’s Literal Translation;
cf. Matthew Henry’s commentary); it does not say, "Make some disciples out
of [
ἐκ] every nation." The latter is Scripture
twisting.

[13]
Every nation is comprised of various domains or spheres: religion; civil
governments and law; family and social welfare; education; economics and
business (including science and technology); media; the arts, entertainment,
and sports. The great commission, the dominion mandate, and the Christian
worldview encompass all these spheres. Cf. Kenneth L. Gentry, The Greatness
of the Great Commission
(Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics,
1990).

[14]
Adherents of the "Christ against culture" view include: monastics,
Manichean heretics, Anabaptists, Quakers, Pietists, Watchman Nee, and many
rapturists. Their view has been rejected as unbiblical by almost all Christian
denominations. The Biblical view is that of Augustine: Christ the transformer
of culture, i.e., wherever the Lord Jesus Christ is received and His lordship
applied and obeyed, Christ transforms the culture of those Christians. If a
significant percentage of people in any geographical area embrace the
comprehensive lordship of Jesus Christ, He transforms their whole culture,
bringing it in line with the Bible.

[15]
BDAG lists eight definitions for κόσμος, with
only sub-point b of definition 7 denoting "that which is hostile to God"
(pp. 562f). This is an ethical (not a metaphysical) category
describing the mindset and lifestyle of those persons in Satan’s kingdom,
living under Satan’s lordship, who oppose God’s will and purpose—in "sharp
contrast" to "the things and people who belong to God" (Dictionary of the Later New Testament and
Its Developments
, eds. R.P. Martin and P.H. Davids [Downers Grove, IL:
InterVarsity, 1997], p. 1223). This ethical usage of the word "world"
does not describe the physical world/universe (that God created) or the world
of humanity
(cf. Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical
Theology,
ed. Walter A. Elwell [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1996], p. 836;
ISBE, rev., 4:1114; Dictionary of Jesus
and the Gospels
(DJG1), eds. Joel B. Green, Scot McKnight, I.
Howard Marshall [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1992], p. 887). (In the
Bible, sin is ethical, not metaphysical.) The New Testament has a "positive
view of the creation as God’s handiwork and as the sphere of divine activity. …
The concentration of the New Testament upon the work of redemption does not
exclude the cosmology of the Old Testament but rather presupposes it"
(ISBE, rev., 4:1115). "The difference between a ‘spiritual’ and a[ethically] ‘worldly’ way of life…is not between two compartments of life, one
religious and one secular, but between life ordered under the rule [kingdom] of
God and life in conformity to the human tradition of rebellion against God"
(New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, p. 855).

[16]
For a historical recounting and refutation of various forms of perfectionism,
see Benjamin B. Warfield’s treatment of perfectionism
in The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield,
10 vols. (1931; repr., Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1991), vols. 6-7).

[17] Archie P. Jones, "Foreword," in
Benjamin Franklin Morris, The
Christian Life and Character of the Civil Institutions
of the United States
(American Vision, 2009), p. 12.

[18]
Rousas J. Rushdoony, Sovereignty (Vallecito, CA: Chalcedon/Ross House Books,
2007), p. 318.

[19] Richard
L. Gawthrop, Pietism and the Making of Eighteenth-Century Prussia (New
York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1993).

[20]
Rousas J. Rushdoony, "Post-Christian Era," Chalcedon Report # 87 (Nov 1, 1972); reprinted in idem., The Roots of Reconstruction (Vallecito,
CA: Ross House Books, 1991), p. 825, and in Mark R. Rushdoony, ed., Faith
& Action: The Collected Articles of R.J. Rushdoony from the Chalcedon
Report, 1965-2004
, 3 vols. (Vallecito, CA: Chalcedon / Ross House Books,
2019), 1:446f.

[21]
Pierre Courthial, A New Day of Small
Beginnings
(Tallahassee, FL: Zurich Publishing, 2018), p. 276.

[22]
Rousas J. Rushdoony, "Faith and Society," Chalcedon Report # 98 (Oct, 1973); reprinted in idem., The Roots of Reconstruction, pp. 870f,
and in Mark R. Rushdoony, ed., Faith & Action: The Collected Articles of
R.J. Rushdoony from the Chalcedon Report, 1965-2004
, 2:1121.

[23]
Francis A. Schaeffer, A Christian Manifesto (Westchester, IL: Crossway
Books, 1981), pp. 18f (= The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer, 5
vols. [Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1982], 5:424).

[24]
Francis A. Schaeffer, The Great Evangelical Disaster (Westchester, IL:
Crossway Books, 1984), pp. 102, 119; cf. pp. 98, 103, 33; (= Complete Works,
4:372, 385; cf. pp. 368f ["mistaken pietism"], 373, 318). Cf. Harold
O.J. Brown, Heresies (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1984), chapter 18.

 

 

 

 

 


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