What is Pietism?

Wednesday, June 6th 2007
Jul/Aug 2002

Pietism is a recurring tendency within Christian history to emphasize Christian practice over theology and church order. Its own historians identify four general traits in this tendency: (1) it is experientialpietists are people of the heart for whom Christian living is a fundamental concern; (2) it is biblicalpietists are, to echo John Wesley, people of one book who take their standards and goals from the pages of Scripture; (3) it is perfectionisticpietists are serious about holy living and make every effort to follow Gods Law, spread the gospel, and aid the needy; and (4) it is reform-mindedpietists usually oppose what they regard as coldness and sterility in established church forms and practices.

As a distinct movement, Pietism arose in the seventeenth-century German Lutheran Church when Philipp Jakob Spener (1635-1705) attempted to infuse new life into the lifeless and corrupt official Protestantism of his time. From religious meetings in his house, Spener instituted devotional circles for prayer and Bible reading. He emphasized the universal priesthood of all believers. His efforts quickly won the support of a large body of pastors; and the movements hymns did much to spread its ideals. But a clash with the institutional church became inevitable when Speners friend and disciple, August Hermann Francke (1663-1727), attacked the University of Leipzigs theologians, demanding that they convert their lectures into devotional meetings and completely condemning all philosophy, doctrine, and homiletics.

Pietisms anti-traditionalism, individualism, and practicality have influenced almost all branches of Protestant Christendom but they have been especially influential in Wesleyan Methodism, New England Puritanism, and German Lutheranism.

1 [ Back ] Compiled from the Oxford Dictionary of Church History and the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology
Wednesday, June 6th 2007

“Modern Reformation has championed confessional Reformation theology in an anti-confessional and anti-theological age.”

Picture of J. Ligon Duncan, IIIJ. Ligon Duncan, IIISenior Minister, First Presbyterian Church
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