“Religion of the Heart” and the Brethren in Christ

Pietism is widely recognized as one of the three theological streams that inform the contemporary Brethren in Christ. As a variety of denominational historians have told us, the River Brethren — the historical antecedents of today’s Brethren in Christ — came into existence through a series of Pietist revivals that swept across south-central Pennsylvania in the latter decades of the eighteenth century. And various theologians have emphasized Pietism’s “heart religion” as a critical component of evangelical Christian faith.

But what, exactly, is “Pietism”?

After the jump: Learning about the theological origins of Pietism’s “heart religion.”

Church historian Chris Armstrong, a professor at Bethel Seminary (St. Paul, Minn.) and an expert on Pietism, shares a bit about the history and practice of this unique Protestant reform group at his blog, Grateful to the Dead. His recent series on “Religion of the Heart” has traced this religious idea throughout Christian history, and his most recent post details the Pietist take on “heart religion.”

Here’s a taste:

There are all sorts of interpretations of where Pietism came from, when it emerged in the 1600s. Some Lutherans at the time felt it was a kind of crypto-Calvinism. Others felt it had on it the taint of Anabaptism. And so forth. But this much is clear: it was a natural development out of the thought and piety of Martin Luther. And so if we want to talk about how Pietism re-introduced the historical Christian “religion of the heart,” we need to remember that as it did so, it drew on this mystical side of Luther. In fact, Philip Spener, the man usually identified as the “father of Pietism,” was, according to Karl Barth, the greatest Luther scholar since Luther. He wasn’t making things up as he went along, creating some brand new form of Christianity. He was a deeply pious Lutheran, who counseled state-church Lutherans to stay in their churches.

Read the whole post here.

It’s not often that Brethren in Christ people acknowledge our historical and theological indebtedness to Martin Luther. In fact, like other Anabaptists, we’re more likely to point to the fact that those inspired by Luther’s theological (and quasi-political) reforms actually persecuted and killed many of our historical forebears. (In case you don’t know, the Lutheran Church has formally apologized for the sixteenth-century persecution of Anabaptists, and has engaged in reconciliatory dialogue with Mennonite World Conference on this issue.)

Yet Armstrong’s analysis of Spener and his theological innovations show that our theological heritage is essentially tied to Luther and his emphasis on “heart religion.” The Pietists deepened that understanding, but they borrowed it originally from a medieval German priest.

HT = Jared Burkholder

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About Devin Manzullo-Thomas

Father to Lucas. Husband to Katie. Prof and administrator at Messiah College. PhD student at Temple University. Member of Grantham BIC.
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One Response to “Religion of the Heart” and the Brethren in Christ

  1. Pingback: That Was The Week That Was « The Pietist Schoolman

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