I tend to think of Pietism as the “lost” stream of the Brethren in Christ Church. Over the last sixty years, we’ve had denominational scholars who’ve excelled at interpreting our Anabaptist heritage (Carlton Wittlinger and Morris Sider, for instance) and our Wesleyan heritage (Luke Keefer, Jr.), but not too many that have taken a particular interest in the Pietist slice of our identity.
That’s why I’m thankful for the recent renaissance in Pietism studies among young scholars of American religious history. From “Pietist schoolman” Chris Gehrz to Jared Burkholder, a number of younger scholars are now giving due attention to Pietist history and theology — and especially its impact on the contemporary church and academy.
For instance, Jared recently posted an entry at his blog about how students at Grace College (where he teaches) have embraced the theological legacy of radical Pietism by referring to the “growth groups” in their dorms as conventicles. (Some of my readers will known that German Pietists organized conventicles, the 17th-century equivalent of today’s small groups, as a way to mature spiritually through corporate Bible reading, testimony, and prayer.) Gehrz, a professor of history at Bethel College in Minnesota, has shared his own students’ reflections on the intellectual and theological virtues of studying Pietism.
I’m hoping this renaissance in Pietism studies will inform the Brethren in Christ Church, as well — both intellectually and spiritually.