Establishing the Boundaries of a Biblical Worldview

Pietism

“The faith of the sixteenth century became the orthodoxy of the seventeenth. People no longer confessed their beliefs, but they only believed their confessions. Among most of the people this orthodoxy prepared the road for rationalism. Religion became a matter of reason, the truth regarding eternal things was now dependent on historical proofs and rational argument, and the certainty of faith became confused with rational insight. On the other hand, within the small circles of the faithful it evoked another reaction; they were not satisfied with merely rational knowledge but sought the essence of salvation in experience. This movement gradually devolved into pietism.”

– Herman Bavinck

Writing in the 19th century, Henry Buckle put together a three-volume History of Civilization in England (1869). Buckle was no friend of Christianity, and was happy to witness its demise in his time. But his observation as to the cause of the decline of the influence of Christianity is rather revealing. Speaking of the decline of ecclesiastical power and the emergence of what he called “religious liberty”, Buckle made these comments:

Among the innumerable symptoms of this great movement, there were two of peculiar importance. These were the separation of theology, first from morals, and second from politics. The separation from morals was effected late in the seventeenth century; the separation from politics before the middle of the eighteenth century. And it is a striking instance of the decline of the old ecclesiastical spirit, that both of these great changes were begun by the clergy themselves. . . . Warburton, bishop of Gloucester, was the first who laid down that the state must consider religion in reference, not to revelation, but to expediency; and that it should favour any particular creed, not in proportion to its truth, but solely with a view to its general utility. . . .

Thus it was that, in England, theology was finally severed from the two great departments of ethics and of government. . . [1]

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Footnotes    (↵back returns to text)
  1. Volume 1, pp.424-427.↵back

The world is in theological turmoil as the result of Pietism

When Luther “turned the world upside down” with his 95 theses, he brought to a climax a long period of radical changes. For a while, the Reformation not only offered people a new church environment, but also brought changes to the church of Rome. But time moves on and new influences began to emerge, in particular Pietism. While Pietism is perhaps better known for its neoplatonic and antinomian tendencies, it had other debilitating influences that remain to this day.

In this religious environment, reminiscent of the mystical movements of the Middle Ages, it became important to arrive at a revelation of God through subjective experiences that were not bound by the doctrines of the Church. In this sense, Pietism was matching that other great philosophical movement of its time, the Enlightenment, seeking truth subjectively. However, the Enlightenment, rather than seeking God inwardly, suggested God was just a figment of a person’s subjective imagination.

The Pietists significantly influenced theology which, in turn, led to a change in music, both inside and outside the church. Jaroslav Pelikan, in his book Bach Among the Theologians observed that “Pietist spirituality had, by the time of Bach, acquired an increasingly distinctive tone in its description of the relation between the individual soul and Jesus.”

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