Evangelical = “One who believes the Good News about Jesus Christ”


Herbert Chilstrom

This definition of evangelicalism does not come from David Bebbington, but from Herbert Chilstrom, the first presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

As Chris Gehrz shows us in his recent piece at The Anxious Bench, the word “evangelical” has a long history:

Chilstrom’s spiritual forebears ultimately seized the term not only from their “Romish” antagonists, but from other Protestants. “The newly self-identified Lutherans,” writes Diarmaid MacCulloch of late 16th century Germany, “took over the once-general Protestant label ‘Evangelical’ to describe their Churches, just as the non-Lutherans were monopolizing the name ‘Reformed.’”

It was such Lutheran churches that Philipp Spener hoped to reform in 1675, when he lamented the spiritual deadness of “our Evangelical church, which according to its outward confession embraces the precious and pure gospel, brought clearly to light once again during the previous century through that blessed instrument of God, Dr. Luther, and in which alone we must therefore recognize that the true church is visible…”

This leads Gehrz to wonder whether American evangelicals have “kidnapped” the term:

In a sense, Chilstrom is absolutely right. Even many of those participating in last week’s “evangelical consultation” at Wheaton College — the “evangelical Harvard” — fear that their cherished word has been taken over by a particularly noxious political movement. “When people say what does it mean to be an evangelical,” complained convener Doug Birdsall of the Lausanne Movement, “people don’t say evangelism or the gospel. There’s a grotesque caricature of what it means to be an evangelical.” What Fuller Seminary president Mark Labberton calls the “crisis of evangelicalism” has been “caused by the way a toxic evangelicalism has engaged with these issues in such a way as to turn the gospel into Good News that is fake.”

And yet… even if Birdsall and Labberton could somehow bring evangelicals back to the Evangel in such a way that they renounce the culture warring of the Religious Right, wouldn’t Chilstrom still feel like his term had been kidnapped? Wouldn’t any leader of an avowedly “Evangelical” mainline church want to contest the notion that other Protestants — but not him — have a high view of Scripture, recognize the centrality of the Cross, seek conversion, and practice evangelism and social action?

Read his entire piece here.

A Pietist Response to a Negative Book Review on Pietism

Pietist Option 1

I was intrigued today by Bethel University historian Chris Gehrz‘s response to Union University’s Nathan Finn’s review of his book The Pietist Option: Hope for the Renewal of Christianity (co-authored with Mark Pattie).  The review appeared at The Gospel Coalition website.

Finn writes:

Closer to home, the Pietist ethos that Gehrz and Pattie champion, while it has much to appreciate, has introduced into evangelicalism a fuzziness toward (and sometimes outright rejection of) biblical inerrancy, an openness to inclusivism and sometimes universalism, an egalitarian view of gender roles, an openness toward progressive views of gender identity and human sexuality, a rejection of penal substitutionary atonement, and Open Theism.

This raises the question of whether the Pietist Option at least implicitly opens the door to tired dichotomies—between the “red letters” and “black letters” of Scripture, between Jesus and Paul, between the kernel of the gospel and the husk of doctrine—that have fueled theological revisionism and moral declension among so many contemporary evangelicals.


And here is a taste of Gehrz’s response at his blog The Pietist Schoolman:

Well, maybe. I’m not a universalist, and my Pietist forebears were going to the ends of the earth to make disciples of Jesus Christ at a time when some Calvinists were debating the continued relevance of the Great Commission. But I do hold to an egalitarian view of gender roles — not because of any fuzziness, but out of a clarity that comes from fresh engagement with Scripture. (Not that this is unique to Pietists: in her current Anxious Bench series, Finn’s fellow Baptist Beth Allison Barr is arguing that complementarians have fundamentally misunderstood Paul’s epistles.)…

Even though Finn identifies more with the Reformed trajectory (I think you’d find plenty of Baptists on both wings), I appreciate that he gives our book a fair hearing. He summarized the “option” accurately, found our tone winsome, and even “nodded a fair amount as I considered the authors’ call to a more radical discipleship and holistic mission.” While he celebrates the Puritans and other “renewal movements that cultivated many of the same instincts as the Pietists, but in ways more deeply rooted in a robust doctrinal vision,” Finn nonetheless encourages Gospel Coalition readers “to learn more about Pietist movements. When we aren’t at our healthiest, we can drift into the sort of spiritual lethargy that first inspired men like Spener, Francke, and Zinzendorf.”

(By the same token, I’ve noted before that two Gospel Coalition favorites — Tim Keller and John Piper — have each written positively about aspects of what they define as “pietism.”)

You can’t ask much more from a reviewer than to be fair-minded and thoughtful, appreciative when they agree and critical when they don’t. So thanks to Nathan Finn for the review, and to TGC for publishing it.

Read Gehrz’s entire response here.

A true pietist response, Chris.  Thank you.  If I was accused of everything Finn accused me of simply because I thought pietism was a stream of the Christian church that needs to be revisited in today’s day and age,  I would be pretty ticked-off.


The Pietist Option

Pietist Option 1

I was going to title this post, “Forget the Benedict Option, Embrace the Pietist Option!” But then I realized that by exhorting you to ignore Rod Dreher’s “Benedict Option” I was not acting in a manner befitting a Pietist. (Sorry, I am a work in progress!)

Yesterday I got two books in the mail: Joanna Bourke’s 2006 tome Fear: A Cultural History and Chris Gehrz’s and Mark Pattie’s The Pietist Option: Hope for the Renewal of Christianity.  One book is (as the title suggests) about fear. The other book is about hope. I have been reading Bourke today, but have had Gehrz and Pattie nearby so I have something to turn to if I get overly depressed.

I read The Pietist Option in manuscript and was encouraged by it.  When InterVarsity Press asked me to endorse it, I immediately said yes!  Here is what appears on the back cover:

Pietist Option 2

Not all the readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home will be interested in this new book.  I know many of you are not religious or people of faith.  If you fall into this category, I want to encourage you to read The Pietist Option anyway.  Gehrz (a Yale-trained historian) and Pattie (a Christian pastor) offer a way of thinking about Christianity that you might find appealing. Other readers of this blog come from Christian traditions that do not give primary attention to Pietism.  Fair enough.  But I still think you should read the book.  All Christian traditions could use a dose of something akin to Pietism.

I was reading some of The Pietist Option to my sixteen-year-old daughter last night.  (I managed to get her attention between Snapchats, texts, and AP U.S. history homework). Here are a few of the snippets I read to her:

“If we’re seeking after renewal, it’s got to start with you and me confessing how we’ve failed to love God and to love our neighbors.”

“The Pietist option calls Christians back to the motivations and actions of the Servant who stooped to wash his disciples feet.”

“Our world needs a new narrative to unite us in spirit and mission, to provide us a hopeful pathway to pursue together.”

She did not tell me to stop, so I guess that is a good sign. 🙂


Lilly Fellows Program Book Awards Announced

The LFP Book Award “honors an original or imaginative work from any academic discipline that best exemplifies the central ideas and principles animating the Lilly Fellows Program.  These include faith and learning in the Christian intellectual tradition, the vocation of teaching and scholarship, and the history, theory or practice of the university as the site of religious inquiry and culture.  

This year’s winner is Karen Eifler and Tom Landy, Becoming Beholders; Cultivating Sacramental Imagination and Actions in College.

One of the two finalists is Chris Gehrz, The Pietist Vision of Christian Higher Education: Forming Whole and Holy Persons.  I was honored to write a blurb on the back over of this book. Here is what I wrote:

I have been reading Chris Gehrz’s blog “The Pietist Schoolman” for several years and have been cheering him on as he makes a compelling and humble case for the compatibility of Pietism, the intellectual life and Christian higher education.  Now Christ has gathered his academic brothers and sisters in the faith to continue the conversation.  If you thought that “pietist higher education” was an oxymoron, these essays will force you to think again.

Congratulations Chris!

The second finalist is Roger Lundin, Beginning with the Word: Modern Literature and the Question of Belief.

Chris Gerhz provides a nice wrap-up here.

Chris Gehrz Holds Forth on the "Pietist Vision of Higher Education"

Chris Gehrz is all over the Internet these days.  Whether he is wandering the Bethel University campus with his trusty microphone as the host of Past and Presence, announcing Bethel’s new job search for an “Ancient-Digital” historian, or talking about the relationship between piety and higher education, his musings are always thoughtful and on the mark.

For example, check out Chris on the Christian Humanist podcast with Nathan Gilmour.  Chris and Nathan discuss Chris’s newly edited volume, The Pietist Vision of Christian Higher Education: Forming Whole and Holy Persons.  I listened to it this afternoon and was deeply impressed with how Chris, a trained diplomatic historian with a Ph.D from Yale, is able talk so freely about matters pertaining to theology and academic life.  There is a reason they call this guy “The Pietist Schoolman

Listen here.

New in the Mail: "The Pietist Vision of Christian Higher Education"

I just received my copy today.  Here is my blurb on the back of the book: 

I have been reading Chris Gehrz’s blog, “The Pietist Schoolman” for several years and have been cheering him on as he makes a compelling and humble case for the compatibility of Pietism, the intellectual life and Christian higher education.  Now Chris has gathered his academic brothers and sisters in the faith to continue the conversation.  If you thought that “pietist higher education” was an oxymoron, these essays will force you to think again.

John Fea, Messiah College, author of Why Study History?: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past

Learning About Pietism

Over at The Pietist Schoolman, Chris Gehrz has put together an impressive bibliography of the best books on the history of pietism.  Anyone interested in the history of this movement should check it out and start reading!  Here is a small taste:

I still think Dale Brown’s Understanding Pietism is the place to start (originally published in the late 1970s, but then revised in the mid-Nineties), though a newer, inexpensive supplement emphasizing Pietist ethics is Michelle Clifton-Soderstrom’s Angels, Worms, and Bogeys. (Pricier, but also relatively concise is Harry Yeide, Jr., Studies in Classical Pietism.) Or if you’re not yet sure you want to actually spend money on this, but want a place to start: the 1986 issue of Christian History magazine on Pietism is (as of yesterday) available as full-text, with articles by scholars like Don Durnbaugh, John Weborg, Gary Sattler, and Ernest Stoeffler and excerpts from Pietist writings and hymns.

You can find good chapters on German Pietism embedded in larger narratives or collections, which helpfully puts the movement in context. My favorite is “Pietists Seek to Renew Lutheran Theology,” in Roger Olson’s hefty, but brilliantly readable historical theology text, The Story of Christian Theology. From the Covenant Church, John Weborg contributed “Pietism: Theology in Service of Living toward God” to The Variety of American Evangelicalism, eds. Donald W. Dayton and Robert K. Johnston. 

At risk of engaging in rank self-promotion, I do think that our 2011 collection of essays, The Pietist Impulse in Christianity (eds. Christian Collins Winn, G. William Carlson, Eric Holst, and myself) is a good place to start if you’re not afraid to dig into some scholarly work on a wide variety of aspects of Pietism (broadly defined). If you want a preview… after the book came out I wrote a series of posts summarizing each section of the book. (And if you have lots of money to spend and want to sample the current scholarship on Pietism studies, you couldn’t do much better than Pietism in Germany and North America 1680-1820, eds. Jonathan Strom et al.)

Burkholder on Pietism, Intellectual Life, and "Confessing History"

Jared Burkholder of Grace College is thinking about the ways that Christian faith might inform the life of academic communities.  It looks like he is trying to provide an alternative vision to the Reformed or “Kuyperian” approach to higher education that has dominated much of the discussion of this question in Christian colleges and universities.  In the process, he references our book Confessing History: Explorations in Christian Faith and the Historian’s Vocation.

Here is a taste of what he has to say:

Implicit in many of the essays in Confessing History is a critique of one of the most dominant conversations that exists among many CCCU schools. This conversation revolves around the Kuyperian model, which has been simplified into a program for the “integration of faith and learning” along with a strong emphasis on competing World Views. Done well, this Reformed approach has great potential for sophisticated avenues of scholarship, and has undergirded the academic prowess of places such as Calvin College. 

However, the worldview approach has been appropriated by those, at a more popular level, who would imbue it with a political agenda (e.g. James Dobson). Others use the worldview model as a means of promoting narrow versions of Christian faith under an umbrella of “biblical integration.” In this context, employing a Christian worldview becomes an exercise in triumphalism, rather than a truly integrated approach. I’m not suggesting that the language of integration or worldview should be abandoned simply because some of our colleagues or those in the Christian Right practice it poorly. Nor am I suggesting that a Pietist approach should replace the Reformed methodology altogether. But I am suggesting that pietist virtues can offer something of an antidote to the triumphalist tendency that is inherent in the Reformed model, at least as it is practiced by some we might call “soft” Reconstructionists…

I would also recommend Burkholder co-edited book, The Activist Impulse: Exploring the Intersection of Anabaptism and Evangelicalism (2011).

Chris Gehrz on "Confessing History" : Part One

Chris Gerhz, the chair of the History Department at Bethel University in St. Paul, Minnesota, offers a thoughtful reflection on our Confessing History: Explorations in Christian Faith and the Historian’s Vocation at his blog The Pietist Schoolman.

In this post, Gehrz focuses on Eric Miller’s opening chapter and promises some future posts on the volume as he and his students work through it as part of the Bethel History Department’s senior seminar.

Gehrz confesses that he is relatively new to the language of “integration of faith and learning” and wonders how this rather Reformed concept fits with his own pietist leanings.  He wonders what a pietist view of faith and learning, particularly in the field of history, might look like.  (I know that the intersection of pietism and learning has been a major part of Gehrz’s work).

I am glad that our volume is speaking to non-Reformed Christian historians like Gehrz.  This was our intention.  We wanted to expand the conversation by bringing historians with non-Reformed theological voices into the mix.

Here is a taste of Gehrz’s review of Confessing History:

But what if one tries to root higher education in, say, the Pietist tradition, which prizes experience, feeling, and praxis over belief and seeks the conversion of the whole person — heart and hands, as well as head? What if you come to conclude that the vocation of professor has much in common with that of pastor? What if your vision of the ideal Christian learning community is more like the ecclesiola in ecclesia than Henry James’ image of pluralistic intellectual discourse as being like a hotel, with disciplines and perspectives occupying separate rooms but sharing a corridor (invoked by Marsden — Outrageous Idea, pp. 45-46 — as a “congenial” image for the kind of Christian scholarship he has in mind)?

And as I near the end of my first decade as a college professor — and come up for tenure renewal and begin to contemplate seeking promotion to full professor — I have to confess that I find myself less and less concerned about the larger academy and its expectations and more interested in how education can serve the purposes of Christ and help to renew his disciples and his Church. I suspect that echoes of Confessing History will show up in several of my tenure and promotion essays, as I try to work through how teaching, service, and scholarship play out “beneath the eye and at the hand of the God of Christian faith.”

A Busy Saturday Morning at the AHA

I got up early this morning and took the AHA shuttle bus over to the Downtown Marriott to attend a breakfast sponsored by the Conference on Faith and History.  This is my favorite part of the conference because I get to see a lot of old friends and colleagues all in one place.  This morning I got to talk a bit with Mark Noll about the popularity of David Barton, learned about John Turner’s forthcoming biography of Brigham Young, and confirmed a rumor that John Wigger was working on a book about the son of televangelist Jim Bakker, 

I had to leave the breakfast early because I was chairing and commenting on AHA session #109: “Religious Networks, Alliances, and Friendship in the Early Modern Atlantic World.”  Here are some snippets from my remarks:

What is a friend?  The word “friendship” or “friend” could mean many things in the early modern Atlantic world.  For example, in the eighteenth0century Anglo-American context, friendship was an important means of fostering moral improvement.  Personal affection and sympathy between friends created a bond that contributed to the development of moral improvement.  Personal affection and sympathy between friends created a bond that contributed to the development of personal and social virtue.  In the Enlightenment culture of the age, friendship served a civilizing function.  For some, it was linked to faculty psychology.  A true friend bridled his or her passions in order to avoid emotions like jealousy or anger that might make personal relationships difficult.  For other, friendship stemmed from the culture of sensibility and sympathy.  It was often characterized by passion, love, and even reomantic feelings–the kind of stuff one might find in sentimental novels like Lawrence Sterne’s Letters from Yorick to Eliza.

But even as this civilizing and Enlightenment idea of friendship informed by the New Moral Philosophy and the culture of sensibility made headway in the early modern world, a more spiritual form of friendship continues to persist.  Friendship, as Janet Lindman’s paper argues, was often understood in terms of Christian fellowship, a kinship among believers ordained by God for the promotion of spiritual growth…

But these papers suggest that there were even more ways in which friendship could be understood in this era.  All three papers expand the meaning of friendship in the early modern Atlantic world and force us to think deeply about friendship as a new frontier in the study of religious history.  It is clear from the presentations this morning that friendship forged denominational and ethnic identities.  It could be “broaden” and “narrow” (to use Lindman’s words) religious boundaries.  The term friend could also be applied to the members of a religious society or acquaintances encountered during travel.  It might even be applicable to family members who participated in sacramental rituals…

The three presenters are at work on three very interesting projects.  Rose Beiler is writing a book about transatlantic communication networks.  Her paper focused on the way that Quakers and Halle pietists understood friendship.

Ed Tebbenhoff is working on a social history of the Dutch in eighteenth-century Schenectady, New York.  His paper was a fascinating analysis of the practice of baptism and godparenthood among the Dutch Reformed

Finally, Janet Lindman is working on a large project on friendship in early America.  Her paper discussed the spiritual kinship between Baptists and Methodists in the early 19th century.

I suggested, among many other things, that the study of friendship is an exciting new frontier in the study of early modern religious history.  The Q&A turned out to be very lively and I learned a great deal from these fine papers.

New Blog: The Hermeneutic Circle

Actually, it is an old blog that Jared Burkholder, a professor of history at Grace College in Winona Lake, Indiana, is reviving. 

Jared is a fine young scholar of early American pietism and is currently at work on a book, based on his dissertation at the University of Iowa, on Moravian religious life in the 18th-century mid-Atlantic.  His recent piece on Moravian-Presbyterian encounters during the Great Awakening is excellent.  He has also edited a collection, set to appear sometime next year under the title The Activist Impulse, on the relationship between evangelicalism and Anabaptism in American history. 

I have been trying to get him to write a book about the fascinating convergence between evangelicalism and the Chautauqua movement at Winona Lake, Indiana, the home of Billy Sunday (and Grace College).  Stay tuned.

If you get a chance, check out The Hermeneutic Circle.