Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Pietism and Confessionalism

The sort of religion heralded by the revivals of the First Great Awakening is chiefly responsible for the triumph of a utilitarian view of faith. The itinerant evangelists of these revivals, as well as their successors, transformed Christianity from a churchly and routine affair into one that was intense and personal. The conversion experiences marked the beginning of this new form of Christian faith. But it was only the start. True converts were expected to prove the authenticity of their faith through lives that were visibly different from nonbelievers. Indeed, the demand for a clear distinction between the ways of the faithful and those of the world not only propelled many of the social reforms associated with evangelicalism but also provided the foundation for viewing Christianity in practical categories. If faith was supposed to make a difference in all areas of life, not just on Sunday but on every day of the week, it is no wonder that the emphasis in Protestant circles shifted from churchly forms of devotion to ones that should be seen in personal affairs, community life, and national purpose. In other words, the cycle of revivals throughout American religious history, inaugurated by the First Great Awakening, secured the victory of pietism within American Protestantism. Like it European antecedents, American pietism dismissed church creeds, structures, and ceremonies as merely formal or external manifestations of religion that went only skin deep. In contrast, pietists have insisted that genuine faith was one that transformed individuals, starting with their heart and seeping into all walks of life. (D.G. Hart, The Lost Soul of American Protestantism (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2002), pp. xvii-xviii)

Unlike pietist Protestantism, which attaches great religious significance to public life and everyday affairs, confessionalism situates the things of greatest religious meaning in the sacred sphere of the church and its ministry. (p. xviii)

Confessional Protestants resisted revivals in large part because the methods of evangelists and the piety expected of converts were generically Christian—sincerity, zeal, and a moral life. As a result, revivalism did not respect but in fact undermined the importance of creedal subscription, ordination, and liturgical order. In a word, confessionalists opposed revivalism because it spoke a different religious idiom, one that was individualistic, experiential, and perfectionistic, as opposed to the corporate, doctrinal, and liturgical idiom of historic Protestantism. (p. xxiv)

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