Theological Pietism Part 6: Moving Forward

So what has been accomplished after spilling so much text on the subject? Well, aside from probably offending many of my fellow confessional Lutherans whom, present appearances aside, I really do have a great deal of respect for.

When writing a piece like this, there is always the hope that it will serve as a wake-up call—that people will take a reflective look at their rhetoric and their pet peeves and realize they need to make some adjustments. Whether or not this happens it outside my power.  We sinners are who we are, and we do not like to accept criticism.

At the very least, however, I wanted to provide a vocabulary and a theologically sound description of the problem in hopes that the conversation can continue more fruitfully than it has. One of the reasons we don’t stumble over the two natures of Christ so much is because we inherited such terminology from our ancestors in the faith. We have a name for each extreme: Nestorianism and Eutychianism. I likewise wanted to give this contemporary problem a name. Because if we do not start calling this heteropraxy something like ‘theological pietism,’ people are eventually going to start calling it ‘confessional Lutheranism.’

I do not want that. The errors that confessional Lutherans fight against are very real and very dangerous, and the battle is taken up by a relative few. I do not want this crucial defense to become synonymous with a different error. And so I want people to have a name for the overall problem along with terms for some of the practical details like Lutheran nihilism, and saint/sinner Nestorianism. I want them to recognize these things when they see them so that they can turn away from them.

Though I have been very critical over these past few posts, we are not yet very far advanced along this road; we can still turn back. Nevertheless, I see us picking up steam in the wrong direction as more well-intentioned Lutherans are trained and encouraged to identify defending sound doctrine with fulfilling man-made requirements that merely show off our theological acumen. Our own God-given impulses towards good works are being trained into the task of denying the opportunity to do good works to everyone else. Our doctrine of vocation seems to be directed solely towards this stilted version of the vocation of pastor while everyone else is told that their good works are for their neighbor and then set adrift with only a copy of the 10 Commandments to guide them. We are left to figure it out on our own without being properly equipped to do so. The practical elements of difficult vocational and moral matters are seldom considered in our churches because we think that success would be impious to even imagine. In the end, this leads to nothing but alienation towards our own salvation.

For the sake of the delivery of the Gospel and the teaching of sound doctrine, theological pietism needs to stop.

The best antidote—the only antidote—to our tendency towards opposite extremes is to steadfastly and honestly proclaim the whole counsel of God. So let’s start doing it.  Do parts of God’s Word make us uncomfortable?  Great!  For sinners like us, that means it’s working. Can parts of God’s Word be easily misunderstood?  Yes, but thankfully, we have pastors to help correct and guide our theology.  Are we surrounded by false doctrines?  Yes, so keep refuting them, but stop letting false prophets define which subjects are “safe” to preach about.  Rick Warren does not have a monopoly on purpose. Theologies of glory do not have a monopoly on glory.  Enthusiasts do not have a monopoly on ethics. Pietists do not have a monopoly on the sanctified Christian life. We should stop acting like they do.

About Matt

Software engineer by trade; lay theologian by nature; Lutheran by grace.
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