Pietism

Authored by: Craig D. Atwood

The Routledge Companion to Modern Christian Thought

Print publication date:  March  2013
Online publication date:  October  2013

Print ISBN: 9780415782173
eBook ISBN: 9780203387856
Adobe ISBN: 9781136677922

10.4324/9780203387856.ch25

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Abstract

The word Pietist, like Puritan, was originally used as a term of derision, but historians have found it useful to describe a major Protestant reform movement of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. Pietists themselves preferred the term “Religion of the Heart” to describe their affective approach to Christian faith. They believed that feelings and dispositions are vital aspects of religion, but it is a mistake to dismiss religion of the heart as simply emotionalism. In the Old Testament, the heart is the point of contact with God. Heart (Herz in German) is the center or the foundation of life and the location of the will. Just as people sense physical objects with bodily sensations, Pietists argued, they also sense spiritual objects with inner feelings. Religious experience is different from physical experience, but it is an experience nonetheless. It was in large part because of Pietism that subjectivity and experience have been major themes in modern theology. Friedrich Schleiermacher was educated in a Moravian boarding school and was clearly influenced by the Pietist idea that faith is subjective. Although scholars continue to debate the precise definition of Pietism, there is little doubt that Pietism profoundly shaped modern Protestantism. The movement began in Germany in the late seventeenth century, but it quickly spread to most Protestant countries. In England it gave birth to the Methodist movement, and the American “Great Awakenings” were part of the movement. Moreover, German Pietists launched the era of Protestant missions to non-Western peoples in the eighteenth century.

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