Subtle Danger of Pietism

Introduction to Pietism

  • Pietism’s primary concern was to carry out the Reformation in Christian living. Pietist felt that the theologians of the 16th and 17th centuries had used the insights and work of the Reformers to establish a solid doctrinal foundation. Now their task was to promote a continuing reformation in the life of the church, and the transformation of the world through the conversion and constant renewal of individuals.
  • But slowly the movement started emphasising the importance of personal faith and Christian living over doctrine and theology. It initially began among German Lutherans in the 17th century.
  • It quickly spread and later became concerned with social and educational matters rather than theological issues.
  • As a phenomenon of personal religious renewal, its influence that persisted in Germany, later spread to other parts of Europe, North America and we see it’s prevalent even today in India.

History of Pietism

  • By the beginning of the 17th century, Lutheranism had created a scholastic system useful for contending with Roman Catholic and Reformed opponents but not for spiritual nourishment.
  •  Consequently, many German Lutherans sought an alternative expression of faith and drew from both internal and external impulses to create one.
  • English Puritanism reached the European continent through the translation of works by Richard Baxter, John Bunyan, and others. Religious exiles were high in Netherlands, among them William Ames, developed Dutch Pietism, which soon spread into Germany as part of the movement that had begun to take shape among Lutherans there as “Reform Orthodoxy.”
  • The various streams of this renewal movement initially converged in the life and work of Philipp Jakob Spener (1635–1705).
  • His proposals included greater private and public use of the Scriptures, greater assumption by the laity of their priestly responsibilities as believers, greater efforts to bear the practical fruits of a living faith, ministerial training that emphasized piety and learning rather than intellectuality, and edifying, spiritual preaching
  • John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, received inspiration among the Moravians and incorporated Pietistic elements into his holiness movement.
  • Later this was highly emphasised during the second great awakening by Charles Finney and later by

 D. L Moody. They took forward the Pietist movement.

  • Other denominations felt the influence of Pietism in their pastoral theology, mission activity, and modes of worship.
  • Pietism reached its zenith by the mid-18th century, but the movement continued to exist and still survives, both explicitly in Germany and in the Moravian church elsewhere and implicitly in Evangelical Protestantism at large.
  • It spread to other parts of the world through mission’s movement, mainly through Moravian, Lutheran and Methodist missionaries in the 19th century.

Effects of Pietism:

  • Pietism led to emotionalism.

The Pietist took seriously the significance of human emotion and their psyche. Emotionalism was, in fact, fostered to some degree by the introspective, psychologizing tendencies found in Pietism: Who am I? Am I truly a child of God? Am I living in a state of sin or grace? Am I backsliding? Why am I doing this? What are my feelings telling me? Everything depends on how I feel. My faith depends on how I feel.

  • Pietism led to medieval mysticism.

 Pietist stressed a true union of God through spiritual exercises and the contemplative life. Unlike the earlier mystics, mystical Pietist like Richard Sibbes, Joseph Hall, and Francis Rous spoke of the saving relationship between God and the individual soul as a gracious gift. Because this relationship was an intimate one, these writers often used terms of endearment in references to God.

  • Pietism led to anti-intellectualism.

They emphasised that the study of doctrine and theology was not important. Biblical scholars and academic studies were ridiculed during this period.

  • Pietism led to Perfectionism.

Wesley and Finney highlighted that you can be perfectly holy even while you live on this earth. As Finney believed that conversion and sanctification could be produced by human means, he sought to create experiences in his services, rise people’s emotions, that would “induce” sinners to accept the claims of Christianity or be motivated to complete sanctification.

  • Pietism led to revivalism.

We see that in second great awakening, which more focused on the feelings and emotions than doctrine and theological driven conversion. To drive emotions, they focused more on music, altar calls, anxious bench and so on. All externally driven and not internally driven conversions. We see, Wesley, Finney, D.L Moody, Billy Sunday, Billy Graham. All these people are great examples of well-known revivalist through pietism.

Pietism in India

The influence of pietism is so high in India. Many key proponents of Pietism in India were Sadhu Sundar Singh, Bakht Singh, Mukthi Mission and today it’s spread across Pentecostalism.


  1. Though this movement initially started with a good motive, it totally went in wrong direction as it progresses. Yes, Pietistic living is important but the cause of it should be the right understanding of the word of God. Paul said the same thing to Timothy in 1Timothy 4:16, ‘Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you’. Right theology should be visible through our life.
  2. Our emotions are so fickle. Emotions that doesn’t arise without the clear understanding of God are of no use. Emotions not driven by the truth are false emotions. True understanding of God will cause right emotion and that’s what is important.

One thought on “Subtle Danger of Pietism

  1. Sheaba Michael , Oman. April 23, 2021 / 12:13 pm

    Thank you pastor,
    Really, very useful article, it gives a brief summary about pietism and the danger of practicing it. also good that, you point out few by names who are professing it, that’s really helpful to identify easily and avoid their preachings.


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