- An Introduction to German Pietism: Protestant Renewal at the Dawn of Modern Europe by Douglas H. Shantz
Explications of Pietism range from denial of its existence as a particular historical-theological phenomenon to claims that it is both little understood and the most significant religious movement since the Reformation. Although English-language church histories recognize the contributions of such major Pietist figures as Philipp Jakob Spener, August Hermann Francke, and John Wesley, the vast bulk of scholarship on Pietism is in German. Shantz, professor of Christian thought at the University of Calgary, assesses and makes accessible this German scholarship for English readers. In doing so, he accomplishes far more than “an introduction” with his well-written account and analysis of the contexts, developments, and influences of Pietism upon modern history and theology. Although he focuses on German Pietism, his comprehensive narrative engages its transnational and transdenominational roots and developments from the Reformation period into modern world missions.
Shantz’s brief “Introduction” reviews the state of research and presents his approach to the “theological, devotional, and social dimensions of Pietism” incorporating the “rich variety of disciplines that have made Pietism their focus: church history, political history, sociology, musicology, literary history, and gender history, to name a few” (pp. 8–9). He “describes not only the godly intentions but also the failings of the Pietists, noting the real world consequences of their beliefs, ideas, experiences, and actions” (p. 9).
The book has four major parts: (1) the setting for Pietism from the Reformation through the Thirty Years’ War and seventeenth-century Calvinism; (2) attention to the major centers of Pietism in Frankfurt, Leipzig, and Halle, including their major leaders and institutional developments; (3) Pietism’s social and cultural worlds in Europe and North America, including gender issues, contributions to [End Page 100] modern biblical studies, and missions to India and Labrador; and (4) Pietism’s positive and negative contributions to modernity. Appendices include translations and excerpts of primary sources, a prosopography of the Leipzig Circle of Pietists, and discussion questions to facilitate classroom use. The extensive discursive endnotes (pp. 361–452) and the comprehensive bibliography of primary and secondary sources (pp. 453–75) are treasure troves of information. The book is further enhanced by images of major figures; maps; and tables of the founders of the Leipzig Collegium Philobiblicum, models of Radical Pietism, and German Pietist Bible translations and editions.
Pietism may be described as a turn to “experiential-expressive” religion (à la George Lindbeck’s The Nature of Doctrine, Philadelphia, 1984). A model for this turn is Francke’s emphasis upon a datable conversion experience of new birth and new life (p. 107). On the one hand, this impelled an optimism “that society and human existence can be shaped and improved” (p. 274). On the other hand, this led to a “spiritual elitism” and “perfectionist ecclesiology” that could spark “division and conflict” (p. 286). “The Pietists’ religion of inward renewal and Spirit-inspired prophecy often left them unable to distinguish God’s leading from their own inclinations and passions” (p. 287). This may be a clue to the ambivalence seen by Shantz in the relationship of Pietism to the Enlightenment and modernity. If religious experience displaces scripture and tradition, how is the Holy Spirit distinguished from other spirits? Reason? Kant (with a Pietist background) proposed “religion within the limits of reason alone,” and Schleiermacher (“the father” of Protestant Liberal theology) referred to himself as “a Moravian of a higher order.” Perhaps that nexus can be Shantz’s next project. Meanwhile, he has provided an excellent entrée to the history and character of Pietism.