The Voice: Spring 2002
The antidote to pietism and revolutionism is spirit-filled living
By Dr. Ethan Brue
Plumblines are commentaries written by people from the Dordt community to stimulate thinking
about issues facing Christians living in 2001.
The lookout gave the all clear. We lurched into action. With screwdrivers unsheathed,
two of us embarked on a frontal assault, while our comrades attempted to
circumvent the right flank. In a matter of seconds it became clear that
our foe was of greater consequence than previous intelligence reports had revealed. That
Sunday afternoon two disappointed high schoolers stood at the entrance of the seminary
library grasping a couple of greasy hinge pins. The library door stood firm.
However, even before we surrendered the pins back to the hardware from which
they came, we heard a hushed but jubilant voice from the other side
of the wall; our comrades had successfully breached the right flank through the
ceiling tiles. We were in! In a matter of seconds we had returned
the overdue book and successfully completed our mission.
Looking back on these high school years, I am not sure why we
did it. But then, not all spontaneous teenage activities are grounded in reason.
Certainly, if our motivation for our Sunday afternoon adventure was guided by the
desire to fulfill our obligations as conscientious library patrons, we could have taken
advantage of what the library called a grace period and simply returned the
book on Monday. But on that day, the freedom of grace seemed less
attractive than the challenge of climbing over the walls. Such was dormitory life
for a group of teenagers.
Not all such extracurricular activities were equally unproductive. On another such after hours
mission in our school library we stumbled across a rather amusing book on
the library shelves. The book was titled Enemies of Youth. Written in the
1930s, it had a delightfully descriptive table of contents. Chapters such as SmokingThe
Short-cut to Insanity, MoviesThe Kindergarten of Hell, and similar such descriptions were given
for drinking alcohol, card playing, and dancing. I suppose this book was intended
to shock some morality into rebellious teenagers, but for the four souls who
had found themselves in a closed library, the book simply provided the material
for hours of subsequent entertainment. Some of our best pietistic preacher impersonations were
inspired by this work, providing hours of maybe not so healthy laughter. If
some form of authentic Christianity lay hidden behind the content of this book,
such authenticity escaped us.
To understand why such escapades seemed to be the norm rather than the
exception at my pietistic Christian high school, you must recognize that our lives
dictated by pietism: no long hair, no jeans, no T-shirts, no lights on after 10:00, no movies, no dating without permission, no unapproved popular music, a required prayer before class, a mandatory spiritual emphasis week; the list goes on.
Within this context I believe as teenagers we acted out a principal axiom
of faith. When we as the church try to construct a prepackaged system
of morality, a sort of faith in a box, the walls that result
rarely serve the intended purpose. Such walls, like seminary walls on Sunday afternoons,
look more like attractive challenges than boundaries. A common response will be unholy
While the specifics may vary, pietism is always the impossible task of trying
to contain God. Pietism tries to reduce God to a system of theology,
a day of the week, or a set of ten or twelve neatly
defined rules. The living God is not that small. You may think that
I am about to make a few bored high school students the heroes
of this storythe great pietism busters. No, not really. As with many movements
against pietism, the revolutionaries prefer to loiter around the walls of a pietistic
faith, content only with the superficial freedom provided by continually breaking walls and
making the box bigger.
It is important for us always to remember that the only antidote for
pietism and the opposing knee-jerk revolutionism is a good dose of spirit-filled living:
the liberating Christian response that recognizes the truth that our God cannot be
cornered. Rather it is the Living God who claims every corner of our
lives. When all of life is religion, the walls of pietism and anti-pietism
are shattered. We are free. Free to be spirit-led down the path of
obedience in all that we do, as musicians, mechanics, parents, teachers, farmers, engineers,
or whoever God has called us to be.