James's Reviews > Angels, Worms, and Bogeys: The Christian Ethic of Pietism

Angels, Worms, and Bogeys by Michelle A. Clifton-Soderstrom
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's review
Dec 29, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: ethics, covenant-orientation, history
Read from December 29, 2011 to January 05, 2012

For many people, pietism would not be a source for ethical reflection. They regard pietism as too subjective, too individualistic, too emotional and too otherworldly (sometimes people would add moralistic as well). Among some theologians, 'pietism' is uttered with derision and dismissiveness. It may be better than calling someone a fundamentalist, but only a little.

Michelle A. Clifton-Soderstrom takes these caricatures of the historic movement and explores the ethical reflection by examining three early pietists through the lens primary virtues (Faith,Love and Hope). She profiles Philipp Jakop Spener, Joanna Eleonora Petersen and August Herman Francke. She asks a different question of each to probe their reflection on each of these virtues

Of Spener she asks 'How Should We Believe?' exploring the virtue of faith. Spener's short answer is to put your baptism to work throughout your life (allowing the reality of new birth and membership in the church shape our understanding). More explicitly his Pia Desideria included proposals for the renewal of faith. He also taught that regeneration was the Spirit's work in the believer's life (which we participate in) and believed that people were formed through catechesis, coventicles (small groups) the sacraments, and preaching.

The virtue of love she explored through the life of Johanna Eleonora Petersen. Of her, she asks, "How shall we live?" Petersen's answer is: we love. This is exemplified through her autobiographical 'confessions,' her devotional epistles and her life and ministry. Petersen's life was transformed by a love for God and neighbor and she readily embodies this virtue (Clifton-Soderstrom makes the point that though Petersen is sometimes categorized with the radical pietists, this has more to do with patriarchal gender bias than anything she explicitly taught).

"How should we Hope?" Clifton-Soderstrom asks August Hermann Francke. His answer: we hope by pursuing heaven on earth. That is, hope for Christ's coming kingdom moves you to actively engage society in addressing social ills and injustice which is incompatible with Christ's kingdom. She explores his biography in three stages (the man, the church and the school) to show how his radical hope in Christ caused him to take risks in helping people.

For her conclusion Clifton-Soderstrom addresses the misconceptions of pietism (mentioned above) and argues that historic Pietists have something to teach contemporary Evangelicalism.

For my money, she made her case. She commends the Pietists to us by telling their story (comparing them to hobbits she hopes that readers of her book will be similarly endeared to them as Tolkien readers are to Hobbits). I appreciated her exploration of the theological character of early Pietism and I think that there is some gifts here that we Evangelicals will do well to approriate.


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