Reading

by Phil Johnson

Twice now, Bryce Nelson has challenged us to get more specific about pietism. Once, (Summer, 1989)) he asked "what a pietist looks like today. What are the characteristics of a contemporary pietist?" Then, in his letter printed in the last issue he asked that we provide a list of pietist readings.

The second request holds more promise for a response from us than the first. In neither case is any of the editors an authority who can speak for a group or a movement. But we can speak about what we ourselves are doing and what we think and we can ask you to do the same.

We are grateful for the generous and excellent contributions many of you have provided, so that Pietisten contains much more than just what we editors think. Nevertheless, in partial answer, at the moment, to Bryce's first question concerning what a pietist does, we answer that for us this conversation Pietisten — is a way we live piously. (It seems strange to say "piously," and we hasten to add that if Pietisten is a pious work, it's not a conscious piety.

Piety can hardly be claimed if it is to remain pious, as Jesus observed, and it is easy to riducule piety. It is not my intention to ridicule but, rather, to pray for a thankful heart for all that is being done for one another and in the name of God.

I think, for example, of the priests and the brothers who devote themselves to God completely. I was was ministered to by two of them one summer: Jesuit Father Louis Lipp and Dominican Brother Dave Dougherty. Father Lipp (the fact that we called him "Louie the Lip" detracted nothing from his dignity) served us (protestant me included) the sacraments almost daily. Brother Dave was my companion and confidant.

I think of the sisters I knew, worked with, and took communion with that same summer of 1976 at Danvers State Mental Hospital, Danvers, Massachusetts. We spent the summer together in a Clinical Pastoral Education program. There were five sisters from various places and orders. All but one of them were named Mary. They are among the most wonderful people I have ever met. They were as normal in every way as anyone else, but each was also, by her own definite decision, devoted to God and to her vocation for God. For them, that meant being present with each person they encountered, seeking to see how they could minister to that person's need. Each in her own way took on the role of sister with me, like they do as a ministry with everyone, and I became their brother in work and in play.

When I think of all the orders and all of the sisters in them, like those sisters and friends who blessed me that summer, I realize how blessed we all are, the whole earth, by their ministry. I hope they will prosper and that the earth will have them around for a good long time.

Anyway, we throw the challenge back to Bryce and to the rest of you to continue the discussion about the pious life or about pietism, in case there is some difference.

As to books, we may be a little more helpful. Maybe. We are not prepared at the moment to provide a bibliography. But, I will list some books that come to my mind and encourage my editor colleagues and you to do the same.

Nobody, in thinking about the pietist movement as it issued out of Germany and Moravia and entered the blood of Sweden and Norway, among other countries, can ignore Pia Desideria "Pious Wishes," by Philipp Jakob Spener (1635-1705). Pia Desideria is a fountainhead of pietism historically and spiritually. The wishes are expressed in six proposals. Pietisten is grateful for and proud of the work Peter Sandstrom has done on these proposals in Pietisten. For a first rate discussion of Spener's proposals in light of our present situation, see Peter's articles. Part I is in Fall, 1988, Part II, Winter, 1988, Part III, Spring, 1989, and Part IV, Fall 1989. Peter will discuss proposals five and six in forthcoming issues. Peter's article in this issue is on the mark as well.

A second book that comes to mind in this vein is Philipp Jakob Spener: Pietist Patriarch by K. James Stein, 1986, Covenant Press. I have not read this biography though I have it and by means of the index I have been able to use it as reference. There was a very good review of the book by Greg Sager in The Covenant Companion (Feb., 1990).

A person can't go wrong reading or re-reading Dr. Karl Olsson's historical writings, The early part of By One Spirit provides an excellent account of the pietist movement following Spener into Sweden and the part its influence played in the creation of the Covenant Church. The footnotes in By One Spirit are wonderful reading and highly informative.

In The Covenant Quarterly, articles on pietism, past and present, appear quite regularly. The Quarterly (a good buy at $8 per year) articles on this subject are usually very good and of manageable length. There is a wealth of excellent material in back issues of The Quarterly. Don't over look WaldenstrOm's Commentaries available to us through the diligent work of Tommy Carlson. Tommy's translations appear regularly in Pietisten. We note also, "Reflection Of Our Experience Of Pietism," by Zenos Hawkinson in the Mission Meeting Supplement, (Pietisten, Spring, 1987), and "Pietism: Private Faith and Public Witness," by Sally Johnson (Summer, 1990).

Other than that, I can speak of a few things that now have or recently have had my interest. One is A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving. I would be surprised if any of you who have read it, didn't like it. Also, there is Chinua Achebe, the great Nigerian writer. I've mentioned him before (Summer, 1989) and likely will again.

In the November, 22, 1990 issue of The New York Review of Books, there is a wonderful article by Oliver Sacks, "Neurology and the Soul." Reading Paul Among Jews and Gentiles by Krister Stendahl has been very worthwhile. When he inscribed my copy with the notation, "A pietist at heart," he staked a claim, as far as I was concerned, that his books should be on a pietist reading list.

Shelly Ritchie (see her article in Fall, 1989) introduced mc to Family by Pa Chin which is a very good novel about life in China earlier in the century. Mary Nygard, who lives in Cairo, Egypt, sent us Midaq Alley by Naguib Mahfouz which gives one an inside glimpse of life in Cairo. From Don Erickson of Augustana College I recently learned of Shusako Endo, a Japanese novelist. I read his most recent novel, Scandal, the story of a Japanese Christian novelist who has written A Life Of Jesus. The hero experiences his dark side near the end of his life. Very good. Like the leading character in this novel, Endo happens to be a Christian, baptized at age eleven, and to have written, in fact, A Life of Jesus.

Who's next? PJ

Phil Johnson is Editor Emeritus of Pietisten.

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