Post: Readers Respond

The value of Pietisten increases with time for me as my heritage is enhanced. In going back to old issues I find a treasure trove of provocative and inspiring thought. I keep reading the names of relatives and old friends spread over the years. […] I noted with interest the rededication of the P.P. Waldenström craft in the 2010 edition. It was in the Tabernacle [at Covenant Point Bible Camp] under the preaching of T.W. Anderson that I responded to the invitation to give my life to Christ in July, 1942. I was prompted by Harold Lindahl, who went forward with me. He was Elder’s father. Elder and I were close friends from childhood. The way God weaves our lives together over time is a pleasing surprise. […] Keep maintaining the high level of Pietisten.

Warren W. Lindstrom, Bedford, N.H.

Greetings! Just a word to tell you I’m a great fan of Pietisten and I have saved every one of them that have come into my possession so far. There’s enough to read and ponder in each one of them that, if I was in solitary confinement for a long time and only had access to one of those, I’d pick especially the Fall/Winter 2011 issue, with the story “Ecumenical Arches” by Tom Tredway. […] Keep on keeping on, and God bless.

Ed Mampel, Kingsland, Texas

The entire issue was awesome, as usual. I particularly enjoyed reading Ed Train’s reflections of his heritage in Lindsborg. Anyone who has heard him sing or preach knows that his early training served to sharpen the gifts God had given to him in those areas. […] Ed was my pastor during some of the most painful years of my life when my mother was waging battle with brain cancer. Ed’s caring pastoral gifts demonstrated to all my family during those dark days was a living witness to the impact his heritage had in the development of his gifts of caring, praying, and simply “being there.” […] Ed and Dorothy seemed to always “be there” at our family celebrations. He cared for his flock, and our little family flock, and his ministry of “presence” will be forever remembered with thanksgiving to God.

Paul Bengtson, Rockford, Ill.

I was deeply touched when, in thumbing through the Spring/Summer issue, I discovered Glen’s article [….] Glen [Wiberg] has been one of my most ardent encouragers (Jane too) since we met while serving on the Covenant Hymnal Committee eons ago. I have wondered since that time why I was called to that exalted position […] I was new to America, new to the Covenant and swimming around in an entire ocean of new hymns quite different from “Hymns Ancient and Modern,” which I had learned from the hymnal in the piano stool at home.

Being young, reckless and naïve, my first project was to notice a Swedish hymn which seemed to me to be a mismatched pairing of words and music. It was called “O how happy are they who the Savior obey.” The tune Elfåker was a lovely minor key melody. Yet the words talked about being joyous in Christ. Perhaps, during a blizzard in Åmål, this was the sound of effulgent praise, but the exquisite sadness in the music seemed at odds with the lyric. Yet I liked it. So I retained it and, thinking about the Book of Common Prayer, decided to base a text on the General Confession of the Church of England. And so, somewhat timidly, I showed the committee how I had divorced the original elements and created a new Scandinavian/Anglican hybrid. Irving Erickson said that the interior rhymes made it sound like a patter song by Gilbert and Sullivan until I pointed out that in church the tempo would, of necessity, have to be slower that a Martyn Green performance at the Savoy Theatre. It remains a personal favorite of mine, especially now when confession seems to be lacking in some of our services. A Christian is, at best, a sinner, but a forgiven sinner. I exult in that distinction, hence the fifth stanza:

“Kind and merciful God bid us lift up our heads
And command us to rise from our knees.
May our hearts now be changed
And no longer estranged
Through the power of your pardon and peace.”

I have had a number of encouragers: Paul Liljestrand who attended Julliard and who first noticed my ability with words, Hugh Martin, who composed the now classic “Have yourself a merry little Christmas,” and Glen Wiberg. When you come to music very late as I did, in my late thirties, it is so refreshing to be championed by men as skilled as these and yet so generous in their attitudes and comments. I am also grateful to the Covenant who, in giving me the chance to be part of the Hymnal Committee, prepared me for editorial projects with other publishers and gave me my first hint that I might become a seasoned hymnist. Gratefully, and with affection,

Bryan Jeffery Leach, Walnut Creek, Calif.

[In response to Donald Frisk’s article in previous issue, “Theological Perspectives for Christian Education”]

As I reflect on [the] Covenant movement, I’m struck by the possibility that what is good about Pietism may not be the best. […] We shy away from doctrinal conflict; we prefer spirituality. […] My concern is that our spirituality may be conflicted by an individualism without a focus on the ecclesial objective presence of the Holy Spirit. […] The conflict between feelings and reason shows up in our soteriological language. We talk about a subjective individual decision to be saved. The objective truth about being saved occurred in the historical event of the cross. […] It involved no emotion, crisis or decision on my part. It was God seeking me; I was far from being a seeker. [W]e need not fear propositional truth, doctrine or dogma. Because Pietism was a reaction against ecclesial “dead orthodoxy,” reason has a harder battle than feelings for its existence in our Christian living.

Note how infant baptism models grace. The child knows nothing about what’s happening to her. Her parents, not she, make the decision to bring her to the church; like four friends and the paralytic lowered to Jesus through a hole in the roof. Over time, within her family and the church, she learns and experiences what happened to her in her baptism; kind of like any immigration story in your family. Grace happens without the work of our decision. Even the faith to acknowledge Christ is given. The church saved our little girl, for Christ exists as his church in Word and Sacrament.

Our struggle today is for ecclesiology. Evangelicalism has never had an ecclesiology. [The] Covenant movement, as a subset of Evangelicalism, often falls prey to marginalizing ecclesiology. Pietism’s emphasis on inward spirituality arrives at great cost to a biblical understanding of the church. Many “lone rangers for Jesus” insist upon their right to have private spiritual experiences separate from public participation in the church-community. The good in our private devotion misses out on the best available in Spirit-filled ecclesial community.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer never had a good word for a piety which marginalized community.

One of his best contributions to our faith was his insistence that “Christ exists as the church,” not merely in the church. The church existed as a community prior to anyone’s inward experience of Christ. […] The loss of the doctrine of the Trinity may largely account for the loss of authentic spiritual depth in today’s church. Had we a more robust ecclesiology rooted in the Trinity, far fewer church members would so easily leave our churches for trivial reasons.

The good of Pietism requires a reformation to locate the best to take us beyond individual inwardness into Spirit-filled community. Pietism […] came about to solve a temporary deficit. The Church “was from the beginning, is now, and ever shall be.” As only movements both Evangelicalism and Pietism have outlived their usefulness. In their day and time, both served to get us back on track as reactions to conditions within the Church. Now that we’re on the right track it’s time to be sure we’re on the right train. That train is Christ, the Church, taking recovering sinners […] to Heaven.

Paul Bischoff, Wheaton, Ill.

Editors’ comments:

Worth noting is that there are multiple historical “Pietisms,” and the conflation of them can obscure the fact that a Pietist like C.O. Rosenius, for instance, was quite careful in articulating a Lutheran ecclesiology, as well as in making room for consideration of both objective and subjective aspects of the life of faith. Concepts of “subjectivity” articulated by various Pietist authors (from Kierkegaard to Donald Frisk) are not necessarily the same thing as a subjective view of atonement. To see how Frisk attends to the risks involved in the objectivity-subjectivity dichotomy, readers can see Covenant Affirmations. Pietism and Evangelicalism, furthermore, are not wholly synonymous. For multifaceted discussion of this differentiation, see The Pietist Impulse in Christianity. Pietisten has always made a point of associating with the Rosenian tradition, and we are inclined to think that this kind of Pietism retains its usefulness in the modern search for ecclesiology.