Living as people of the resurrection
“You need an elevator speech.” So said a friend when I announced on Facebook the publication of our book on Pietism. What she meant is that we needed to come up with a pitch for The Pietist Option that would last about thirty seconds, the length of time we’d have to explain Pietism to someone sharing a typical elevator ride.
“Can’t they just read the book?” I wanted to reply. “It’s not much more than a hundred pages.”
Yet in that spirit, here’s my version of an elevator speech for The Pietist Option. It goes like this:
Do you believe in the Resurrection? Great! Now, what difference does that make in your life? Do you live in the hope that Jesus Christ is risen, that God has conquered death? Because if you do, you’re already starting to live out the Pietist option.
I have so much more I want to say — about the Bible as “an altar where we meet the living God” (as the Covenant Church put it in 1963), about the relationship of Christian unity to Christian mission and witness, about engaging the world as people who follow “Christ, the servant of culture,” about pursuing ministries of proclamation and listening...
But if I only had half a minute, I’d want the person in that elevator to know that Pietists are people of the Resurrection. As my colleague Christian Collins Winn puts it, Pietists have always believed that if God can bring new life to an individual, God can bring new life to churches, and to the world.
So what does that mean? How do we not only believe something that causes the wise of this world to scoff (Acts 17:32), but live as if we believe in that impossible doctrine? If I’ve bought myself a few more minutes’ attention, I think I could outline three more ways that living as people of the Resurrection helps us make our faith active in love of God and neighbor.
“Peace be with you”
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you” (John 20:19).
We shouldn’t be too hard on the disciples, who have locked themselves in a house for fear that they’ll be
the next to die. We might notice that — in the previous verse! — Mary Magdalene told them she had seen their resurrected Lord, and so question the depth of their faith. But here we are, nearly two thousand years later, and people who believe in the Resurrection still lock their doors — literally and figuratively — for fear of their neighbors. Sometimes for fear of each other.
Few Christians seem so fearful as my fellow evangelicals, even though we pride ourselves on our steadfast commitment to the historicity of the Resurrection. One 2016 survey found that the issue that was viewed as very important by the largest share of white evangelical voters (almost 90%) was not abortion or the Supreme Court, but terrorism. That’s far above any other religious group in American society. Gun policy and immigration also outranked abortion and judicial appointments as concerns for white evangelicals.
So if the Pietist option is to live as if the Resurrection has actually happened, then it has to start with the decision not to live in fear. “Peace be with you,” Jesus tells his startled disciples — not “Safety be with you,” or security or certainty or predictability, but peace. Then he commissions them — “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (verse 21) — to go out into the same world that had terrified them, empowered by the Holy Spirit.
Live in Active Expectation
Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming (Matt 24:42).
To live as people of the Resurrection is fearlessly to take up the mission of a God who “will be with [mortals]; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more” (Rev 21:3-4). But for the relatively brief moment of our mortal lives, we nevertheless must continue to live amid death and pain, with the sounds of mourning and crying filling our ears.
It was a reality that the German Pietist pastor Christoph Blumhardt knew well. Preaching to people buffeted by the technological, economic, and political changes of the late 19th century, he called them to live in “active expectation”:
We expect greater things than new technologies and inventions. We expect the overcoming of the powers of evil, of all the sin that still prevails. We expect the victory over all the misery that binds so many people, over all the evil and hostile powers that seek to torment us. This is our expectation. And this certainty will far surpass any apparent triumphs that the world flaunts through the work of its own hands. In this expectation, we will not become weary. In all our activities, we must live in Jesus Christ’s future.
So he exhorted his flock to “Watch, and be joyful. Even though fear may overcome you, watch.
Something of the Savior’s future will enter into your life.”
Pietists, in short, live in active expectation that the God of the Resurrection continues to break into the world to bring new life. We just need to train ourselves to watch for those breakthroughs.
Not in Vain
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain (1 Cor 15:56-58).
If it’s hard to see evidence of God making all things new, then trust that whatever you do, if you do it “in the Lord,” it is not in vain.
No one understood this dimension of Pietism better than our late friend, Pastor Glen Wiberg, and never did he explain it more poignantly than in the summer of 1984. His son Carl had died at the age of 27, a victim of multiple sclerosis, and Glen had to preach at the funeral. He chose Mark’s account of the woman who anoints Jesus at Bethany, pouring over his head expensive ointment from an alabaster jar. “Why was the ointment wasted in this way?”, ask his disciples (Mark 14:4).
As Glen reflected on Carl’s suffering, he wondered if we don’t ask the same question about human lives, our own and those of our loved ones. Is it possible that we pour ourselves out… only to see our costly efforts drain away, wasted? Do not fear, Glen preached:
The good news I want to share with you is Nothing is Wasted, neither the precious ointment, nor the alabaster jar, nor its brokenness. For when all is said and done everything in the long run depends on God’s doing, where everything finally serves his purpose, gathering up the fragments in resurrection so that nothing goes down the drain, nothing at all is lost. It will be proclaimed in his remembrance, and to his glory.
So if you want to opt in to the Pietist option, believe in the Resurrection. More importantly, live as if you believe in it. Accept the peace of Christ, unlock the doors, and go out into a dark, frightening world. Watch expectantly for the joyous evidence of God making all things new. Trust that your labor is not in vain. Live in the knowledge that whatever is done “for God’s glory and our neighbors’ good,” however imperfect and fragmentary, is gathered up in the Resurrection.