The importance of Pietism to the Church is immensurable. No one denies it, especially when one looks at its influence in all the protestant branches after the time of Reformation. In fact, the Reformation would be incomplete (as many Pietists would claim) if the movement did not come about. Olson in his wonderful book says, “The basic thrust of Pietism was that the Lutheran Reformation had been an excellent beginning of a renewal movement left incomplete.” In other words, even if they highly estimated Luther and his teachings, something was lacking, and that was the Pietistic flavor for the Christian life.
Pietism was not built on new theological arguments, nor on intellectualism, but totally on personal experience with God. This experience, however, would lead people to a more pious way of living. Undoubtedly, this emphasis on experience would raise resistance among other Christians and therefore resulting in persecutions and misunderstanding, especially when one looks at the way Lutherans were establishing their orthodoxy after Martin Luther’s death. “A generation or two after Luther’s death, leading Lutheran theologians began to engage in a project of rational systematizing of doctrine that often included natural theology, Aristotelian logic and extreme fine-tuning and hairsplitting with regard to doctrinal formulations.” Pietism reacted to this type of theology and life. The main most well known Pietists were: Johann Arndt, Philipp Jakob Spener, August Hermann Francke and Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf.
Unfortunately, the term Pietism continues to have negative connotations for many people in the modern Christian culture. Dale Proulx quoting the Pietist scholar Dale Brown says, “Pietism has been identified negatively as emotionalism, mysticism, rationalism, subjectivism, asceticism, quietism, synergism, chialiasm, moralism, legalism, separatism, individualism, and otherworldliness.”
Conversion experience and inner transformation in Pietism
Pietism is characterized by its emphasis on experience. Not that it rejected Orthodoxy completely; however, it would always give priority to practice. This preference of practice and experience over Orthodoxy would very soon bring conflicts between the Pietists and those who held the conventional view as the correct way to teach and live Christianity. F. Ernest Stoeffler says in his book that, after having received a severe opposition from both theologians and pastors, Francke wrote a sermon blaming Orthodoxy for religious ignorance and moral degradation. In reaction to Francke’s sermon Albrecht Christian Rothe, pastor at St. Ulrich’s Church “hastily put together a manuscript against the major leaders and errors of Pietism and distributed handwritten copies locally.” The question one should ask at this point would be what the teachings of Pietism are and why they raised so much controversy? The answer for this question is worthy of an entire book and goes beyond the scope of this paper. However, it is relevant for this paper the Pietist view of conversion, especially Spener’s idea of the “inner man” and Francke’s doctrine of Busskampf.
Among the several teachings of Pietism, one finds the notion of the “inner man.” The term was probably first used in Spener’s Pia Desideria after his explanation of how theology students should write sermons and what they should focus on while writing them. He then introduces the term as follows: “I shall here gladly pass over additional observations that might well be made about sermons, but I regard this as the principal thing: Our whole Christian religion consists of the inner man or the new man, whose soul is faith and whose expressions are the fruits of life, and all sermons should be aimed at this.” He continues his explanation of the “inner man” by criticizing those who practice their Christianity merely from an external point of view and are not worried about their hearts. For Spener, those who act like this are hypocrites. Sacraments, listening to the Word of God, baptism, prayer and worship are only effective in the life of those who hear and practice them if they allow these rituals to “infiltrate” and hit their hearts. The outward life, therefore, will be the reflection of what is inside, what is in the heart; the outward life will reflect the “inner man.” It is important to understand the distinction that Spener makes between “faith in which we believe” and “faith by which we believe.” A correct understanding may lead one to what is desired by Spener, namely, true knowledge and true faith. “True believers are those who are not only correct in reference to the articles of faith but also in relation to the inner nature of their faith.” Spener ends his explanation of the “inner man” saying, “Since the real power of Christianity consists of this, it would be proper if sermons, on the whole, were pointed in such a direction [toward the inner man]. If this were to happen, much more edification would surely result than is presently the case.” Here, it seems that Spener is again criticizing the current Lutherans’ way of preparing sermons and preaching as not being good enough for the edification of the people.
However, Spener is not the only German Pietist who talks about the work of God in the inner human being. Brown mentions Francke saying that he as well would desire that each Christian lived “a true sense of the gracious operations of the Holy Spirit in our souls, and know experimentally, that God of a truth has erected his Kingdom in our souls, which consists in righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost.” Francke’s notion of conversion is deeply rooted in the concept that new Christians need to go through an experience of genuine rebirth which will lead them to a “lasting new condition.” This experience would inevitably direct them to repentance, and through analogy with the Lutheran traditional sacrament of penance, to the penitential struggle, also called Busskampf. Francke’s biblical basis to support his doctrine is found in Psalm 51 where David sets the example for a genuine repentance. This empirical theology, however, raises several problems, especially when one talks about human relationship with God.
Perhaps the main difference between Spener and Francke is exactly on the subject of conversion. For Spener, conversion may vary from person to person. Some individuals would experience the struggle of repentance whereas others would have an ongoing slow process of conversion. Francke’s Busskampf on the other hand denies the individuality of the human being, and even worse, places God in a box that does not allow Him to deal with His creatures in different ways.
The emphasis on experience has led theologians to charge Pietism with subjectivism, and its doctrine of the “inner man” helped raise anthropocentricism in the church. At this point one must ask if Pietist’s leaders have intentionally focused on man as the center, therefore, building an individualistic view of Christianity, or if Pietism took this direction due to misunderstandings among the common people who received these teachings and applied them wrongly. These are tough questions that one should struggle to answer if he/she wants to profoundly understand this movement. It is very difficult to picture today’s Christianity without the influence of Pietism. Particularly I cannot think of Christianity apart from feelings, a certain dosage of emotion and personal relationship and experience with Jesus Christ. Christianity apart from this “subjectivism” can become very dry and lifeless. Unfortunately, some leaders can take the good and beautiful doctrines of Pietism and use them to manipulate people. I now want to focus this paper to my personal experience with Pietism in Brazil as well as to the consequences of the misuse of this doctrine in the midst of the church. I also want to look back to the roots of Pietism and try to find in it the healing for the church today in my own country if used in a correctly balanced way.
Relevance of Pietism to Pastoral Ministry in Brazil
Pietism in Brazil is by default the way most people practice their Christianity. The largest evangelical Christian groups in the nation are the Pentecostals and Neo-Pentecostals. Even the Catholic Church, in order to not lose more of its members, went through several changes to adapt to these social religious circumstances. Philip Jenkins in his prophetic book The Next Christendom shows the massive movement of Christianity from the northern to the southern hemisphere. According to U.S. government statistics, in 2050, the countries of the African continent as well as Latin America will have an extraordinary increase of their Christian population. When one looks particularly to Brazil, however, the numbers are astonishing. Jenkins says, “Today, about 75 percent of Brazil’s population is reported as Catholic, while a further 20 percent are Protestant or Pentecostal.” Brazil grew from a population estimated at 53 million people in 1950 to 170 million in 2000. Along with this enormous population growth comes evangelical community growth. For Jenkins, the number of Protestants in Brazil in 2050 can reach half of the Brazilian population; however, he is clear that this prediction is an extrapolation of the existing statistics for the country. He concludes his analysis of the evangelical growth rate in Brazil by saying, “That Brazil will be a key center of world Christianity is beyond doubt, but the precise contours of its religious life are unknowable.”
With all this being said, one must look now at the way Christianity is being practiced in the country. Unfortunately, numeric increase does not represent an increase of sound doctrine or pious life; the opposite is most likely and it is what is actually happening. Pietism in this case plays a major role, though. If one uses the doctrines set up by Francke and Spener soundly, he/she will obtain great benefits related to life transformation; however, if these doctrines are misapplied, the consequences are tragic and dangerous to the human soul. Today in Brazil, we find Neo-Pentecostals as the major example of Pietism’s misuse. They use religious experience and feelings as a way to brainwash people and make them accept erroneous views of Christian doctrines. Neo-Pentecostals are against any other religious groups, including other types of Christianity. They have built an “empire” through television and radio evangelism, following the model of American televangelists. Indeed, religious emotionalism is very much used, but as I said, to exploit people’s faith.
Several traditional churches have opposed Neo-Pentecostal practices in the country. However, at the same time that opposition raises up against these strange practices, many others have shaped their own theology to “accommodate” this new “methodology” that increases the attendance of the church. Indeed, fanaticism and many other “isms” can appear if Pietism is used for personal purposes. The correct way to use Pietism, though, as Brown puts it is “much more the appropriation of [experience] than the substitution for revelation.”
This is, however, the approach I want to have in my own ministry, when thinking about conversion experience, for instance. I want to teach my congregation the importance of experience as part of Christian life, not as the ultimate goal to be achieved. Seeing experience this way would prevent several misinterpretations and misuses of the doctrine of the “inner man” and Busskampf.
One of the main emphases of my ministry will be concerning the human heart as the way Christians should perceive reality. The Bible uses the analogy of the heart in many occasions in both Old Testament and New Testament (Ez. 11:19, Ps 51:17, 1Pe 3:15, Eph 6:6). Heart and inner man are almost synonymous, as we find in the New Bible Dictionary:
“The contrast in view is rather that between the ‘outward appearance’ and the ‘heart’ drawn in 1 Sam. 16:7: ‘inner man’ and ‘heart’ are, indeed, almost synonymous. This contrast reflects two facts. First, God, the searcher of hearts, sees things in a man that are hidden from his fellows, who see only his exterior (1 Sa. 16:7; Mt. 23:27 and Peter’s assertion that meekness and quietness adorn ‘the hidden person of the heart’, which God notices, if men do not, 1 Pet. 3:3f.). Secondly, God’s renewal of sinners in Christ is a hidden work (Col. 3:3f.), of which human observers see only certain of the effects (cf. Jn. 3:8). The sphere of character, and of the Spirit’s transforming work, is not the outward, but the inner man. The exact point of the contrast differs in each of the three texts.”
I am not, however, despising human intellect. I find Paul in Romans 12 encouraging his brethren to have a rational faith as a mean of transformation. Therefore, to find reality in our hearts simply means that we need to live this life not as if there were only physical and material realms, but instead, we should live assured that there is something beyond, even if we cannot see it. We must know about it in our hearts or even feel it in our inner man. For example, let me say I have a friend who is not a Christian, and we went through a very hard experience in life having both lost our sons. My son was a faithful Christian as I am. I taught my son to live a pious and just life. My friend, even though was not a Christian, was a good person. Yet, he did not have Christian notions of salvation and eternal life and neither had his son. We both grieved over our sons’ deaths and we both suffered from this experience. Let me say that five years have passed since our sons died, and I am comforted in the Lord that my son is with Him and that one day I will have the chance to see my boy again. However, my friend continues grieving over his son’s death. His life is miserable, flooded with sadness and sorrow. Am I insensitive to my son’s death if I feel comforted by the Lord and believe that my son is in a better place than I am? Is my friend acting more parent-like because he could not overcome the pain of losing his son? The answer for both questions is no! The difference between my friend and me relies on the way we perceive the world, through which lens we observe reality. I look at reality through the lens of my heart (inner man, my belief system), and my friend through the lens of his intellect alone (his belief system). The above invented story gives the right illustration for what I mean by seeing reality through the heart.
When one comes to the matter of conversion, I see in Pietism another great way to distinguish true from false conversion. Again, I find in the Neo-Pentecostal churches the corruption of what is believed to be Christian conversion. A famous pastor in Brazil wrote a book against Neo-Pentecostalism in Brazil titled Conversão ou adesão, (conversion or adhesion). I found the title very relevant, especially when one looks at how the pastors of these types of churches treat their members. Basically, the leaders of Neo-Pentecostal churches will treat anyone who gives to their church as members of the church and/or faithful Christians. Hence, repentance and conversion are not required anymore, but instead, regular giving is enough to make you a good Christian. That is why the term “adherence” or “adhesion” is more appropriate to the members of those churches than “conversion”. It would not be an issue if this only happened in isolated locations and with the reach of few people. However, we are talking about today’s biggest denomination in Brazil (even bigger than the Assemblies of God), who owns the second largest national television, who has representatives in all levels of the government and who is influencing the non-Christian society to look at them as evangelical Christians. So, if you talk to non-Christians and ask them who the evangelicals of the country are, they will automatically point to the Neo-Pentecostals. For these and several other reasons, it is extremely important to set a division between who are true believers and who are not in this extremely confusing multi denominational Christian spectrum.
Francke’s Busskampf becomes tremendously relevant in a context such as the one described above. Not that I particularly think every Christian should struggle while experiencing conversion, but at least a divisor mark should be established. I am not advocating a moralist “before Christ/after Christ” type of experience, such as, “I used to dance, drink alcohol, and have sex with my girlfriend, and now I am free from all of the above; they are sins and I do not practice them anymore.” No, this is not the type of conversion I think Francke taught. Perhaps, he intended to teach this (not exactly as described above), however, it is not the way I see it. My understanding of Pietism looks at conversion as a human’s inner understanding of a profound encounter with Jesus Christ and consequently with himself as a sinner who needs a savior. After this encounter (with Christ and himself), the person may or may not struggle. Each person reacts differently to the grace of God. But even those who do not struggle will realize that something has happened in their lives. They will see things differently, they will be enlightened by the Spirit of God, and they will be raised from spiritual deadness. When a person experiences this type of conversion, he/she can say as Paul said, “For me, living is Christ and dying is gain.” This conversion must lead the person to practical living. At this point, I recognize my theology as profoundly influenced by Pietist thought. Yes, orthopraxis as opposed to a mere orthodoxy is also part of my theology. I strongly believe that orthodoxy alone is hazardous as well as orthopraxy alone. So, one must balance both orthodoxy and orthopraxy to achieve stability in Christian life. Neo-Pentecostals, however, are not completely devoid of orthopraxy. They indeed act to make their Christianity known. They evangelize, pray for and act toward the poor, etc. The problem, however, would be the motivations for such actions. The retribution theology of the Old Testament plays a great role in Neo-Pentecostal prosperity gospel. The reason for orthopraxy, however, can never be motivated by a retribution that God may give to those who are faithful. Orthopraxy should be the result of the conversion of the heart. A genuine convert will practice his/her Christianity always out of love, in obedience to God’s word, and never expecting to receive anything in exchange.
Again, one should always look for balance in all areas of life, including Christianity. It would not be different with Pietism. I strongly believe in Pietism and in its claim, but not without also considering other aspects of Christian life. A sound balance of teaching and experiencing, doctrine and practice, knowledge and piety, would transform the lives of many Brazilians who are today being deceived by this terrible Neo Pentecostal movement. A sound Christian means a sound society, and a sound society means a better world.
 Roger E. Olson, The Story of Christian Theology : Twenty Centuries of Tradition & Reform (Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 473.
 Ibid, 475.
 Ibid, 477-482
 Dale Proulx, "A Pietist Model for the Renewal of the Church [Microform]" (Ph.D. diss., Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, South Hamilton, MA, 2002), 10.
 Fred Ernest Stoeffler, German Pietism during the Eighteenth Century (Leiden: Brill, 1973), 60.
 Philipp Jakob Spener, Pia Desideria (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1964), 116.
 Dale W. Brown, Understanding Pietism (Grand Rapids: W. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1978), 111.
 Ibid, 117.
 Ibid, 102.
 Carter Lindberg, The Pietist Theologians : An Introduction to Theology in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries (Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub., 2005), 107.
 Brown, Understanding Pietism, 117.
 Ibid, 118.
 Philip Jenkins, The Next Christendom : The Coming of Global Christianity (Oxford ; New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 89-92.
 Brown, Understanding Pietism, 119.
Wood, D. R. W.: New Bible Dictionary. InterVarsity Press, 1996, c1982, c1962, S. 506