The Voice: Spring 2002

The Voice

The antidote to pietism and revolutionism is spirit-filled living

By Dr. Ethan Brue

Plumblines are commentaries written by people from the Dordt community to stimulate thinking about issues facing Christians living in 2001.

The “lookout” gave the “all clear.” We lurched into action. With screwdrivers unsheathed, two of us embarked on a frontal assault, while our comrades attempted to circumvent the right flank. In a matter of seconds it became clear that our foe was of greater consequence than previous intelligence reports had revealed. That Sunday afternoon two disappointed high schoolers stood at the entrance of the seminary library grasping a couple of greasy hinge pins. The library door stood firm.

However, even before we surrendered the pins back to the hardware from which they came, we heard a hushed but jubilant voice from the other side of the wall; our comrades had successfully breached the right flank through the ceiling tiles. We were in! In a matter of seconds we had returned the overdue book and successfully completed our mission.

Looking back on these high school years, I am not sure why we did it. But then, not all spontaneous teenage activities are grounded in reason. Certainly, if our motivation for our Sunday afternoon adventure was guided by the desire to fulfill our obligations as conscientious library patrons, we could have taken advantage of what the library called a “grace period” and simply returned the book on Monday. But on that day, the freedom of grace seemed less attractive than the challenge of climbing over the walls. Such was dormitory life for a group of teenagers.

Not all such extracurricular activities were equally unproductive. On another such after hours mission in our school library we stumbled across a rather amusing book on the library shelves. The book was titled Enemies of Youth. Written in the 1930s, it had a delightfully descriptive table of contents. Chapters such as “Smoking—The Short-cut to Insanity,” “Movies—The Kindergarten of Hell,” and similar such descriptions were given for drinking alcohol, card playing, and dancing. I suppose this book was intended to shock some morality into rebellious teenagers, but for the four souls who had found themselves in a closed library, the book simply provided the material for hours of subsequent entertainment. Some of our best pietistic preacher impersonations were inspired by this work, providing hours of maybe not so healthy laughter. If some form of authentic Christianity lay hidden behind the content of this book, such authenticity escaped us.

To understand why such escapades seemed to be the norm rather than the exception at my pietistic Christian high school, you must recognize that our lives were
dictated by pietism: no long hair, no jeans, no T-shirts, no lights on after 10:00, no movies, no dating without permission, no unapproved popular music, a required prayer before class, a mandatory “spiritual emphasis” week; the list goes on.

Within this context I believe as teenagers we acted out a principal axiom of faith. When we as the church try to construct a prepackaged system of morality, a sort of faith in a box, the walls that result rarely serve the intended purpose. Such walls, like seminary walls on Sunday afternoons, look more like attractive challenges than boundaries. A common response will be unholy laughter.

While the specifics may vary, pietism is always the impossible task of trying to contain God. Pietism tries to reduce God to a system of theology, a day of the week, or a set of ten or twelve neatly defined rules. The living God is not that small. You may think that I am about to make a few bored high school students the heroes of this story—the great pietism busters. No, not really. As with many movements against pietism, the revolutionaries prefer to loiter around the walls of a pietistic faith, content only with the superficial freedom provided by continually breaking walls and making the box bigger.

It is important for us always to remember that the only antidote for pietism and the opposing knee-jerk revolutionism is a good dose of spirit-filled living: the liberating Christian response that recognizes the truth that our God cannot be cornered. Rather it is the Living God who claims every corner of our lives. When all of life is religion, the walls of pietism and anti-pietism are shattered. We are free. Free to be spirit-led down the path of obedience in all that we do, as musicians, mechanics, parents, teachers, farmers, engineers, or whoever God has called us to be.