I'm not an Evangelical

OK, I admit it. I'm not an Evangelical. Or at least not a Reformed Evangelical, as David Neff reminded me in his recent piece The Change Agents . Though Reformed Evangelicals--think Baptists, Presbyterians, and other Calvinists—are the most influential group among the motley crew that makes up American Evangelicalism, they're not the only ones. There are Wesleyan Evangelicals and Lutheran Evangelicals, for starters.

Then there are the Pietists . Rather than become an evangelist for Pietism myself, I'll let the editors of The Dictionary of the History of Ideas take on that role:

The founder of Pietism was Philipp Jakob Spener. His Pia desideria of 1675 enunciated six aims that were
to become the program of Pietism: biblical study, lay activity, ethical revival, mollification of theological
polemics, reform of theological education, renewal of evangelical preaching.

Attacking conditions in the Lutheran Church, Spener maintained that an over-emphasis upon purity of doctrine had intellectualized faith and had severed the nerve of the moral imperative.

He was joined by August Hermann Francke, whose skill as an administrator helped to create institutions of education and of charity where the Pietist stress upon the practical side of Christianity could find expression.

From the depth and breadth of the response to their work it is clear that Spener and Francke had uncovered a grave problem in the faith and life of the churches.

There was a widespread yearning for authentic Christianity, for the restoration of sincerity and of simplicity, and for a religion based on faith, hope, and charity."

This line from the Dictionary of the History of Ideas sounds likes it was ripped from today's headlines: "There was a widespread yearning for authentic Christianity, for the restoration of sincerity and of simplicity, and for a religion based on faith, hope, and charity."

It's time for more Pietists to come out of the closet.


The Healing of the Nations

The book of Revelation has always bit of a dodgy reputation. Martin Luther though it was bit iffy in the early days of the Reformation, and, as I understand, the Orthodox Church does not allow the book to be read in public worship. The Orthodox might be on to something—as Paul Boyer demonstrates in When Time Shall Be No More more than a few Christians have misinterpreted the book over the ages, often with fatal results.

Still, there's a beauty in this book, in the midst of the plagues.

‘See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell* with them;
they will be his peoples,*
and God himself will be with them;
4he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.’
(Revelation 21:1-4)

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life* with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.
(Revelation 22: 1-3)

I'm not what Teresa Blythe would call a "closet universalist" --ie, someone who believes that everyone is saved in the end but is afraid to say so. To take that position is to deny free will.

But I'm not sure how to reconcile grace and free will. I can do nothing to earn salvation and cannot presume God's grace in my life, as if it were my possession. It is a gift not a right or a priviledge. But can a gift be refused? If it can't be refused is it a gift? And are we free if we are not free to say "No" to God.

And Blythe won't let me off the hook very easily:

progressive preachers proclaim the universal and unconditional love of a non-violent God and we sit there in the pews remembering biblical edicts about sheep and goats, eternal flames and a scary, exclusive “Lamb’s Book of Life.” Not all of us, mind you. But a lot more than you might figure. Being embarrassed to admit that we don’t have the same confidence in the unconditional love of God, we remain silent.


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