The Swedish Pietists: A Reader. Edited and trans. by Mark Safstrom. Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2015. 237 pp. Paper, $28.00
From the early 1880s to the beginnings of the 20th century, the Lutheran state churches in Scandinavia experienced a spiritual awakening comparable to those in America. Two of the most important leaders in that movement were the Swedish preachers Carl Olof Rosenius (1816–1868) and Paul Peter Waldenström (1838–1917). Their devotional journal Pietisten (“The Pietist”) turned what was once a contemptuous term for fanaticism, into a source of pride among those who claimed a born-again experience.
Theologians sometimes draw a distinction between being sacramentalized (i.e., being baptized as an infant and introduced into the “exterior form of regulations and customs” of the church, p. 33) and being evangelized (i.e., hearing and believing the gospel). Faced with the nominalism of their state churches, the Pietists sought to evangelize the sacramentalized people of the Lutheran state churches, leading them to the indispensability of a “new life, awaked and sustained by the Spirit of God” (p. 33). And they often had to do so outside the bounds of the officially sanctioned churches, through para-church ministries that published devotional materials, organized revival meetings, and formed home and foreign missions activities (p. 25).
Readers of this journal will benefit from this book for three reasons.
First, they will strongly identify with the Pietist desire to go beyond mere formalism in religion, to be born-again. Even though this born again experience was as confusing to Nicodemus as it is for much of the world, “it is precisely this inward transformation of the heart that cannot be understood by those who have not themselves been born anew, nor can they believe it to be true” (p. 30).
Second, readers will also have a deep sympathy for the Piestist’s love for the Bible. The Pietists were forced to meet in illegal “conventicles” (what we would call small groups or house churches) to worship and study the Bible together (p. 221).
Third, readers will be interested in how Pietism relates to the Lordship Salvation controversy. Although the history of Lordship Salvation is often traced to the Puritans, there is also an important Pietistic element, which was transplanted to America through Scandinavian immigrants. The Pietists not only properly emphasized the importance of a lived faith, they sadly made a lived faith the criterion for being saved. Here is a typical passage describing a conversation between Waldenström and a young man, where the young man bases his salvation on God’s free grace, while Waldenström argues you need works to either be saved, or to know you are saved:
“He had just heard a sermon on good works, which had not pleased him. ‘I do not have any good works,’ he said. ‘Then neither are you a Christian,’ I answered. ‘Yes, indeed,’ he said, ‘A Christian I am, without any good works, by free grace alone through faith in Jesus.’—‘But faith without works is dead,’ I added, ‘and a dead faith certainly makes no one into a Christian’… ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘I would never claim that I am anything other than an ungodly sinner, and that my salvation rests solely on the foundation of God’s free and pure grace.’—‘Now then,’ I added, ‘but if you are an ungodly sinner, then you have no salvation to expect at all, but instead are headed for condemnation, however much you might appeal to the pure foundation of God’s free grace’” (p. 99).
For Waldenström, as for other Piestists, there was an expectation that a regenerate life would inevitably result in behavior modification. Without a change in behavior, there could be no assurance of salvation.
The Swedish Pietists: A Reader is recommended for people interested in Christian history in general, and in the history behind Lordship Salvation in particular.
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society