Thursday, October 19, 2006

"Pietism & Pragmatism: The Demonization of the Intellect" Part II.

Pietism, itself, is not wrong or sinful. Christianity is a faith of both heart and head; however, when balance is lost all manners of sin are crouching at the door. Such is the case with pietism in the extreme. One of the first dangers of this type of pietism is a polarization of truth. Pietism out of balance gives way to a false antagonism between heart and mind, intellect and emotion, learning and experience. There is no true incompatibility between these concepts. The problem occurs when they are followed outside of their appropriate order.

Similar to the marital relationship as explained by the Apostle Paul in Ephesians chapter five, there is a hierarchical relationship between these concepts. The heart must be informed by the mind. "Heart" in this context is often misdefined and a false dichotomy is set up between it and the mind. Biblically, the "heart" is the center of man’s understanding not his sentiment. "Heart vs. mind," therefore, is actually an oxymoron. Even if one persists in seeing the heart in a sentimental fashion, it must be guided by the mind in order to faithfully perform its function. In order to faithfully love God, one must know who He is. A poor understanding of who God is will lead to loving an idol and all types of heresy. The result of acting solely on emotion without trying them in the light of intellectual understanding is much the same. Who among us has not experienced embarrassment and /or pain by acting on uninformed emotion. Choosing to allow experiences to shape our concept of God even when those experiences blatantly contradict what Scripture teaches is fatal to our walk with the God of Scripture.

Pietism can also be dangerous because it is inherently introverted. It emphasizes inwardness, personal bliss and private salvation oftentimes at the expense of being the salt and light Scripture calls us to be. Seeking personal experiences with God, the pietist often retreats to Church rather than engaging in the spiritual warfare that Christians are automatically drafted into upon conversion. The danger of becoming ineffectual is always present where unbalanced pietism reigns. Having the "gifts of the Spirit" reduces to spiritual pride rather than edifying the body of Christ. Worshiping worship rather than worshiping God as He directs becomes the order of the day. The shedding of tears and relief of guilt are mistaken for true repentance and conversion.

One experience craves another; so church now becomes entertainment. Preachers become emcees and disciplined instruction in the Word of God is regarded as dead and without the "spirit." Pietism out of balance demands signs and wonders. If no one is "slain in the spirit" you didn’t have church. If nobody is healed, or if nobody’s debts are paid off the "spirit" was not "high" in your service. There is a constant craving for something new or some demonstration of God. Evidently, Jesus’ repeated rebuke that an "evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign"(Matt 12:39)is completely forgotten.

Unscrupulous preachers who provide these thrills ingratiate themselves to the piety- driven Christian. Consider the Svengali-like hold that the charismatic preacher, with his engaging personality and perceived genuineness, can have on the thrill-seeker. To the young man and woman he becomes a "spiritual-father." To the single woman, becomes an object of desire. To the married woman, he becomes the measuring-stick for her husband. To the older man, he becomes hero, the Michael Jordan of churchianity. Soon he can do no wrong and no matter how much he twists and distorts Scripture, he becomes the "Jesus that they see."

In sum, the Christian mind and thinking Christianly have been sacrificed on the altar of emotion and experience. Placing too great a premium on experience and emotion has the effect of nullifying Scripture and muting the believer’s witness to a sin-sick world. Failing to uphold the book we claim to hold so dear, portrays us as credulous dupes.

Though we must retain an ardent and unrelenting love for our Lord, that love is less than genuine if it is not rooted in an eternally growing understanding of the God who has chosen to reveal Himself in the Bible. "In all your getting, get understanding"(Proverbs 4:7bNKJV).


B. L. B. B!

(Be Like the Bereans, Baby!)

Stay tuned for Part 3, next week! Information for this article was obtained from the following: "Christian Apologetics"(1976) and "Systematic Theology"(2002) by Dr. Norman Geisler, and "Fit Bodies, Fat Minds"(1994) by Os Guinness.