Truth Versus Pietism

One of my top ten books of all time is Franky Schaeffer’s, Sham Pearls for Real Swine. The title of the book is a phrase Winston Churchill coined in reference to the British public school he attended, but Schaeffer applies it to much of the teaching in the church concerning the arts. Once in a while you stumble upon a book that completely changes your paradigm, and this is one of them. My favorite chapter is entitled, “Truth Versus Pietism”. We have been studying its message for the last few Sundays.

The basic idea of the chapter is pretty simple. It compares two traditions of thought in the church, that is, two ways to think about and understand reality. A truth paradigm sees reality as an integrated whole, while a pietism paradigm divides reality into two realms, physical and spiritual (secular and sacred). We’re influenced in various degrees by these two traditions and they shape our Christian theology, practice and approach in the world. (His use of the word “pietism” is not referring to the historical Pietist movements of Jacob Spencer, August Hermann Francke or Count Zinzendorf, but refers to a way of thinking and feeling.)

These two paradigms dramatically affect how we live as Christians. Since a truth paradigm sees reality as an integrated whole, the aim of a Christian who embraces this tradition is to constantly seek to discover truth and align his life with reality. This kind of Christian is honest and teachable. He is hungry for the truth and therefore studies and learns whenever he can. He isn’t concerned about whether he looks spiritual or feels spiritual, he actually wants to be spiritual by being faithful to reality. He is willing to change his opinions and behavior when he discovers something to be true.

Christians caught up in a pietism paradigm, however, constantly look inward searching for correct motivation and right-thinking, spiritual feelings. They “regard life as a moralistic quest for spiritual experience.” Fundamentally, they see life divided into compartments, some spiritual and others not. This leads them to favor experiences and activities that provide “spiritual” feelings and appearances of spirituality over the arts, sciences, humanities and the “hard edges of reality”, including real people and problems. The pietistic Christian looks forward to heaven but creates a “sentimental plastic hell” on earth. The truth oriented Christian lives boldly, honestly and engages life fruitfully, knowing that “God is the Lord of all reality”.

Sham Pearls for Real Swine is not a new book, but it still has something to say to us today. I hope to explore some of the implications of it in my next few posts.

Note: The “Dummies” book is fake 🙂