Hans Schneider (tr. Gerald T. Macdonald), German Radical Pietism--Revitalization: Explorations in World Christian Movements; Pietist and Wesleyan Studies, No. 22.
To start with a comment from the last chapter in the book under review: The theology and history of piety in the seventeenth century needs to be better illuminated ... because the seventeenth century is still a somewhat dark age historiographically speaking. As a mediator and link between the Reformation and Pietism, a proper understanding of the seventeenth century is a requisite precondition for understanding the phenomenon of Pietism (202). This comment by the outstanding contemporary researcher on Pietism is indicative of a book in which the writer does not hide the fact that he presents research in process and that there are many more questions to be solved in order to understand the complexity of Radical Pietism.
Schneider's book offers, for the first time for an English-speaking readership, insights into his far-reaching research on the subject. The translation by Macdonald can only be applauded for its readability. The research had until now only been published in German, e.g. in the two volume Geschichte des Pietismus.
German Radical Pietism, a term which Schneider reserves only for groups awakened through Spener, Undereyk or their pupils (4), introduces the reader not merely to his research, but shares insights into important German historical work on Pietism from the late twentieth century. The book takes one to a time and context where forms of communal Christian living were established. However, these are of great importance through to the present. What is presented here is more than merely historiographic, but creates a link to the roots of, for example, many US American Christian movements and denominations and Pentecostalism. Radical Pietism is, very much like modern new Christian Movements, the expression of one movement, stemming from the common root with the established Reformation churches, with which it is closely interwoven.
Proof of this argument are leaders like Arnold, Horch, Mel, Dippel, Petersen and others, who contributed substantially with their theological writings to the spread of radical thinking, influencing Pietism in the churches, through the interaction of members of their communities with the church. First of all these leaders were concerned with reforming the lives and behaviour of Christians. They had more an existential, less a dogmatic, perspective of Christianity--a feature still valid in modern new Christian movements. Combined as it was with other disagreements, it led to calls for separation giving rise to Radical Pietism. However, one interesting aspect of the book is how Schneider repeatedly shows the interconnection between church Pietism and radical Pietism, expressed by radicals who went too and fro between groups and church (62;185; 204). Thus there appears in the early 17th century a church wing within Radical Pietism and a Pietist wing within the churches. Schneider comments that German Pietism both church and radical, is an astonishingly coherent entity, demands an explanation. In what, exactly, is the shared identity grounded? At this stage in the research, a satisfactory explanation is not yet possible. (189)
Students of theology will have come across the phenomenon of Pietism, but often the socio-political context, the variety of lines, different shapes and forms of communities, and thus its complexity, is bypassed. Here Schneider's book is of great help. His contextual approach illuminates the local history of Christianity for many areas in Germany. It shows that Pietism was not merely Christianity for the socially deprived, but that academics and nobility played a vital role in its furtherance (9,205f). The radicals would not have survived if not for territorial nobility who by-passed the Peace of Westphalia, providing groups considered sects shelter in their territories (61). For many of these territories it can still be observed that congregations have a distinct self-understanding over against church authorities (Rhineland, Hessen, Saxonia). The times of emerging radical Pietism were times of existential fear and eschatological expectations, allowing chiliastic, apocalyptic and milleniarist expressions of faith (6-15, 19, 22f). Pietism up till then had been part of an inner church striving of the faithful looking for a reform of practised piety, for true Christianity. The socio-political context of the 17th and 18th centuries, supporting Mysticism, Prophecy, Apocatastasis and Milleniarism, all in search of true Christianity, turned this desire into a pluriform movement, separating itself from "Babylon" in the face of the imminent return of Christ. This is where Radical Pietism with its great complexity was born.
It was a fascinating period which is presented with substantial resource material, in a vast and interesting set of footnotes and a definitive bibliography. Thus equipped, the reader is invited on a puzzling trip through a world little known. In great detail different expressions, such as Separatists, Inspirationists, Itinerant Preachers and Prophetic Loners, as well as the Schwarzenau Brethren, Schwenckfelder are described. The book helps one to understand movements such as Philadelphia stemming from Britain, a variety of Divergent Movements (Society of Mother Eva [Buttlar'sche Rotte]) and the New Baptists of Schwarzenau (Dunkers). It is interesting to learn how much Spener and Undereyck and Bohme influenced leading representatives of Radical Pietism like Arnold and Petersen, whose influence in the movements lasted far beyond their immediate context of living and writing. The nucleus consisted of regular conventicles, with prayer, singing, Bible reading, and exegesis, each of which was interrupted if a prophet was seized "by inspiration", (122) adding that the presumably most important socio-political contribution of radical Pietism was its demand for religious, social and literary tolerance (207).
German Radical Pietism is to be recommended to all interested in the history of modern forms of Christianity--Free Churches, Pentecostalism, et al. It is important for congregations to learn about a vital aspect of church tradition. Schneider shows how easily Christians like the Radical Pietists were misunderstood due to a lack of willingness for interaction and listening, be it by the church, whose dogma Radicals had cast off, or politics who needed to juxtapose Radical (sectarian, anarchic) Pietism with conservative (church law abiding) Pietism. Here Schneider has a concluding, though not the sole, question on which he leaves the reader to meditate: Were radical Pietists first and foremost social nonconformists and stormers of the institutional church, not only challenging ecclesiastical institutions but also posing a threat to the Protestant faith itself?.
Gert Ruppell, a former staff member of the World Council of Churches, presently holds a teaching position in ecumenical theology at the University of Bielefeld, Germany
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|Publication:||The Ecumenical Review|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2008|
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