MEMBERS: Leaving Pietism (Transcript)

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Jimmy Buehler: Welcome to the members’ portion of the podcast. This is where we get to let our hair down and discuss a little bit more openly some of the topics that we discuss here on the show. We’re talking about the whole idea of pietism or leaving pietism. If you tuned into the regular portion of the podcast, you heard me talk about a tool analogy. The analogy here is that when I learned to use a hammer correctly, you realize that it does the work itself. It’s the same in the Christian life that when you trust in the means that God provides and you trust His system and His ways of doing things, it actually works a lot better.

Before we get there, the other analogy I want to talk about now is the same idea. We see this a lot in the Facebook group, and this isn’t to put down anybody in the Facebook group—we love the conversations and the questions that you ask—and we’ve all done the same thing, that often when you get awakened to this this idea of pietism where you all of a sudden become a hammer and then everything becomes a nail. The question often becomes, “Is this pietism?”

Jon Moffitt: Cage stage pietism.

Jimmy Buehler: You see somebody praying before a meal—that’s pietism. Or you hear somebody talking about getting a new devotion book—that’s pietism. You overshoot the moon, so to speak, and then what once was just normal, now everything is pietism. I think it’d be helpful for us to discuss that a little bit that we don’t want people to hear what we’re not saying.

I’ll let you guys talk about that. The big question is: “I’m stuck in pietism. What can I expect? Now what?”

Justin Perdue: To Jimmy’s point, it is normal. We have to acknowledge this about human nature: we are pendulum swingers. When our eyes are opened to things that are true and good, we tend to swing way out on that pendulum and become somewhat extreme. Even if what we’re clinging to is true, we become extreme in our understanding and application of it. We want to guard against that. That really is what we are describing when we use that phrase “cage stage”. You have been shown something. In one sense, you’re indignant about the fact that you weren’t shown it before, that you’ve been in bondage, and now you’ve been set free. You legitimately are concerned that others would be shown this. Out of love for other people, you think, “We need to make this clear and we need to blow up all that other kind of bad thinking.”

In our zeal, we overreact and we say things that are less than helpful. We become extreme in our views, to Jimmy’s point, where any kind of talk of obedience is pietism or anything that we might do that appears to be an act of devotion is pietism. You’re like, “How dare you wake up in the morning and have time with your Bible while you drink coffee? Why would you ever do that? You’re clearly a pietist.” We had a conversation a few weeks ago about spiritual disciplines and how unhelpful that language is. I think what we would want to do is just speak biblically where we are in Christ, we have a new identity in Christ, we have a new status, we have been set free, we’re no longer under the Law, we’re under grace, and all of those things. Now we are free to pursue obedience in good works. We’re free to love other people—and we’re not doing that from a position or a posture of trying to earn something. We’re not trying to gain favor with God. We’re not trying to escape punishment in any way. But because we have a new identity, because we’re free, because we’re justified, we now get to do these things. We want to fan that flame of pursuing obedience and pursuing love and good works. Don’t wig out about your motivations in it. Trust Christ and do that stuff. On the one hand, it’s very simple.

Jon Moffitt: I want to save a lot of frustration in your marriage. I know for sure in my context to where I made the transition and my poor wife was afraid to even bow her head in case I call her out for pietism. And, it gets old.

Justin Perdue: And that’s very unhelpful.

Jon Moffitt: It is. I understand there’s a desire to free people, just like Calvinism feels so freeing and it just exposes you to the awesomeness of God. Everybody wants to say, “Hey, come check out this movie. It’s going to blow your mind.” Pietism is kind of that, “Hey, can you please let me turn the light on? You have no idea what you’re sitting in.” So you come in with a spotlight and you just shine it right in their face and say, “See? See?” They’re going, “No, I don’t see anything except for your stupid light in my eyes. I appreciate you taking it off.” It becomes offensive because you’re not being patient. You’re not being kind. You sound like a jerk. “I’m trying to do what’s right and you’re over here making me feel like an idiot. You’re making me feel like I’m ignorant as if I don’t even know anything.” The hardest thing for most people is what they have been taught. I can remember my mom telling me I had sent her some things to read and she threw it across the room because she was basically saying, “You’re telling me everything I’ve been taught my entire life is wrong.” And that is hard to stomach, let me tell you.

Jimmy Buehler: Here’s the thing: there are millions of well-intentioned Christians. There’s not a Christian that I know that tries to oppress people with their theological framework knowingly to manipulate and control. Perhaps there’s a few.

Justin Perdue: We would do well to assume good motivations in other people.

Jimmy Buehler: Exactly. Give your brother the benefit of the doubt.

I’m going to go ahead and say this: some of the things that we’re saying… some people just are not ready for it. They’ll say that the Christian life that they are living is working for them. I’m not saying that as a good thing, but I just know when I had my shift—when I learned how a hammer works properly—when I had that shift, the Law had done its work on my heart. I realized my shortcomings. I realized the ways that I could just never live up to the standard of the Christian life that I’d created for myself. It was like the pump was primed for the gospel to come in and finally bring rest to my soul. It’s not going to be like this magical experience. We say leaving pietism and we kind of mean leaving in a way that never ends.

Here in Minnesota, we have this thing called the Minnesota goodbye where you say goodbye at the dinner table, and then you say goodbye at the door, and then you say goodbye at the car. You never stop saying goodbye. Then you text them and say thank you. Then you say goodbye and goodnight. That’s kind of the idea of pietism. I wish I could say like I’ve definitively left, but there are still areas where I have to battle guilt and shame that is not from the Lord, but it’s from an unhelpful system and way of doing things.

Something to encourage the listener in as they think, “I’m stuck in by pietism. Now what?” First of all, take a deep breath. The last thing you want to do is send this episode to your pastor. Don’t do it. Because the only thing that you’re going to do is one, generate an angry email from your pastor to us—and we don’t like that. Two, it’s going to strain some relationships within your church.

Justin Perdue: Or you’re just going to discourage him to no end. Ministry is hard. Even if he’s going to be called to account—I get all that—but there are good and not so good ways of going about having these conversations.

Jon Moffitt: Just to add onto what Jimmy is saying, there’s a famous quote by Calvin that says the human heart is an idol factory. We just constantly are creating these things to worship. I would add to Calvin’s concept that the natural bent of humans is a pietistic bent. We are always wanting to prove ourselves. People ask me all the time, “Jon, I appreciate what you’re saying about Christ, but what am I supposed to do?” We want to be verified. We want to be accepted. It’s hard to live by faith alone, and to assume that God loves you and cannot love you more and cannot save you more than you’ve already been loved and saved. It’s really hard to embrace that because our heart naturally wants to be accepted. “I did this, therefore, God is good with me.” That’s in our nature. This is why, as Jimmy and Justin have been saying, we’re constantly leaving it. To use the illustration of the cleansing of the Word every week, we come and we receive the washing of the Word to refresh us and to cleanse us of the sin. It’s really pride. Pietism is rooted in pride. “I think I can do this,” and the Word washes over you and says, “No, you can’t. It’s been done. Jesus already cried out. It was finished. Stop assuming you’ve got this.” The cleansing of the Word constantly helps you walk away from that pietistic leaning.

Justin Perdue: We’ve danced around this a little bit and even kind of asked this question: where does pietism come from? To your point, Jon, it comes from our fallen human nature. It’s just like what Spurgeon said about Pelagianism: we don’t need to be taught Pelagianism; we get it from our mother’s milk. The same is true of pietism. The legal spirit is hardwired into us and so we don’t need to be taught these things. It’s just natural for us. There’s a reason why pietism is so prevalent and so rampant.

Another word to the listener: as you find yourself in a pietistic context and you’re having conversations with people, and you’re trying in good ways to point this stuff out and set people free, I think you will find this to be true that when you continue to talk about Christ and the nature of the gospel and the fact that his work is finished and all that, you’re going to find that Christians agree with you. They will affirm everything that you’re saying. You internally get worked up and frustrated because you’re thinking, “Yeah, but you don’t really understand what I’m trying to say.” My encouragement to you, friend, would be to just be patient, trust the Lord, and slow drip this stuff with the people that you have deep relationships with over time. There is something that is very winsome about patience and gentleness. You are not going to change somebody’s mind overnight, and you’re not going to change somebody’s mind by just dropping the sledgehammer on them. You’re going to change somebody’s mind by having many, many conversations over the course of time where you continue to, in your own way, blow up their pietistic perspectives by always pointing them to the sufficiency of Christ and always pointing them to the fact that they, because they are still fallen, will never be able to just crush this thing called the Christian life. You do that in a patient, winsome, kind, gentle way over the course of years. I think you’re going to find that to be much more effective than just blowing everybody up and mow everybody down with your confessional theology.

Jimmy Buehler: Time, patience, and gentleness are your best friends.

Jon Moffitt: It’s what Paul calls us towards. He gives you complete rest in Christ, and then—I keep quoting this—Ephesians 4 and Colossians 3 say with all meekness, gentleness, and patience, maintain the bond of peace.

What really bothers me about a lot of guys who are all about truth and all about doctrine and make sure it’s cracked—and I’m for that because true doctrine keeps us free and refreshed—but they miss the meekness and gentleness. They also missed it when it said to speak the truth in love. The goal is to lead people to rest, not to beat them into submission. You want people to enjoy Christ and not think of it as a battleground.

This is what’s changed in my own heart and my own mind: I know that when Jimmy and I first met a few years ago, I was still very combative. I just wanted a fight with everybody. Then I realized that no one was following me towards Christ. They were like, “He’s right, but he’s kind of a jerk.” Resting in Christ should create patience because as you look at Christ’s patience towards you, you now have patience towards each other. Meekness is not weakness, patience is not compromise, and gentleness is not compromise. Somehow, within the Calvingelical world, if you aren’t stepping on people’s toes and poking them in the eye, then you’re a compromiser and you’re all weak on the gospel. I’m sorry but that it’s just not the case.

Justin Perdue: This whole mentality of how we’ve got to be lions for truth becomes very unhelpful sometimes because, to your point, Jon, you cannot compromise on the truth and continue, even from a confessional perspective, to herald Jesus,. But be willing to be shot at, be willing to be misunderstood, and just continue to preach the message and continue to love people. I think we’re going to find that that’s a much more effective approach over the long haul.

I don’t know that I’ve got anything else unique to add on this, unless you guys do. Jimmy, feel free to land the plane home.

Jimmy Buehler: I think it’s important to remember, as I said earlier, time, patience, and gentleness are your best friends as you transition from a pietistic framework of the Christian life. I think also, as Justin just said, you don’t want to be the roaring lion going out and trying to devour everybody.

The other thing is be prepared to have more questions.

Jon Moffitt: You’re going to be questioned constantly.

Jimmy Buehler: Beware of the ditch mentality. You don’t want to be to the left or to the right—just right down the middle and that’s going to take time and patience.

Justin Perdue: I lied about being done. Just very quick: I think if you ever find yourself in a situation where you can’t use biblical words like obedience or love or good works, then that’s clearly a problem. This is a both-and reality. It’s not an either-or thing. I can’t reiterate that enough.

Jon Moffitt: I’ll add this: Christians should obey, but the question is why?

Jimmy Buehler: Exactly. It’s always to the benefit of our neighbor.

I’m sure we’re going to talk about this a little bit more, but we’re going to go ahead and land this plane. Thank you to our listeners. It’s year-end as you guys are listening to this and we cannot do what we do without your generous support. We’re grateful for your love and your kindness and your financial means that bless us, that in turn bless others, as they listen to this podcast.

We thank you for your support. Thank you for tuning into this members’ portion of the podcast. From the bottom of our hearts, to use that cliche, we love you. We thank you for your kindness to us, and we hope that this conversation has blessed you so that you in turn can go and bless others and encourage them to rest in Christ.

Thanks for listening.

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