I am currently finishing a book called “Jesus, Made in America.” In this book Stephen J. Nichols traces Jesus in American culture. He shows how Jesus has been shaped by our cultural sensibilities throughout American history. It is a fascinating read.
I am not going to regurgitate the book for you, but I do want to expound on one key point. Nichols points out that the evangelical church champions personal pietism. What is pietism?
Simply put, this strand of pietism places all emphasis on personal experience, champions devotion, focuses on practice- and often times ignores doctrine.
When doctrine is ignored pietism is extremely dangerous. Actually, in my opinion pietism by itself- is anti-gospel.
“Pietism leads us to say that imitating Christ is far better than having a right set of beliefs about who Christ is. Pietism leads to viewing Christ primarily from the lens of personal experience rather than the lenses of Gospel pericopies or of theological formulations.”
This is almost humorous. I don’t know how someone can even imitate Christ unless they have a right set of beliefs of who He actually is? Plus, the main aim of the Christian life is not to imitate Christ, but to trust in Christ. My fear is that too many Christians trust in themselves, and even attempt to justify themselves by their “imitation of Christ.”
The gospel is at stake.
The sad thing is that many contemporary Evangelical Christians lean more on their devotion to Christ, rather than Christ Himself. Catch the subtle nuance here- it’s huge.
Leaning on your “devotion to Christ” tells you that your Christian identity and self-worth are based on how hard you work, or how moral you are. This is not the Gospel. This is when personal pietism becomes a deadly idol.