Welcome to the Conversation

by Mark Safstrom

Whether this is the first time you have opened the pages of Pietisten or you have been a faithful reader from the beginning, it is likely you are curious about a number of things regarding our journal. A few of the encouraging comments we have received make it clear that there is a great deal of interest in not only the journal itself, but in the broad tradition that we represent and seek to explore, namely Pietism.

“What is Pietism?” is in fact one of the questions that could be on your lips, and one which we have fielded more than once in the past months. While this topic is broad and defies simple definition, the good news is that in this journal and in its online archive you will find a great deal of resources at your disposal for answering this and many related questions. The articles we have gathered into this issue present some helpful insights into the various movements within Lutheranism that produced not only this journal, but also a “congenial flock” of church institutions who share much common history, as well as an enduring interest in the same issues of faith. Our journal’s mission is to perpetuate a conversation, one that is ecumenical in nature and one that promotes a sympathetic interest in the success of each other’s congregations, institutions and fellowships, and in so doing, the borderless cause of Christ and his church.

While we hope to answer some of your questions, we also know that our job is not to tell you how to think, to act, or to worship. The board of editors could just as well be referred to as a “board of gatherers,” as our role is simply to elicit articles and news from our readers and from people we think can help us understand our heritage better. This is not to say that we, like much of the culture around us, have abandoned the possibility that truth can be found. Quite the contrary. We ask the question, “What is truth?” not with the cynicism of Pontius Pilate, doubting that truth can be found, but rather with the earnestness of our early editor, P.P. Waldenström, who, in searching the holy scriptures in 1872 found himself asking the question, “Where is it written?” as well the companion questions, “Why was it written?,” “For whom was it written?” and so on. Lest this be confused with a sort of literal fundamentalism, we would be good to remind ourselves that in the rigid confessional orthodoxy of the age in which he lived, such questions were unheard of and even radical. What is more, they gave birth to a whirlwind of spiritual life and activity, a conversation that traveled across steamships to North America and even the remote villages of Alaska, to China and the Congo, and which still propels this journal and its proud name into a third century.

We invite you to join this conversation. The conversation has guidelines, which you will find in our “premises,” as well as centuries of tried and true Pietist strategies for dealing with conflict in the search for the truth. We refer you to the “Pia Desideria” by Spener, the unity-in-diversity principle of Zinzendorf and the Moravians, and even “Squire Adamson” by Waldenström as some starting points for exploring a philosophy of truth-seeking that is tempered by grace and love. Pietisten is not a place for the grinding of axes, for reckless iconoclasm, ad hominem attacks, or assertions of holiness. It is a place for walking with your neighbors in humility, finding spiritual nurture and searching for sincere expressions of what faith in the 21st century can be when faith is at its best. For new and old readers alike, I encourage you to catch up on where this conversation has been over the last few decades by reading through our archives that you can find online at www.pietisten.org.

Within this issue, there are a number of wonderful articles that await you. I name only a few. The front-page article celebrates the successful publication of a new book on Pietism by one of our own, Michelle Clifton-Soderstrom. This interview appears as the book’s epilogue, in which she relates the general heritage of Pietism to her own denomination, the Evangelical Covenant Church. We heartily congratulate her for this important accomplishment and thank Wipf & Stock publishers for allowing us to reprint the interview.

2010 is a year of celebration, as you will learn in the article by Tom Tredway. It was in 1860 that Scandinavian immigrants founded the Augustana Lutheran Synod, and then in 1885 that some of this same population brazenly burst out of the Augustana fold to produce yet another church, the Evangelical Covenant. Both institutions will celebrate the milestones of 150 and 125 years, respectively, and we encourage you to find ways to participate. Among the events that are planned, we remind you that Pietisten representatives will be at the following. Come find us!

June 10-13, 2010, Rock Island, Ill. — “Gathering VII” of the Augustana Heritage Association, at Augustana College

June 24-27, 2010, Saint Paul, Minn. — the 125th Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Covenant Church, at the Saint Paul River Center.

November 5-6, 2010, Chicago, Ill. — A joint conference for the 150th Anniversary of the Augustana Lutheran Synod and 125th of the Evangelical Covenant Church, at North Park University.

Regarding the question, “What is Pietism?,” we fortunately have another of our early editors to consult on this matter, Carl Olof Rosenius. His article on Pietism was originally published in 1842, the inaugural year of Pietisten. I hope this will aid your exploration of Pietism.

Finally, the articles by Barbara Nordlund and Dale Lusk remind us that our faith is not just an exercise in intellectual conversation, but also calls us to worldly action and relationships, across cultural and national boundaries.

Welcome to the conversation. Guds frid — God’s peace.

Mark Safstrom is Chief Editor of Pietisten, and an assistant professor of Scandinavian Studies at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois.

See all articles by Mark Safstrom