Like so many other efforts at reforming life in Protestant churches, Pietism and Methodism were right in their opposition to dead orthodoxy. Originally their intention was only to arouse a sleeping Christianity; they wished not to bring about a change in the confession of the Reformation but only to apply it in life. Yet, out of an understandable reaction, they frequently went too far in this endeavor and swung to another extreme. They, too, gradually shifted the center of gravity from the objective to the subjective work of salvation. In this connection it makes essentially no difference whether one makes salvation dependent on faith and obedience or on faith and experience. In both cases humanity itself steps into the foreground. Even though Pietism and Methodism did not deny the acquisition of salvation by Christ, they did not use this doctrine or relate it in any organic way to the application of salvation. It was, so to speak, dead capital. The official activity of the exalted Christ, the Lord from heaven, was overshadowed by the experiences of the subject. In Pietism, instead of being directed toward Christ, people were directed toward themselves. They had to travel a long road, meet all sorts of demands and conditions, and test themselves by numerous marks of genuineness before they might believe, appropriate Christ, and be assured of their salvation. Methodism indeed tried to bring all this—conversion, faith, assurance—together in one indivisible moment, but it systematized this method, in a most abbreviated way, in the same manner as Pietism. In both there is a failure to appreciate the activity of the Holy Spirit, the preparation of grace, and the connection between creation and re-creation. That is also the reason why in neither of them does the conversion experience lead to a truly developed Christian life. Whether in Pietistic fashion it withdraws from the world or in Methodist style acts aggressively in the world, it is always something separate, something that stands dualistically alongside the natural life, and therefore does not have an organic impact on the family, society, and the state, on science and art. With or without the Salvation Army uniform, Christians are a special sort of people who live not in but outside the world. The Reformation antithesis between sin and grace has more or less made way for the Catholic antithesis between the natural and the supernatural. Puritanism has been exchanged for asceticism. The essence of sanctification now consists in abstaining from ordinary things.
Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: Sin and Salvation in Christ, trans. H. Bolt, J. Vriend (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006), 3.567–68.
“Even though Pietism and Methodism did not deny the acquisition of salvation by Christ, they did not use this doctrine or relate it in any organic way to the application of salvation. It was, so to speak, dead capital. The official activity of the exalted Christ, the Lord from heaven, was overshadowed by the experiences of the subject. In Pietism, instead of being directed toward Christ, people were directed toward themselves.“
This account by Dr. Bavinck sounds strikingly similar to my time at Calvary Chapel. While they would deny their view of salvation by Christ was dead capital, their emphasis on the experiential application of the justified Christian eclipsed justification to the extent the active obedience of Christ was never mentioned as a reality for the believer, and the passive obedience was something only for unbelievers given at an altar call at the end of a service or crusade rally. It was almost like Jesus transitioned from being our Savior to being our guru or life coach sending the Holy Spirit not to testify of Christ’s work for us but to empower us to live a higher victorious life. Seminary’s were intentionally called cemeteries from the pulpit. Doctrine was said to be the letter that killed, while their pep talks about steps to a better experience in all phases of life was Holy Spirit life. The gospel and biblical doctrine often took a back seat to our internal witnesses of direct Holy Spirit revelation or cultural and political experiences relating to end times speculations.
Ironically even while they touted to preach only scripture, verse by verse, precept upon precept, Christ whom the scriptures testify to in his saving offices as prophet, priest and king was never the subject. Us and our experiences were the subject. It seemed as though we were the center of the text not Christ. This pietistic doctrine in a sense dethroned the Savior and deified us as we grew and experienced our best friend coach Jesus.