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Can Pietism Change the World? Reconsidering Hegel's Tutelage of 'Faith'

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image of Ecclesiology

The legacy of the ecclesial renewal movement known as Pietism is debated on questions of how it envisions the church's relation to the world. On the one hand, there are denominations today that invoke the legacy of Pietism as a resource in constructing a missional identity and a clear ethic of social engagement and transformation. On the other hand, there are critics, such as Karl Barth, who register Pietism as a phenomenon that fosters individualism rather than social-mindedness. Barth blames Pietism's inward concept of authority. This essay is an attempt to temper the claims of such critics through a close reading of the analysis of the 'faith' consciousness found in G.W.F. Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit. In contrast to Barth, Hegel offers a reading of Pietism's inward concept of authority as forming dissatisfied social agents, rather than atomistic individuals fundamentally alienated from one another. On Hegel's account, the Pietist experiences an essential or spiritual belonging to the actual social world, yet she is continually dissatisfied with the external actualization of this spiritual relationship. Thus, Hegel provides a way for Pietist traditions to conceptually integrate the emphasis on inward experience with a clear ethic of social participation and responsible engagement.


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