Monday, May 9, 2022

Today on the Almanac, Dan is back and heads to the mailbag.

*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***

It is the 9th of May 2022. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at; I’m Dan van Voorhis.

A longtime listener of this show and my previous work- the man known as Badger- has asked me a question about Johann Arndt.

He read my book “a Prophet of Interior Lutheranism” and thought- why haven’t you told the story on this show of the man you have literally written the book on.

The first thing that entered my mind (having seen Encanto and having my youngest listen to songs from it on repeat), I thought, “we don’t talk about Johann.” Or at least, I don’t. But I wasn’t sure why.

Let’s break it down.

  1. Fatigue. I spent so much time with him that I figure I’ve learned what can be known and hate unnecessary repetition.
  1. My doctoral supervisor told me that it was likely that the work I did for my Ph.D. would be some of my weakest work- early attempts should be of lesser quality if you are improving- so….
  1. He is less interesting than most- at least on the surface. Seriously- can I do another one? Mother Maria of Paris or Lonnie Frisbee or Sister Aimee…

But I wonder about my growth as a historian and a bit of shame over who I used to be…. Nothing huge- but, like with academic work- if you’re getting better over time, you might expect your earlier work to suffer from the excesses of youth and perhaps zeal.

But, as you might expect, there is something personal here: Johann has won me over over time. I was approaching his work- even as a supposedly dispassionate graduate student (haha), I wanted to protect a certain kind of scholastic reformer- in this case, scholastic Lutherans.

The question- on its face that I was tasked with answering was: who was Johann Arndt, and was he responsible for Pietism (the perceived enemy of a kind of scholastic Lutheran)?

If you don’t know what Pietism is- a thumbnail definition could be: it was the affective and irenic side of the Reformation. Affective and irenic groups can be liable for over-emphasizing emotions and disregarding boundaries- so…. But- being emotional and peace-seeking well… those things are also profoundly Christian.

And if Arndt was the founder of Pietism- and if I didn’t like Pietism, I shouldn’t like Arndt. But I did. He’s boring, but through his correspondence and his collected works, I came to say something about him that has hopefully helped push the research forward.

But I’ve done it again- I’ve buried the lede. Here is a brief sketch of the Lutheran pastor and author: Johann Arndt.

1555 to 1621. Born a decade after Luther died, he died three years into the 30 Years' War. That War signifies a kind of end of the Reformation- so Arndt is in that pivotal generation as the new followers of Reformers had to grow up and establish churches and doctrines and all the hard stuff the early church did.

His primary work was a 6 volume devotional called “True Christianity”- 6 chapters, but they were published over several years in the early 1600s.

he rubbed folks the wrong way in three primary ways:

  1. He called for discipleship and moral seriousness that could come off as legalistic. His descriptions of the Christian life could become prescriptions, and the latter Lutheran reformation was especially wary of anyone they saw us heading towards legalism.
  1. He was not only a pastor but a pharmacist and something of a chemist. His fascination with alchemy tied him to esoteric authors. His interpretations of the natural world mirroring the soul sounded like medieval mystics.
  1. He liked the Medieval mystics and pointed out, correctly, I might add, that this is part of what got a young Luther going. Young Luther liked some mystics, and Arndt made this point which would not go over well with his more scholastic-minded Lutheran brethren.

My dissertation and book tried to argue that Arndt was a self-conscious Lutheran- but of a style more befitting the early Lutheran reformation.

In the years of conspiracy and consolidation after Luther’s death, it seems to have been a wrong time to suggest new interpretations than the certified Lutheran God Talkers in their University chairs.

But, Pietism is best understood theologically and sociologically- you need “conventicles” (like small groups within churches). This comes decades after Arndt with a man named Philip Jakob Spener, inspired by Arndt’s work. Yada yada, the story goes on….

The Last Word for today comes from Psalm 100:

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.

Worship the Lord with gladness;
 come before him with joyful songs.

Know that the Lord is God.
 It is he who made us, and we are his;
 we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving
 and his courts with praise;
 give thanks to him and praise his name.

For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
 his faithfulness continues through all generations.

This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 9th of May 2022, brought to you by 1517 at

The show is produced by a man that was once excited about Pietism until he learned it had nothing to do with pies… he is Christopher Gillespie.

The show is written and read by a man who asks- Arndt you glad you didn’t buy my Arndt book as I just gave you the whole argument here? I’m Dan van Voorhis.

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.

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