THE CRISIS OF PIETY, by Donald G. Bloesch; Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1968; 168 pp., $3.50.
Aware of the decline in personal piety, the author of this book makes a plea for a return to the devotional life. He himself states the need for this book on p. 15:
What is needed today is a renewal of devotion to the living Saviour, Jesus Christ. Such renewal will take the form of a spiritual reformation that involves the very structure and life of the church. It will take the form of a deepening concern for prayer and meditation. It will also manifest itself in an awakened interest in the sacraments, particularly the Blessed Sacrament of Holy Communion. Surely a renewed devotion to Jesus Christ will also entail a passionate concern for the outcasts and unfortunates in our world, those who have been made homeless by war and famine, the victims of racial apartheid, and the diseased and forsaken.
There are several excellent features about this book which make it worth our study. Especially helpful is the author’s discussion of the history of mysticism—a subject which quite naturally comes up in a book of this nature. The author makes a plea for a biblical mysticism as the essence of true piety and does a good service in warning against the evils of a false mysticism which elevates emotions or feeling or subjective experience to a position of authority higher than that of the Scriptures. He emphasizes aright the proper relation between justification and sanctification as important for a piety which is rooted in the fear of God. His assertion that personal piety, especially in these times of moral decay, involves self discipline and spiritual exercises is very much to the point and worthy of consideration.
But there are some aspects of the book with which we cannot agree. For one thing, in seeking a theology upon which personal piety can be based, the author rejects the infallible inspiration of the Scriptures. One wonders very seriously whether this does not open the door to a false mysticism after all.
Secondly, there is a noticeable lack of rooting true piety in the knowledge of God as He has revealed Himself in Christ and as we have the infallible record of that revelation in Scripture. After all, we must admit the true piety stems from and grows in proportion to the knowledge of the truth.
Thirdly, piety is discussed in terms of making a greater impact on the world in which we live. Although the author is intent on keeping the spiritual and the secular separate, and criticizes modern theology for its failure to do this, nevertheless he does not approach the problem from the viewpoint of sovereign predestination and the limited atonement of Christ. This error (probably fundamental in much conservative thinking) vitiates his whole approach and leads in the direction of a social gospel.
Finally, I was disappointed in that the author did not make an effort to discuss and criticize the many false ideas of mysticism so prevalent in the Church today which manifest themselves in tongue speaking, a certain degrading of the importance of the church institute, etc.
While the criticisms we offer are, in our opinion, basic, the book can be read with profit.