A Call to Christian Character-Toward a Recovery of Biblical Piety–Book Review

This book, published in 1970 and edited by Bruce Shelley, is a series of essays by professors at Conservative Baptist Seminary.  Piety is hard to pin down, and I found it helpful and interesting to note the different definitions given by some of the authors:

“(Genuine piety is) the living fulfillment of that summons of God reported in Leviticus 11:44-45, ‘Ye shall be holy for I am holy.'” Earl S. Kalland


“…piety is the performance of duty with delight…action in harmony with inner convictions forged by the spirit and the teaching of the divine Word.”  Joseph Edwards


“The essence of piety is to be like God, to do as He says and to love doing it.”  Robert Alden


“….piety is love in action.” Donald Burdick


“Biblical piety is devotion, not to an institution or cause but to a person, Jesus Christ. .. love for Christ (is) its motive and love for men and society is (its) proof” Ralph Keiper


“(piety is) … Anything and everything a believer feels and says and does as a result of the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit within his life.”  Bruce Shelley

Some practices/marks of piety mentioned included:  prayer, study of God’s word, obedience to the leadership of the Holy Spirit, trusting God in every issue, steadfastness, eagerness to be taught Biblical truth.

Verdict:  Well done and easy to understand. A good read for Christians who want to gain a better understanding of piety and how to live an authentically pious life.


What is Piety?

What is piety, really?  One dictionary defines it as the quality of being religious or reverent.  My Bible dictionary calls it “holy living.”  Various Bible translations identify it with “the fear of the Lord” or “righteousness.”  It’s not a word we use much anymore.  In fact, it’s gotten a rather bad name because it’s so much easier to recognize false piety (in other words, hypocrisy) than true piety.  Often we think of  truly pious people as “goody-goodies,” prudes, or those who are “so heavenly minded, they’re of no earthly use.”  Or maybe we regard piety as an unrealistic goal for most of us — something a few great saints might possess, but not attainable for most of us.  Maybe we don’t even want to try to be pious because in our culture, it would set us apart as strange or different.

Here’s what Philip Spener, a German Lutheran theologian who has been dubbed ‘the Father of Pietism’ has to say:

“Students should unceasingly have it impressed upon them that holy life is not of less consequence than diligence and study, indeed that study without piety is worthless….whoever grows in learning and declines in morals is on the decrease rather than the increase … everything must be directed to the practice of faith and life.”

or as James, the brother of Christ puts it:

“For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also” James 2:26

Christian study, worship and fellowship should lead to a life that is increasingly pious, or holy.  Lutherans (and I’m sure lots of others) call this process sanctification, and although we’re never finished,  it’s not a pie-in-the-sky goal either.  Piety is what the Christian life is all about.  I look forward to exploring it further with our authors and readers this month.