April 1, 2006

IF YOU KNOW MAN TO BE FALLEN HOW CAN YOU NOT FIND HIS PRETENSIONS AMUSING?:

Physicians of the Soul: J. I. Packer discusses the English Puritans, their quest for holiness, and why they are still worth remembering. (Christian History, Winter 2006)

What false stereotypes do people have about the Puritans?

H. L. Mencken once said, "Puritanism is the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy." That is nonsense. The Puritans were in fact pleasant people, cheerful people. Many of them had a teasing wit and the capacity to laugh and make others laugh. It's not the case, either, that all of them dressed in black and made themselves stand out as if they were going to a funeral. John Owen, when he was Oxford's vice-chancellor, was much criticized for being a natty dresser!

How were the Puritans innovative?

They introduced the Christian Sabbath to England. They also introduced the Christian family to England, in the sense that they thoroughly worked out the responsibilities of father and mother inside the home, the pattern for family prayers twice a day, how everybody should be taught the Bible and taught to pray on their own, both adults and kids. Thus they took the idea of the godly home further than it had ever been taken before.

They also devised a style of preaching that England had never experienced before. It was expository, but it was plain and searching, whereas the preaching of Anglican divines was more often than not a way of showing off their learning. Here is what the Puritans did best—preaching the Bible, preaching the gospel.

What aspects of the modern world or modern Christianity have their roots in the Puritan movement?

Ever since the Puritan era ended, people in the West have been trying to ensure that we don't slip back into anything that would recall the Puritans. But the idea of the Christian family as American evangelicals maintain it in some form of family religion, family prayers and the responsibility of the father as the spiritual leader—this was a Puritan ideal. Also, the Western ideal, on both sides of the Atlantic, of integrity in public life is something which the Puritans established and which we still hope for, because we know it's right. When moral lapses take place, we think it scandalous. That is a Puritan reaction.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 1, 2006 6:25 AM
Comments

Gone, gone with the wind.

And how could it not have been so?

Bereft of the magisterium, of the rock by which the Church teaches, governs and sanctifies, headless congregations shop for easy pastors who tell them what they want to hear.

Thus the laudable disciplines of what we are calling Puritanism dry up and blow away, and faith, which was supposed to be the foundation of the whole thing, soon follows.

We have long discussed how Islam failed for want of institutions to guide change, thereby not changing. Likewise failure may come about by want of these same institutions when unguided change results in evaporation.

Posted by: Lou Gots at April 1, 2006 11:58 AM

It's not the case, either, that all of them dressed in black and made themselves stand out as if they were going to a funeral. John Owen, when he was Oxford's vice-chancellor, was much criticized for being a natty dresser!

Of course, that could mean he dressed in dark grey....

Posted by: PapayaSF at April 1, 2006 7:58 PM

Nah, it was the [16]60's, they wore tie-dye shirts! Seriously, I thought that the myths Parker discusses were debunked years ago.

Posted by: Dave W at April 1, 2006 11:56 PM

Actually, puritainism has always been cast as the opponent of Sexual freedom, which is iminical to the godly home that the puritains set themselves to establish. HOwever, they can't say that, so they imply that becoming "puritan" is like becoming Amish: a commitment to giving up modern technology along with modern morality. Nothing of the sort is true, of course, as if the puritans wouldn't buy Ipods or computers: They would. They'd celebrate the fact that they could choose to put decent stuff on it rather than take the trash shoveled over the airwaves that was chosen by another.

Posted by: Ptah at April 2, 2006 2:17 PM
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