“Puritanism is the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.” That’s the introductory quote that sets the stage for a book that I just finished reading entitled, “Worldly Saints: The Puritans as They Really Were”. It is a book that I have been reading for my own project on holiness as an essential component of genuine revival. Well this morning, as I wrapped up reading that book, I find that I have a new appreciation for the Puritans as a group of people that laid the groundwork for a vast majority of our core practices and beliefs as Protestant evangelicals today*. Sure there are extreme examples of the application of their beliefs/practices. But what I believe Leland Ryken does in this book is to peel back the layers of harsh criticism against the Puritans in order to help the reader see the Puritans for their core beliefs and teachings. The result is a work that exposes the best practices of the Puritans which can offer us both a challenge to our application personally and corporately as churches.
One of the recurring themes throughout Ryken’s book is this: Puritans viewed all of life as God’s. Given that fact, as Ryken addressed work, marriage, money, family, church, education, and social action – all of it fell under ONE category. All of life was God’s. Contrast that to today where there is a real sense of compartmentalization when it comes to faith and life, the Puritans simply did not see this division. Instead, “Puritanism had as one of its main effects restoring a sense of wholeness to life” (p. 208). So all of life was impacted by faith!
Several chapters that I found very applicable to the church today were Ryken’s observations on Preaching and the Bible. What I found interesting is that in both chapters, I am seeing in many evangelical circles a return to these foundational approaches to both (preaching with the Bible as the sole authoritative subject matter and application as its end). Preaching is once again being centered on the gospel and its practical implications for our life. God’s Word is once again being shared as the one true authority for our lives. And so what were core Puritan teachings are once again surfacing as core evangelical teachings. That is a wonderful truth to acknowledge and a challenge for those of us who preach several times a week!
In the closing paragraph of the book, Ryken wrote, “We live in a moment in history when evangelical Protestants are looking for ‘roots’. One of the foibles that some would foist on them is that only traditions from the past to which they can return are the Catholic and Angl0-Catholic traditions. Puritans tend to be strangers to what is best in their own tradition. Puritanism can give us a place to stand.”
The Puritans “as they really were” were God-fearing, Bible believing, life impacted Christ followers who truly believed in the call to holiness in every aspect of their lives. I pray that we will catch a glimpse of that call once again today.
Leland Ryken, Worldly Saints: The Puritans as they really were. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986.
*Please note that I am not suggesting that the Protestant denominations are all linked to the Puritans in the way of owing our foundational work to them. I am not suggesting that they laid the groundwork for Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, etc work here in the United States. Instead, what I am suggesting is that where there is common ground such as the authority of Scripture, the necessary application of Scripture for daily life, the impact of Scripture on the family, the role of Scripture alone as the text for the Pastor, etc…in these examples and others, the Puritans can be viewed as important c0-laborers in the advance of a radically new church and approach to faith. So while the Puritan experiment failed in taking hold as a lasting movement in the new colonies, there are aspects of their core teachings in each of the evangelical denominations that remained and flourished even to today.