In Building a Bridge to the 18th Century, author Neil Postman suggests that in many ways we have not so much advanced, as a culture, as we have drifted over the years. Postman seems to believe we would do well to return to and reconnect with our philosophical roots and rebuild upon them.
I might say the same thing Spiritually and Theologically.
Like Postman I look to the early-to-mid 18th Century. But I also go back a little further than he does. I suggest we return some of our attention to the 16th & 17th Centuries too.
In particular I believe we benefit by building a bridge back to the Puritans.
Now I realize, for many people the idea of learning from the Puritans is as appealing as black snow. For some, the very notion seems ugly and distasteful. (The Puritans were… well, puritanical, weren’t they?) But I wish this was not such a prevalent view. I am not ashamed to admit that the Puritans are part of my spiritual heritage. In some company I might even refer to myself as a Neo-Puritan. From my perspective, contemporary disregard for the Puritan is our loss.
I understand some of the stains on the Puritan reputation is deserved. It was earned by a representative few who were… idiots. (i.e. Salem Witch Trials) But those folks were not a sufficient sample group by which to judge the entire lot. Sure they held some of the same principles as their Puritan predecessors, but they were a warped expression, at the tail end of a movement, influenced at least as much by superstition and fear as by their Faith traditions. But because of the antics of these relative few fanatics the whole Puritan tradition has been getting a perpetual bad rap. And I suspect that mistaken notions about the Puritans will endure, at least for as long as our perceptions continue to be influenced by erroneous and distorted PR offered by such sources as Arthur Miller’s The Crucible and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter.
J.I. Packer, in an essay titled Why We Need the Puritans, which is also the Introduction to his book A Quest for Godliness, outlines a handful of lessons contemporary Christians would do well to learn from these besmirched people of the past:
- Integration of Daily Life
- Quality of Spiritual Experience
- Passion for Effective Action
- Program for Family Stability
- Sense of Human Worth
- Ideal of Church Renewal
A great introduction to the Puritans has been provided by the folks at The Resurgence. They have compiled a series of short articles, by Winfield Bevins, under the title Lessons from the Puritans:
Even if your impression of the Puritans has been shaped by Miller or Hawthorne, I hope you will give some consideration to these short introductory essays. I am confidnet you will be pleasantly surprised by the positive legacy these folks have left us.