This blog might be a fairly new thing, but already I've quoted at least one Puritan thinker (Thomas Manton, if you're interested), and no doubt as time goes by, I'll quote more of them.
These days, “Puritan” is a bit of a dirty word. If you asked the average Joe Bloggs on the UK high-street who the Puritans were, they probably wouldn't know. Perhaps they'd think of the early American settlers: stern-looking people in funny hats. The crazies who burned “witches” in Salem (the story behind the play and film, “The Crucible.”) and preached nothing but fire and brimstone. Perhaps they think of Oliver Cromwell and the grumpy puritans who banned Christmas.
Whatever they might think, most people don't have positive associations with the word, “Puritan.” It describes someone who's hyper-religious; a fanatic for a particular cause; someone inflexible, authoritarian and super-legalistic.
It's sad when this modern idea gets into Christian minds as well, though it's usually based on a complete lack of awareness of who the Puritans were:
Broadly speaking, the Puritans were a group within the Church of England who believed in the “Purity” of the Church. So far so stern, but you have to understand what they meant – they didn't believe that this “purity” necessarily meant not having any fun! They meant, first and foremost, that the Church of England (or local congregational churches in New England) should be pure by only having Christians in it. Messed-up, imperfect, sinful, Christians. It shouldn't seem too “extremist” to expect that a Christian church be allowed to have only Christians as members...
I don't agree with every Puritan on everything. I understand why they wanted to ban Christmas*, although I think they weren't very wise in the way they went about it. But once you start to actually read the Puritans, you find anything but the kind of stern, legalistic, moralistic writing their reputation might give them.
Instead of fundamentalist nutjobs in black hats who don't want people to enjoy anything, you find a rich variety of humble people who found real joy and delight in their Saviour and God. In both English puritans like Richard Baxter and Americans** like Jonathan Edwards, you find people who want to share their enjoyment of God (read John Piper or J I Packer, two contemporary Christians who love the Puritans, and you'll see what I mean): Spiritually rich, passionate men who write of an emotional experience of their faith that would have me thinking they were a bit too “Happy-Clappy” for my liking...if I hadn't read it from such a well-respected source!
Yes, they preached Hell with fire and brimstone – but they did it with tears. They also preached on the love of God and the joy of knowing Jesus Christ as your King, Saviour and friend.
Don't believe the haters – the Puritans were a good bunch, all-told. Give them a try. With more modern-language versions of their books and sermons than ever before***, there's never been so good a time as to read them as there is now.
* The answer may surprise you – it's not in the Bible (Not as something that Christians need to celebrate, anyway)! Even in those days it was an excuse for getting drunk and misbehaving, as well as preserving different aspects of non-Christian, pagan religions. The Puritans wanted a clean break from all the problems surrounding Christmas. With the obsession with greed and materialism surrounding Christmas these days, there are many Christians who feel the same way.
** Jonathan Edwards lived before British colonies in America became the USA. He thought of himself as a loyal British citizen, although some of his descendants would play key roles in early (independent) America after the revolutionary war/war of independance.
*** A good place to start is the “Grace Essentials” series published by GPT & Christian Focus. Available on our bookstall or to borrow from the Church Library!