Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: "Learning from the Puritans"

The Pastor’s Perspective

Vol. 32 Num. 25

Learning from the Puritans

First Published: July 22, 1999

If you’ve been listening in on our church’s radio ministry “First Things” over the last few weeks, you’ve heard Duncan Rankin, Derek Thomas and yours truly discussing, of all things, books! Among the books that we have been discussing, with great enthusiasm I might add, are books by people now derisively labeled by the modern liberal academic community as “DWEM’s” (Dead white European males!). Indeed, many of these books that we’ve discussed were written by people tagged by their contemporaries as “Puritans.”

Now perhaps you are suspicious of people with that kind of a title or reputation, but I’d like to warmly commend them to your study. Perhaps never before as much as now, the evangelical church needs to learn from the Puritans. We live in a time of tremendous change and upheaval in Christendom. Things once taken for granted as true and right and good, are being questioned —in both theory and practice— and there are disturbing signs that the spiritual health of the Western church is in a serious state. In such a time as this we need “light from old times” to guide us into the future. The Puritans offer us that kind of light and we have, apparently, forgotten their wisdom. What are some of the practical benefits of studying the Puritans?

First, the Puritan were great pastors, renowned for their sensitive care for their congregations. If you have always pictured Puritan preachers as scowling scrooges, you’ll be pleasantly surprised when you meet the tender-hearted shepherds that they really were. Furthermore, as they ministered to their people, their foremost concern was to do this in the way God has commanded us to do it in his Word. So, if you care about being Biblical and ministering more Biblically then the Puritans will be a help to you.

Second, Puritan theology (simply defined as Biblical, evangelical, and Reformed theology) has served for more than three centuries as the basic doctrinal framework for evangelicalism. It has been influential throughout the Protestant world in the English-speaking churches and especially in the Baptist, Congregational, Independent, Anglican (or Episcopal), and Presbyterian traditions. However, in the turmoil of post-modernity, the old doctrinal distinctives of evangelicalism are breaking down. In this light, knowledge and appreciation of the times and teachings of the Puritans can serve to inoculate us against the false teachings and faddish Christianity of our own age. And perhaps the glory and biblical fidelity of their teaching can reclaim a hold on our hearts, saving us from slavery to the spirit of the times or from an irrational reactionary search for spirituality in mysticism and ritualism.

Third, the modern church wants to experience God but doesn’t want to know him. And yet truth is essential for healthy Christian experience and service. The Puritans understood this better than any Christians in history. They learned from the Apostle Paul, who argued throughout his letters that the saving knowledge of God is essential to Christian living. This entails knowing God personally and learning about Him through His word. The Puritans provide us with a theology based on the truth of God’s word and beautifully applied to the practical issues of Christian living.

If your interest is piqued, I can recommend the following books for learning more about the Puritans: Leland Ryken’s Worldly Saints: The Puritans as they really were, J. I. Packer’s A Quest for Godliness, Peter Lewis’, The Genius of Puritanism, and Will Barker’s Puritan Profiles. Enjoy your reading!

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan

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