Confession: I am hopelessly behind on reading assignments and book reports. The stack of new books to be read, reviewed, surveyed, and digested continues to grow. Yet, there are only so many hours of the day and only so much caffeine in the coffee. There are books to read for Humanities, including 3 more in the month of May. There are readings in my other classes. There is American history in the 20th Century. There are studies in Matthew for Sunday sermons. So, in an act of desparation, I am blitzing some book reviews. I have read the books, or am reading them. You need them or I wouldn’t be promoting them.
The book is Good Mr. Baxter: Sketches of Effective, Caring Leadership for the Church from the Life of Richard Baxter by Vance Salisbury. This book is published by Piety Hill Press and is distributed by Lewis and Roth. Anyone interested in getting a easily readible exerpt from Good Mr. Baxter can read it here.
Some people are fascinated by the mythical Lost World of Atlantis. The whole idea of a lost world or civilization makes for great adventure stories. But in history, there are lost worlds. The rediscovery of such worlds is adventurous. Those who enter such worlds come back to this world with tales of delight.
There really are lost worlds. One such lost world was the World of Puritanism. We knew it existed. We were told that they wore funny hats, burned witches, oppressed free thought, and threw everything off in England and America for a season. That whole sentence represents a myth.
The rediscovery of the Puritans in the middle to late 20th centuries is a fascinating story. I am sure it is more complicated than this, but I usually associate with 2 men, neither of whom had much in common. One was the American historian Perry Miller of Harvard College. He began his quest of studying the American Puritans and encouraging his graduate students to do so also. Other historians thought Miller was trekking off on an empty quest. Miller wrote a whole series of scholarly works on the Puritans. Miller was not a Christian and had no spiritual motivation for studying Puritanism. He was a historian studying ideas. But his labors spurred others, both believers and secular historians, to continue Puritan studies.
The other person was the British preacher Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Along with such men as Iain Murray, J. I. Packer, and S M. Houghton, Lloyd-Jones envisioned revival in Britain and the English speaking world as a real need. Basic to the vision was an emphasis on preaching the Bible in an expository manner and proclaiming sound doctrine. Alongside those components, they all longed to see good solid books in the hands of pastors and Christian laymen. They longed to see old Christian classics reprinted. Such a quest led them quickly to the reprinting of great Puritan works.
Puritan tomes and scholarly works on Puritans began being republished or printed. Very quickly, the impulse from the Christian community exceeded that of the university scholars. There was some, by the way, who wore both hats. By the 1970s, the Puritan book revival was becoming a flood. Many of the Puritan books were not being retyped and reset, but were being photocopied and published in fonts and sizes as were the originals. Banner of Truth in Edinburgh, Scotland was the flagship for Puritan studies. But there were and are plenty of other publishers who were finding and printing the same kinds of books.
The Puritan Revival was a corollary to the broader revival of Reformed theology. For English speaking and reading audiences, many of the best exemplars of Reformed theology were the Puritans and their direct heirs.
The Puritan Revival continues. A whole lost world has been rediscovered. But, as many of you know, it is a vast, as well as rich world. The Puritans were extensive in their publishing and exhaustive in their treatment of Scripture and doctrine. Their books were not trimmed and edited with the goal of making them light and breezy. They mined the Word of God. By that, I mean that they dug deep into the doctrine and text. And they applied the doctrines in myriad details. Grace was a great gift. Understanding God’s grace was a life-long quest. There were no cute slogans or snappy choruses; rather, there was theological meat.
The bulky size of many Puritans reprints, the theological assumptions of the authors, and the small print of the reprints all contributed to making new and beautiful reprinted volumes somewhat less useful and very daunting to many readers. Add to those problems, there were lots of Puritan writers (most of whom were pastors) and lots of Puritans books.
What Puritans should I read? And, which of the Puritan books are most important? And where do I start?
I will answer the last question posed above. Good Mr. Baxter is a great place to start on Puritan studies. Even if you have been reading the Puritans for a time, this short book is a great review or overview of one of the prime preachers and writers of the Puritan world.
Baxter’s best know book is titled The Reformed Pastor. Baxter was not writing theory, but explaining his practices. He was the epitome of the good village parson who visited and watched over his flock. His other best known works were The Christian Directory, a nearly 1000 page compendium of Christian living, and The Saints Everlasting Rest.
The advantage of Good Mr. Baxter is its brevity. The book consists of 13 chapters replete with quotes from Baxter. The book could be read through rather quickly; however, I think it is better suited for a daily devotional study. The book is especially useful for prompting pastors to read Baxter’s classic Reformed Pastor, but any Christian could benefit from reading the book.
After reading this book, many will be motivated to read more from Baxter. I read portions of Reformed Pastor years ago and really would benefit from a careful reading and hopeful implementation of the book.
Anyone seriously ready to do readings from the Puritans might consider A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life. This book, edited by Joel Beeke and Mark Jones, consists of essays about different theological topics with lengthy extracts from the Puritans.