I have just finished reading The Rise of Puritanism by William Haller. The book shows its age (publ. 1938 ) and the weaknesses of Haller’s method and controlling paradigm have been exposed by more recent studies. Despite these weaknesses I did find some interesting titbits and found my thinking stimulated.

One thing that didn’t ring true is an idea which is found in a few passages. Haller writes:

The spiritual attitude which the preachers endeavored to inculcate was one of active struggle on the part of the individual against his own weakness. The supreme image which, for that purpose, they sought to impress upon the minds of the people was that of the soldier enlisted under the banners of Christ. They could not and did not seek to eliminate all vestige of the doctrine of the atonement, but they made the atonement signify the appointment of the elect soul to join with Christ in the war against the eternal enemy…The Puritan saga did not cherish the memory of Christ in the manger or on the cross, that is, of the lamb of God sacrificed in vicarious atonement for the sins of man. The mystic birth was the birth of the new man in men. The mystic passion was the crucifixion of the new man by the old, and the true propitiation was the sacrifice of the old to the new.

Strong words. Surely he can’t be justifying this from the Puritan rejection of the liturgical calendar in their focus on the Lord’s Day. There is certainly a move towards interiorising biblical narrative in later Puritanism, especially as cognitive dissonance kicked in when hopes were dashed (see, for example, Crawford Gribben’s The Puritan Millenium) but at this point Haller is speaking of the pre-revolutionary spiritual brotherhood. I think he rightly notices a tendency in Puritan preaching to major on the ordo salutis rather than the historia salutis (though I suspect that would be true of most evangelical preaching), but the ordo relies on the historia. From reading Ussher, I can sense his wonder as he lingers and rhapsodises on the mysteries of the incarnation and the atonement. And yet Haller describes these as ‘those episodes of the Biblical story which the Puritans found least congenial and expressive’. 

Bonkers? Let’s open this one up for discussion. Did the Puritans dis the cross?


Road Trip

January 15, 2008

On Saturday, I drove down to London with two friends from church, Tim and Daniel, to visit Bunhill Fields. The police had chained the gates at one end of the park the night before and not turned up to unlock them. The attendant was rather confused and reluctant to open the other gate. He seemed to think that the police might want to investigate a crime scene. I was tempted to joke that they might find a dead body, but decided that that might be less than helpful. We eventually persuaded him to let us in and we had the place to ourselves. The City of London is quieter on a Saturday morning and the place was peaceful. For a long time I had intended to visit this place and see the graves of Owen (pictured), Bunyan, Goodwin, Defoe and others. Definitely worth the trip. As I wrote in an earlier post, I appreciate the sense of connectedness with the past that visiting such places can make quite tangible. It wasn’t a pilgrimage, we didn’t light a candle or anything weird like that, but Tim said a prayer thanking God for the ministry of these men and the legacy of their writings that we enjoy today. Admission is free (which makes up for the horrendous parking meter charges).

After an excellent lunch we visited Geneva Books where I added to my collection of Parker Society volumes. There was much rejoicing in the car on the way home.