Westminster Conference, 2008

October 14, 2008

The Westminster Conference moves to a new venue in central London for 2008 and has a shiny new website . The program is below.

Tuesday, 9th December

Iain Murray: What can we learn from the Puritans

John J Murray: The Recovery of the Reformed Vision

Paul Brown: E F Kevan and the Grace of Law

 Wednesday, 10th December

Robert Godfrey: Reformed and Puritan Views of Tradition

Jonathan Watson: Thomas Brooks and Spiritual Conflict

Faith Cook: William Grimshaw



The Cambridge Companion to Puritanism, eds. John Coffey and Paul C.H. Lim (Cambridge University Press, 2008).

For what it’s worth, a few thoughts:

Up until last week, if you had asked me what was the best place to approach the study of Puritanism from I would have had to scratch my head and think about it. There was no really obvious starting point to begin reading. It would depend on one’s special interests and the period under consideration. For those simply wishing to read Puritan practical divinity for personal edification I would still recommend J.I. Packer’s The Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life (published as Among God’s Giants in the U.K.), but for anyone embarking on a serious study of Puritanism I would now confidently recommend The Cambridge Companion to Puritanism.

This collection comprises an introduction and twenty essays. The first section gives an account of English Puritanism by period; the second takes the reader further afield with descriptions of Puritanism in New England, Ireland, Wales, and Scotland, with a discussion of the interchange of ideas with continental Reformed Protestants; the third dissects a number of important themes such as ecclesiology and millenarianism. The fourth and final section considers the legacy of the phenomenon and its historiography. From these essays, their notes and suggested further reading, one begins to appreciate the vast expanse of the field of Puritan scholarship.

Highlights must include the chapter by Patrick Collinson. The godfather of modern puritan research sets up the discussion of English Puritanism which follows with an examination of ‘Antipuritanism’. This encapsulates Collinson’s nominalist reading of Puritanism and the dialectical relationship between the godly and the ungodly. Anthony Milton’s chapter, ‘Puritanism and the continental Reformed churches’, describes a complex and changing relationship ‘characterised as much by tension and ambiguity as by instinctive fraternalism’ (p. 109). This intertraffic with the continent, the Netherlands playing a particularly important role, was conducted on many levels, and this chapter is a warning against insularity in the study of Puritanism. Margo Todd’s solution to ‘The problem of Scotland’s Puritans’ is a real gem. By not overreaching and by sticking to the question of whether there were Puritans in Scotland, and to some extent that depends on how one defines the terms, she supplies one of the most enjoyable contributions. Alex Walsham’s analysis of ‘The godly and popular culture’ is judicious and in many ways develops the discussion begun earlier by Collinson.

The final two chapters alone are worth the price of the volume. John Coffey scrutinizes the treatment Puritanism has received at the hands of modernity theorists such as Weber, Tawney and Hill, as well as Whigs, sociologists, historians of science, and those seeking the origins of an American identity. He notes the flaws in much of this work and the obsession with Purtanism’s secular by-products rather than the living religious legacy it has left to evangelicalism today. Peter Lake, with characteristic humour, charts the historiography of Puritanism from Richard Bancroft down through Gardiner, Neale and Collinson, to the twists and turns of revisionist and post-revisionist schools. These surveys of the plethora of literature on Puritanism will provide a sound orientation for those setting out on their study of the subject.

There were only two chapters which disappointed. One in which the author seemed to be trying to be a little too clever, and another in which the occasional sentence was tortured to the extent that I could barely bring myself to watch. In addition, Ann Hughes, in her essay on ‘Puritanism and gender’, claims that Puritanism ‘inspired the prosecution of vulnerable and deluded women as witches’ (p. 295). This questionable assertion is not buttressed by so much as a footnote, and is left hanging there, unqualified and unsubstantiated. The editors’ use of the term ‘legalism’ (p.3) to describe Reformed teaching on the role of the law in the Christian life was also unfortunate.

Such minor gripes aside, this is a book well worth purchasing for reading and future reference. It will greatly assist the student of Puritanism and also the non-specialist who has to teach something about the subject. The editors are to be commended for bringing together such an illustrious team to provide an accessible introduction to Puritanism.