In the past fifty years, we’ve seen a considerable resurgence of interest in Reformed literature from publishers such as Banner of Truth to more contemporary publishers like Crossway and Reformation Heritage. Part of this surge has been an interest in the work of the English Puritans. In their new book, The American Puritans, Dustin Benge, and Nate Pickowicz intend to expand our understanding of the Puritans by considering a selection of American Puritans, such as William Bradford, John Winthrop, John Cotton, Thomas Hooker, Thomas Shepard, Anne Bradstreet, John Eliot, Samuel Willard, and Cotton Mather.
Ours is a day of growing restlessness with our own history. From the removal of many statues from the public square in America to the canceling of ideas that don’t fit within the dominant ideology. The American Puritans reminds Christians that history matters and is often more complex than our remembering of it allows. As the authors note, “while every Christian in history is clay-footed and inherently sinful, God works through their lives to advance the kingdom of Jesus Christ” (8).
Every Christian has a vital role to play in the work of advancing the kingdom of the Lord Jesus. What American Puritans does so well is to remind Christians today that like the figures covered in this work, they may not be well-remembered when they die, and that’s okay. Every Christian can have an impact on the lives of others in their own time. The content of this work even reveals this priority from the authors in that you have three politicians, William Bradford was a governor, John Winthrop was a governor, and Thomas Cooker was the founder of the colony of Connecticut. There are four pastor-theologians covered in this work, John Cotton, Thomas Shepard, Samuel Willard, and Cotton Mather. John Eliot was a missionary, and Anne Bradstreet was a poet.
Each individual covered in the book has a unique story of the Lord at work in their lives by the Holy Spirit. In our day, we need men and women who represent the best of the American Puritans, men and women who are grounded in and shaped by the Word of God. As the authors trace the lives of these Christians, they present them both as heroes and as people who needed God’s grace. In reflecting on the book, I was reminded of the “Hall of Faith” in Hebrews 11. Hebrews 11 repeatedly tells us “by faith,” these great men and women of God overcame by trusting in a sovereign Lord whose promises are sure and steady because they are tied to the character of God.
The summer of 2020 has seen the rise of the cancel culture, and with it comes a challenge to Christian witness that is exemplified in these men and women in The American Puritans. The best response to a cancel culture isn’t to cancel biblical orthodoxy but to faithfully stand upon the Word. The Bible doesn’t gloss over the sins of its heroes but records it. For example, King David was the King of Israel, but we are taught in 2 Samuel 11 that he murdered Uriah and committed adultery with Bathsheba. Abraham is the father of the faith, and Paul uses him as an example of justification in Romans 4. Yet, Abraham has sex outside of marriage and had a child out of wedlock in Ishmael with Hagar (Genesis 16). The Bible doesn’t gloss over its heroes’ sin but records them to show how the Lord is at work in and through their lives.
Christians should not be discouraged by a cancel culture, but stand fast on the reliable, sufficient, and trustworthy Word of God. As American Puritans shows, history matters, and historical figures like William Bradford, John Winthrop, John Cotton, Thomas Hooker, Thomas Shepard, Anne Bradstreet, John Eliot, Samuel Willard, and Cotton Mather have much to teach us about what faithfulness to the Lord and the gospel looks like not only in their day but in our own also. Christian faithfulness demands fidelity to Christ and to the Word of God, which from the first words of Genesis to the last word in Revelation, and everywhere in-between testifies of the person and work of the Lord Jesus. The authors echo this desire when they write on page 208:
“In our current climate of pragmatism and cultural relevancy, the church must once again take up the torch of Scripture-based preaching, gospel-centered evangelism, Christ-embracing church service, and God-glorifying lives. We may be called on to stand against the swelling tide of political correctness, as the Puritans against the English crown for the sake of the gospel. Etch in your memories these stories, for their story is our story.”
The American Puritans is an excellent book that will help you learn about these men and women of God and their importance in shaping American Christianity. While ours is a time when history is under assault, there is an excellent need for historical figures like the American Puritans, men, and women who show the people of God what faithfulness looks like in challenging times like our own and how to respond to them through a biblical worldview.
Dave Jenkins (MDiv, Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary) is the executive director of Servants of Grace Ministries, the executive editor of Theology for Life Magazine, and the host of the Equipping You in Grace Podcast and Warriors of Grace Podcast. You can follow him on Twitter at @davejjenkins, find him on Facebook at Dave Jenkins SOG, Instagram, or read more of his writing at Servants of Grace.