Helpful Guides to Studying the Puritans

I’ve recently been doing some background reading for my study of 17th Century British Baptist life by reading about the English Puritans. I thought I would share some of the resources which I’ve found helpful for those who would also like to increase their knowledge in this area. If you don’t want to study the Puritans, then shame on you! Ligon Duncan offers these three practical benefits to studying the Puritans:

First, the Puritan movement bequeathed to us a tradition of pastoral theology unsurpassed in the history of Christianity in the English-speaking world.

Second, Puritan theology has served for more than three centuries as the basic doctrinal framework for evangelicalism.

Third, the modern church seems allergic to theology and doctrine . . . all Christians are called to be theologians – the question is whether we are going to be good ones or bad ones! – and that is where the study of the Puritans comes in. Bad theology leads to bad practice. As Stephen Charnock said long ago: “It is impossible to honour God as we ought, unless we know him as he is.”

Now that you’re convinced to study the Puritans, here are some helpful resources:

The English Puritans by John Brown: This is a great historical introduction to the Puritans. Most of the works which I enjoy about the Puritans focus on the writings and theology (see below). But this relatively short work provides a helpful, if not necessary historical background to understanding Puritanism. J.I. Packer says that “John Brown’s account of the political history of the Puritans up to 1660 has not lost its freshness. It is a heroic, inspiring story and Brown tells it well.”

The Genius of Puritanism by Peter Lewis: This work focuses on the preaching of the Puritans with its application to the people in the pew. Not only a great historical resource, but a practical guide for the way many of us believe pastoral ministry should still be done. Also includes extensive quotations from the Puritans themselves. One of Lewis’ stated goals is to encourage the actual reading of the Puritans’ works.

The Devoted Life: An Invitation to the Puritan Classics edited by Kelly M. Kapic and Randall C. Gleason: This work is a collection of essays by various Puritan scholars summarizing and encouraging the reading of the great works of Puritan literature. Eighteen works are highlighted by authors such as Joel Beeke, Michael Horton, Leland Ryken, and J.I. Packer. A truly great resource! The Table of Contents for this volume is available here.

A Quest for Godliness by J.I. Packer: This work features a collection of essays written by Dr. Packer over the years which are united by the common theme of the Puritans and their theology. Included in this volume is his classic introduction to the modern reprint of John Owen’s The Death of Death in the Death of Christ titled ‘Saved By His Precious Blood.’ The Table of Contents for this volume is available here.

There are also a few biographies of Puritans that I would like to recommend. I find biographies to be a great place to learn theology, Bible interpretation, and history; all wrapped up in the interesting details of an individual’s life. Here are a few good biographies of a few good men:

Cromwell, Our Chief of Men by Antonia Fraser: Dr. Michael Haykin recommended it highly. ‘Nuff said!

Richard Sibbes: Puritanism and Calvinism in Late Elizabethan and Early Stuart England by Mark E. Dever: Mark Dever wrote it! ‘Nuff said!

John Bunyan by Frank Mott Harrison: One of the very few book length treatments of the life of Bunyan in print (I think) today.

What other resources would you recommend? If I think they’re good, I’ll add them to the list. By the way, a new volume out this month by Joel Beeke and Randall Peterson titled Meet the Puritans looks like a definitive resource for this topic. I don’t own it yet, but I would like to add it to my collection (hint, hint).

2 comments

  1. Steve,

    Meet the Puritans is fantastic; a must own for puritan studies. I got mine last week and love it! It has biographies of all the major English, Scotch, and Dutch Puritans along with details on their published writings.

    Allen

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