The superhero film genre shows no signs of slowing down. Every month a new DC or Marvel film tries to quench our thirst for heroes. We were made for heroes. We need them. The problem is we lack authentic, relatable, real-life heroes who show us what a life of passion, love, virtue, courage looks like in a flesh-and-blood human being. Superman and Wonder Woman might leave us looking for someone to save us, but they are so fundamentally unlike us that they fail to provide fallen human heroes we can emulate. Continue reading Steal Away Home
Ecclesiastes 12:12 says, “Of making many books there is no end.” Today, we might add, “Of the year-end list-making for books there is no end.” All such lists are faulty because they’re limited to both the list-makers preferences and the works they read (and didn’t read) in a given year. Nevertheless, I find such lists helpful in for pointing me to books I might have missed but might want to add to my ever-growing Amazon wishlist.
Below are a few of my favorites I read in 2017 (not necessarily published this year).
As you might be able to tell from past posts, two of my interests are Church History and American History. This summer I get the chance to do combine the two through an Independent Study on the first generation of American Puritans. Doing independent studies are in my world the ideal situation. It allows me study something I want and go more in-depth than classes often allow. In the picture above are some of the books awaiting me at my desk, although I’ve been able to recently download most of the primary works via Google Play Books. I’ll hopefully be able to post a number of blogs on my subject matter this summer so for those interested (echo) here’s why I chose this topic and some of what I’ll be doing.
Why study this?
Since the early 20th century there has been a resurgence in studying the religious landscape of America in the 17th-18th centuries, particularly in New England. However, the overwhelming majority of that research has began with Jonathan Edwards or the Great Awakening onwards. This is especially true in evangelicalism and the theological and practical works of those pre-Edwards has been largely neglected. My hope is to do two Independent Studies over the next year. The first covering roughly 1630-1670 and the second spanning from 1670-1710. I believe, and hope to demonstrate, that the first generation of American Puritans in New England was an especially rich group of pastors and theologians (not to mention politicians). They pre-date the height of English Puritanism and despite living in the “wilderness” of America they greatly influenced old and new England. They importance and richness of this first generation in my opinion has also been downplayed in part because of their Congregationalism, which has left them largely without a clear lineage among evangelicals and led to many Presbyterians downplaying their value.
As a whole I find the first generation fascinating in part because it ties in to the starting of the nation I’m a citizen of, the dangerous wilderness they were seeking to survive and cultivate interests the boy in my heart, there are neat connections tying to later figures (such as Edwards), and in recent years I’ve had a growing interest in New England as a whole.
Areas of Study
My study of the first generation of American Puritanism will include a general overview of the historical context in America, the most influential Puritan figures, and the key theological issues at that time. While leaving room for discovery made along the way, my main interests are the important figures: John Winthrop, John Cotton, Richard Mather, Thomas Hooker, Thomas Shepard, and even John Davenport. The theological issues include: the Antinomian controversy, church polity (Congregationalism), conformity vs non-conformity, the place of Harvard and other centers of training, relationship with and differences from Puritans in England, primary Puritan influences on American Puritanism, preparationism, and devotional practices.
Winthrop heads up Massachusetts and Edmund Morgan calls him the first great American. John Cotton was especially influential on John Owen and other Independents and Congregationalists on both sides of the Atlantic. Hooker took on Rutherford’s Presbyterianism and was considered by some the best pastor and preacher among the group (and Ames says the greatest mind he met). Not to mention he founds Hartford and is the father of Connecticut, and has been called “the father of democracy”, although that label might be unwarranted. Shepard greatly influences Edwards, and Mather leaves a spiritual legacy that greatly shapes the next 60 years of American religious history (for good or bad). Davenport seems to go a little off course but is worth studying because of his early influence, his founding New Haven, and he was invited to the Westminster Assembly.
Although there are some written assignments the study is primarily reading as much on the subject as I can. In order to submerge myself in the context I’m trying to read on 3 levels: what they were reading, what they were writing/preaching, and what people say about them. The first level involves trying to read who they were reading and listening too. Clearly the influence and context could stretch back endlessly and become an overwhelming task, so I’m focusing on the immediate influences. Theologically this includes especially William Perkins and William Ames, but it also includes reading the Geneva Bible and its notes (not the KJV), the Bay Psalm Book, and devotional manuals they were using for personal piety (Lewis Bayly’s The Practice of Piety). The second level is the most important and most enjoyable, primary sources. For my purposes and interests I’m focusing on the sermons and works written by the men mentioned above (Hooker, Winthrop, Shepard, Cotton, Mather) as well as the poetry of Anne Bradstreet (mainly because I really like it). The third level consists of secondary sources writing about, explaining, and arguing about the Puritans. Here’s a list of some of what I’ll be reading or consulting.
- John Cotton. The Keyes of the Kingdom of Heaven, and Power thereof, According to the Word of God.
- Thomas Hooker. The Poor Doubting Christian Drawn to Christ.
- Thomas Hooker. The Application of Redemption
- The Cambridge Platform
- John Cotton. “God’s Promise to His Plantation”
- John Cotton. Christ the Fountain of Life (I John).
- Thomas Shepard. The Sound Believer and The Sincere Convert
- Thomas Shepard. The Parable of the Ten Virgins
- Ed. Perry Miller. The American Puritans: Their Prose and Poetry.
- Letter from New England.
- John Cotton. The Way of the Churches in New England (1645); The Way of the Congregational Churches Cleared (1648);
- The Journal of Richard Mather
- David D. Hall. The Antinomian Controversy: 1636-38.
• Perry Miller. The New England Mind: The Seventeenth Century
Perry Miller. The New England Mind: From Colony to Province
C.E. Hambrick-Stowe. The Practice of Piety.
• Robert Middlekauff. The Mathers: Three Generations of Puritan Intellectuals
• Francis J. Bremer. The Puritan Experiment: New England Society from Bradford to Edwards.
George Leon Walker. Thomas Hooker: Preacher, Founder, Democrat
Other Literature to Consult
• Geoffrey F. Nuttall. Visible Saints: The Congregational Way 1640-1660.
• Joel Beeke. Meet the Puritans.
• Ed. John Coffey and Paul Lim. Cambridge Companion to Puritans.
• Edwin Gaustad. The Religious History of America.
• Michael McGiffert. God’s Plot: Puritan Spirituality in Thomas Shepard’s Cambridge.
• Francis J. Bremer. John Winthrop: Biography as History.
• David Hall. A Reforming People.
• Harry S. Stout. The New England Soul.
This is a beautiful quote from the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. Douglass wrote this himself as a 26 year old. The language is beautiful in its descriptions and emotions, and as the reader you can imagine some of what he was seeing and feeling at the time. This brief section is from Chapter 10 and is when he was a slave under Mr. Covey near the Chesapeake Bay.
“Mr. Covey succeeded in breaking me. I was broken in body, soul, and spirit. My natural elasticity was crushed, my intellect languished, the disposition to read departed, the cheerful spark that lingered about my eye died; the dark night of slavery closed in upon me; and behold a man transformed into a brute!
Sunday was my only leisure time. I spent this in a sort of beast-like stupor, between sleep and wake, under some large tree. At times I would rise up, a flash of energetic freedom would dart through my soul, accompanied with a faint beam of hope, that flickered for a moment, and then vanished. I sank down again, mourning over my wretched condition. I was sometimes prompted to take my life, and that of Covey, but was prevented by a combination of hope and fear. My sufferings on this plantation seem now like a dream rather than a stern reality.
Our house stood within a few rods of the Chesapeake Bay, whose broad bosom was ever white with sails from every quarter of the habitable globe. Those beautiful vessels, robed in purest white, so delightful to the eye of freemen, were to me so many shrouded ghosts, to terrify and torment me with thoughts of my wretched condition. I have often, in the deep stillness of a summer’s Sabbath, stood all alone upon the lofty banks of that noble bay, and traced, with saddened heart and tearful eye, the countless number of sails moving off to the mighty ocean. The sight of these always affected me powerfully. My thoughts would compel utterance; and there, with no audience but the Almighty, I would pour out my soul’s complaint, in my rude way, with an apostrophe to the moving multitude of ships:-
‘You are loosed from your moorings, and are free; I am fast in my chains, and am a slave! You move merrily before the gentle gale, and I sadly before the bloody whip! You are freedom’s swift-winged angels, that fly round the world; I am confined in bands of iron! O that I were free! O, that I were on one of your gallant decks, and under your protecting wing! Alas! betwixt me and you, the turbid waters roll. Go on, go on. O that I could also go! Could I but swim! If I could fly! O, why was I born a man, of whom to make a brute! The glad ship is gone; she hides in the dim distance. I am left in the hottest hell of unending slavery. O God, save me! God, deliver me! Let me be free! Is there any God? Why am I a slave? I will run away. I will not stand it. Get caught, or get clear, I’ll try it. I had as well die with ague as the fever. I have only one life to lose. I had as well be killed running as die standing. Only think of it; one hundred miles straight north, and I am free! Try it? Yes! God helping me, I will. It cannot be that I shall live and die a slave. I will take to the water. This very bay shall yet bear me into freedom. The steamboats steered in a north-east course from North Point. I will do the same; and when I get to the head of the bay, I will turn my canoe adrift, and walk straight through Delaware into Pennsylvania. When I get there, I shall not be required to have a pass; I can travel without being disturbed. Let but the first opportunity offer, and, come what will, I am off. Meanwhile, I will try to bear up under the yoke. I am not the only slave in the world. Why should I fret? I can bear as much as any of them. Besides, I am but a boy, and all boys are bound to some one. It may be that my misery in slavery will only increase my happiness when I get free. There is a better day coming.’
Thus I used to think, and thus I used to speak to myself; goaded almost to madness at one moment, and at the next reconciling myself to my wretched lot.”
Samuel Adams penned the following in a letter to Joseph Warren on November 4, 1775. The notion of separation between one’s public and private life, especially for leaders, was completely foreign to Adams. Doubtless, it would have been just as curious an idea for other founding fathers. Samuel Adams helped found our country, and he was one of many who discerned the importance of the government assisting in the promotion and protection of Virtue for both the improvement of our private and public spheres of life. [I have left the original spelling.]
“The Eyes of Mankind will be upon you to see whether the Government, which is now more popular than it has been for many years past, will be productive of more Virtue moral and political. We may look up to Armies for our Defence, but Virtue is our best Security. It is not possible that any State shd [should] remain free, where Virture is not supremely honord.
…Since private and publick Vices, are in Reality, thought not always apparently, so nearly connected, of how much Importance, how necessary is it, that the utmost Pains be taken by the Publick, to have the Principles of Virtue early inculcated on the Minds even of children, and the moral Sense kept alive, and that the wise institutions of our Ancestors for these great Purposes be encouraged by the Government. For no people will tamely surrender their Liberties, nor can any be easily subdued, when knowledge is diffusd and Virtue is preserved. On the Contrary, when People are universally ignorant, and debauchd in their Manners, they will sink under their own weight without the Aid of foreign Invaders.”
Taken from ed. William J. Bennett, The Spirit of America (New York: Touchstone, 1997), 261.
For more on the importance of virtue (across the board) to our founding fathers, see Gordon Wood’s Revolutionary Characters: What Made the Founding Fathers Different.