5 Myths You Still Might Believe about the Puritans

The tale of spoilsport Puritans continues to be told, and it couldn't be further from the truth

Maybe it’s the smug servant Malvolio in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. Perhaps it’s the extremely suspicious Boston community in Nathaniel Hawthrone’s The Scarlett Letter. Or it could be the more recent TV drama named for the location of the infamous Salem witch trials of early colonial America. High school history books continue to tell tales of America’s Pharisaic progenitors and their overly concerned moralism with attempts to establish God’s pure “city on a hill.”

 

Many of us have grown up with an understanding of Puritans as those gloomy religious folk who found joy in making sure others had none. The tale of spoilsport Puritans continues to be told, and it couldn’t be further from the truth. Here are 5 myths about Puritans which you may still believe.

1) Puritans were legalists with no room for grace.

Did Puritans tell parishioners to look to their works for salvation? Well, yes and no. While it is true that many Puritan ministers counseled people to look towards their works, this was actually a pastoral act to help people see spiritual fruit as evidence of salvation. God’s work of salvation is shown in fruit displayed throughout one’s life. This was based on a strong view of God’s grace. In fact, Puritans were some of the main champions of grace!….

2) Puritans were all Presbyterians.

Puritans as a group represent a diverse spectrum of ecclesiological commitments. Individuals such as William Perkins and Richard Sibbes were considered the greatest of Puritan preachers and theologians, yet remained comfortably situated within the episcopal structure of the Church of England. Others such as John Owen were congregational in their ecclesiology (theology of the church). Still others like John Bunyan represent a group of Puritans with a Baptist ecclesiology….

3) Puritans were all Calvinists.

While most Puritans aligned with Reformed theology, not all Puritans were strict Calvinists. The title “Calvinist” today carries loads of theological baggage and it’s not always an accurate description of 16th and 17th century Puritan ministers. Many views on numerous points of theology existed amongst the Puritans….

4) Puritans distorted the teachings and theology of John Calvin.

One myth claims all Puritans were Calvinists; another myth claims that Puritans distorted John Calvin’s theology. Many 20th-century scholars of Puritanism held to the so-called “Calvin vs. the Calvinists” argument. Puritan theologians, proponents claim, took reformed theology and made it a rationalistic religion devoid of Calvin’s reformation fire. The problem here is that the context of the Puritans was much different from that of Calvin….

5) Puritan religion was joyless and unemotional.

If that’s what you think, you’re not alone. People love to portray Puritans as stoic killjoys. Did their high regard for theology and pure living lead to a joyless Christianity? Far from it!

Puritan spirituality encouraged a full-bodied experience of God’s creation. The Puritan emphasis on spiritual disciplines was for the increase of joy and love in the Lord.

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