Physicians of the Soul
Though J. I. Packer has earned the nickname "The Last Puritan," his many decades of Puritan-focused scholarship, teaching, and writing have helped to create a new generation of Puritan protégées. His 1990 book, A Quest for Godliness, has been especially influential. As he recounts in his "Changed Lives" article in this issue (p. 50), Dr. Packer also owes a deep personal debt to the Puritans. Currently Board of Governors Professor of Theology at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia, Dr. Packer spoke with Christian History & Biography recently about the nature of Puritanism and its continuing legacy.
What kind of movement was Puritanism?
Puritanism in England was a holiness movement—seeking holiness in church, family, and community, as well as in personal life. It started around 1564 when certain clergy began campaigning for more holiness in the Prayer Book liturgy of the Church of England. They complained that the Book of Common Prayer still contained "Romish rags" and offensive rituals. Other concerns soon surfaced, and it became clear that Puritanism was at heart a movement to raise standards of Christian life in England, with the conversion of England as the final goal.
It wasn't that the Puritan clergy or the members of Parliament who supported them set out to create a party. It was rather that a party of like-minded people emerged. Puritan clergy gathered laypeople around them. They found the most support in the towns, where there were godly people who were prepared to take seriously the fact that Bible religion was something they were not very good at and needed to become better at. And the movement swelled, developed, and became a constituency.
In the 1580s William Perkins began producing little books on personal ...