Polishing the Puritan Image
Francis J. Bremer, Puritanism: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2009)
The esteemed Millersville historian Francis J. Bremer has recently given us a delightfully rich little volume, Puritanism: A Very Short Introduction. Bremer's now-classic works Congregational Communion: Clerical Friendship in the Anglo-American Puritan Community, 1610-1692 and John Winthrop: America's Forgotten Founding Father were groundbreaking in their transatlantic scope, and in this new book he ably traverses English and American contexts, highlighting cross-fertilization and emigration back and forth across the Atlantic. An engaging read, enlivened with primary quotes and illustrations, this overview of Puritan political history, beliefs, practices, and interpretation demonstrates the flexibility rather than the rigidness of this fascinating religious culture.
While presenting the major events and figures in Puritan history, Bremer attempts a recovery of the Puritan image in the popular imagination. He is well aware that there is a more than a grain of truth in stereotypical images of Puritans as "theocrats" and "bigoted heresy hunters," but he explains why "[d]ialogue to facilitate a better apprehension of the truth was generally welcomed in early Massachusetts" and "[u]nity was the goal of the New England puritans, but not necessarily uniformity." For example, one of the early Massachusetts church synods came up with a list not of required beliefs but of "unacceptable doctrines." In a similar way, though Puritan theologians may have spent time thinking through the nuances of predestination, they rarely explored it in their catechisms and sermons. And while Puritan conversions could be dramatic and sudden, their experience of salvation ...