John Bunyan: A Sectary or a Puritan or Both? A Historical Exploration of His Religious Identity -- By: Brian G. Najapfour
PRJ 3:2 (July 2011) p. 142
John Bunyan: A Sectary or a Puritan or Both?
A Historical Exploration of His Religious Identity1
Richard Greaves, a leading Bunyan scholar, proposed a thesis that studies John Bunyan (1628-1688) in the light of the sectarian tradition.2 This thesis, however, is not original with him. William York Tindall, in his book John Bunyan: Mechanick Preacher (1934), had already set Bunyan in a sectarian context.3 Twenty years later came Roger Sharrock’s biography of Bunyan, which devotes a chapter to Bunyan as a sectary.4 Then, in the late 1980s Christopher Hill’s volume appeared, A Turbulent, Seditious, and Factious People: John Bunyan and his Church 1628-1688, which further places Bunyan in a radical sectarian milieu.5 All these books have been supplanted by Greaves’s biography of Bunyan, Glimpses of Glory: John Bunyan and English Dissent (2002), which, from Greaves’s own mouth, is “the first to deal with all of his [Bunyan’s] works in the context of his life and the broader world of nonconformity.”6
PRJ 3:2 (July 2011) p. 143
Usually scholars who situate Bunyan within a sectarian framework question his identity as a Puritan, and consequently slight his spiritual riches, a treasure found in other Puritans. This paper will argue that Bunyan uniquely possessed the spirit of both sectarianism and Puritanism.
Bunyan as a Sectary
Bunyan came from a conformist home; his parents both conformed to the established Church of England. As a boy, he no doubt went with them to their parish church to hear traditional sermons. It was not until he joined the army as a teenager that he was first exposed to sectarian preachers.7 “Among all the sectarian preachers there was a strong feeling that their religion gave them a key to [be effectively involved in] the great public events which were taking place. An opportunity was being offered to establish the ideal Christian society, but first Antichrist had to be fought.”8 At the time when Bunyan was absorbing these sectarian ideas, he was not yet regenerated. Yet, to some degree, his theological thinking was affected by them; very probably his later millenarian beliefs were at least partially an outcome of this impact.
Bunyan’s millenarian views already became obvious in his first two writings: Som...
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