Editorial: Learning From The Puritans -- By: Stephen J. Wellum

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 14:4 (Winter 2010)
Article: Editorial: Learning From The Puritans
Author: Stephen J. Wellum


Editorial: Learning From The Puritans

Stephen J. Wellum

Repeatedly, numerous cultural commentators have observed the difficulty of convincing postmodern people of the importance of anything prior to 1970. For example, Allan Bloom in his famous The Closing of the American Mind makes this very point in regard to university students. Given the wonders of current technology, he notes, many students assume that everything of real historical significance has occurred only recently. Few experience nostalgia for anything further back than the middle of the twentieth century. In a similar fashion, C. S. Lewis, a couple of generations ago, made the same point in regard to our preference for books. Instead of the “old books” we prefer what is current and trendy, and sadly, as Lewis astutely observed, this preference for the “new” is nowhere more rampant than in theology.

What are some of the implications of neglecting the “old” for the “new?” There are many. But one disastrous consequence, which Lewis powerfully argues, is that it leads to reinforcing our own cultural blinders and re-inventing the proverbial wheel:

None of us can fully escape this blindness [of our age], but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our guard against it, if we read only modern books…. The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only be reading old books. Not, of course, that there is any magic about the past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes (“On the Reading of Old Books,” in God in the Dock [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970], 202).

Taking Lewis’s advice to heart, we have devoted this issue of SBJT to reflecting upon what we can learn from the “old,” namely the Puritans, for the doing of theology and for the life and health of the church today.

Why focus on the Puritans? The answer to this question should be obvious, but, unfortunately, given our lack of knowledge of the past, our

familiarity with the Puritans is lacking. In fact, the name, “Puritan(s)” conjures up a variety of images for people. Probably the most predominant image today, as in the seventeenth century when the word was often used in a pejorative sense, is that of a fanatical, conceited religious person and social extremist. However, this image is nothing but a terrible distortion of the truth. Even though Puritans were not a monolithic group with the exact same theological convictions in every matter, those who were considered part of it represent some of the most devoted, conscientious, theologically dr...

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