We’ve recently received this excellent question. I will give my best effort to answer but would like to open the floor to my fellow Conventiclers for their input.
But before we begin, I would like to say how grateful I am for your question and for visiting our site. Please, keep coming back and asking good questions!
“Last year, I read George Marsden’s biography of Jonathan Edwards, and it really sparked my interest in Puritanism. Specifically, the question I would like to answer is, “What if any, was the influence of Reformed/Calvinist theology on the evolution of American Christianity?” Do you know any books or resources that pertain to this question.
I was wondering if you could suggest any good books that introduce Puritan history and or Puritan theology? Thanks so much.”
Q1) Puritanism and American Christianity
I don’t know how helpful I can be in answering your question, but I’ll take a shot at it.
This is a rather complicated issue. At the risk of extreme oversimplification, the simple answer is “Yes.” Scholarship of late has focused quite a bit of attention on the relationship of England, Scotland, Ireland, and New England during the sixteenth and especially seventeenth century. While older studies tended to examine each of these areas in isolation, the tide of scholarship has somewhat shifted and has acknowledged that much more links these areas than the Atlantic. In short, Puritanism – whether in England, Scotland, Ireland, or New England – developed in the context of an international Calvinism. Or to put in another way, the Puritans cannot be understood without reference to the development of Reformed Orthodoxy/Protestant Scholasticism on the continent – and vice versa (see my notes on Muller’s Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics).
While the historical settings are much, much different, I think there is a general ideological and theological link from folks like Calvin to Turretin to Knox to Owen to Edwards to Hodge to Thornwell to Warfield, etc. While there are strands of diversity, differences, and discontinuities amongst these thinkers, a confessional consensus seems clearly evident. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that American Christianity emerged out of the rich soil of Reformed theology.
For books on this issue: if you liked Marsden, I’d suggest Mark Noll’s (who will be replacing Marsden at Notre Dame) A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada and America’s God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln and Harry Stout’s The New England Soul: Preaching and Religious Culture in Colonial New England.
If you’re interested in the intellectual history of the times (i.e. Reformed Orthodoxy), I’d suggest anything by Richard Muller (e.g. After Calvin) and Carl Trueman (e.g. The Claims of Truth: John Owen’s Trinitarian Theology). Also of note are Protestant Scholasticism: Essays in Reassessment edited by C. Trueman and R. S. Clark and Reformation and Scholasticism: An Ecumenical Enterprise edited by Willem J. van Asselt and Eef Dekker. However, the above volumes can be rather heavy going.
Q2) Introductory Books on Puritans
Hands down, my favourite are J. I. Packer’s Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life (also called Among God’s Giants), Leland Ryken’s Worldly Saints: The Puritans as They Really Were, and The Devoted Life: An Introduction to the Puritan Classics, edited by Kelly M. Kapic and Randall C. Gleason. I cannot recommend these volumes enough. If you must only have three books on the Puritans, buy, read, and assimilate these three.
1. Packer writes as a modern day Puritan. This is not dry, stale, boring history. His book is readable and devotional. I especially appreciate his emphasis upon Puritanism as a revival movement. He will give you a good feel for the Puritans – the English particularly.
2. Ryken’s book will give you a window on the Puritan world. He covers everything from the Puritan view of theology to sex to work to play. He provides a smattering of quotations from both American and English Puritans. So, this may be just what you are looking for.
3. Kapic’s and Gleason’s edited volume will give you a great introduction to the primary material of the puritans. Contributors include J. Packer, S. Ferguson, L. Duncan, J. Coffey, L. Ryken, P. Ryken, M. Noll to name a few. Need I say more!
Other suggestions? Let’s here from my fellow Conventiclers.