Saturday, September 29, 2007

A Crash Course in Puritan History

Wikipedia may not the most reliable source of scholarly information, but it can be a very helpful resource during the preliminary stages of knowledge-gathering, much like any conventional encyclopedia.

Here are links to what I consider ten of the most crucial events in the history of puritanism – all discussed on Wikipedia. I would advise reading (or even just perusing) these in chronological order, over one or two sittings.

Doing so will give you an excellent preliminary grasp on the field, and provide a base of knowledge from which you can explore specific areas in more depth. Enjoy!

The Elizabethan Religious Settlement

The 'Vestments Controversy'

The 'Marprelate Controversy'

The Hampton Court Conference

The founding of Plymouth Colony in New England (by separatists)

The founding of Massachusetts Bay Colony in New England (by non-separatists)

The English Civil War

The Westminster Assembly

The Act of Uniformity/The Great Ejection

The First Great Awakening

If you've only got a half-hour, there's always the more concise history section in the Wikipedia entry for Puritan.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Factual Friday

I know some of you are gearing up for his birthday celebration, but I thought I would remind the rest of you that Chinese philosopher, teacher, and political theorist Confucius was born on this day in 551 BC (I am not exactly sure how they are dating this one).

Lest you think I just knew this, I will tell you that I get an e-mail with these kind of facts every day. This, by the way, is also the day (in 48 BC) that Pompey the Great was beheaded in Egypt. So, that's something.

Anyway, here is a thought from Confucius at the end of what has been a frustrating week of study for me:

"He who learns but does not think, is lost! He who thinks but does not learn is in great danger".

I don't necessarily think we should take our cues from Confucius, but this one seemed to be a good one to end my week on.

Bringing it a little closer to home, I will end with an encouraging word from a Puritan. This thought helped to assuage the academic pressure I am feeling right now:
"Grace has the power to turn afflictions into mercies."

Jeremiah Burroughs in The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment (ht: Ligonier Ministries)

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

A Balanced Perspective

Image from Wikipedia

A brief word from our friend Samuel Rutherford.

"There is a golden mid-line betwixt confident resting in the arms of Christ, and presumptuous and drowsy sleeping in the bed of fleshly security." (Letters, iii)

Uncle Sam is always good for a 'memorable reminder'.

Dying blogs :-(

From the Christianity Today website:

As weblogs proliferated earlier this decade, Andy Warhol's famous aphorism was modified to read, "In the future, everyone will be famous to 15 people." Now it looks like Warhol was right after all: Thanks to widespread blog burnout, everyone will be famous to 15 people for 15 minutes.

Tech researcher Gartner Inc. reported earlier this year that 200 million people have given up blogging, more than twice as many as are active.

(Read the complete article.)
Will the Conventicle end up going the way of all flesh ... er, blogs? On another occasion I may share some reasons why I believe our humble space here can only get better as the months and years roll on. Of course, man proposes and God disposes.

Image taken from the website of the British Museum

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Please say a prayer for Myanmar

Things are heating up politically in Myanmar/Burma.

Four years ago, when I came here to Edinburgh to study church history, I befriended a young man from there who had come here for the same reason. He wrote his masters essay on Calvin's theology. After a year he returned to Myanmar to teach theology there. We have become good friends with his wider family since then.

The Christian church in Myanmar is relatively strong, and believers are not interested in causing political unrest; they just want basic civil rights and a stable economy, like everyone else.

Please pray (right now is the best time) that God's will will prevail in Myanmar over the next days and weeks, and that he will preserve his people there and give them patience and encouragement. Thanks.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Word and Image

Our world loves its pictures. Since I have to admit that I am often more at ease with pictures than words (I find TV 'easier' than books, for example), I was challenged by Dr. Calvin once again.

During the Reformation period, the image debate involved a discussion of images as 'books for the unlearned'. Pope Gregory had previously defended the use of images (Letters IX) as a helpful way to disciple the uneducated masses. Here is Calvin speaking to this issue from Institutes (I.11.7):

"What purpose did it serve for so many crosses -- of wood, stone, silver, and gold -- to be erected here and there in the churches, if this fact had been duly and faithfully taught: that Christ died on the cross to bear our curse [Gal.3:13], to expiate our sins by the sacrifice of his body [Heb. 10:10], to wash them by his blood [Rev. 1:15], in short to reconcile us to God the Father [Rom. 5:10]? From this one fact they could have learned more than from a thousand crosses of wood or stone."

To be sure, Calvin made allowances for images in private homes and the depiction of histories, etc... But here Calvin's argument was that the abundance of religious images was a byproduct of the Church's failure to preach faithfully the whole counsel of God. Rather than 'books for the unlearned', some saw images as unfortunate substitutes for sound teaching.

Later puritan biblicism and iconophobia were, in many ways, efforts to preserve the richness of the Gospel. Rather than images, the puritan mind saw The Bible as 'the book for the unlearned'. Where the uneducated were concerned, the remedy was to preach the Word, not to paint it.

Monday Meditation: On Meditation

"Meditation is either of the minde and understanding, or the heart and affections:

Meditation of the understanding, is when reason discourseth of things read, or heard ... . They that want [lack] this, how much soever they have heard or read, yet shall they never have sound and setled judgement. And for this cause it is said, that the greatest clarkes are not the wisest men.

Meditation of the affections, is when having a thing in judgement, wee ever digest it and make it worke upon our affections. It is a continuall searching of our selves, and labouring to lay up all things in the treasures of our hearts. The other will goe away except this be joyned with it: for judgement will away except we frame our affections unto it."

- Richard Greenham (early 1540s-1594)
From "A Profitable Treatise, Containing a Direction for the Reading and Understanding of the Holy Scriptures"

Greenham is sometimes perceived as the "forgotten father of puritan spirituality". Though many scholars affirm his eminence, comparatively little attention has been given to his life and work.

Two great biographies of Greenham were published in 1998: 'Practical Divinity': The Works and Life of Revd Richard Greenham, by Kenneth L. Parker and Eric J. Calson, and Richard Greenham: The Portrait of an Elizabethan Pastor, by John H. Primus. Non-academic readers will find the latter a bit more accessible, but the former contains several lengthy excerpts from Greenham's writings, including the one above (pp. 342-43).

To his credit, Joel Beeke also included a chapter on Greenham in his recent tome, Meet the Puritans (2006; pp. 290-96).

For more on puritan meditation (in the 17th century, of which Greenham was a precursor), see Amy Gant's excellent site.


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