Saturday, November 17, 2007

Those Wild & Crazy Puritans

Earlier this week Tony Reinke told how you can listen to J. I. Packer's lectures on the Puritans for free at RTS on iTunes U. Besides hearing a fabulous firsthand account of the puritans (!), you can hear Packer explain, as only he can do, how the puritans liked to 'whoop it up.' I kid you not. Listen to the first lecture to discover these worldly saints as you never have before.

I wanted to wait a few days before I posted this in order to give space to the outstanding Conventicle Q & A with Prof. Patrick Collinson. On behalf of the rest of the conventiclers, thank you Chris for conducting this interview and for your efforts to make this blog an online database for those wild and crazy puritans.

Barzun: 100th Birthday

Some of our readers might be interested to know that on November 30, 2007 Jacques Barzun turns 100. Perhaps best known for his resourceful book Modern Researcher (with Henry F. Graff) and his awarding winning From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Culture, from 1500 to Present, Barzun is one of the foremost cultural critics and intellectual historians of our day.

The New Yorker and The New Criterion have posted two excellent articles to commemorate the occasion. Here is a website devoted to the event.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Conventicle Q&A with Prof. Patrick Collinson

Prof. Collinson (right) with other scholars at the British Academy conference in September

Patrick Collinson is Emeritus Regius Professor of Modern History at the University of Cambridge, and a Fellow of Trinity College. He is a preeminent historian of post-Reformation English religious history, and his name will be familiar to anyone who has researched the early modern period in depth. His first major monograph, The Elizabethan Puritan Movement, was a ground-breaking work that changed the way many conceived the role of puritanism as a movement within the Church of England. (I hope to post a detailed summary of it here soon.) Historian Hugh Trevor-Roper wrote about it in the Sunday Times: "His erudition is unrivalled, his industry indefatigable. He has traced the Puritan underground movement in detail, identified its agents, discovered its local centres and secret workings."

Prof. Collinson has written several books and articles about puritanism and related subjects. Recently he published a very readable, concise volume about the Reformation. I had the privilege of chatting with him at a recent British Academy Conference in London, and asked if he would be willing to answer a few Conventicle questions. Fortunately for us, he obliged. We are very thankful for his contribution.

Some of Prof. Collinson's comments may puzzle those who draw on the writings of the puritans for spiritual enrichment, primarily. It will help to remember that he has developed his career as a historian of the period in which the puritans lived, first and foremost – not as a proponent of any particular theological tradition. To what extent should one's personal religious views affect the way he or she writes history? I will leave that discussion for the comments section. Feel free to voice your thoughts.

Again, many thanks to this founding father of contemporary puritan studies for sharing his time and his wisdom.

What factors led you to research the puritans?
The subject was proposed by my supervisor, Professor Sir John Neale. He needed to know more about the Elizabethan puritans as grist for the mill of the second volume of Elizabeth I and Her Parliaments on which he was at the time engaged. Moreover, he had recently been sent all the notes and drafts of a thesis on the subject which his pupil Edna Bibby had been working on when she sadly died (in the year that I was born, 1929). This material was handed to me, and I was given a room in University College London to keep it in. It was an odd thing for Neale to have done. I would not say to a doctoral student: 'Oh, by the way, here is the greater part of a thesis on this subject which someone else already wrote.' The Bibby archive saved me time. But I did a great deal of work myself – more than at any time before or since.

Given my own religious background, and the fact that I had taken a particular interest in ecclesiastical history as an undergraduate at Cambridge, I found that I was not averse to undertaking a major study of the Elizabethan puritans. (Unlike A.L. Rowse who, reviewing my first book for the English Historical Review, called it 'a thoroughly rebarbative subject'.)

Many scholars view the publication of your book, The Elizabethan Puritan Movement, as a watershed moment for the contemporary study of post-Reformation English religious history. What, in your view, differentiated your work from studies that came before it?
A flattering comment, but perhaps justified. What differentiated? I was not writing denominational history, and I include Anglicans among the denominations. Nor was I writing the kind of history which Marshall Moon Knappen wrote in his Tudor Puritanism, described in its subtitle as 'A Study in the History of Idealism'. I have no interest in 'idealism' (if such a substance exists), nor in its history if it does. My work was archive-based to an extent perhaps only possible in the University of London in the years of my doctoral research: 1952 to 1956. It would hardly be an exaggeration to say that I saw everything relevant to my subject, and especially the manuscript evidence.

What I contributed to our understanding of puritanism (developed and refined in many other publications over the next forty years) was that it (if 'it' ever existed) amounted to much more than the peripheral deviance from the Church of the Elizabethan Settlement, and the beginnings of the Nonconformity of the next four centuries. It was not outwith the Church of England but the most dynamic force within it. That argument depended upon a distinction between moderate and extreme elements (something we now associate with Islam and Islamicism) which was at the core of my original work. There were traces of naivety (and perhaps of idealism!, certainly of Guardian-reading pinkness) in my portrayal of moderate puritans like Archbishop Edmund Grindal (if Grindal was some kind of puritan). That has been thoroughly exposed in the acute and unsentimental work of Elisha to my Elijah, Professor Peter Lake.

With what virtues of the puritans are you most consistently impressed or inspired?
History fails to impress or inspire me. I refer you to a quotation from Lord Acton, used as a motto prefacing The Elizabethan Puritan Movement: 'I think our studies ought to be all but purposeless. They want to be pursued with chastity, like mathematics.'

At present, what aspects of puritan history are still in great need of exploration? (Or,) upon what areas do you think the next generation of scholars will be focussed?
I am sceptical about the concept of 'puritan history'. That very formulation involves, to my mind, an unacceptable degree of of reification in respect of an attributed category which makes sense only in the total context of the religious/social/cultural history of England in the century and a half following the Reformation. It is most necessary to apply to 'puritanism' the sophisticated and rigorous revisionism now (thanks to historians like Alexandra Walsham, Michael Questier and Peter Lake) applied to post-Reformation English Catholicism.

What is the most important bit of advice you would offer to those who are just beginning a career in historical research?
Don't do it! No, I didn't mean it. Brush up your Latin (or learn it) so that you can read all those things written by the Latinate literati of 16th- and 17th-century Europe. Bring French and especially German to the task as well. Break out of disabling English insularity. Put 'puritanism' into its European context. (Why not take a good look at the Rhenish Palatinate?) Avoid working on some tiny corner, or individual, not yet 'done'. But (in spite of all that) choose and shape a topic which can make a good Ph.D. thesis in three years, and a book in five or six. It was ten years after I passed my Ph.D. examination that my major monograph was published (admittedly, reasons for that – especially five years in the University of Khartoum) but nowadays I wouldn't have ten years, the academic marketplace being what it is.

Other works by Prof. Collinson:

Elizabeth I (Very Interesting People Series, 2007)

Elizabethans (2003)

Lady Margaret Beaufort and Her Professors of Divinity at Cambridge: 1502-1649 (2003)

Elizabethan Essays (1994)

The Birthpangs of Protestant England (1988)

The Religion of Protestants: The Church in English Society, 1559-1625

Archbishop Grindal, 1519-1583: The Struggle for a Reformed Church (1979)

Monday, November 12, 2007

Groeten aan onze Nederlandse lezers!

I hope I didn't slaughter the Dutch language with that title – it's supposed to mean, "Greetings to all our Dutch readers".

A few weeks ago, Edwin and I had the great pleasure of meeting another puritan enthusiast from across the pond. No, not that pond – he was from the Netherlands. Willem van Klinken (pictured) came to Edinburgh to visit the Banner of Truth headquarters here, and to interview its founder, Iain Murray. He is preparing an article for the BOT's 50th anniversary.

Willem works for Reformatorisch Dagblad, a Dutch Christian newspaper, and helps organize the material on a website called George Whitefield Stichting. One purpose of the latter site is to draw non-Reformed Dutch Christians to the rich fonts of Reformed literature, while exposing members of the Dutch Reformed churches to the vibrancy of puritan piety. Willem told Edwin and I that these two traditions had developed along quite separate lines, and knew little interaction.

It was encouraging to share our admiration for the puritan legacy, in spite of our different nationalities (Edwin from Singapore, me from the States and Willem from the Netherlands). We enjoyed our brief visit, and wish Willem and our other Dutch brethren all the best.

(NB - Joel Beeke includes some informative chapters that reveal the connection between Dutch and English puritanism in his book, Puritan Reformed Spirituality.)

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Frowned upon lately?

Our senior pastor preached on Jeremiah 45 today (hear the sermon), which relates an account about Baruch, the scribe who recorded that prophet's mostly gloomy messages. He had become discouraged about the way things had fallen out in his lifetime, and he despaired of the future.

In a well-known passage, the Lord spoke to Baruch personally to give him some needed perspective : "And do you seek great things for yourself? Seek them not ..." (v. 5)

I thought the commentary of Matthew Henry (1662–1714) on this passage was poignant (typically):

Baruch was employed in writing Jeremiah's prophecies, and reading them, and was threatened for it by the king. Young beginners in religion are apt to be discouraged with little difficulties, which they commonly meet with at first in the service of God. These complaints and fears came from his corruptions. Baruch had raised his expectations too high in this world, and that made the distress and trouble he was in harder to be borne. The frowns of the world would not disquiet us, if we did not foolishly flatter ourselves with the hopes of its smiles, and court and covet them. What a folly is it then to seek great things for ourselves here, where every thing is little, and nothing certain! The Lord knows the real cause of our fretfulness and despondency better than we do, and we should beg of him to examine our hearts, and to repress every wrong desire in us.


Copyright © 2008 Kristoforos Media. This layout made by and copyright cmbs.