Friday, May 23, 2008

A Brief Introduction

Although I have been registered for this blog for some months I must apologise that this is the first time I have got round to posting anything here. I notice that a few people have looked at my profile already so I thought I would give a brief introduction to myself.

I am actually an impostor, having studied Natural Sciences at University, however after graduating I came to my senses and made a switch to the Queen of Sciences. My initial research at Masters level was on Edward Hyde, the Earl of Clarendon, the famous author of the 'History of the Rebellion'. Clarendon, as I am sure many will know, was far from being a Puritan. Through him I gained an interest in seventeenth century Theology and also neo-Stoicism.

My original plan was to pursue a PhD looking into the theology of conscience and duty. However after rather a large number of very small changes my topic has transformed completely and I am now studying Richard Baxter and his Trinitarian Theology.

Baxter is a fascinating figure and seemingly much misunderstood. In academic circles there has been a tendency to attach a large number of contradictory labels to his name, while among Christians although often admired as a pastor his theology is usually treated as an embarrassing lapse. I hope to address some of these issues and to demonstrate the Trinitarian character of Baxter's much vaunted 'Mere Christianity'.

I think that is enough of an introduction for the present. On a personal level I have many sympathies with the Puritans, but as an Anglican and Royalist cannot quite bring myself to agree with their politics...

It is also worth noting that I am fanatical about dogs.

Synopsis of The Elizabethan Puritan Movement, Parts 1-2

I’ve been meaning to post this for some time: a section-by-section synopsis of Patrick Collinson’s important, detailed history of The Elizabethan Puritan Movement. The book is divided into eight parts, each of which contains three to five chapters.

I've divided the synopsis into four bite-size installments. Of course, if you have the time, I recommend reading the entire thing.

In case you missed our 'Conventicle Q&A' with the author, check it out here.

Part One: Puritanism and the Elizabethan Church

  1. The Church of England and the English Churches
  2. 'But Halfly Reformed’
  3. The Beginnings of a Party
The common view prevailing among the English during the late sixteenth century was that the Church of England—its entire membership—were to be considered orthodox, as long as its doctrine were sound. By contrast, those who were eventually labelled puritans perceived a real difference between themselves and the nominal, lukewarm majority who claimed to be members of the church. Puritans are best distinguished from conformist Anglicans (a term that came into use in a later era), not by their theology, but by their “temperature”: they were “the hotter sort of protestants”, according to one Elizabethan pamphleteer.

There were several elements within the church that needed reforming at the beginning of the Elizabethan period. It was in financial disarray, its courts operated with a complexity that defied logic, many of its clergy were unlearned, and most importantly, there were no means in place by which to instill and enforce discipline in the leadership or the laity. In addition, semi-Pelagianism was rife in the populace–a quasi-Protestant set of beliefs one clergyman called “country divinity”.

William Whittingham was probably the most prominent leader of the movement at this early phase. He was among those who had spent time in Calvin’s Geneva during the reign of Mary I, and who now sought to bring Genevan influences to bear in the English Church. Some individuals joined the clergy in order to promote reform; others chose to remain outside the episcopal establishment. Many reform-minded ministers began to meet in small groups for mutual edification, after the pattern of the Continental Protestant churches’ presbyterian assemblies.

From the beginning, puritan ministers were supported by wealthy gentry who were sympathetic to their cause. Within the queen’s court, the puritans had good friends in Francis Russell, earl of Bedford, and Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester. A number of gentry sent their children to be educated by puritan instructors in the universities.

Part Two: The Breach Opens

  1. ‘So Many Learned and Religious Bishops’
  2. ‘That Comical Dress’
  3. London’s Protestant Underground
  4. The People and the Pope’s Attire
In the years immediately following Elizabeth’s accession, the English Church’s more progressive, reform-minded bishops were able to interpret the Elizabethan Religious Settlement as they wished. Differences of opinion soon came to the fore, however, in what became known as the Vestments Controversy (1563-67). The queen and her archbishop, Matthew Parker, stipulated that all clergy were to wear the square cap, gown, tippet, and surplice, or be suspended. In March 1565, several refused to comply and were suspended, though before long, most did subscribe. The most obdurate protests came from Robert Crowley, John Philpot, John Gough and Percival Wiburn. The first puritan manifestoes (see one example, right) were printed and disseminated during these years.

Both proponents and opponents of vestments appealed to Protestant leaders in Geneva (Theodore Beza) and Zurich (Rodolph Gualter). Beza took a fairly moderate stance, urging dissidents in England to comply with official policy, while continuing to preach against vestments.

During the 1560s, a group of separatists and semi-separatists formed in London, in the Minories, Plumbers Hall and other areas. They were led by preachers John Field and Thomas Wilcox, and by other figures who were not affiliated with the state church. In 1567, around one hundred of their number were incarcerated because of their unsanctioned meetings. Many then became full-blown separatists.

Puritanism gained a fairly strong foothold among both laymen and -women; the latter, in fact, gave considerable strength to the movement. Puritan layfolk came to refer to themselves as “the godly”. For many of them, the clerical cap and surplice brought memories of the reign of Mary I, still fairly recent, when Catholic bishops and priests supervised the grisly execution of many Protestant martyrs. Negative images of Rome like this helped to foster views sympathetic to puritanism among the populace.

Parts 3-4 coming soon . . .

Get a copy:

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Remembering John Stoughton

Dear Conventiclers,

I must apologise for my long absence. I have been busy getting married (see this and this: I’m the one in the white dress) and writing various chapters of my PhD thesis.

Those of you who are long-term readers of this blog might remember that rather than studying the Puritans per se, I am studying some nineteenth-century historians who wrote about them. One of my historians, almost entirely forgotten now, although I have mentioned him a few times before on the Conventicle, is called John Stoughton. I think he’s rather interesting. Here’s a short introduction to him (adapted from my first chapter).

John Stoughton was born in 1807 and brought up in Norwich. Two hundred years earlier, he would have lived in a Puritan heartland. He may well have fitted in.

His autobiography, Recollections of a Long Life (1894), reveals a warm-hearted man with an eventful upbringing. His father worshipped in Methodist congregation, but still considered himself to be a Church of England man. His mother was a Quakeress until she married.

Stoughton’s father died when he was a small child, and he spent a lot of his time in his youth visiting Bethel Hospital (a secure psychiatric hospital), where his grandfather was master. His autobiography details the rather gruesome end his grandfather met when one of the patients had an awful aberration, forgetting that the scythe he was holding was supposed to be for mowing the lawn.

When Stoughton was seventeen, he felt a call to Christian ministry, but because of his mixed background had no idea which denomination to choose. After researching different options, he decided that, although no existing church model seemed to fit exactly with New Testament teaching, he felt Congregationalism came closest. This decision set the path for the rest of his life. He left his training as a lawyer and began preparing to be a congregational minister.

Dissenting places of worship in Norwich - see especially the top left, Congregational Meeting House built 1693: thanks for this picture to

This involved moving to London. In the big city, Stoughton became deeply involved with the British and Foreign Bible Society, and was much moved by the members’ love of evangelicals from all denominations, and their reverence for the works of the Puritans (who they saw as theological antecedents of nineteenth-century evangelicals).

Stoughton became a co-pastor of a congregational church in Windsor in 1833, and moved to Hornton Street Church, Kensington, in 1844. He was, as I said, chiefly a pastor, but he also nurtured an unquenchable interest in Church History.

In 1848, his first volume on the Puritans, Spiritual Heroes, was published. In 1852 he wrote Lights of the World, which included mini-biographies of Bunyan and Baxter, as representative of ‘Spiritual Valour and Victory’ and ‘Earnest Decision’ respectively. At this stage he was rather polemical in favour of the Puritans, and not what might be called an ‘academic’ historian. But as his research progressed so his approach and writing-style developed, and he became increasingly interested in his primary sources. Ten years later, his Church and State Two Hundred Years Ago considered ecclesiastical affairs in England from 1660 to 1663. This was followed in 1867 by two volumes on Ecclesiastical History from the Opening of the Long Parliament to the Death of Oliver Cromwell in 1867, and then two more volumes on the history of the Church of the Restoration in 1870. In the end, Stoughton wrote another 5 volumes, moving his Church History forward in time to his own day. By this time he had altogether written 7 full-length volumes on the Puritan era alone, and many pamphlets and shorter works, and was widely respected in British Evangelical circles (both dissenting and Church of England). In 1872 he was given the chair of historical theology at New College (of Independent Dissenters), St John’s Wood, North London. He was also something of a public figure: in 1874 he spoke at the unveiling of the statue of John Bunyan in Bedford; in 1875 he performed a similar honour for the statue of Richard Baxter in Kidderminster. On both these occasions, he was considered a voice of articulate nonconformity.

He had various influential friends, including A.P. Stanley, who was Dean of Westminster, an important position within the Anglican Church.

Stoughton died in 1897. Shortly afterwards, a biography written by his daughter was published, A Short Record of a Long Life. He has a rather small (and not factually inerrant) article devoted to him in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, but these days he is almost forgotten.

Stoughton played, I believe, a significant role in the ‘recovery’ of Puritanism in Britain in the nineteenth century. As we can see, he was both a prolific and a respected figure in his day. Let’s remember him for these things.

Signing off for now,
Susan C (was Susan A)

Monday, May 19, 2008

Are Narratives and Propositions Opposed?

Time and again in my personal conversations with others on the nature of Scripture and other related matters, I’ve found that narratives and propositions are set up as antithetical (on a related point see Helm's Deep). Why should they be? I’m unconvinced that they are so, or that the Reformed Orthodox presented theology in such a way that propositional truths were allowed to trump the Biblical narrative of redemptive history. Both forms were valid ways of communicating the Gospel and the truth of Scripture.

Recently, while reading the outstanding thesis by Henry Knapp entitled, Understanding the Mind of God: John Owen and Seventeenth Century Exegetical Methodology (Calvin Theological Seminary, 2002), I came across a quotation from William Perkins which proves the point. In his The Arte of Prophecying, Perkins presents the Gospel in both narrative and propositional forms (pardon the 16th century spelling):

The true Messias shall be both God and man of the seede of Dauid; he shall be borne of a virgin; he shall bring the Gospell forth of his Fathers bosome; he shall satisfie the Law; he shall offer up himselfe a sacrifice for the sinnes of the faithfull; he shall conquer death by dying and rising againe; he shall ascend into heaven; and in his due time he shall returne unto iudgement.

Iesus of Nazaret the Sonne of Mary is such a one:

He therefore is the true Messias.

In this syllogisme the Maior is the scope or principall drift in all the writings of the Prophets: and the Minor in the writings of the Euangelists and Apostles.

(cited in Knapp, 81)


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