Why I need to read puritan literature?

Discussion in 'The Pilgrims Progress' started by user12009, Feb 27, 2019.

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  1. user12009

    user12009 Puritan Board Freshman

    My question is simple, why I need to read puritans? In what way puritans writings differ from the modern reformed authors?

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  2. KMK

    KMK Administrator Staff Member

    The writings of the Puritans are trustworthy and efficient. They are trustworthy because they have stood the test of time. Where there are faults, they are well documented. They are efficient in that they don't waste words (Richard Baxter not withstanding). You are going to get more out of Thomas Boston in thirty minutes than you will out of modern writers.
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  3. JimmyH

    JimmyH Puritan Board Junior

    In my humble opinion there are quite a few good reasons why I read the Puritans. The level of education at that time was far superior to modern times. Anthony Burgess was fluent in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew by the time he was 13 years old. Not atypical of the scholars of Puritan times.

    I think the piety of the Puritans who published works was unmatched. While there was some controversy over doctrines/heresies they knew what they believed.

    While there were probably plenty of diversions to draw people away from studying the Bible it is nothing like today with all of the electronic media, 24 hour news cycle.

    When you look at the output of published works by the Reformers, and the Puritans .... Luther, Calvin, Owen, Baxter, Boston, and Goodwin, to name a few ... A goldmine of exegesis and piety. When I began reading some of the above I was, to use modern parlance, 'blown away' time and again by the intellect and usefulness in application to me in the 21st century. Try it, you'll like it. :)
  4. greenbaggins

    greenbaggins Administrator Staff Member

    Ajay, I will add a few other thoughts.

    C.S. Lewis once enjoined upon people to read older books in general, because, although they made mistakes, they didn't make the same mistakes we do. Obviously, if we think the modern era is without mistakes, then we are engaging in a chronological snobbery.

    With regard to the Puritans, the one mistake they not only avoided, but actually provided a great deal of inoculation against is the highly artificial divisions that exist in theology today, most notably between exegesis and systematic theology; and between doctrine and practice. The latter one is especially important today, since myriads of church-goers think of doctrine as abstract and irrelevant, refuse to study the doctrine, and thus become weak and spiritually anemic. The Puritans are the best antidote to this kind of thinking.

    The Puritans were profound thinkers, and above all, wanted Christ to be formed in people. Their appeals are to the whole person.

    I don't for a moment think that we ought to read only Puritans. However, as devotional material goes, surely their works rank at the top.
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  5. Ryan&Amber2013

    Ryan&Amber2013 Puritan Board Junior

    This is interesting. Can you please explain further? Thanks.
  6. Harley

    Harley Puritan Board Sophomore

    Could you expand on this separation between exegesis and systematic theology?
  7. greenbaggins

    greenbaggins Administrator Staff Member

    Jake and Ryan, sure, I will expound a bit.

    Modern theology took a wrong turn with the Enlightenment and Johann Gabler's take on the relationship between biblical theology and systematic theology. To put it in a nutshell, modern theology drives a wedge between the two. Biblical theology is generally seen as historically based, and closer to the text. Systematic theology is seen as a philosophizing tendency, where the categories are imposed on Scripture from philosophy, rather than utilizing categories the Scriptures themselves propound.

    What it looks like today is this: two groups of theologians that view each other with great suspicion. Exegetes don't like having the "fetters" of systematic theology preventing them from "going where the evidence leads." Systematic theologians are then tempted to discount the discoveries of exegesis, because there is no control on the boundaries of exegesis. During the days of the Pete Enns controversy at WTS, this was one of the foundational issues.

    The problem with the exegetes is that EVERY exegete uses a systematic theology of sorts in order to narrow down the exegetical possibilities to those he finds most genial. The question is not whether an exegete will have a systematic theology, but whether it will be a good one or a bad one.

    Conversely, the systematician who ignores exegesis in favor of philosophy has forgotten than exegesis is the lifeblood of ST.

    While I don't see the Puritans directly addressing this particular rift in a conscious way, unconsciously, the Puritans practiced a highly unified theological method. You don't find them taking off their exegetical hat in order to do ST, or vice versa. It's all happily jumbled up together in a fully integrated, completely interdependent way.
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  8. Gabriel Barnes

    Gabriel Barnes Puritan Board Freshman

  9. Jake

    Jake Puritan Board Junior

    I believe you're referring to this introductory essay Lewis wrote to a work of the early church father Athanasius:


    It's well worth everyone here's time.
  10. timfost

    timfost Puritan Board Junior

    Because much of it is free on Google Play Books. ;)
  11. Ryan&Amber2013

    Ryan&Amber2013 Puritan Board Junior

    The Puritans seemed to take godliness and virtuous living more serious than many others I have seen and read. Sadly they get called legalistic for this, though.
  12. Charles Johnson

    Charles Johnson Puritan Board Freshman

    I agree with everything that has been said so far - I might add that modern systematic theology - especially following the advent of the Princeton School - tends to try to distill and systematize previous theological works, but a lot of times there are details or distinctions that are present in the theological source material that didn't end up in the later systematic theologies - so read the Puritans for the full picture, I guess?
  13. py3ak

    py3ak They're stalling and plotting against me Staff Member

    As others have said:
    1. For a perspective from a different situation without your blind spots;
    2. For balance from theological generalists;
    3. For depth of spiritual insight;
    4. For detail of personal application and refutation of mistakes.

    They have to be supplemented, but perhaps less so than any comparable group of theologians.
  14. Harley

    Harley Puritan Board Sophomore

    The exegesis-only class here doesn't sound far removed at all from the me-and-my-Bible crowd, or those who deny a need for a written Confession. In truth they have their maxims and their creeds even if unwritten, they just don't admit it. Like one lady I've heard say, "Our church is non0denominational, we believe the Bible." As if everyone else is reading the Quran instead?

    How does the imbalance manifest on the side of those preferring systematic theology? Mainly in forcing every text through a predetermined grid without letting a text speak for itself and reform the system to Scripture? We need to have our truths ordered and systematized (I've appreciated your other recent posts on this matter), but we also need a system that accounts for all the Scriptural data. If you conform Scripture to your construct of the data whether or not the text fits all that well, and not let your thoughts be transformed by the Word, seems like you might encroach on being judge over the Word of God.
  15. greenbaggins

    greenbaggins Administrator Staff Member

    Jake, yes, you have pictured it pretty well, what the systematicians look like without exegesis. I prefer to think of a spiral (this thought is not original with me). Exegesis is constantly informing ST, which is, in turn, constantly providing a boundary for exegesis. ST keeps exegesis vertebrate, while exegesis keeps ST flexible enough to, as you say, account for all the biblical data. As long as ST is not considered to be a reified stone, then it will mostly be well.

    Of course, the other problem to avoid is a constantly plastic ST that shifts sideways, ignoring (ironically!) passages such as Jude that speak of the faith once for all delivered to the saints. The flexibility of ST must needs take into account both the faith once for all delivered (and thus not constantly shifting), and yet the demands of a bounded exegesis, in such a way that ST is constantly digging into the same truths deeper, not moving sideways.
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