There’s no denying we have some extraordinary theologians in our generation. Solid, helpful Christian books come off the presses faster than anyone can read them. But we would do well to make room on our bookshelves and nightstands for books from centuries past, which have stood the test of time—like those written by the Puritans of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. These believers differed from each other in many ways, but their united goal was “a continuation of the work of reforming the visible church, the lives of church members, and the society in which they lived.”
We would do well to make room on our bookshelves and nightstands for books from centuries past, which have stood the test of time—like those written by the Puritans of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
Mark Dever sums up the Puritans well when he says “they were such utterly serious and joyful Christians.” The “joyful” part might surprise you if you’re under the impression that the Puritans were stodgy, legalistic, and lifeless. If that’s the case, prepare to be constantly surprised by the documentary Puritan: All of Life to the Glory of God.
Unboxing the deluxe edition of Puritan felt like Christmas morning. As well as the main documentary, there are discs with special features and, most significantly, 35 video lessons about various Puritan figures and themes. Two books are also included—a workbook that accompanies the lessons, and a special gift book introducing Puritanism.
The beautifully designed Puritan documentary gives an introduction to this movement, covering its history, core beliefs, notable figures, and the legacy it has left for us today.
Several well-known theologians and pastors—including John Piper, Albert Mohler, and J.I. Packer—give personal testimonies about how the Puritans have helped and shaped them. And help is the key word here. Piper emphasises that by reading the Puritans, we are not looking for new ideas—for we never want to move away from the authority of Scripture—rather, we are looking for help from those who loved and followed the Bible before us. As Rosaria Butterfield says: “They are strong on the very things that most of us are very weak on.”
So what is it that we need to learn from the Puritans? We are given many answers, but a few key ones are personal piety, holiness, and the centrality of expository preaching. Contrary to the belief of H.L. Mencken, who famously described this movement as “the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy”, the Puritans weren’t just concerned with outward behaviours. They preached and wrote to affect the heart which is behind all our actions. I fear that today we have lost the Puritans’ emphasis on affection for Christ, which leaves us seeing holiness as a burdensome work rather than the response of a heart captured by God’s glory.
As we progress through the series, we explore key Puritan figures who played important roles in this period of the church. Some of these I was familiar with and had even read their writings. It was fascinating to learn more about their lives and influence. Others I’d never heard of, so I came away with better understanding and a long reading list.
Puritan then brings us into the present day, to show is that Puritanism is still relevant. It’s “a very living reality in the world, and a growing reality, today.” Great figures of church history like Charles Spurgeon and Martyn Lloyd-Jones sprang from Puritan roots. The movement lives on today in the pastors who labour diligently in obscurity to teach the Bible to the glory of God.
All the theologians who were interviewed deeply love the Puritans, but this doesn’t mean they are blind to their faults. The documentary doesn’t shy away from grappling with hard issues like slave-ownership and questionable methods of preaching. Our goal in reading the Puritans is not to reconstruct the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries as if they were ideal, but rather to learn from them.
The main documentary won’t be enough to satisfy you once you’ve got a taste for the Puritans. That’s why I loved the 35 video lessons. Along with the accompanying workbook, they’re designed to be used in various contexts like personal devotions, Sunday school, Bible study groups, or family worship. I used them for my morning devotions over several weeks and they richly fed my soul.
I loved the 35 video lessons. I used them for my morning devotions over several weeks and they richly fed my soul.
Half of the lessons cover Puritan figures, both famous and more obscure, while the rest explore what the Puritans thought about everything from suffering to education to evangelism. The workbook gets you thinking deeply about the content (as well as a related Bible passage) and applying it to your own life. I loved the lists of further reading at the end of each lesson.
The final component of this deluxe edition is a beautiful gift book. It covers some of the same ground as the documentary and lessons, but also goes into more detail on many subjects. If you’re new to reading the Puritans, you might find the appendix particularly helpful, as it suggests which books to start with.
Puritan: All of Life to the Glory of God is a treasure-trove. Since working through the material I have already noticed a greater yearning in my heart to know and love Christ. It’s made a difference to my personal holiness—I find I ponder my thoughts and decisions more carefully, thinking about how I can love Christ more than my sin.
This deluxe edition set is admittedly not cheap. I’m grateful to Reformers Bookshop have received a copy for review.* But in my opinion it’s worth it, and would work well for a group to study together. This is a resource I’m going to keep coming back to when I need some old advice on a certain topic, or when I simply want to have my affections for Christ stirred up. As much as I love learning more about church history and theology, this documentary was more than an intellectual pursuit. It gave me an earnest desire not just to go and read Puritan works, but to have Puritan affections, to behold God the way those believers did.
Can you help us support Christians like you?
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought enormous change into our lives and the life of the church.
Learn more about partnering with TGCA to provide free online resources that not only help Christians and churches survive this pandemic, but grow in their faith.