One of the most volumous and rich periods of Christian tradition and writing is that of the sixteenth and seventeenth century Puritans. The number of works and pages they produced is staggering and is only outdone by their passion for Christ and their commitment to the Scripture about which they wrote. They produced many classics that Christians have read for centuries since. They have been the victim of misunderstanding by many but for those who have taken the time to read them they have been changed forever.
In line with a long string of contemporary reprints and books on the Puritans comes a staggering volume which sets a new standard for Puritan studies. Coauthors Joel Beeke and Mark Jones have written A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life which sets out to provide a systematic theology on the theology of Continental reformed theologians of the sixteenth an seventeenth century. Weighing nearly 5 pounds and measuring 2” x 7.5” x 10.2”, this book moves beyond an introduction to the field of Puritan theology and provides a rich and vast well to draw from in ones quest for gaining a better grasp of the Puritans. The Works Referenced section is 45 pages long which includes both the primary and secondary sources cited throughout.
Due to the size and content of the book a review is necessarily general in scope. So, what can be said and what kind of book is this? In answering the second question first, this book is a systematic theology of Puritan thought. There are eight sections to the book which cover the ten traditional headings of theology from prolegomena to eschatology. The first section deals with prolegomena and includes a chapter on the famous The Marrow of Theology by William Ames. Angels and demons are taken up in the second section on theology proper along with the doctrine of God. Stephen Charnock’s work Discourses upon the Existence and Attributes of God begins this section. Woven together with anthropology is the Puritans understanding of covenant theology in the third section with a summary of covenant conditions in chapter nineteen. The fourth section deals with Christology with a very applicable chapter on how the Puritans understood the promises of God. The fifth section addresses soteriology with chapters on the Holy Spirit, benefits of salvation such as justification and adoption and perseverance. Ecclesiology is covered in the sixth section. Along with the standard discussions of church polity and sacraments are two chapters on the Puritans theology of preaching. Eschatology is dealt with in the seventh section. Finally, various aspects of the Christian life are covered in the eighth section. This fits well with the subtitle of the book Doctrine for Life. More on that later.
There is a lot that can be said about this book. First, the authors clearly qualified to write this book. Beeke and Jones are recognized Puritan specialists and they have an unparalleled command of the primary source material as well as familiarity with other second hand works like their own. As the president of Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, Beeke has authored and coauthored many books dealing with the Puritans. Jones himself is a Puritan scholar and has published several books relate to Puritanism of the sixteenth and seventeenth century. Ten years in the making, this book is a testament to the authors love and familiarity to Puritan theology. I suspect there will be many more books from these two as a result of their long and intense research and study. Additionally, Beeke and Jones are honest enough to recognize that the Puritans were not always correct in everything they taught nor did they always use the best language or terminology to describe their theology. For instance, in chapter 28 on preparatory grace, the writers express concern over the use of the term “qualification” and “qualified sinner” when it comes to the work of the Holy Spirit in a person’s life before making a profession of faith in Christ (455).
Second, concerning the content of the book, it becomes immediately clear that the Puritans were concerned with two things. First, they were committed exegetes of Scripture and held it in highest regard. In similar fashion to reading the early church fathers, reading the Puritans is like reading Scripture itself. They were devoted to the word of God because from it we receive our saving knowledge of Christ and how it informs the way we live our lives for Christ. They show a command of the languages, systematic and biblical theology. Second, the Puritans were rightly obsessed with Christ himself. As is similar to the work of Calvin in his Institutes of the Christian Religion, the Puritans related and saw everything concerning Scripture and the Christian life in light of Christ. They were highly Christocentric in every sense of the word.
Third, as the subtitle states, this book reflects the often missed theme that runs throughout the Puritans works – doctrine is for life. While the final section is on theology in practice, it becomes quickly apparent to the reader that the Puritans connected all of their theology to life. Unfortunately, too many people see the Puritans writing as stuffy, dense and wordy. Surely their writing style certainly has a character of its own but I fear our inability at times to benefit from their works has more to do with us than with them. Whether it is regarding the promises of God to the believer or the nature of God himself, the Puritans sought to bring all of these truths to bear on the life of the believer.
Though an admittedly large and intimidating book, A Puritan Theology is a must read for any Puritan lover. Those wanting to gain a better grasp of the primary sources from experts should start here. Those interested in systematic theology will benefit immensely from this work as it is one itself. Because the Puritans were so devoted to Christ and the application of theology for life, this book almost serves as a walk-through devotional of the Puritans. Plenty of Scripture and application abound. The book is worth its weight in gold and will serve Christians for generations to come.
NOTE: I received this book for free from Reformation Heritage Books in exchange for my honest review. The words and thoughts expressed in this review are my own and I was under no obligation to provide a favorable review.