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5.01.2016

Definition of a Puritan

How to define the Puritans (historic and modern)?

1. Bible oriented. Bible-believing, Bible-focused, Word of God valuing Christians.

2. They understand the fact and reality of supernatural regeneration by the Word and the Spirit.

3. They understand the difference between fearing the world and fearing God alone. They feared God alone.

4. They took a spiritual warfare approach to the faith. They understood and experienced the spiritual battlefield. For them this made biblical doctrine actual armor of God. They wanted real armor, hence they had no problem with 'hard truth' biblical doctrine (Calvinism), because it re-oriented them inwardly to being God-centered rather than man-centered or, in other words, being conformed to Christ.

5. They were practical with the faith (or "reduced to practice" the Christian faith). A soldier on a battlefield is a practical individual. Life and death is on the line constantly. For Puritans the Word of God and biblical doctrine is not merely philosophical or theoretical, but as practical as a spade, a weapon, a fox hole, or a good pair of boots.

6. Puritans are anti-establishment; or just by their nature outside any and all establishments. They are separated out from the world. They tend to be political targets of religious establishments and objects of mockery to the establishment.

7. Without being academic in the usual shallow ways (while still being willing to exploit any and all influences and sources of on-the-mark teaching, and being grateful for the effort to produce it, while producing it themselves as well) Puritans sought a complete understanding of the faith. They sought parts-in-relation-to-the-whole understanding of the Bible and its doctrine. They knew a Christian is to be a prophet, priest, and king, and that the bar is raised high to be that, yet the Holy Spirit enables the Christian to meet and exceed that bar. For Puritans learning is active, and individual (we face death and our judgment, ultimately, standing solely on our own two feet).

8. They had a strong doctrine of sin and the very real wrath of God. They knew their own state. Tyndale's metaphor of the venomous snake described the Puritan understanding. We are snakes with poison in us, and we can't get the poison out of us. Only God can. And even if we don't strike with our fangs, it is nevertheless our nature to strike. So from birth, due to original and then active sin, we are by our very constitution unable to be in the Kingdom of God. It takes an act of God to change us, give us a new heart, and recognize the righteousness of Christ in us which we appropriate by faith in the life and death of Jesus Christ. In other words we can't improve ourselves enough to get into the Kingdom of God. The leopard can't change his spots. Only God can change us. And until He does, by an act of pure grace, we are children of wrath fit for the lake of fire. This stark realization Puritans came to know at an experiential level.

9. Which gets back starkly to the Bible. The word of God. Puritans knew regeneration was solely an act of God, we can't effect it. Yet the word of God, the living, quickening language of the Bible, is the wild card. God says in His Word, several times: move towards Me, and I'll move towards you. The Puritans knew we move towards God not by ritual or physical buildings, but by reading and getting understanding of the Word of God and by prayer.

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So, to put is starkly, or plainly: what distinguishes a Puritan from other types or schools of Christians is a hyper focus and leaning on the Bible; an experiential knowing of the wrath of God, sin, and of regeneration; a spiritual warfare approach to the faith, rather than an academic or any other accented approach to the faith; a true fear of God alone and not the world or man; a practical approach to the faith; an anti-establishment stance regarding the faith; and a desire to get complete parts-in-relation-to-the-whole understanding of the faith, and not disdaining terminal understanding of the basics once arrived there.

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An email on the subject:

There is some confusion among Reformed academics - theologians and church historians - as to how to define who was and who wasn't a Puritan and whether there was any such thing as Puritans at all to begin with (some actually wonder this).

I see it this way: my observation that there is an academic approach to the faith and a spiritual warfare approach plays into this problem they have. The academic types can't see the spiritual warfare types or their approach.


The Puritans are defined as Reformed (Calvinist) believers who took (take) a spiritual warfare approach to the faith. This is why they are seen as practical and "reducing to practice" the Christian faith; because when you take a spiritual warfare approach you are like a soldier on a battlefield (the spiritual battlefield), and there is no more practical individual or group of individuals than a soldier on a battlefield. They need real things, no arguments. And doctrine becomes the real armor of God. They don't care that real doctrine is "hard" or insults their fallen nature. They are on a battlefield facing real enemies. They don't care if some people's feelings are getting hurt by the existence of real unwatered-down doctrine, that is what they need to survive.


The Puritans (then and today) understood regeneration and how it puts one on a real spiritual battlefield; and how doctrine becomes real armor of God.

People who take an academic approach to the faith - God bless them, we all benefit from their work (some of their work anyway) - can't see the seriousness or even reality of the spiritual battlefield and what soldiers on that battlefield need, hence they have difficultly even seeing those soldier or sometimes even admitting they exist at all.


Another difference between Puritans and other Reformed types is Puritans tended to be outside the Establishment of their time. In fact they were often fleeing the law and even their home countries.


When John Owen met John Bunyan we saw the two types together; and notice who it was who admired the other with more respect and awe. If you don't know it was John Owen who expressed his respect for John Bunyan, and you can feel that in the anecdote as it's come down to us. Owen may actually have been more Puritan than his position allowed him to be. Gurnall would be another who felt the tension of being a Puritan by type yet who hadn't crossed the divide from Establishment to outsider during his life and career. - C.

2 Comments:

Anonymous monax said...

appreciated reading this

May 7, 2016 at 7:54 AM  
Blogger c.t. said...

Thanks, D.

May 8, 2016 at 8:43 AM  

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