I remember a while back discussing with a pastor the wealth of practical theological resources that have been published in the last half century. Much valuable work has been done in the fields of biblical theology, discipleship, counseling, practical preaching, and foundational Bible study. As we talked about this recent renaissance of Christian publishing for the benefit of the English-speaking church, it dawned on me that I don’t know much about the very first English language Christian renaissance: the era of the Puritans. In fact, much of the excellent work published today is intentionally mining the great Puritan classics. I’ve noticed that two of today’s most influential “reformed” church leaders, John Piper and Tim Keller, own a great debt to the theology and devotion of Jonathan Edwards. Edwards is considered the last of the Puritans. Many consider him the culmination of the Puritan movement and vision. But Edwards was standing on the shoulders of giants who came before him. Wouldn’t it be helpful and perhaps transformative, I thought, to learn more about the Puritans? Who were they? What did they believe? What was their vision of the Christian life? Who were the giants of Puritanism? What are the most helpful books by Puritans for Christians today?
These questions led me to a book devoted to answering these questions. The Devoted Life: An Invitation to the Puritan Classics (eds. Kelly Kapic and Randall Gleason), is an introductory history of some of the major Puritans during the movement’s height of influence in the 16th-18th centuries, including synopses of some of their most enduring and influential books. This book is exactly what I was looking for: a collection of essays by various authors, all experts in their field, each introducing me to a particular Puritan and his/her best work. Twenty chapters highlight 18 books, published from 1592 to 1746. As is the case with all books with multiple contributors, some chapters are better than others. Some contributors summarize a book so thoroughly that the reader feels no compulsion to actually read the book! Some essays delve too much into the details of the Puritan author’s life, to the point of driving the reader to skip ahead to something more interesting. But many of the chapters strike the right balance, informing just enough to make the reader hungry for more details on the Puritan author and his work. After finishing this book, I’d like to read the following Puritan classics over the next 10 years. Perhaps you have already read one of these, or would like to sample the best of the Puritans to deepen your understanding of Scripture and grow in grace and godliness.
Letters by Samuel Rutherford (1600-1661). Collection of his personal correspondence.
The Reformed Pastor by Richard Baxter (1615-1691). Shepherd’s handbook.
Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan (1628-1688). Novel, allegory of the Christian life.
A Body of Divinity by Thomas Watson (d. 1686). Practical exposition and application of the Westminster Shorter Catechism.
The Mystery of Providence by John Flavel (1628-1691). Discerning God’s hand in everyday life.
Human Nature in Its Fourfold State by Thomas Boston (1676-1732). A biblical theology of man.
A Puritan Golden Treasury by I.D.E. Thomas. Collection of quotations.