It looks like I am the first UK reader to post a review of this excellent overview of the Puritans on Amazon...which given the significance of Packer's masterly distillation is a bit depressing. To be fair, I would probably not otherwise have got around to reading the book (much as I love Packer's writings), but it was a required text for my M.A.
There is a lot that could be said about this introduction to the ministry, theology and writings of the Puritans. Firstly, the author's own style of writing is engaging, and hooks you in - there are frequent points of challenge, as one compares the priorities and emphases of the Puritans, with those of our day, and one is left frequently wondering why mainstream churches so very often, and so conspicuously avoid taking seriously the lessons from this period in our history. Packer does a good job of dismissing those old (frequently secular) caricatures of this period in church history, which might otherwise cause embarrassment to Christians who haven't studied the subject.
Secondly, I was reminded again of how the Puritan divines were preaching and writing to ordinary people, struggling with the kinds of issues of life which are not so remote from our experience. Their books and sermons may at times be a little long and verbose, but (for the most part) they are speaking plainly and directly to the realities of human experience. So, I was reminded of the sheer accessibility of the writings of Sibbes, Baxter, Goodwin and others...and, thanks to Packer, I even began to understand a little better how Owen's slightly awkward, formalised way of writing made a great deal of sense.Read more ›
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116 of 118 people found the following review helpful
Questing after the Quintessence of Christian Consecration7 Oct. 2000
Brian G Hedges
- Published on Amazon.com
What an awesome book is this! It deserves to be six stars, because it is such an excellent treatment of one of the greatest eras in the history of the church - the era of the English Puritans. Packer's book serves as a comprehensive introduction to these giants of the faith that he likens to the California Redwood trees among the ants and anthills of Western Christians. Let me introduce you to Packer's introduction - maybe you will be enticed to explore further . . . Packer's twenty chapters are arranged under six headings, I. The Puritans in Profile - which serves as a rich introduction to the Puritans themselves, examining the Puritan movement in its historical context and exploring the practical relevance that the Puritans have to our own age. II. The Puritans and the Bible - explores the Bibliology of the Puritans, including both their view of the Divine inspiration and authority of Scripture and their method of interpreting the Bible, and ending on their view of conscience. III. The Puritans and the Gospel - containing a stunning introduction to John Owen's book "The Death of Death in the Death of Christ" which seeks to show how what is known as Calvinism is more than five subpoints of theology, but really defines the whole of the gospel; also including a look at the doctrine of justification and its development and decline among the Puritans; and ending on the Puritan view of preaching the gospel. IV. The Puritans and the Holy Spirit - a rich and rewarding study of the way in which Puritans understood the ministry of the Holy Spirit - especially in relationship to assurance (with much from Thomas Goodwin, Richard Sibbes, and Thomas Brooks), sanctification and communion with God (with much from John Owen), and spiritual gifts. Invigorating. V. The Puritan Christian Life - an exploration of the Puritan perception of worship (a rich spiritual feast with much from Stephen Charnock and George Swinnock), how they crafted the observance of the Christian Sabbath (the Lord's Day) into what it became, and the Puritan ideals for marriage and family relationships. VI. The Puritans in Ministry - three rich chapters dealing with preaching, evangelism, and revival - introducing the reader to such rich gold mines as the works of Richard Baxter and Jonathan Edwards. A rewarding section of the book. Such is an overview. The chapters are well organized and written with clarity, precision, and Packer's characterstic fervor and creativity. The book is immensely interesting. There are hundreds of quotations from the best of the Puritan literature, and the spiritually minded reader will find his appetite whetted so as to hunger for the Puritans themselves. I commend this book to every Christian, and especially every pastor, who wants to grow deeper in humility, broader in Scripture, and higher in worship. This book will be a feast to your soul.
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
On the Quest27 Dec. 2006
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This volume consists of a collection of papers, many of which were delivered during at the annual Puritan and Reformed Studies Conference in Westminster Chapel, London during the 1950's and 1960's. Following a three chapter introduction, Packer groups these papers under five headings as we see the Puritans in relation to the Bible, the gospel, spirituality, practical Christian living, and the ministry. Puritanism is seen as a renewal movement designed to honor the God of the Scriptures. Packer views the Puritans through the eyes of its leaders, especially Richard Baxter, John Owens, and Jonathan Edwards, the latter being included even though he lived and ministered after the era of the Puritans. Packer refers to Edwards as a Puritan "born out of due time."
We are presented with both the strengths as well as the failings of the Puritans as Richard Baxter is described as the father of modern liberalism in the Church of England and Jonathan Edwards' revival is seen to be a short-lived flash which quickly cooled following his generation. It is John Owen who comes across as the hero of the book and the Calvin of the Puritan movement (Pg 191). Packer defends Owen's cumbersome and tortuous style of writing as being "a Latinized spoken style" after the tradition of Cicero. We are continually urged to ignore the burden of his writing style because it is worth the extra effort.
The practical emphasis of this book is a call for revivalism in the church today. Puritanism was exactly such a call and Packer suggests that the church is in need of this call again in this day and age. I found especially noteworthy the section dealing with assurance. The Puritan view of assurance is not merely a matter of believing the gospel and its promise of eternal life. Rather, they viewed assurance as being only for the one who has been walking faithfully with the Lord for a very long time and even then, it was pictured as a "crown that few wear."
31 of 36 people found the following review helpful
No praise too High: A wake up call for our Laodicean times!!4 May 2003
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"I believe in the providence of God some ages have special messages for other ages, and that as the New Testament era provides a model for the life of all churches and Christians everywhere, so the Puritan era has particular lessons to teach the Western Christian world at the end of the twentieth century." So says J. I. Packer in his conclusion to this book and so say I as well. There are those who wish to caricaturize the Puritans as hard-nosed, pleasure-hating, legalistic, superstitious, egotistical and uneducated religious fanatics, but nothing could be farther from the truth. In fact they were just the opposite. They were supremely concerned to live a solidly and consistently Biblical life, which involved first of all, love for God and then love for ones neighbor and ones self. To embody this kind of love, (which I confess they did not do perfectly as we do not) demands that they were not hard-nosed at all but sought to understand others in an attempt to demonstrate before their eyes the fruits of a Godly life and thereby impress upon their hearts and minds an attraction to the Lord Jesus Christ. This they did out of a sincere desire for the conversion and well being of their eternal souls. Neither were they pleasure-haters, but rather, they recognized that to deny the pleasures of life as given to humanity by their great and benevolent Creator would be an affront to His graciousness, though they remained very careful to enjoy these pleasures to the glory of God, within His guidelines, so as not to abuse them. They were not legalistic but they did believe that obedience to the moral law was well pleasing to God and endeavored keep it to that end. Though there were some superstitions that existed among them, they were not peculiar to them but were superstitions that were held by virtually everybody in the sixteenth century. They were not egotistical, believing that their way was the only right way, but rather, they were subordinate, believing that Gods way was the only right way and that He had revealed it to us in the Holy Scriptures. They were certainly not uneducated for they were the most eminent scholars of their day. And to the charge of religious fanaticism one can only say that this is a highly subjective opinion. They were careful to live their lives to the glory of God in every arena, be it churchmanship, community service or statesmanship; financial, familial or sexual; occupational, recreational or philanthropical. If this be viewed as fanaticism, then so be it; but for my part, I view it as consistent and praiseworthy faithfulness to the God who is so consistent, praiseworthy and faithful to us. The strength of this book cannot be overstated and neither can the benefits of taking its message to heart. I know, for my own part that what I have read here will be of value throughout the rest of my ministry and throughout the rest of my Christian life. I would also venture to say that the benefits would be of the same value to all Christians if they would take the time to think these issues through. The truth of this thesis and the realization of his purpose has, for this reviewer, prevailed quite marvelously. J. I. Packer has done an excellent job once again and has given the church another invaluable resource from which to draw.
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Makes me want to learn more12 Mar. 2006
M. J. Keel
- Published on Amazon.com
Packer's purpose for compiling his years of learning and writing about the Puritians was to introduce modern readers to their spirituality and encourage us to read their writings for ourselves. Well, I am convinced, and I look forward to delving into this neglected selection of Christian writings.
Packer does a great job of spanning the years the Puritans were influential as well as covering the similarities and diversity of their thoughts on things from church life, theology, to family and gender issues.
The only reason I did not give this book five stars is that I reserve that honor for books that keep me riveted. While I could easily put this book down it gave me a lot of food for thought, and challenged me to examine myself for inconsistencies of thought and behavior. This is a must read.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Challenging as always.4 Dec. 2006
Jeffrey A. Thompson
- Published on Amazon.com
The book is a collection of essays on the Puritan's quest for godliness. He covers various aspect of Puritan life and ministry. Some of the essays appear in different collections. The book is challenging and informative as is typical of Packer's books. He quotes the Puritan writers extensively (e. g. Baxter), but he throws in other theologians such as Spurgeon and Augustine as well. The last chapters that focus on the last of the puritans, Jonathan Edwards, is extremely interesting. Packer brings in theology, history and exhortation into his writings. If you don't understand the strength of "Reformed Theology," this book will definitely help.
The book is very good, but for me it started out slow because I read some of the essays before. But the more I read, the more I realize what he is trying to do and I am deeply impressed. Packer is giving us a peek into the puritan world view so that we may purify our worship today.