Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The Accidental Puritan

One of my fave Catholics tells the story of an explorer who went sailing in search of adventure, whereupon he landed upon an island that he found quite marvelous in its geography, climate, and the culture of its natives. After marveling for a season about this find, he came to realize this island was England. (If you've not yet read "Orthodoxy," by all means quit reading this and read that instead!)

I had something similar happen to me. I grew up with WFUR playing in the background. There was Carl McIntyre "20th Century Reformation Hour" and I learnt to roll my eyes at the appropriate times when that old demagogue was in full sail. And Kent City Public High School assigned as reading, "The Scarlet Letter" and they did the "The Crucible" as a high school play. I didn't believe Christianity at the time, and I most certainly wanted nothing to do with that kind of hatefulness. I rather enjoyed having fun, and I had absolutely no fear that "that someone , somewhere , is having fun." Had you asked me what I thought of the Puritans, I'd have rolled my eyes.

I kept this attitude when I started reading my Bible again and ended up identifying myself as a Christian again. In the intervening years, I was blessed to receive an excellent, Christian education chock full of Intervarsity Press apologetics and some world-class philosophical theology at the feet of James Grier who was teaching at Cedarville at the time. In the course of those years, I had a bunch of humanistic notions wash out of my brain. "Hmmmm, I suppose God doesn't need my permission to save me." Stuff like that.

Whereas my world-life view had once been a patchwork of bits that fit on Sunday, but not on Monday, or fit in Physics class but not in Old Testament class, instead I came to find a single integrated way of thinking where everything fit--even the parts that can't fit in a box. Superficially, I became a five-point Calvinist. I liked the rationalism and I found no place where my Reason overturned scripture. And I loved books, and a friend turned me onto a mail order bookstore that had the kinds of books I found most interesting. Contemporary stuff from Banner of Truth, and the old stuff, too.

The name of the bookstore was Puritan Reformed. That name bugged me to no end. I grew up in Grand Rapids, MI where the Reformed guys were all liberal or believed you were a Christian because you were Dutch, or something like that. And then there was the Puritan bit. I like to have fun to much for that to make any sense. And that Reformation thing was something that made total sense. It translated Christianity into the language of the Age of Reason. And I was fine with that. And the Puritans were the 2nd generation Reformers. Semper Reformanda and all that.

Yeah, I identify with the Reformation, and with Reason, and that made me a Puritan.

But that word, Puritan, has lots of overlays of meaning that have been added by Puritanism's enemies over the centuries. I don't buy into any of that. So, maybe I'm not a Puritan. It depends on what you're thinking when you use the term.

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