One of the most important movements post-reformation Christendom is found in the Puritan movement of the 16th and 17th Century. Unfortunately, time of three hundred years has skewed a correct perception of those in that movement. Leland Ryken's work Worldly Saints realigns modern thinking to the reality of who the Puritans were.
Ryken accomplishes this task by breaking the book into 10 major sections. In each of these sections, he picks a topic that is greatly misunderstood through modern perceptions of the Puritans. For instance, he dedicates a chapter to the Puritan view of sex and marriage. In this section, Ryken does an excellent job reminding the reader that we must put the Puritans in their historical context in order to accurately understand why they did the things that they did. In today’s climate, the Puritans seem prudish, but the writer reminds the reader that during the time they lived, the Puritans were actually revolutionary in their understanding of sex. He notes, “The distinctive contribution of the Puritans within this framework was to shift the primary emphasis from procreation to companionship” (47). In other words, the Puritans understood the biblical concept of marital companionship in the physical union contra the culture of the time.
This book treats each topic in a similar fashion covering work, marriage, money, family, preaching, church and worship, Bible, education, and social action. After addressing these areas of Puritan life, Ryken concludes Worldly Saints with two chapters focused on the greatest contributions of the Puritans and the greatest lessons to be learned from the Puritans.
The way that Ryken wrote this book has many strong features to it. First of all one of the strongest features of the book is Ryken’s continual quotations from the Puritans. The book is filled with quotations from Puritans from all different parts of the world. This makes the reader convinced that what he is reading is truthful and an adequate representation of what the Puritans believed. In his preface, Ryken acknowledges why he wrote the book this way: “Why are there so many quotations in the book? Because books that claim to tell us what the Puritans were like without documenting the claims cannot be trusted” (xvii).
Another strong point of the book is the writer’s ability to capsulate major Puritan beliefs through simple sentences. Much of the book simply consists of his short introductory statements and then a plethora of quotations to back up his thoughts. As one leaves the book, one is confident that he has grasped the basics of Puritan theology and life.
Many times the greatest strengths of a book can be its greatest weakness. This holds true for Worldly Saints. There is no question that the myriad amount of quotations enhances the agenda that Ryken had for the book, but at the same time, the large amount of quotations take away from the readability of the book. There are numerous chapters that seem to consist solely of scattered quotations by the Puritans with no real connection between them. In this sense, it would have seemed easier of a read if he had written an anthology and then a commentary on the anthology.
Overall, the book provides a great analysis of Puritan life and the lessons that we can learn from those great defenders of the faith. I learned quite a bit about the importance of putting God in the context of my everyday life. Furthermore, I greatly appreciated the honest analysis of the benefits of Puritan theology in today’s modern theology. With this concept of seeing God in all of life, I was greatly challenged by the concept of time that the Puritans had. There is no question that this people understood the significance of James 4:14 and desired to apply the truth of that passage to every aspect of their life.
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