Tuesday, November 23, 2010

What I'm Learning From the Puritans

Today I finished reading A Quest For Godliness by J.I. Packer. The subtitle of the book is "The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life." In it Packer basically gives an overview of the Puritans. While the book started slow for me, I eventually found myself learning alot from it. I've always heard reformed guys talking about the puritans but never really delved into them myself, mostly because they always seemed like such difficult reads. I found this book to be a great middle ground that exposed me to the puritans without requiring me to actually read an entire book written by a puritan. I want to share with you some of the big takeaways I got from it. First, specific chapters:

  • Chapter 7: The Puritan Conscience - I was really impacted by this chapter, especially since I think I rarely explicitly consider the role our conscience should play in our Christian lives. The Puritans saw the conscience as "a witness, declaring facts (Romans 2:15; 9:1; 2 Cor. 1:12), a mentor, prohibiting evil (Acts 24:16; Rom 13:5), and a judge, assessing desert (Rom 2:15; cf 1 Jn 3:20f)" (p. 110). This means we should make sure our consciences are in line with what God actually requires and prohibits. It also means we should not sin against our consciences, doing what we believe God does not want us to do or vice versa. I think alot of times I pay no attention to this. Sometimes Christians whose conscience condemns them even feel like that's just satan bothering them and they should not respond. But our conscience is a gift from God, and we should consider when we feel guilty whether we have sinned against God. We should examine ourselves. Then we rest ultimately in Christ's death to purify us from a guilty conscience (Heb. 9:14)
  • Chapter 8: 'Saved by His Precious Blood': An Introduction to John Owen's The Death of Death - Everyone should read this chapter. It's available online here. It's one of the most succint and compelling statements/defenses of calvinism I've read.
  • Chapter 15: The Puritan Approach to Worship - In this chapter Packer goes through some of the commonalities the puritans held, not their difference. The commonality is a general approach to worship. That approach is essentialy an approach to God. That's what we're doing in worship: approaching God. Thus they held that this should be done joyfully. We should delight in God and in the worship of Him. They also emphasized that God is actually more glorified in public worship than private, because the church shows a gathering of God's people in unity and diversity, which is to His glory. A part of the chapter that really struck me was their emphasis on preparation for worship. Often I stumble into church fresh out of bed, my heart not at all ready to sing God's praises or receive His Word. The puritans emphasized the need on saturday night and Sunday morning for disciplined time of confession, prayer, and meditation...asking God to prepare one's heart to worship Him. I tried this this past Sunday and indeed saw the fruit of a much more focused time of worship.
  • Chapter 17: Puritan Preaching - The basic structure of Puritan preaching was doctrine, defense, application. I think this provides a helpful grid for preaching. What are we to believe, why are we to believe it, and how should it change our lives? The Puritans are known for hour long sermons where they would go to great pains to apply the text as specifically as possible to their audience. In my own teaching and in some that I hear application is very general and lacking in practicality. The puritans offer even a grid for how to make specific application. This is needed, because if we only have general notions of repentance we will too easily say things like "I'm working to love people better" without it actually changing any of our actions. (as a sidenote, one thing I really appreciate about my current church, Redeemer, is the precision of application).
  • Chapter 18: Puritan Evangelism - My main appreciation here is of the sovereignty of God. The Puritans preached every sermon evangelistically, meaning every sermon was rooted in God's grace in Christ and calling everyone to faith and reptentance on the grounds of it. They knew nothing of the "evangelistic meetings" of today or of the special "evangelistic sermons." Every sermon was a call on sinners to repent. Believers and non-believers both need to hear the gospel and be called to the right response: faith and repentance. They would preach in this manner and press on the consciences of their hearers, then leave the rest to God. No altar call, no call for immediate decisions, just a trust in the Spirit of God to work. Now that doesn't mean they didn't do evangelism relationally, in fact in this chapter there are examples of puritans saying the best way to do evangelism is to follow up the broad preaching with individual conversation. However, their preaching of the gospel to non-believers was not done in a manipulative way, forcing a decision, but with an attitude of trust in God to be the one at work. Often as I'm reaching out to non-believers I can get impatient with them and try to force them into a decision, all the while not remember that non-believers are powerless to make such a decision unless God gives them a new heart. This encourages me to patience in sowing the gospel.
  • Chapter 19: Jonathan Edwards on Revival - Edwards saw a revival in his ministry, and prayed for the Holy Spirit to be poured out afresh among his people. Revival is a large scale renewal of true religion among people that results in a renewed passion and joy in Christ and good works. I was just convicted of how I really don't pray this way and almost don't think God could do such a thing. I've begun praying this way for the Texas Tech campus, that God would pour out His spirit among the students and create in them a passion and joy in Christ.

Well, those are some of the specifics. But in general in this book I saw men who were captivated by God's grace, resulting in a deep joy and satisfaction in Jesus. This led them to lives of holiness and pursuit of God's glory in all the earth. It's motivated me to try to read next year Jonathan Edwards' Religious Affections and at least one biography of a puritan (I'm leaning towards Lloyd-Jones, who is more of a modern day Puritan). I highly recommend A Quest For Godliness.

No comments:

Post a Comment