Neo-Puritanism

***UPDATE*** Bob Robinson kindly took the time to interact with my blogpost in the comments which you can read here. I respond to it here where I concede that I was wrong in my first criticism, but believe that the others stand. ***UPDATE***

There are a number of problems with Bob Robinson’s article, “So What is Wrong with Neo-Calvinism?” In it Mr. Robinson argues that it is better to call the Young, Restless, Reformed movement “Neo-Puritan” instead of Neo-Calvinist. I will highlight some of the historical problems with this very briefly here:

1) Mr. Robinson lends credence to the criticism of some “Old Calvinists” that due to the preponderance of Baptists in the YRR movement, it should not be called “Reformed,” hence why Mr. Robinson prefers the term “Puritan.” The problem with this assertion is that the Puritans were part of the period scholars call Reformed orthodoxy. I am not sure how “Neo-Puritan” helps protect the integrity of “Reformed” from us Baptists. Likewise, calling YRR “Puritan” does not mitigate the problem of covenant or baptism—representative Puritans were covenant theologians and paedobaptists. The early Particular Baptists were also strongly covenantal.

2) Mr. Robinson fails to provide an adequate definition of the term Puritan. Contrary to his use of the term, Puritanism was not a monolithic movement and included non-Calvinists such as the important John Goodwin who was an Arminian. Likewise, what about the General Baptists? They were Puritans and also Arminian. If you follow the work of the late Geoffrey Nuttall, a Puritan expert, then other more fringe groups like the Quakers were also Puritans. Patrick Collinson famously defined a Puritan as a Protestant of the “hotter sort.” You can see my article “Hot Protestants: A Taxonomy of English Puritanism” for reasons why this is a better way to understand the movement.

3) In a chart seeking to provide the historical provenance of the Puritan movement, Mr. Robinson looks to Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) as the first or quintessential Puritan. The problem is that historians of evangelicalism like David Bebbington categorize Edwards as an evangelical not a Puritan. This points to the related problem of determining when the Puritan movement came to a close. Some scholars argue that Puritanism ended with the Act of Uniformity and the Great Ejection of 1662. For myself, I have argued in the essay linked above that the Puritan movement largely ended at the death of the last representative Puritan John Howe (1630-1705). While some romantically like to call Edwards, Spurgeon, and even Lloyd-Jones the “last great Puritan,” it remains the case that none of these were Puritans rightly so-called. Puritanism was largely a seventeenth-century phenomenon.

4) Related to point 3, Mr. Robinson fails to see the variegated nature of his own example of “Puritans,” lumping Owen, Baxter (not a Calvinist strictly speaking), and Edwards together as though they all shared the same theological perspective. Edwards is very, very different in terms of his theological emphases than Owen. And Owen and Baxter were engaged in a lengthy theological debate. None of these men should be conflated as Mr. Robinson does.

Although there are others, these historical problems undermine Mr. Robinson’s thesis. For a more detailed analysis on how to define Puritanism see Randall J. Pederson’s Unity in Diversity.