David D. Hall. The Faithful Shepherd: A History of the New England Ministry in the Seventeenth Century. University of North Carolina Press, 1972.
I took Professor Hall for a class on early American religion back
when I was a student at Harvard Divinity School. I enjoyed the subject
matter, especially the part of the class about the Puritans (and you can
read about my interest in the Puritans here). I also liked Professor Hall’s dry sense of humor in his lectures.
The Faithful Shepherd is about Puritanism in America. It is
set against the background of Puritanism in England, as well as the
Protestant Reformation. The book is also about how Puritanism in
America began a certain way and drifted away from that with new
According to David Hall, Puritanism in seventeenth century America
was congregationalist. That means that each congregation was
independent and rather democratic. Each congregation was to be an
exclusive holy community, and people had to demonstrate repentance and
the work of God’s grace on their lives in order to join a particular
Puritan church. Some of these trends began in England, as Puritanism
there opposed the priestly system of the Church of England in favor of a
congregational model. At the same time, there was diversity within
English Puritanism, for some Puritans preferred to work within the
system rather than in opposition to it, and there were Puritans who were
not particularly exclusive about church membership: they were open to
welcoming people to church even if they did not meet specific criteria
of repentance or grace, out of the hope that God could use church as a
way to make himself known to these people. The Puritanism that came to
America, however, did so with the goal of establishing an exclusive holy
Hall details the conflicts involving Puritanism in seventeenth
century America. Puritans had a complex relationship with the state:
they wanted the state to enforce certain religious laws, yet they did
not care for how people went over the church’s head and went to the
state to get what they wanted. Some magistrates wanted the colonists to
focus more on farming than attending election sermons. Meanwhile,
non-members were resentful of how exclusive the churches were as well as
the special privileges that church members were receiving. The church
was rather small, but second generation Puritans became more open to an
inclusive stance, and third generation Puritans became even more open to
it. Times were changing, and harsh jeremiads about God’s wrath were
not stemming the tide!
Something that surprised me as I read this book was the Puritan
stances towards the church sacraments. These stances reminded me of the
view of Christians who argue that baptism is irrelevant to salvation,
for what saves a person is faith. For some reason, I was expecting the
Puritans to have a stronger view of the sacraments than that.
Another issue that interested me was that of faith and works.
Puritans believed in God’s grace, yet many of them treated good works as
a means through which God can show grace. Meanwhile, Anne Hutchinson
and the antinomians were exhorting people, not to focus on their good
works or whether they were manifesting proper signs of repentance and
God’s grace on their hearts, but rather to look to Christ alone: to
desire Christ. I identify with both perspectives, probably with the
latter a bit more.
There was a lot of nuance in this book, and sometimes I had
difficulty keeping track of the characters and who believed what. I did
enjoy the book, however, on account of its nuance, and also my love for
the Puritans. As I looked at Hall’s bibliography, I was tempted to
check out those books (or more current books about the same topics).
Sometimes ignorance is bliss
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